Cherries in the garden? New course teaches how to grow 'food forests'

Gardening season in the north need not just be about tomatoes, beans and beets – at least, not according to Jackie Milne.

Course running Saturday and Sunday at Hay River's Northern Farm Training Institute

Gardening season in the North need not just be about tomatoes, beans and beets – at least, not according to Jackie Milne.

The director of the Northern Farm Training Institute (NFTI) outside of Hay River says trees bearing cherries, apples and hazelnuts can thrive up here, in the right conditions.

"Things that we would think maybe wouldn't grow here, can grow here," she says.

The NFTI is offering a course this weekend on how to grow a "food forest," from how to plan, to how to plant and care for fruit- and nut-bearing trees.

"A food forest is when you purposely plant trees that produce more consumable food," explains Milne.

The staff at NFTI have already proven that surprisingly heat-loving plants can be grown in the North, such as hops. Berry picking may be a well established tradition in the North, but tending to a berry garden has its tricks as well.

"Especially if we find little hot spots in our property where they can be a little bit — just a little bit — nurtured, all of a sudden it opens up," says Milne.

Perennial food-producers like trees are a cornerstone of a secure food system, she says, echoing one of the stated goals of the centre; finding ways to feed people from local sources is a constant pursuit at NFTI.

It's not all about feeding people, though. Domestic animals like goats benefit from food forests, munching on bark and shoots of willow trees, for example.

"Sometimes we just link the food from the trees directly to people, but also we can harvest food from the forest that will feed our animals, who feed us," said Milne.

The course is running Saturday and Sunday, and has limited space available.

With files from Jimmy Thomson