Price of pumpkins in the North skyrockets
Pumpkins no longer qualify for food mail subsidies
People in Nunavut and Nunavik will likely enjoy fewer homemade pumpkin pies this year.
And lit-up jack-o-lanterns for Halloween? There won’t be many.
One of the largest, and most obvious, items has been knocked off the list of foods covered by the federal government’s outgoing food mail program.
Since Oct. 3, whole pumpkins are no longer eligible for the subsidies that were provided under the program, pushing the price of the large squash as high as $75 in some Nunavik communities.
“Most people buy pumpkins for decoration purposes and not to make food with,” said Genéviève Guibert, a spokesperson with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. “That was something we found in our discussions with First Nations groups [before the program was cancelled].”
In turn, retailers across Nunavik say they ordered fewer pumpkins than in years past, anticipating that customers wouldn’t be willing to fork out $50 or more for the orange vegetable.
“They’re really for decoration,” said Eric Pearson, owner and manager of Newviq’vi store in Kuujjuaq. “Anyone who wants to make a pumpkin pie usually just buys the [prepare] filling.”
But this is just the start of what’s to come as the federal government phases out the food mail program to prepare for the new food subsidy plan called Nutrition North Canada, Pearson said.
“Pumpkins are the biggest and most obvious item, but next goes canned peaches and beef stew,” he said. “And certainly, the farther north you go, the more you’ll feel it.”
Along with pumpkins, canned fruits and meat, other items that were struck from the list this month include dry grains like rice and pasta, laundry detergent, diapers and snowmobiles.
That is “phase one” of the transition. “Phase two,” which starts in April 2011, will eliminate most other non-perishable and non-food items from the list as the food mail program is officially replaced by the new Nutrition North Canada.
The 40-year-old food mail program used Canada Post to ship items by air to retailers who paid subsidized cargo rates.
Under Nutrition North, retailers can use whatever airlines and entry points they wish to choose — and retailers in remote communities will get higher subsidies than retailers in more accessible communities.
During the changeover, Pearson said his customers have noticed the price hikes, but many don’t understand how the subsidy program works.
To help, Newviq’vi has posted price cards next to certain products explaining how they are impacted by the changes.
Pearson said he also plans to travel to Ottawa next week with other Nunavik representatives to speak to the Senate standing committee on aboriginal affairs and northern development, in hopes that Nutrition North will “lessen the impact” for northern shoppers.