Farming institute passes milestone

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo Kim Rapati, the operations manager with the Northern Farm Training Institute, shows one of the tomatoes grown in its greenhouse.

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
Kim Rapati, the operations manager with the Northern Farm Training Institute, shows one of the tomatoes grown in its greenhouse.

Since it is harvest time, the Northern Farm Training Institute – better known as NFTI – is giving thanks for a successful second year at its farm campus, basically its first in operation.

“This is our first year actually being able to plant food and have our animals be working on the land, and our first year having training courses here at the farm campus and having students stay out here,” said Kim Rapati, the operations manager with NFTI.

In other words, NFTI became operational this year with the goal of spreading information about farming throughout the North.

“It’s very exciting to be able to see the vision really start to become a reality,” said Rapati.

She added it is also exciting to empower Northern communities.

“We trained 42 people this year,” she said.

Those students came from Hay River, the Tlicho, Fort Simpson, Fort Providence, Fort Smith, Yellowknife and even northern Manitoba.

The training – both internship semesters and one-or-two-day classes – dealt with numerous topics, including soils and seeds, garden design, animal husbandry, food preservation and more.

“This past summer I feel like we did actually get to do what we were meant to do,” said Rapati. “We did achieve the vision of being able to more deeply train people from the Northwest Territories who are taking their skills back home with them and are looking at starting their own businesses or already working on their own garden programs.”

NFTI started in 2013 by offering some courses, and since then has trained 127 people from 28 communities in the NWT.

“We started really small,” recalled Rapati. “We were just doing our training courses on other people’s farms. And overwhelmingly the feedback we got from people was that we needed our own campus and we needed somewhere where people could stay together and do real research and do real work where they could spend longer and see the progression of what they were learning play out.”

She said it was an exciting opportunity when NFTI leased the site of the former Northern Pork operation – which ran from 1990 to 1995 – from the Town of Hay River.

“To have our own campus site and to have our own infrastructure is just a huge plus,” said NFTI president Jackie Milne.

She also said that – at about one square kilometre – it is the largest farm in the NWT.

It currently employs five workers.

Milne said last summer largely involved “deconstructing” the old 10,000-square-foot Northern Pork building.

“We salvaged and recycled as much as we could,” she said. “We kind of went through it and did that on purpose.”

In particular, some of NFTI’s new buildings, including a greenhouse, were built on the concrete foundation of the old building.

“The first year we were on the site we had the massive job of repairing the roads, hooking up the power, cleaning up the garbage that was from 20 years of this property being abandoned, which was like tons and tons of abandoned vehicles, just junk everywhere, and then taking down this old derelict barn,” said Rapati, noting 15 people were hired for the deconstruction work in May and June of last year.

By the end of last summer, a barn, a greenhouse and other buildings had risen on the property, which now includes 10 yurts where students can stay.

Also at the end of last summer, the farm campus had goats, sheep, cows and more, and chickens were added this summer.

Its harvest this year included tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, cabbage, cucumber, turnips, beets and much more.

Rapati said it has been rewarding to watch the transformation from the old industrial system of Northern Pork that didn’t work to NFTI’s new system of integrated, diverse and regenerative agriculture.

The main funding for NFTI is $2 million from CanNor. Of that money, $1.7 million has already been obtained and the remaining $300,000 is awaiting the completion of paperwork.

“We’ve continued to go forward without the full funding,” said Milne, noting she still expects NFTI will receive the remainder of the money. “So I just feel that it shows the viability of the project.”

–Paul Bickford