With food prices soaring, the people of Postville, Labrador, are disheartened as grocery store shelves sit empty and as produce rots before it arrives.
The shelves of Sheppard’s Variety, the only store in Postville, often sit empty for weeks on end, waiting for shipments of food and other goods to arrive.
It’s not uncommon for fruits and vegetables to be rotting by the time they make it to the shelves. The best-before dates of other fresh goods such as bread, dairy and meat have often expired before they arrive.
For residents of Postville, a community on the Labrador coast, accessing basic necessities such as food can be a massive struggle.
It’s not just food that the community is forced to do without, but paper mail containing bills and cheques are also delayed for weeks at a time.
Jordan Sheppard, manager of Sheppard’s Variety, says Postville tends to be left on the back-burner because of its size. With a population of around 170 people, Postville is the smallest community on the Labrador coast. Therefore, it often comes last, Sheppard says.
Sheppard contends responsibility for the problem falls predominantly on the shoulders of the airline that flies cargo into Postville – Air Borealis. The retailer that supplies Sheppard’s Variety is fast and reliable, says Sheppard, with orders often being sent to the Air Borealis warehouse within 24 hours of being placed.
“As soon as it touches the floor of Air Borealis’ warehouse, there’s no telling how long it will sit there.”
It hurts Sheppard to watch the people in his community go without their basic needs, and he wishes he could do better for them, but he says this problem is out of his control.
“I’ve said more than I’d like to admit (to customers): ‘We’re all out of 3.25 percent milk but we have some ordered, just waiting on the freight plane’, and watched parents walk away without food for their growing baby.”
When contacted for a response, Air Borealis responded in an email:
“Air Borealis is committed to providing consistent service to every destination we serve on the Labrador Coast. We work closely with community partners, and our customers to do everything we can to ensure that vital supplies, including food, are delivered as quickly as possible. We understand that Air Borealis is an essential service provider in coastal Labrador and meeting the responsibility that comes with that is fundamental for everyone at our airline.”
While quick delivery is integral to the supply chain on the Labrador coast, food insecurity in the region is a multifaceted issue that one entity cannot be held completely responsible for. Due to high costs associated with shipping, grocery prices in northern communities are much higher than average. Josh Smee of Food First NL says that without the infrastructure or economic activity in communities such as Postville, it is not uncommon for community members to struggle to afford the basic necessities.
Smee also blames historic genocide of Indigenous peoples by settlers, as well as climate change, for steering Indigenous communities away from traditional sourcing through hunting, fishing, and gathering. However, he says Indigenous communities have been working relentlessly to restore traditional ways of life.
Smee suggests western supply chains, as imposed by settlers, have completely disrupted traditional food sourcing. While there has been a push in recent years for Indigenous peoples to return to traditional food sourcing methods, Smee explained, climate change has created a barrier in the exchange of traditional knowledge to new generations, as inconsistent weather patterns have made hunting, fishing and gathering conditions unpredictable.
While food insecurity in Labrador is a complex issue that requires the efforts of many to solve, community programs in Postville are doing their part to provide options for those who need them. The Postville Inuit Community Government has a community freezer that is fully stocked with seasonal fish and wild game, including salmon, arctic char, moose, seal, geese, berries and more.
The food is donated by locals who supply a portion of their catch in exchange for gas tickets. While the freezer is always open for anyone in the community to avail of, the program is geared towards those who are not able to hunt for themselves or otherwise might have difficulty accessing food, such as the elderly.
Melanie Gear of the Postville Inuit Community Government says that while everyone must do their part to work towards better food security for the community of Postville, seeing the impact of the community freezer gives her hope that Postville will be able to move towards a more sustainable future.