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    NNSL Photo/Graphic

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    Farmer to fuel food production

    Paul Bickford
    Northern News Services
    Published Monday, August 11, 2008

    HAY RIVER - Beginning next year, a Hay River market gardener is planning to create the NWT's first self-sustaining farming operation.

    "What we're trying to create is a farm that will grow fuel and food," said Jackie Milne. "That is the future of farming."

    NNSL Photo/Graphic

    Jackie Milne, a Hay River market gardener, plans to create the NWT's first self-sustaining farm. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

    Milne explained farms can produce three basic fuels that are renewable, sustainable and non-polluting.

    She said one of those fuels is ethanol - basically alcohol - that can be made from many feed stocks, including cattails grown in ditches.

    "You can convert every single type of gasoline engine to run on alcohol fuel," she said.

    Another fuel is a kind of natural gas, which Milne said can be made very easily.

    "It's called methane when you make it on a farm," she said, explaining it is made by composting manure or other organic matter. Milne said her farm will also make biodiesel from vegetable oil, which will be used as a lubricant for machinery.

    The new farming operation will be designed from the start to make use of all three those fuels.

    They can make a farm immune to fluctuations in the price of fossil fuels, Milne added.

    "The price of food is very, very volatile because it's all based on fossil fuels."

    The hit from high fuel prices can actually affect farms twice - both in the growing and transport of food.

    The market garden operation will also feature a greenhouse, but not a standard one.

    For one thing, Milne said the greenhouse will have an underground tank.

    "Its sole purpose would be to store heat," she said, adding the water it will contain would be heated by a wood-fired burner.

    Milne is enthusiastic about creating such an eco-friendly farm.

    "It's what I've dedicated my life to," she said. "I believe in it so much. It's revolutionary."

    Her farm will be part of the "permaculture" movement, which began in Australia.

    "Everything you need you harvest from your environment and there's no waste," Milne said in explaining permaculture.

    Earlier this year, the 42-year-old and her husband, Graham, purchased three acres of uncleared land at the back of the town's industrial area. That's where they and their three children plan to move and create the new farming operation.

    Milne intends to start construction next summer on what will be called Indian Summers Market Garden. While she will seek some government grants, Milne and her husband, who has a job aside from farming, are prepared to pay for the new operation themselves.

    Milne's plans for a self-sustaining operation are being watched with interest by the Territorial Farmers' Association (TFA).

    "It would be definitely new to the NWT as far as I know," said Evellyn Coleman, the TFA's executive director.

    Coleman said Milne - a member of the TFA - firmly believes the NWT can be self-sufficient, especially when it comes to food.

    "Food sovereignty is becoming more of an issue in other parts of the world," she said.

    Coleman added Milne's methods might be able to be copied by other small-scale farmers in the North.

    "The one thing about Jackie is she's very willing to share."

    John Colford, manager of traditional economy, agriculture and fisheries with the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, believes Milne's plans are commendable.

    "I don't think there are any other farms in the NWT doing the same things," he said. "That's the direction we hope everyone in the North goes in."

    Colford said the important thing is that Milne's plans would make her farming operation more efficient and sustainable.

    Milne's dedication to sustainability is matched only by her love of farming.

    "Farming is so enjoyable," she said, adding it offers a chance to work outdoors and lead a healthy lifestyle.