Students in the new farming school in Hay River are not wasting any time in sharing what they’re learning about local food security and the power of gardening.
That is exactly what Jackie Milne, president of the non-profit Territorial Farmers’ Association (TFA) and the school’s main instructor, said she was hoping for.
The Northern Farm Training Institute held its first workshop on seed selection and care from Apr. 26-28, followed by the second workshop, planting and garden prep, from May 3-5.
The trailblazing school is geared towards Northerners who are serious about growing their own food and offers valuable lessons through monthly workshops in food harvesting and storage, garden maintenance and marketing, and even an introduction to small animal husbandry.
The classroom is at capacity, with 15 students from communities across the NWT, Milne said.
Two of the participants are from Fort Good Hope and went home during the four days in between workshops to host informational gardening sessions of their own.
“They organized it and taught what they’d learned in the seed course with just those four days when they went back to Fort Good Hope. So, see, they’re already teaching other people in their communities,” Milne said. “This is exactly what we want. Everyone in these workshops is passionate and wants to inspire others. They are aware this isn’t just about the individual, but about changing how we eat and live as a whole community.”
The workshops, which run for one weekend per month until October, are in high demand with over 40 people already on the waiting list for next year and more names rolling in on a regular basis, Milne said.
With adequate funding, Milne plans to expand the workshops for the 2014 season.
The GNWT confirmed its contribution of $40,000 to the institute at the end of January, the startup portion of the total $350,000 Milne originally requested.
To date, $140,000 has been allocated to the school, but Milne said she needs about $50,000 more to cover all the student airfares .
“We could have just had the workshops open to those in the South Slave region and it wouldn’t be so expensive, but the idea is to mentor people from all the NWT regions and then a couple years from now, we’ll have satellite teaching centres so people in, let’s say, Norman Wells, can get together and have workshops and there will be permanent resource people there.”
Milne said it’s time for the North to “get smart,” and start “flying people, not food” into the remote communities.
“Everyone has concerns about food, whether that be health, costs, access, variety, selection and taste…There’s many reasons to want to take more charge of our food supply,” she said.
Students have so far gained valuable hands-on experience in Milne’s own greenhouse, planting seeds, learning what has to be planted ahead of time inside and why, how to know when to transplant and to do so effectively, and how to develop organic soil fertility.
“What if the rototiller breaks down? You have to know what to do,” Milne said.
The class also dedicated an entire day to the discussion of rainwater harvesting.
“Lots of people are on trucked-in, delivered water and they can’t afford to water gardens, so we looked at different ways of storing rain water, getting water from the river, how to use non-electric pumps,” Milne said. “We made self-watering buckets out of recycled five gallon pails. That’s what it’s about: real, practical stuff. And that makes the students so gung-ho. They’ll all have gardens for sure.”
The participants range in age from 14 to 60, Milne said, and include men and women.
“We have one 14 year-old Aboriginal boy who wants to build his own greenhouse…Another woman is from the Phillipines, and everyone brings their own unique perspectives to the table,” she said.
The next workshop, set for June 7-9, will explore various garden construction designs and feature a tour of a market garden in Hay River.
“Spring comes in many ways and this is spring for a food transformation in the NWT,” Milne said. “One young student told me he was doing this because it was about changing the world.”