Farm school germinates interest in local food

Farm school germinates interest in local food
Jackie Milne proves that gardening is more than feasible in the NWT, even in the winter.Photo: Franziska Ulbricht.

Hay River will grow students along with crops this coming spring.

A new initiative, tentatively named the Northern Farmers Apprentice Institute, is set to start classes in April 2013 with support from the NWT department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) and Aurora College.

Jackie Milne, president of the Territorial Farmers’ Association and organizer of the farm school project, said her meeting with ITI Minister David Ramsay proved fruitful, and, although details remain to be worked out, she is looking forward to seeing the proposed curriculum in action.

“The goal is to support people who genuinely want to feed themselves again with knowledge,” she said. “We want to restore our local food system, because it’s only really recently that we’ve all deviated away from it.”

Instead of a traditional two or three-month semester, the course will run for one week each month during the spring, summer and fall. Milne is also hopeful that ITI will foot the majority of the bill, so students will only pay some travel and textbook costs.

“We’re trying to make the classes as accessible as possible for everyone, whether they work or have kids,” she said. “It also means the program would work in conjunction with the seasons. Early spring would be all about starting seeds, and maybe the next one would be about planning your outdoor garden.”

Other workshops will include introduction to large and small animal husbandry, hardy fruit growing and the basics of permaculture – a method in which agriculture is modeled after naturally occurring ecosystems and is entirely self-sustaining.

Milne was quick to point out that the program is rooted in hands-on experience, and though she suspects there will be a few mornings spent in classrooms, the majority of the teaching will take place on area farms. She has already recruited people with greenhouses, apple and cherry orchards, chickens and beef cattle as workshop hosts.

“The level of interest is very high, and there are a lot of people who want to learn, but only a few who have experience in a specific area,” Milne said. “We’re trying to facilitate a more rapid re-skilling.”

She has also been working with the NWT Literacy Council to create class resources that appeal to all levels of reading competency. Again, the idea is to attract the broadest swath of students possible, but Milne said it goes beyond that, in a series of developments in agriculture in Hay River, one of the most southerly regional centres in the NWT. While the sector continues growing, Milne would like to see a variety of farming efforts expand across the territory. She hopes people from surrounding areas attend workshops in Hay River and bring the lessons back to their communities, starting local food movements there.

“Feeding ourselves is an important thing,” she said. “We’re very remote, spread out and vulnerable, and a lot of people are caring more about the security, quality and the cost of food. Our awareness of that is a lot higher than it was even 10 years ago.”

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