On Friday, the sight of a truck being loaded with assets belonging to the Northern Farm Training Institute had Hay River residents wondering if the farm was closing for good.
But Jackie Milne, founder and president of the institute, said the organization has simply decided to make changes that will cut costs. The institute will no longer remain open in winter, she said.
“I had to lay off all my main crew,” said Milne. “I only have summer students helping me. It’s going to be a little summer garden from now on. So I’m just packing up all the equipment that I don’t have the ability to lock up for the season.”
Not only will the farm no longer remain open year-round, but animals will no longer be part of its operations.
“We’ve been depopulating the farm since the spring,” said Milne. “It’s practically all gone. All the pigs are butchered, all the sheep and goats are gone. We’re just holding on to the cows for now because they don’t cost anything to feed, but they’ll probably all get butchered or sold.”
The institute specializes in providing farm training to people interested in creating small farms. But Milne says what she perceives to be a lack of government support for animal cultivation makes continuing that form of programming impossible.
“There’s no funding for animal education at all. And the cost, the hours, the maintenance… we almost ran out of feed last year in March. I mean, we were desperate,” she said.
Earlier this summer, Milne said her farm produce stand had been “shut down by the government” in a Facebook post that received more than 9,000 shares.
The territorial government, in response, said the farm institute did not have a valid food establishment permit under regulations in force for more than a decade – as any farm or small business producing food must, including stalls at farmers’ markets – and therefore had been told to stop selling food until a permit was acquired.
“The Department of Health and Social Services wishes to work with all food operators and engage in productive communication on this matter,” the territory said in a statement last month.
“We do want to stress that we are willing and available to work with any vendor or producer to help them comply with food health and safety regulations,” department spokesperson Jeremy Gibson Bird said by email.
The permit is free for any not-for-profit organization to acquire.
“There can be a place for such government inspections,” the institute wrote on its Facebook page.
“Keep hounding the huge corporate production facilities with all their questionable processed, packaged foods.
“However, when local people can personally inspect the farm and everything related to the foods they are interested in eating, the government has no authority to stop the people.”
Laurissa Cebryk contributed reporting.