A 9 pm sun glows red from a nearby forest fire lending a calm light to the heritage garden site on the banks of the Hay River and Great Slave Lake, an area that has been used for living and food gathering for thousands of years. It’s the perfect cool evening for three young interns who have been working with the land by building a half acre organic vegetable garden. They will be harvesting and selling from this garden as part of the Northern Market Gardener Internship with the Northern Farm Training Institute (NFTI). This is a part of NFTI’s From-the-Land Food Ambassadors Program, which was the runner-up for the 2018 $1 Million Arctic Inspiration Prize. This contest inspired NFTI to dream bigger and build stronger connections to go forward with this long-term vision!

Tamara Graham building beds. © Aaron Tambour

NFTI was created in 2013 as a tool to help find the answer to ‘how do we restore our northern food independence’? Jackie Milne, NFTI’s President and lead instructor is a local Métis mother of three with over 25 years of market garden experience and the recipient of a Governor General’s Meritorious Service Medal for her work. She created the NFTI Farm Campus in response to this question as a mixed farm sized to feed 200 people and designed based on regenerative farming methods guided through holistic manage­ment. Regenerative farming creates quality food production by supporting biodiversity and healthy soil that improves the land.

When people think about food insecurity in the North, the climate is blamed. In fact, we can feed ourselves from the land! Northerners know this well; it’s still in our culture and our most recent history. We need authentic training and support from experienced harvesters and farmers, for both wild and domestic food systems, that empowers our communities. This is what led to the vision for the From-the-Land Food Ambassadors Program. The goal is to incubate teachers who are empowered to restore and improve their community food system by equipping them with the infra­structure, tools and confidence to produce food, both wild harvest and farming.

This year, three ambitious women from the K’atl’odeeche First Nation (KFN), who are excited about rebuilding the historic garden site in the Old Village of the Hay River Dene Reserve, are being trained.

It is time for the people who love the land to become the leaders in teaching how to restore our food system. With global knowledge of regenerative farming techniques, we can create farms integrated with the ecosystem. Domestic farms can support and nurture the land, allowing us to continue wild harvest. Supporting local food producers who love the land and can also be teachers can create a lasting impact in our communities.

Kim Rapati is the Operations Manager for the Northern Farm Training Institute.