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Yukon First Nation focusing on food security with hydroponics company

Inside a hydroponics unit operated by ColdAcre Farm Systems. The Na-Cho Nyäk Dun First Nation is now a majority owner of the Whitehorse-based company. (Archbould Photography/ColdAcre - image credit)
Inside a hydroponics unit operated by ColdAcre Farm Systems. The Na-Cho Nyäk Dun First Nation is now a majority owner of the Whitehorse-based company. (Archbould Photography/ColdAcre - image credit)

The Na-Cho Nyäk Dun First Nation in the Yukon has bought a majority stake in a company specializing in hydroponic food systems, with the goal of improving northern food security.

The First Nation based in Mayo, Yukon, is now the controlling owner of Whitehorse-based ColdAcre Food Systems, with a 51 per cent stake in the company.

"We're really trying to tackle building like a food-sovereignty portfolio for us, and really trying to find the ways in which we can connect all the different operations that we're doing," said Jani Djokic, CEO of the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun Development Corporation.

"We really felt that ColdAcre complemented that objective."

The First Nation already operates Mayo Foods, a grocery store in the community, as its "flagship" operation in the food sector, Djokic said. It's also been involved in the former local café that's now being turned into a community gathering space.

Jani Djokic, CEO of the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun Development Corporation, speaking at the Arctic Indigenous Investment Conference in Whitehorse, May 2023.
Jani Djokic, CEO of the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun Development Corporation, speaking at the Arctic Indigenous Investment Conference in Whitehorse, May 2023.

"We're really trying to tackle building like a food-sovereignty portfolio for us," Jani Djokic, CEO of the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun Development Corporation, seen here speaking at the Arctic Indigenous Investment Conference in Whitehorse last spring. (Na-Cho Nyäk Dun Development Corporation)

The First Nation also purchased a farm a few years ago, west of Mayo.

ColdAcre began operations six years ago and it currently focuses on growing food in Whitehorse out of a collection of repurposed seacans, as well as building and selling hydroponic systems to be used in other communities.

"The core of what we're trying to do though, is bring the benefit of ... local food production, to communities that typically cannot grow food," said Tarek Bos, the CEO of ColdAcre.

Djokic said Na-Cho Nyäk Dun has been working with ColdAcre since that time, when it bought one of the company's hydroponic production units.

"At first I thought they were a little bit bonkers, because we know that Mayo has really cool temperatures. And my initial ask to them was, well, we're not going to go into this unless you can prove to me it can work in –60," Djokic said.

"And the ColdAcre team definitely went above and beyond in showing that," he said

"We didn't quite hit –60," Bos said. "Our coldest day on record, I think, was –53, and it performed extremely well."

Inside a hydroponics unit operated by ColdAcre Farm Systems in Whitehorse.
Inside a hydroponics unit operated by ColdAcre Farm Systems in Whitehorse.

ColdAcre say its hydroponic systems are designed to operate well in cold northern conditions. (Archbould Photography/ColdAcre Farm Systems)

For Djokic, ColdAcre presents an opportunity for Na-Cho Nyäk Dun to become more involved in building food security through training and capacity development, "so we can see food production being more accessible for community members."

"We're really trying to create an opportunity through food sovereignty where we're not just growing food, but we're empowering people to now take that production into their own hands and take that back to their communities," she said.

"It's very much from the ground level up. And so I'm just excited to see what we can do in that space."