Growing for the future: Construction begins on market garden facility

A worker from Flatstone Construction mans the heavy equipment in the background while members of the Flying Dust Cree8 Worker Cooperative Ltd. tour the site that will soon house a year-round market garden storage facility. Pictured (l-r) are board member Alma Bear, president Bill Gladue, manager-in-training Gladys Cardinal and general manager Len Sawatsky.

A worker from Flatstone Construction mans the heavy equipment in the background while members of the Flying Dust Cree8 Worker Cooperative Ltd. tour the site that will soon house a year-round market garden storage facility. Pictured (l-r) are board member Alma Bear, president Bill Gladue, manager-in-training Gladys Cardinal and general manager Len Sawatsky.

By Phil Ambroziak

Flying Dust First Nation is enjoying the fruits of its labour.
Last week, work began on a new, 4,000-square-foot storage facility for the Flying Dust Riverside Market Garden. Located east of Meadow Lake, the garden has been operational for close to five years and continues to grow both in size and in its level of service to band members, as well as Meadow Lake and area businesses.
“It’s really taken off,” remarked Gladys Cardinal, a manager-in-training at the market garden. “As of June 2011, we officially became a co-op. We have a board called the Flying Dust Cree8 Worker Co-operative. The board GM, Len Sawatsky, has been here from the beginning, however, and helped teach us (through a provincial agriculture certificate program) how to become production technicians – which is a fancy word for a gardener. We learned the basics in terms of growing and eventually selling produce and we’ve been very successful.”
According to Cree8 president Bill Gladue, the garden currently spans more than 20 acres.
“By having a storage facility in place, we’ll be able to expand every year in terms of our capacity,” Gladue said. “As we go along we should also be able to get our organics licence and see how that goes.”
Although a variety of vegetables are grown at the market garden, the main crop has always been potatoes. That’s another reason the development of a new storage building is essential. By storing the potatoes properly – as opposed to keeping them in whatever buildings happen to be available on the reserve – the produce will remain crisp and fresh, and at the proper temperature. This is expected to increase the supply and ultimately prove more profitable for the garden. The new building, which will also include a storefront, office space and a processing plant, will also allow the market garden to remain open year-round.
“We’re very excited about that,” Cardinal said. “It’s been a long time coming. It will also create jobs for the community.”
The $500,000 to $600,000 project is being funded by an Aboriginal Agriculture Initiative grant, which will also cover the cost of purchasing a potato harvesting machine, two potato trucks, a potato seed cutter and more. Since its inception, the market garden has received funding from AgriFoods Canada, Flying Dust First Nation and Inroads. It’s believed, however, if the garden’s current level of success continues, it could become entirely self-sufficient in a few short years.
“We will see when the time comes,” Cardinal said. “For now, our main objective is to create jobs for our community. We plan to hire 10 new people while at least five people will be coming back as supervisors.”
Cardinal said she also hopes other First Nations can learn from the example being set at Flying Dust.
“We hope other First Nations will catch on to what we’re doing and take that knowledge back to their communities so their people can benefit in the same way,” she said.
The storage building is expected to be completed by July of this year.
“At this stage, the community is starting to realize how far it’s capable of going,” Gladue said. “But, we have to educate everybody that we’re not just a little market garden, but rather a huge market that can go a long way.”

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