Volunteers at the Northern Farm Training Institute's greenhouse in Hay River in June 2019.
The future of food security in the NWT will come from the territory’s small communities, the leader of Hay River’s farm training initiative believes.
Jackie Milne is president of the Northern Farm Training Institute, which is receiving nearly $400,000 in new funding from the federal government to expand its programming.
Her institute’s work is designed to help combat the high cost of many food items, like produce, in remote areas of the NWT.
“Indigenous people, they have something that people from the south tend to lack. Indigenous people know, for certain, the North can feed them,” Milne told Cabin Radio.
She wants residents of NWT communities to start small, with a backyard plot, to help build food security.
The federal government announced on Friday it will funnel $392,920 to the Northern Farm Training Institute to run a pilot project entitled From-the-Land Food Ambassadors. The program will train people to become educators and mentors in their own communities.
The program builds on training already offered at the 260-acre campus in Hay River, said Milne. The campus includes greenhouses, an outdoor garden, and a range of animals such as rabbits, poultry, sheep, goats, pigs, and cows.
“We’ve tried to structure the education in a way that makes it as accessible to the broadest spectrum of people, from youth to seniors, women, people with families, and people with disabilities,” said Milne.
“Food security is going to come when we have many people knowing how to produce food. The quicker we can do that, the more food secure [we are].”
“We realize we need to meet people where they are with their schedule,” she said, referring to courses on weekends or timed to coincide with weeks when people can make it. Milne believes people need two years of experience to become proficient farmers, similar to other skilled trades.
The overall goal is to increase the number of Indigenous-run agricultural businesses in the NWT. Milne said families have taken up farming at the Kátł’odeeche First Nation, raising chickens, pigs, and goats, and setting up their own greenhouses. Meanwhile, former Fort Good Hope chief Wilfred McNeely Jr and his wife Patricia are running a greenhouse, selling what they grow and passing on knowledge gained at the institute.
The new program will provide an introduction to northern farming alongside sessions about outreach, networking, and market gardens. The federal cash will fund training materials as well as some outhouses and a garden for children.
“Even if just 50 percent of them succeeded, it would take care of everybody. It’s worth the investment, it’s worth the risk,” Milne said of the program.
The biggest remaining hurdle, Milne said, is paying for travel to bring people to the Hay River farm. She says the current application process to cover those costs, through the NWT’s Department of Industry, Tourism, and Investment, can sometimes be hard for participants to navigate.
Milne now hopes the farm can generate more income from its produce and meat to reduce the institute’s reliance on government grants.
A recently opened café at the Kátł’odeeche First Nation’s wellness centre looks like it will “really take off,” she said, and will receive much of what the farm produces.