Tucked inside the lush boreal forest in Canada’s Northwest Territories, you’ll find something unexpected. There, cheek to jowl with the ever-encroaching trees sits a thriving farm with snuffling pigs, lush fruit trees, and acres of vegetables, all in an environment that is anything but hospitable to agriculture. But creating a flourishing, regenerative landscape perfect for establishing local food security is exactly what the Northern Farm Training Institute is all about. Their goal is to help people form their own holistic growing environments to support healthy, food-secure communities – even if they happen to be located above the 60th parallel.
The Northern Farm Training Institute (NFTI) was founded in 2013 as a way to train people in isolated communities how to grow their own food and to restore northern environment-based food systems. Since then, the farm has taught 147 people from over 30 communities – half of those from First Nations/Metis/Inuvialuit communities – to create their own farms.
NFTI grew as Jackie Milke, a local Hay River Metis woman, recognized the need to alleviate food insecurity in local communities. She quickly realized that there was a large demand for this type of learning, and the 260-acre farm has since hosted 30 intensive workshops in what they call a “living classroom.”
The farm consists of outdoor gardens, a hoop greenhouse, and a geodesic dome greenhouse. On the farm live herds of sheep, cattle, pigs, goats, and chickens, with an animal barn, industrial kitchen and farm store. There are also 10 small yurts that act as student housing, and one large yurt for classroom learning. All of this is surrounded by the nearby Hay River, fields, forests and ponds.
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Farming in the NFTI focuses on regenerative, holistically-grown food that improves the health of the land and wildlife. The farm is completely organic and uses tactics like minimal tillage, and supporting biodiversity and soil health to help maintain a healthy environment. The farm grows a variety of berries, cherries, herbs, greens, carrots, beets, beans, potatoes, radishes and cruciferous vegetables.
To further support a healthy community, NFTI uses produce that is being thrown out by local grocery stores to feed their pigs. In the fall, they teach wool washing, felting and dying. Pigs are used to help clear land for farming, and sheep help weed and fertilize pasture areas. They also work with animals that are more comfortable in colder climates, like Iceland Sheep and yaks, rather than the Rambouillet sheep and Angus cattle so familiar in the US.
During the winter, with just six daylight hours, aurora borealis overhead and a sunset at 3:45 pm, the Northern Farm Training Institute doesn’t sit back and take January off. They grow seedlings inside their greenhouses, using snow to water the plants. The sunlight bouncing off the snow outside creates an ideal lighting effect for the growing plants. And the farm collects and uses discarded shredded paper from local communities to keep the animals warm. They also teach cheesemaking classes and food storage classes.
The farm’s goal can be summed up as this: “Together we can transform Canada’s north. Regenerative agriculture provides the key to our food security, economic growth, and environmental restoration.” If you’d like to check the farm out, you can stop on by, either as a visitor, student or volunteer. Head to their webpage for more information.
+ Northern Farm Training Institute
images via NFTI