New crop of farm training workshops scheduled

New crop of farm training workshops scheduled
Students of the first workshops offered by the Northern Farm Training Institute learn to plant seedlings in Hay River last year. A new crop of workshops are set to begin this May.Photo: Kim Rapati.

With spring temperatures well on their way to revealing the fertile soil of the southern NWT, organizers behind the Northern Farm Training Institute expect the second year of the successful pilot school will see a growth in interest, with workshops scheduled in multiple communities.

Based in Hay River, the innovative farming school, the first of its kind in the North, has planned five free, three-day workshops this year to be held in Hay River, Fort Smith and Fort Simpson.

“We’ve already had people sending in applications during the winter before we’ve even advertised for this year,” Jackie Milne, lead instructor for the institute, told The Journal.

The first workshop is set for May 16 to 18 in Fort Smith and will focus on how to design and plant a sustainable garden. The class will be taught at the community gardens where Milne said, by the end of the course, they will have designed and planted a full, sustainable garden from scratch.

“Because we are going to be doing it in Fort Smith – Fort Smith does get late, unexpected frost, more so than in Hay River – there is going to be a whole component about that on all the low-tech ways we can protect our plants in the garden after we’ve planted them,” she said.

The other four workshops spread throughout the summer will cover food options North of 60, garden maintenance and marketing, food harvesting, preparation and marketing, and an introduction to small and large animal husbandry.

While the school was able to hold six workshops last year, Milne said they had to scrap a workshop in April because they were late in securing the necessary funding from Education, Culture and Employment in addition to federal funding. The workshops’ expenses include providing students with compensation for travel and accommodation.

Full farming campus in sights

Milne said the goal for the institute is to eventually have enough funding and support to build a full farm training campus in Hay River for year-round schooling.

Milne was in Yellowknife last week to discuss the possibility of a full-blown campus with interested government and industry parties, including Agriculture Canada, the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency and Canadian mineral company Avalon Rare Metals.

Like carpentry and welding, farming is a trade and should be trained hands-on as such, she said.

“You can’t learn to produce food without being outdoors, touching seeds, soil and such. You really can learn a lot from reading and books, but to put it into practice, eventually you need to be actually in a living environment,” Milne said.

From research she has gathered, the instructor said skilled sustainable farmers can earn the equivalent of a $60 per-hour job while those starting out can achieve a respectable $15 an hour.

“If you want to turn it into a business, you can turn it into a very good, well-paid business and you are also producing food for yourself,” she said.

Milne said the end goal of the farm training program is to build up a collective skillset for holistic, sustainable living that will carry on through future generations.

Spots are still open to register for the five workshops this summer and Milne said they are encouraging anyone in the NWT to apply.

“The more people we get to apply, the better to really show the interest and get the support we need to continue this program,” she said.

For more information on the farm training instutute, email, or visit

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