Virtual Catalyst Workshops
Northern Food Innovation Challenge
April 11-13, 2022
Overview and area of focus
In December of 2021, CanNor requested feedback on proposed 'catalyst workshops' from the nine innovators participating in Phase 1 of the Northern Food Innovation Challenge (NFIC). From the valuable input and insights garnered from these innovators, CanNor coordinated and hosted three distinct catalyst workshops from April 11 to 13, 2022. Each workshop's agenda, structure, and topics of discussions were tailored to the preferences of its participants, with the intent of generating free-flowing conversation and the sharing of industry expertise between different innovators, members of the NFIC Advisory Committee, and CanNor staff.
Day 1 – April 11
Food Security, Bison Farm to Fork
Fort Simpson Métis Development Corporation
This two-year project will develop a bison farm feasibility study, including regulatory research and community engagement to establish a farm and meat processing facility.
Centralized Traditional and Local Processing Kitchen Facility
Yukon First Nation Education Directorate
This two-year project would complete research and determine design requirements for an innovative traditional/local food commercial kitchen facility in Whitehorse for processing and storage of wild game in an urban setting. Additionally the project will enable the development of a traditional knowledge curriculum that will enable knowledge sharing and training on First Nation food processing, and will help leverage funding for facility construction.
Day 2 – April 12
Kitikmeot Inuit Food System Programs and Knowledge Hub
The Hamlet of Cambridge Bay
This project will support the Hamlet of Cambridge Bay to design and develop culturally adapted, comprehensive, and innovative capacity-building resources and programs to support the 2020-2030 Kitikmeot Health & Food Security Action Plan via educational and training programs linked to protocols for growing crops in the North, butchering country food, and promoting nutritional health and skills transfer in the Kitikmeot region.
Strengthening Food Harvesting Capacity
A continuation of a piloted apprenticeship program, this project will employ hunter instructors to provide traditional country food year-round to elders, children, families, and other community members, and build capacity by training youth to hunt and harvest country food, contributing to an Inuit-centred food economy.
Country Foods in Community Programming
University of Waterloo
This two-year project will involve research and the development of traditional food guidelines to ensure the culturally appropriate delivery of country foods into existing food system programming in Tuktoyaktuk and Paulatuk. The project is expected to result in increased country food storage capacity and access, enhanced community capacity in food harvesting processing and distribution, and harvesters network development.
Day 3 – April 13
Kanuq Goose Product Development: Inuit Food Sovereignty
This two-year project is expected to systemically and accurately assess the health of the local goose population, create and test new goose products to support a potential commercial role for the community, and educate the broader public on the health benefits of goose consumption, including through capacity building and recipe development and distribution.
Inuksiutuqta Country Food Program
Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre
This two-year project aims to develop a country food processing, storage, and weekly distribution program in Iqaluit, Nunavut, using scale-based pricing where households can pay what they can for a share in the harvest. It will improve the opportunity for harvesters to make a living by harvesting country food, provide storage and processing capacity, foster the development and expansion of healthy and sustainable products, and will also contribute to strengthening food security in the north.
Qikiqtani Food Sovereignty Implementation Solution
Qikiqtaaluk Business Development Corp
This two-year project is expected to establish community-based infrastructure, such as cut and wrap food processing facilities, to build capacity in harvesting and distribution, and directly support community harvesters. The project will contribute to food security by determining and investing in the most appropriate community infrastructure to meet the needs of the unique communities throughout the Qikiqtani Region.
Innovative Social Enterprise Business Models for Local Food in the North
Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation
This project is to research and develop several social enterprise conceptual business plans for a community greenhouse, designed to prioritize providing food at low or not cost to citizens and function as a case study to explore hybrid models to ensure consistent sources of funding for local community greenhouses.
Summary and highlights
Day 1, April 11
The first workshop was for innovators who indicated a preference to participate in a small working group with Advisory Committee members, to discuss topics including identifying project risks and developing risk mitigation strategies. Innovator participants included the Fort Simpson Métis Development Corporation, discussing their project 'Food Security, Bison Farm to Fork', and the Yukon First Nation Education Directorate Society discussing their 'Centralized Traditional and Local Processing Kitchen Facility' project. Across three group roundtables, Innovators and Advisory Committee members from different education institutions, organizations, and levels of government discussed common areas of project risk-related concern and opportunity, like the impacts of unforeseen events (i.e., COVID-19) on project risk planning and timelines, insulating against long-term risk through incremental planning, and the importance of securing internal advocacy from partner groups, especially in areas of overlapping governance structures.
Day 2, April 12
In the second workshop, innovators from the Ilisaqsivik Society (project: Strengthening Food Harvest Capacity in Clyde River), Hamlet of Cambridge Bay (project: Kitikmeot Inuit Food Systems Programs and Knowledge Hub), and University of Waterloo (project: Country Foods in Community Programming in Tuktoyaktuk and Paulatuk) provided 15-minute formal presentations to an audience of one another, Advisory Committee members and CanNor representatives. Following each presentation, the presenter was given opportunity to both answer and ask questions from the variety of industry expertise participating in the workshop. Highlights of the discussions included considerations for 'scaling-up' projects (both locally and beyond), transferring models or technologies to other regions with shared challenges or opportunities, and coordinating across community stakeholder groups with varying degrees of capacity to ensure adequate engagement, participation, and knowledge-sharing across project activities. Innovators shared information on some of the promising collaboration that was already underway, and connected with one another in areas of future partnership and cooperation.
Day 3, April 12
The third workshop hosted innovators from either end of Canada's territories. From Nunavut, the Aqqiumavvik Society spoke about their project "Kanuq Good Product Development – Inuit Food Sovereignty," the Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre spoke to their "Country Food Program in Iqaluit" project, and the Qikiqtaaluk Business Development Corporation talked about their project, the "Qikiqtani Food Sovereignty Implementation Solution." From the Yukon, Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation discussed their project "Innovative Social Enterprise Business Models for Local Food in the North." As was the case on Day 1, innovators, Advisory Committee Members, and CanNor staff engaged in roundtable discussions on the topics of long-term project planning, scalability, and networking. Advisory members advocated for simplicity, sustainability, and manageable increments for project planning and scaling, and several innovators noted the potential impediments to planning caused by legislative and governance barriers. CanNor staff and other federal representatives also had the opportunity to share other key funding and support programs offered by the Government of Canada for agriculture and agri-food initiatives, and acknowledged challenges associated with aligning programs to best meet the needs of Northern populations.
Key considerations, challenges and opportunities
Across the catalyst workshops, several cross-cutting considerations, challenges and opportunities emerged. Here's what we heard.
Slow and steady wins the race: Northern food security 'cannot be fixed with a silver bullet.' Long-term project ambition can only be realized through short-term, incremental, and realistic planning. Start small and scale up at a manageable rate.
Too many cooks in the governance kitchen: Progress can be very difficult in areas with multiple intersecting governance structures, like food regulations, land permitting, or business licensing, especially when multiple governments with shared jurisdictions don't express the same set of goals and objectives. Engagement with municipal, territorial, and federal government departments, each with claim to jurisdiction over an aspect of a project, can overstretch an organization's resources.
But there is opportunity in this overlap. Finding an 'internal champion', a representative within each level of government with a vested interest and expertise in the project, can help to move it through various administrative or regulatory hurdles without overburdening an organization's capacity. As a convener, CanNor is happy to reach out to different levels and areas of government to organize meetings and ensure that innovators can get in touch with the right officials.
There's no roadmap for innovation: The very nature of undertaking an innovative project means that there are no precedents to follow to ensure that everything is on the right track. But, just because one exact project has never been done in a particular way doesn't mean there aren't lessons to learn elsewhere. Looking to other jurisdictions, other sectors, and even other business models can help shape an innovative project's path forward. Networking, even with potential competitors, could yield beneficial partnerships. As an Advisory Committee Member mused, there's nothing wrong with a little 'collab-etition.'
Along those same lines, projects in uncharted areas are expected to run into roadblocks or rough spots as they navigate their way to growth and stability. Charting and sharing successes, failures, challenges and opportunities can be a huge benefit to other aspiring innovators and entrepreneurs following the same path.
Projects benefit communities benefit projects: All of the Phase 1 innovators demonstrated extraordinary levels of community partnership and engagement, and just as their projects provide a tangible benefit to their communities, so too does the expertise, knowledge, and capacity of their target community benefit their project. As the Northern Food Innovation Challenge builds towards Phase 2, innovators will be challenged to apply their project at a greater scale. Expanding these community networks, especially with and among different innovators, will be vital in ensuring the scalability of projects to regional levels and beyond.
Craft your message now: As projects grow, they get pitched and proposed and explained to a huge variety of different audiences; government bodies, regulators, potential funders, community members, industry competition – an innovator has to be able to pitch their project to everyone. However, each audience will be looking for something different. A community organization may be interested in learning about local benefits, whereas a potential private funder may just want to focus on the return on investment.
Innovators should put efforts into 'crafting their message' early on; put the work in now, define a stakeholder ecosystem, outline a mission, mandate, and vision, and have elevator pitches on hand, rather than retrofitting key messaging as the project evolves.
Many thanks to all innovators and advisory committee members who participated throughout the three workshops; these were the first such workshops that CanNor has hosted. The agency appreciates everyone's openness, flexibility, and accommodation to this avenue for sharing information, wisdom, and expertise.
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