Pilot Project: North Caribou Lake First Nation, Year One 

Hello, I just want to say a big thank you for coming to our community and reviving what we had lost. Also I wanted to learn about gardening, something I really wanted to learn. I hope you come back next year. Gardening is one of the most important things in our clan, that’s how they survived when food such as moose, beaver, and other big game were very scarce, almost, hardly, none at all. My grandparents used to tell me stories that some clans would starve to death.
— Thomas Quequish, NCL First Nation

Sustainable. Simple. Successful.

The Boreal Garden Project launched its pilot initiative in North Caribou Lake First Nation in 2015. It began as an activity based idea for the patients in the highly successful opiate addiction recovery program. The hope was that it would not only address the urgent need for fresh fruit and vegetables in this remote community, but it would also become a sustainable, locally managed garden. It was a success! 

North Caribou Lake First Nation won the “food champion” award at the NAN food symposium in august 2016 for their, “active commitment, involvement and leadership in strengthening the local community food initiative. “

North Caribou Lake First Nation is 320km north of Sioux Lookout, Ontario. It is a fly-in community on Lake Weagamow. 900 people live on this Reservation. This community is part of the announced State of Health and Public Health Emergency declared by the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) in February 2016.

The Boreal Garden Project is a First Nation’s initiative and NAN hired Steve Vassallo to facilitate the project. He coordinated the shipment of all the gardening essentials to be delivered via the ice road and then flew to NCL throughout the growing season in 2016 to implement the development of the garden from sourcing soil to building a greenhouse to keeping the giant crows at bay.  His role was teacher.  The process was organic. The story wrote itself.

It’s a story about creating and growing, nurturing and re-connection to the land. It’s a story about engaging those on the margins, tweaking the curiosity of young people, about making a difference. This is a story about building a greenhouse, planting a seed, tilling the soil, getting dirty, getting busy.

This is a story about picking it from the ground and biting into a fresh sweet carrot for the first time in your life.  

What Does Success Look Like? 

Engagement. Pride. Stewardship.
  • 75 heads of lettuce, 15lbs of carrots, 80 bunches of green onions (5 to a bunch), purple and green kale, beans, peas and cabbage
  • Women picking beans and cooking together in the kitchen. 
  • Children getting excited about fresh lettuce in their moose meat tacos.
  • Foraging for blueberries and making a pie. It used to be that only the elders knew where the blueberries were growing.
  • Tasting purple kale for the first time and liking it
  • Adding fresh carrots, beans and green onions to moose stew for the first time in generations
  • Engaging in outdoor physical activity
  • Healthy choices at your fingertips and it’s free
  • Addressing the urgent need for affordable fresh produce

Looking Ahead

The pilot project of the Boreal Garden Project was a success in 2016. But the challenge of sustainability remains.  It will be critical to implement a long-term strategy during the growing season of 2017 if this garden is to survive and thrive.  Training gardeners and creating two seasonal positions is the most important component of sustainability.  Employment will be based on merit and attendance at four workshops.