Province of Manitoba - Northern Healthy Foods Initiative

Place: Manitoba, canada, North America
Food consumption patterns: diet, environment, society, economy and health Food consumption patterns: diet, environment, society, economy and health
Total Budget: € 849.759,00 | Period: From June 2003 To


In northern Manitoba, high transportation costs create high food prices. When combined with low income and food literacy levels , the high costs of food exacerbates food insecurity in the north. Effective actions would respond to local challenges and build upon local efforts to help northern Manitobans access sufficient, affordable, nutritious and culturally-appropriate food. To that end (and driven by a comprehensive examination of northern food prices) the Department of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs and Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (MAFRD) were directed by the Healthy Child Committee of Cabinet to lead the development and implementation of the Northern Healthy Foods Initiative (NHFI) with other provincial departments contributing resources where appropriate to address food insecurity in northern Manitoba. The Healthy Child Committee of Cabinet, which is comprised of the Ministers from ten areas of provincial government, is the only legislated Cabinet Committee in Canada dedicated to the well-being of children and youth. NHFI is led by a Management Committee with cross-departmental representation from:
• Manitoba Health, Healthy Living and Seniors
• Manitoba Aboriginal and Northern Affairs
• Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship
• Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development
• Healthy Child Manitoba
NHFI operations and activities help to address geographic isolation by increasing community capacity to source nutritious and culturally-appropriate food locally. Improved access to food choices, particularly for low-income households in the north, provides an alternative to the less nutritious food that has to be transported from outside the community at costs that may be considered prohibitive.
NHFI supports program delivery approaches as follows:
1.  partners with five regional organizations (Bayline Regional Roundtable, Four Arrows Regional Healthy Authority,  Northern Association of Community Councils, Food Matters Manitoba and Frontier School Division) to act as constituent driven advocates that define and deliver programming seeking to re-develop local food production by families living in some of Manitoba’s most “food insecure” communities. Capacity building assistance from these organizations empowers communities in their efforts to become food self-sufficient. All of these partners work with assigned communities.  2. NHFI also utilizes a special project approach that complements the activities of our NHFI partners and funds one-off projects to communities not assigned to an NHFI partner, and other non-government organizations that have an interest in increasing food security in the north. By utilizing the local expertise of partner organizations and other community based groups, NHFI is able to support activities that cover a broad spectrum of food security issues in the north ranging from small-scale greenhouse development to school and community-based nutritional education workshops; from gardening supplies to small-scale livestock development; from traditional food skill development to healthy market food cooking classes.


Northern Healthy Foods Initiative - Canada

Lead applicant

The Northern Healthy Foods Initiative (NHFI) is a program run by the Province of Manitoba that is designed specifically for addressing food insecurity in northern Manitoba. NHFI has a budget of about $1.25 Million CAD and expends this funding to support organizations operating at the community level.

Food Matters Manitoba - Canada

Initiative partner

As a registered charity, Food Matters Manitoba (FMM) works on over 35 projects helping newcomers, northerners, farmers, and families to grow, share, and prepare good food. FMM programs span across the province to find long-term solutions from plant to plate: · Working with newcomers on community gardens. · Assisting families in northern communities to build greenhouses out of recycled trampolines. · Facilitating cooking classes for youth in Winnipeg’s North End. · Hosting food skill workshops for workplaces. · Implementing local food into Manitoba institutions. · Engaging with youth on traditional food skills. · Finding solutions to community food needs.

Frontier School Division - Canada

Initiative partner

Frontier School Division is defined by our natural surroundings and the beauty of this environment. The images of land and water and their impact on us collectively is a part of who we are. Our connection with all that is natural and holistic sets us apart and makes us uniquely “Frontier.” Increasingly, schools, with community support, are providing land-based and culturally-focused educational activities for students using this rich and beautiful natural environment.

Northern Association of Community Councils Inc. - Canada

Initiative partner

NACC exists to act as an advocacy group in order to serve the interests of (up to) 56 Community Councils that NACC represents in the Northern Manitoba region. The communities served by these councils fall within the jurisdiction of the Department of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs, formerly known as the Department of Native and Northern Affairs. NACC serves to provide a unified and collective voice for the communities that it represents as they encounter important developmental phases. The Association was modelled after the vision of a few northern mayors shortly following the introduction of a local government system for Northern Manitoba. It was identified at this time that several remote and/or isolated communities could have a much stronger voice if they spoke as one collective entity. In 1970, the NACC would begin with a membership of merely 11 communities, and eventually escalate to as many as 56 communities by the year 2000. The core objective of NACC is to promote the improvement of services to communities. Services to communities are those that may be classified as government services including the following, which are referred to in the Northern Affairs Act:

Bayline Regional Roundtable - Canada

Initiative partner

coordinated inter-sectoral effort to increase food security through a community development approach to fostering food self-sufficiency in isolated communities of northern Manitoba, canada.

NHFI is unique insofar as its inter-departmental approach to service delivery and program success. Strengthens Public Perception: Demonstrates a Provincial commitment to ensuring that all northern Manitoba citizens have access to healthy, affordable food as a basic need. Encourages Collaboration: Having many stakeholders involved in program implementation allows for a wider spectrum of the social determinants of health to be addressed. The issue of food security is multi-faceted and includes a need to address poverty, education, addictions, mental health and other social issues to develop sustainable communities in northern Manitoba. Increases Efficiency and Effectiveness: by pooling efforts across departments to achieve a common vision and shared goals it is possible to streamline government efforts, to reduce administrative redundancy and improve operational efficiencies.

School Garden A student garden in Leaf Rapids
Traditional Fish Smoking Preserving fish in remote Manitoba
Traditional Foods Preserved Moose Meat
Traditional Living Hunting, Trapping & Skinning

Manitoba is geographically expansive and the northern part of the province is sparsely populated and underdeveloped. Transportation is limited with some communities only accessible by air or winter ice road, which significantly increases the cost of imported food. Economic development consequently has been truncated as the costs of conducting business are prohibitive. Manitoba is characterized by long, harsh winters that result in shorter growing seasons. Most communities face extraordinarily negative socio-economic conditions which result in poverty, poor nutrition, and lack of access to infrastructure to support the development of healthy communities. There is a current and ongoing crisis in housing; lack of jobs; and a crisis in education. However, given the strong Aboriginal cultural heritage in the north, there are many avenues for sustainable community economic development around food security. Aboriginal peoples are inextricably linked to the land as stewards and caretakers.


Crisis in Food Pricing High food costs; despite rampant and unchecked poverty
Crisis in Housing & Living Conditions Housing
Prohibitive Transportation Costs Winter Roads are a costly and potentially dangerous way to transport goods
Harvesting Hope: In Northern Manitoba Communities A context setting video about the hardships facing northern Manitoba communities with respect to food insecurity.

The following NHFI results have been achieved: Over 95 communities have partnered or participated in a wide range of food security related activities. In 2013, 1083 gardens were tended by 1249 gardeners. The Revolving Loan Freezer Purchase Program is a micro-loan program that has seen the purchase of 488 freezers. A total of 62 backyard greenhouses/geodesic domes have been supported and in 2013, 13 communities and 30 families gained the knowledge and the infrastructure to care for poultry and bees. It is evident that the causal link between the improvement of food self-sufficiency and NHFI is profound and offers an excellent model for other jurisdictions because of this demonstrated ability to link program inputs and activities to the desired outcomes. In fact the United Nations has recognized the importance of this program during a 2013 mission to Canada and through the United Nations Economic Commission in 2010. 

Beekeeping in the North A local community beekeeper who harvested over 800 pounds of honey from the first year of operations! This had the added benefit of helping the global population of bees regain footing after devastating loss of bee populations.
Chickens of the North A documentary about the chicken raising efforts that have tangibly changed the lives of those living in remote communities in Northern Manitoba
Youth Exchange/Engagement NHFI support for Food Matters Manitoba allows for a more targeted approach to engaging youth in the food security/sovereignty movement.

The target populations are communities that cover approximately 80% of the Province and include communities under federal (First Nations) and provincial (Municipal Act and Northern Affairs Act) jurisdictions. They are characterized by high levels of food insecurity due to geographic isolation, monopoly of sole retail grocery stores, high poverty rates, colonization and a decline in traditional food consumption. NHFI seeks to include the entire community ranging from youth to elders. These isolated communities rely heavily on intergenerational knowledge transfer, and NHFI works to preserve these connections. NHFI addresses the needs of communities as cohesive units. These communities are often plagued by chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease that stem, in part,  from inadequate access to healthier food options at reasonable prices. The target populations of NHFI can be understood as multi-barriered and require more concentrated support to effect lasting, positive change.

The Future of The North Children learning valuable gardening skills in Northern Manitoba

NHFI has a unique service delivery model which involves partnerships with five regional organizations. Partners that act as constituent driven advocates define and deliver programming to re-develop local food production by families living in some of Manitoba’s most “food insecure” communities.  Service delivery is realized through an inter-departmental Management Committee and two staff. A team of highly specialized representatives from MAFRD provides technical expertise to the regional organizations for program delivery and capacity building within the assigned communities. The Management Committee provides program direction and policy advice and identifies those projects which fit best with our mandate. The five regional organizations then implement programming at the community level, supported by the technical experts from MAFRD.
• NHFI Staff: 2 people
• NHFI Management Committee: 5 people
• MAFRD Technical Experts: 5+ people
• Regional Partners: 8 people

The main obstacle is food insecurity in northern Manitoba with many factors contributing: the aftermath of colonialism, poverty, isolation, extreme climate etc, have created a situation where locally produced food requires significant infrastructural investment and capacity building and the cost of importing food is astronomical. Compounding the situation was the fragmented food security movement in Manitoba which was proving to be a barrier to addressing these problems. NHFI was implemented as a unifying voice for the Province to offer support and guidance to a cohesive food security movement. NHFI has adopted a model, led by an inter-governmental team, that works with community-driven projects. This model has resulted in support provided to enhance  local food-self-sufficiency and is a vehicle for cogent strategic direction for the food security movement in northern Manitoba.

NHFI relies on local resources to improve food security in northern Manitoba. Because of the majority indigenous population, this is made possible through local food production and harvesting. Harvesting from the land requires careful stewardship so as not to harm local populations of caribou, moose, fish etc. NHFI works with communities and departments responsible for natural resource management to ensure that populations are viable for hunting and fishing, and that sustainable practices are in place to ensure the continued health of Manitoba's natural resources. The vast distances in northern Manitoba result in enormous environmental costs related to road and air transportation. By focusing on local food production NHFI has minimized the ecological footprint of transportation. What's more, small-scale, local food production has allowed citizens of northern Manitoba to reduce reliance on the mass production of food which is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Manitoba.

Traditional Practices and Environmental Stewardship Traditional practices are rooted in environmentally sound practices and there are many environmental contaminants that are now creating significant problems around traditional practices. Returning to these practices and fighting for the environmental protection of the land from commercial interests are paramount to continued environmental protection in Manitoba's wilderness.

NHFI is aware that solutions to food insecurity in northern Manitoba must endure the test of time. Program and policy development incorporates this awareness through intergenerational knowledge transfer – children are learning the skills and abilities they need to live healthy lives in traditional ways. NHFI focuses on building capacity and infrastructure by bringing communities together. By providing support to communities, NHFI encourages communities to choose healthier lifestyles which is anticipated to have a lasting impact on the overall healthcare system. Youth engagement is paramount to ensuring that NHFI programming is entrenching the belief that healthy food choices are the key to healthier communities and bright futures. Lastly, as a result of existing NHFI projects, a new funding collaborative has duplicated the model successfully, where a diverse group of funders from across Canada are pooling resources to address food security in northern Manitoba.

Knowledge Transfer NHFI supports programming that allows for the exchange of traditional knowledge between youth and elders to ensure that traditional practices are being preserved and passed down through generations. This directly translates into increased food sovereignty and security by empowering youth to regain control over their food sources and their access to healthy foods.

There is a tiered approach to publications that come from NHFI partners, which speak to regionally specific needs and those are made widely available. Social media aid in facilitating knowledge sharing in and among communities. Also, workshops and conferences which bring participants together from all over Manitoba to share their stories of their journey to self-sufficiency in a manner that is relatable and culturally appropriate. Word of mouth through community members is a significant method to disseminate the program's best practices and has seen the development of many of our initiatives expand in size and scope as a result. More formal dissemination within government comes of public reports and videos that can concretely demonstrate the benefits of the work that NHFI is supporting in these northern communities. Sharing the lived realities with other communities facing the same problems engenders unity in the food security movement.