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First Nations community in rural northern Ontario receives new award
First Nations community in rural northern Ontario receives new award

First Nations community in rural northern Ontario receives new award

The Eabametoong First Nation converted a community garden into a farm to become more self-sufficient


By Kaitlynn Anderson

Staff Reporter


The Eabametoong First Nation is one of the five recipients of the first-ever Rural Ontario Leaders Awards.

The community, which is located approximately 360 km north of Thunder Bay, converted a small community garden into the Fort Hope Farm, according to Thursday’s government release.

Members of the Eabametoong First Nation grew enough food to feed almost every family in the community, a CBC News article said last week.

In fact, members of the community harvested about 12,000 pounds of food from the farm last year, Katrin Sawatzky, who assists with capacity building and project development at Eabametoong First Nation, told on Friday.

The rural community built the farm with the goals of becoming more self-sufficient and contributing to community pride, Lewis Nate, economic development officer for the Eabametoong First Nation, said in the CBC News article.

Some members of the First Nation created the idea a few years ago.

“The Fort Hope Farm started out as a community vision shared between a former chief and a First Nations consultant,” Sawatzky said.

The pair, who had always dreamed of starting a community farm, gathered a group of stakeholders three years ago to start the visioning process, she said.

That year, the community worked with the University of Guelph to conduct trials to determine which plants would be best suited to the climate.

The following year, the Eabametoong First Nation applied for funding through the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

Using this funding, “we were able to move our small community garden into a seven-acre full-functioning conventional farm with a tractor,” Sawatzky said.

The farm has provided the First Nation with an opportunity to spur community development and combat food insecurity in northern Ontario, she said.

The community also has plans to add to the operation.

“Currently, we are in the process of completing a feasibility study for some commercial greenhouses,” Sawatzky said. “We have a short growing season, but our days are very long, so hopefully we can capitalize a little bit more with greenhouses and extend the season.”

Upon hearing that the community had received one of the Rural Ontario Leaders Awards, the Eabametoong First Nation was very excited.

“We were so pleased,” Sawatzky said. “It’s not often that a First Nations community is recognized in an agricultural way in the north for food sovereignty. Everyone was overwhelmed and full of gratitude.”

During the awards ceremony, Rudy Waboose, the farm’s manager, and another council member delivered speeches which paid tribute to Ron Okeese, one of the two gentlemen who originally envisioned the farm.

“He actually passed away two or three weeks prior to the awards ceremony,” Sawatzky said. “It was really hard on the team, so when they accepted the award, I think it just meant that much more to feel like he was with us in spirit.”

The four other recipients of the awards, according to the release, are:

  • Grant Sparling, vice-president and general manager of Cowbell Brewing Company
  • Freshwater Cuisine, a company that markets freshwater fish products in Kenora
  • Dr. Gezahgn Wordofa, founder and director of the Multicultural Association of Perth-Huron
  • the HUB, “a co-working centre that supports entrepreneurship and social innovation in the Muskoka community”

Every two years, the government will present the awards to individuals, communities, businesses and not-for-profits that show “outstanding leadership in the area of rural economic development,” according to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

UPDATED FEB. 27 2018.