Back in August, during Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s annual northern tour, PMSH announced $2 million in federal funding to build a “permanent campus for the Northern Farm Training Institute” in Hay River, NWT.
According to CTV, “The money will let the two-year-old school run programs year-round from a campus set on 300 acres of farmland with greenhouses, offices and classrooms.” Harper also announced up to $2 million in funding to be spent “on an initiative … to commercialize and enhance the productivity of greenhouse projects across the North.”
These announcements were welcomed by folks who are involved in gardening and agriculture in both Fort Smith and Fort Resolution.
“I think it’s positive,” said Kara King, president of the Fort Resolution Métis Council. “There’s been a growing interest [in agriculture].”
According to Susie Wegernoski, interest is indeed growing. Wegernoski lives in Fort Resolution, and is one of the instructors at the Northern Farm Training Institute.
“We’ve just wrapped up our second season,” Wegernoski told One River News. “We’ve trained people from all areas of the NWT in sustainable, organic gardening methods.”
Wegernoski, who also maintains a large personal garden at home and recent began developing value added food products, explained that the $2 million in federal funding will go towards establishing a permanent farm training institute in Hay River, which includes a land trust. With high costs for fresh produce and other foods in the north, it is no surprise to note a growing resurgence in gardens in northern communities.
“Food security is hugely important,” said King, who maintains a 100’ x 50’ vegetable garden in her backyard. “We grow a lot of our main staples.”
“To put some things in perspective, when they do the icebreak up in Fort Simpson, you have to cross an icebridge to get there,” King explained. “One year, during the break-up, it was $6 for one green pepper. The price of food goes up because it has to be flown in. Even the trucking fees go up. If they have to drive on gravel highways instead of paved highways, they charge more because of wear and tear on their vehicles. If the road to your community isn’t a paved one, your cost of living is higher.”
Over in Fort Smith, there is also a vibrant gardening community, which includes a large community garden.
“There’s definitely a core group of people coming back year to year,” Chase Sellwood, a Fort Smith resident and avid gardener, told One River News. “They take it seriously in how they stock their larder for the winter.”
Sellwood explained that she hopes to begin moving towards commercial gardening soon, and that many in the community hope to have a weekly farmer’s market operating for next summer.
“It seems like there’s a lot of people who are interested in commercial gardening,” she told One River News.
Back in Fort Resolution, the Aurora College grounds now house the community gardens, where students are taught about gardening, and community members can tend to plots. With interest on the rise, Wegernoski is planning to hold a gardening series for new gardeners, beginning in the early spring, moving through to planting, tending, harvesting, and finally canning.
“I’ve already done a lot of the leg work to establish some of the curriculum for the farm school,” she said. “So we’re hoping to meet every second week.”
Keep posted to One River News over the winter for updates on the gardening series in Fort Resolution, and for other Northern agriculture developments.
Sheldon Birnie grew up in Dawson Creek, BC, and received a bachelor of environmental studies from the University of Manitoba in 2011. He lives in Winnipeg, MB, where he is a freelance writer, and the editor of the Manitoba Eco-Journal.