Jackie Milne, the President of NFTI, is a local Hay River Métis woman with over 20 years of successful market gardening. Her business started as a way to safely provide for her family, but soon Jackie noticed how interested other people were in what she was doing. When she was hired to run workshops and travel to 13 communities around the Northwest Territories, she truly discovered the depth and breadth of learning that Northerners needed. People wanted to know ‘How can we feed ourselves?’ and this is not a question easily answered in a short 2 hour workshop without a demonstration garden!

NFTI grew out of this grassroots need for authentic northern food production education for our isolated communities. When Jackie Milne came up with the concept and laid out a detailed and ambitious long-term plan for truly empowering people of the north to restore our local food systems, it was a labour of love. NFTI was born, and instead of sending experts into communities, the idea was to invest in local people who will become the experts for their community by building their capacity through indepth hands-on learning experiences in ‘living classrooms’. Throughout the first season of workshops, we were overwhelmed with the response from students to this strategy; they not only understood more about food production in the North, they actually had the skills and tools needed to begin businesses they are passionate about, learn about healthy and nutritional food, start alleviating the anxiety of food insecurity in their communities.

In September of 2013, the United Nations published their Trade and Environment Review 2013 “Wake Up Before it is Too Late: Make Agriculture Truly Sustainable for Food Security in a Changing Climate“. This report recommends a rapid and significant shift in agriculture and the practical ways to accomplish this align with the Northern Farm Training Institute:

“The transition from an energy-intensive form of agriculture […] to a system that builds productive ecosystem services to sustain multifunctional, suitable, resilient, viable and equitable agriculture requires major new investments in institutions and infrastructure. This inevitably requires the creation of new research centres and initiatives, which should be dedicated to research, education and extension under a fully participatory system that will also favour women and cover ecosystem services, organic farming, agroecology and agroforestry. The ultimate aim of those centres and initiatives should be the transformation of the present agricultural research system at national, regional and international levels to cater to the needs of a new agricultural paradigm.” – page 175 United Nations, March 2013

In March 2014, Jackie was asked to present at the Agriculture Canada AgriRisk Conference in Ottawa where she had a chance to share the NFTI dream of building a dedicated permanent farm campus based on the recommendations from the United Nations report.

Later in March, the Council of Canadian Academies published their report “Aboriginal Food Security in Northern Canada: An Assessment of the State of Knowledge.” NFTI is mentioned in this very important report as one of the current ‘Promising Practices to Build Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Health and Wellness with a Multidisciplinary Approach’.

NFTI began conversations with the Town of Hay River Economic Development Officer in the summer of 2013 to discuss the concept of the NFTI working farm and a potential site for the farm campus. In February 2014 the Town of Hay River completed their “Hay River Sustainable Agriculture Plan” which recommends actively supporting the development of a centre for agriculture incubation along with other recommendations to support education and communication of agriculture in Hay River.

The atmosphere was right for this type of a project in Hay River and with some dedicated work, we also secured the financial support needed to make the development of the farm campus a reality! In August 2014 during his Northern Tour, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency funding of $2 million over 2 years for NFTI. We had the opportunity to show him and his accompanying ministers around our students’ garden plots in the Fort Smith Community Gardens and explain the long-term benefits of investing in sustainable agriculture and ongoing educational support for new farmers.

With this support, and a partnership with the Town of Hay River to lease an abandoned property previously owned by Northern Pork, NFTI began our ambitious task: transform an abandoned industrial pig barn site with 20 years of debris and neglect into a training and research centre which could support our vision. We repaired roads, restored power to the site, removed derelict buildings and cleaned up industrial waste. We recovered and recycled thousands of dollars worth of materials and infrastructure and moved forward in building accommodations, classrooms, offices, a store, industrial kitchen, greenhouses and barn. At the same time, we trained northerners through intensive experiential courses. We now have a complete campus with all the facilities required and are continuing to develop more and grow to meet the needs of our local community and northern farmers.

In November of 2016, Jackie was honoured with the Meritorious Service Medal. This award is given by the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, on behalf of Her Majesty The Queen to recognize her outstanding contributions to our country. She will be traveling with her family to Ottawa to formally receive this medal in June. Jackie also has recently been sponsored by a private foundation to attend the Global Food Summit “Sequestering Carbon in Soil: Addressing the Climate Threat” in Paris, France in May.

NFTI in the News