Nfld. & Labrador

A new season begins as Memorial University buys the Grand River Farm in Labrador

The long-running Happy Valley-Goose Bay farm has been purchased by the Labrador Institute, which will run it for farming, research and community engagement.

MUN's Labrador Institute will run the Happy Valley-Goose Bay farm as a research and education farm

Joyce Pye and Ashlee Cunsolo announced Memorial University and the Labrador Institute as the new lease holders for the Grand River Farm, which Pye and her late husband ran. (John Gaudi/CBC)

It's the end of one season for the Grand River Farm in Labrador, but the start of a new one as Memorial University's Labrador Institute takes over the land known colloquially as Pye Farm.

"It's very exciting, but it's also a very sad time for me, sad because Frank is not here to share this," said Joyce Pye, who ran the farm for many years with her late husband, Frank Pye, who died in 2017.

"But it is exciting that things will carry on there, and to know that the work that we did is not gone and lost, that something will continue."

That future work will include community engagement, farming and scientific research, said Ashlee Cunsolo, the director of the Labrador Institute, at an event announcing that the university and the institute are the new lease holders for the research and education farm in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

Pye, who ran Grand River Farm with her late husband, Frank Pye, says the day was sad for her but also exciting. (John Gaudi/CBC)

"We're establishing Pye Centre for Northern Boreal Food Systems in honour of Frank and Joyce Pye, and all the work that they've done and to really celebrate food security and food sovereignty in Labrador," Cunsolo said.

Growing a new plan

The work to transfer the farm to MUN has taken just over two years, Cunsolo said, and involved not only the Pyes and the university but the province, community leaders, Indigenous governments, rights holders and other farmers in the area, Cunsolo said.

"Thankfully, we've had Joyce to guide us through much of the process," said Cunsolo, who added that valuable input has also been provided by others in the community, including local farmers who have provided information about what they need and how the university can support the things they're already doing.

She and her husband were long committed to agriculture in Labrador, Pye said, and to ensuring that healthy, locally grown food was available in the area. She said she is excited and pleased to know that work will continue with the Labrador Institute.

"The university support for all of the farmers who are here, there are only a handful of them, will be invaluable," she said.

The farm will be about more than food and food research, Cunsolo said — just as it was under the Pyes, it will also be community. People are already discussing things they hope will continue, like hay rides, farm days, and u-pick strawberries, she said. 

"The social aspect of our food and how we grow together, how we eat together, how we prepare together, is so important to what we're going to be doing moving forward."

Cunsolo is the director of the Labrador Institute at Memorial University. (John Gaudi/CBC)

Work is expected to begin this summer on some baseline mapping and soil testing, Cunsolo said, as well as clearing weeds, plowing and planting crop cover. Then there are plans to spend the fall and winter preparing for the next growing season.

Pye is relieved to know the land will be cared for and the farm will continue, she said, and she looks forward to watching the progress through the windows of her home, where she will continue to live. Cunsolo said she hopes the farm's matriarch will stay involved, whether it's as an advisor or on her tractor, and Pye said MUN can count on it.

"They'd have to chase me away with a stick."

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