Farmers seek home for institute

Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo Kim Rapati, left, and Jackie Milne look at a proposed plan for the new NFTI campus, out on Highway 1 where the old hog barn sit is located.

Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo
Kim Rapati, left, and Jackie Milne look at a proposed plan for the new NFTI campus, out on Highway 1 where the old hog barn sit is located.

The announcement of $2 million in CanNor funding for the Northern Farm Training Institute a few weeks ago was certainly a cause for excitement for the project’s proponents, but by no means the end of their efforts.

“This is just the beginning,” said institute founder Jackie Milne. “CanNor is just one avenue and it’s great, but we’re getting a lot of support from many different organizations.”

The farm training institute has been running workshops in the spring, summer and fall for two years now without the benefit of a regular campus. While Milne said it was good to be flexible in the early days of the program, she is very much looking forward to creating a permanent space for people to learn about agriculture, which they can then take back to their own communities in the North.

The facility will be located on the site of the old hog barn off Highway 1 and will – hopefully, says Milne – be able to host students as early as next year.

“This site makes $2 million go a long way,” said Milne, explaining that not only are the foundations for the buildings still usable, the overgrown road that leads to it will save millions in construction costs. “Of course it needs work, it needs to be graded and cleared, but all the infrastructure, the lines for power, everything, is already there.”

The land is also owned by the municipality, which will essentially be contributing its use in-kind, meaning there is no massive land-purchase right out of the gates for the fledgling school.

“We’re going to use as much of the existing buildings and trails and roads as we can,” said Milne. “We need to learn to stop wasting energy and money just because we have it.”

Although the plan is for the campus to be hosting students from across the territory as early as next summer, the facility itself will
hardly be complete.

Ecology North’s Kim Rapati, who has worked with Milne on the project since its inception, explained that students would help construct some of the key features of the institute, like modular greenhouses, and then be able to take that experience home to build similar structures in their own backyards.

“It’s really exciting that next year students will be involved in building the site, as they would their
own,” she said.

A permanent campus would also eventually provide space for something of an internship program in which people looking to start agriculture businesses could come and work on the farm for a period of time.

“There’s some things you can’t learn in a weekend,” said Rapati. “This way, people can really get a feel for how much work is involved and decide if they want to do it commercially.”

The next step, and one both Milne and Rapati are particularly looking forward to, is to bring in world permaculture specialist Sepp Holzer. Milne explained that projects have to audition and be deemed worthy of his services, but that the institute had stood out from the crowd as a unique opportunity to build a system from the ground up, without having to dismantle any industrial agricultural systems at the outset. Holzer essentially designs landscapes that work with natural processes to increase
efficiency and yields.

“The goal this year is to do a lot of restoration,” said Milne. “We want to have it clean and ready to go for next year.”

She also noted that there would be some extensive community consultation done over the course of the winter for input on what the final facility will look like.

“Sometimes you get the greatest ideas that way, and we have the time and space in which to do it properly,” she said. “The minute the ground thaws, we’ll be ready to go.”

-Sarah Ladik