Northern Farm Training Institute takes root

Northern Farm Training Institute takes root
President of the Territorial Farmers’ Association Jackie Milne shows off the kale she grows in her own greenhouse. She plans to use her greenhouses as “living classrooms” for the new Northern Farm Training Institute.Photo: Kim Rapati.

The seeds have been sown and classes are set to bloom this spring at a new farming school in Hay River now that the NWT department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) has finalized its financial contribution to the pilot project.

Northerners interested in learning about growing their own food or animal husbandry can now apply to become the first students at the new Northern Farm Training Institute.

The school will offer a themed three-day workshop once a month from April to October. There will be classroom lessons as well as hands-on fieldwork in greenhouses, community gardens and farms.

The institute is the brainchild of Jackie Milne, president of the non-profit Territorial Farmers’ Association (TFA).

Four years ago, Milne, an avid gardener, began hosting a series of volunteer workshops based on cultivating gardens. The level of interest was substantial then, she said, and it’s only continued to grow.

“There’s a real genuine interest in purposeful food production out there in the NWT,” Milne said. “I see the project becoming a dynamic catalyst that will rapidly disseminate the information out because lots of people I speak to have an incredible desire to reestablish themselves locally and become more in control of their food. That awareness is everywhere; it’s in society now.”

The GNWT confirmed its contribution of $40,000 to the institute at the end of last month, the startup portion of the total $350,000 Milne originally requested.

“New funding comes April 1 and then we should get the remainder as far as I understand,” Milne told The Journal.

Securing the rest of the finances from the government shouldn’t be a problem, according to Milne.

The new Growing Forward 2 fund, a joint federal and territorial program, announced an annual increase of $500,000 to support small-scale food production. Starting this spring, that means the NWT agriculture industry will receive a total of $1.2 million per year.

Milne figures the entire cost for the new institute’s first pilot year, excluding students’ travel costs, is about $200,000.

Thanks to the Growing Forward fund, students who qualify for the workshops will not have to pay for the course.

Milne said she is still discussing a budget with the GNWT that would cover all costs for students, including travel.

There is room for 15 students. Milne noted preference will be given to those in isolated communities.

“I look at it this way: everyone who comes to this can in effect become a mentor back in their community. So we’re training trainers,” Milne said.

Students can choose to sign up for the full school season or just attend one workshop.

Milne wants the workshops to be flexible and accessible, which is why she’s scheduled them to happen on weekends.

Classroom activities will take place at the Aurora College Community Learning Centre in Hay River. Outdoor activities will cycle through local greenhouses, farms, berry orchards and so on, Milne said.

Instructors include local farmers and gardeners as well as Milne and Aurora College instructor Susie Wegernoski, a permaculture enthusiast from Fort Resolution.

“Hay River has all the components we need for such training: established community gardens, a variety of greenhouses, cattle farms, goats, sheeps, pigs, rabbits.”

Graduation kits, specialized to each workshop theme, will also be handed out to students at the end, Milne said. These will include things like seed starting kits complete with grow lights and weeding tools.
The TFA is also compiling resource material to accompany the workshops.

Partners for the Northern Farm Training Institute include Aurora College, Ecology North and the NWT Literacy Council.

Applications are now being accepted. Northerners interested in applying are asked to call the TFA at 867-874-4706 or by email at farmnwt@northwestel.net.

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