In 2006 Frontier School Division began focusing on horticulture as a tool for education, youth development, and community health. The concept was designed to work within formal education and included study spaces, staff, greenhouse and outdoor growing spaces.
In 2007, Chuck Stensgard was hired as regional coordinator. Based out of Leaf Rapids and travelling to many other northern communities, Chuck has become an experienced and knowledgeable northern boreal grower. The local Leaf Rapids infrastructure is comprehensive and includes: a tunnel greenhouse, a shed greenhouse, the Churchill River Nursery with 1.5 acres of in-ground growing beds as well as indoor classroom space that includes a seed room, growing room, and laboratory.
The study and production of vegetable plants in the northern boreal forest is important on a local and global sense. The cost of good food is high and related health problems are far too common. Climate change is happening and we need to build strong food production skills and reduce our dependence on far off food sources. The Boreal Forest can support a strong local food system for northern people. Chuck Stensgard stated, “Our cooler weather and long days, and with the shelter and cover systems, we can grow amazing food. Just look at the strawberries that we have developed.”
Hundreds of youth have benefited from the program over the years by developing gardening skills and understanding of natural systems. Summer internships are usually part of the program with up to 8 youth working in the gardens and growing food together. Adults from the community also get involved in paid and volunteer capacities. In 2016, two adults from the community who were known to have challenges with the justice system and addictions got involved in the garden. They worked to establish more than half of new good in-ground horticultural beds and “nobody worked harder than those guys”, said Chuck Stensgard. They were proud of what they were able to achieve. The downside is that they are not able to work with the students. Les Linklater said, “Lots of people are really interested in what we are doing and I think it’s awesome. I feel really good about it.”
Partnerships are important to this work. The University of Manitoba has supplied a steady supply of both service-learning and Masters students who spend time in Leaf Rapids. These partners have inspired local youth and supported further development and awareness of the program. The Northern Healthy Foods Initiative, offered through the province of Manitoba, continues to be a key partner by providing financial support and active networks focused on food security.
Going forward, the Grow North Boreal Horticultural project looks to maintain our resources and programs, while focusing on sharing knowledge and building skills in other northern community members. In 2017, the program will host three learning events for other northerners to attend and share knowledge. Chuck recently explained that “I believe we get power from knowledge, and I have learned so much up here. I learn more every year. Getting the knowledge and inspiration out to northerners is key for this year. We will share as much information as possible.”
To find out more about the Grow North Boreal Horticulture Project please read here.
To find out more about other community partners please read here.