Vivian Manuel did not grow up gardening, but after being inspired to provide healthy greens for her family she took on the role of community gardener.
Now she proudly displays a small sanctuary behind the old mission house that’s bursting with produce.
“There’s a few of us volunteering so we changed it where we built the boxes and families could claim a box and grow vegetables. It has worked well, we just need to learn more,” Manuel said.
The community of Fort Good Hope lies on the banks of the Mackenzie River in the Sahtu region of the Northwest Territories.
Food is brought in by plane, winter road and barge.
(“It helps to teach younger kids and budgeting with costs,” says Vivian Manuel. Photo: Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs/APTN)
Although the federal government provides a Nutrition North discount on some food items, for the 550 people living in town, grocery bills run high.
From the time of harvest it can take three to four weeks for a fruit or vegetable to hit the shelves at the Co-op or Northern Store.
“It helps to teach younger kids and budgeting with costs. We started with a wide range of seeds but have brought it down to turnips, potatoes, beets, peas and we tried onion sets. We tried onions but the crows got them,” she laughed.
In 2013 Manuel attended a gardening course at the Northern Farming training Institute (NFTI) in Hay River, N.W.T.
Manuel learned only the basics, it was that baseline that she brought back with her.
She applied for funding from the territorial government to cover the cost of equipment.
“I want to encourage someone to sell garden supplies. Right now you have to get those supplies in Norman Wells,” Manuel said.
Each harvest she learns a little more.
“Not knowing that greenhouses are better for certain plants and the outdoor gardens better for others. We use to have turnips and cucumbers they didn’t go anywhere. We know now that those go in the greenhouse,” she said.
Wilfred McNeely, a former chief of Fort Good Hope said the local government began looking into gardening a decade ago.
“My grandfather used to have a garden about 100 miles north on the Mackenzie River. He used to have big gardens to sell to the missionaries,” he said.
“They have been growing food around here for a long time.”
(Wilfred McNeely shows off some of the vegetables grown in the community garden. Photo: Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs/APTN)
He also attended workshops at NFTI which inspired him to build a greenhouse and raise chickens in his own backyard.
“One thing is making sure you have the proper soil. Not throwing chemicals in to it and using what we have here like chicken manure and fish. Fish has lots of good things in it,” he said.
McNeely had personal reasons for starting his own garden. He switched his diet after a trip to the doctor’s office left him worried about his high cholesterol.
“I was talking to one of the Managers at the grocery store in town. He said every week they buy 50 frozen pizzas. Can you imagine what goes into those pizzas for that shelf life,” McNeely said.
He has plans to winterize his greenhouse and extend the growing seasons further into the fall time.
(McNeely plans to winterize his greenhouse to produce vegetables for longer. Photo: Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs/APTN)
In August, 2019 the Federal government announced it would invest $392,000 to support NFTI’s northern diverse agriculture program which includes training more youth and individuals from smaller communities.
Around the same time, the Territorial Department of Health and Social Services Office amended legislation which waives permit fees for those wanting to sell homegrown food.
Manuel said she is hopeful that gardening will expand in the Sahtu with the introduction of gardening to the elementary school curriculum.
“I want to see every home have a home garden. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 4×4 foot garden or 8×4 garden boxes or open gardens, just everyone growing their own food,” she said.