Hub aims to reduce cost of food for far north

Two First Nation communities have partnered with Creewest GP Inc. to build a food distribution centre to help lower the costs of shipping healthy food to remote Northern communities.

Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation and Lac Seul First Nation signed a memorandum of understanding with the Creewest working group on Friday in Thunder Bay to build the Food Quality Distribution Centre for Aboriginal communities to ship food in bulk.

It will be located at the Sioux Lookout Regional Airport and act as a hub for Northern communities.

KI First Nation Chief James Cutfeet said the goal is to have costs lowered for foods delivered to the north and in turn healthier people in the communities.

“The cheapest type of food is pop and chips compared to what healthy foods that ought to be a lot cheaper and affordable to buy and it affects the lifestyle of the people up there,” said Cutfeet.

“Having moved back to the community after years of absence, I miss the healthy foods – the vegetables, the fruits – and imagine having to pay high cost just to stay healthy.”

Cutfeet said they’re going to move as quickly as they can to move the project forward and hopefully have it complete within a year.

A feasibility study was completed on the project that outlined a lack of required infrastructure that was needed for distribution.

A streamlined supply chain and single point of entry was necessary.

Creewest CEO Ron Basaraba said they will handle all the logistics of the centre from transportation to staffing the warehouse, which will feature a walk-in cooler and freezer.

The communities will handle their own food purchases and Creewest will form an air delivery unit, using their own aircraft as well as taking on joint ventures if necessary.

They will also be looking at joint trucking ventures to ship the food.

“That’s the vision,” said Basaraba. “That’s the dream of everybody.”

Creewest will own 51 per cent of the operations with the remaining 49 per cent held by Lac Seul and KI.

Basaraba said they are using some of their own capital for the project but will also be applying to FedNor and the Nishnawbe Aski Economic Development Fund.

He also believes more communities will become involved down the road.

In addition to reduced food costs, the distribution centre will help communities avoid purchased food reaching its expiration date, increase food security, consolidate deliveries and help in emergencies.

It also increases warehouse capacity for many remote communities that have limited warehousing and can’t accommodate large shipments from suppliers.