WIIKWEMKOONG–The Wiikwemkoong Greenhouse for Change project has been awarded $50,000 through the Ontario Skills Catalyst Fund (SCF).
“The SCF is a three year, $9 million funding initiative dedicated to supporting new and existing high impact projects that will enhance the skills and competencies of Ontario’s workforce to make it adaptable and resilient in a technology-driven and knowledge-based economy,” explained Britino Milburn, marketing director of the Kingston-based non-profit organization, Focus Forward for Indigenous Youth.
The greenhouse will be located at Wasse-Abin Wikwemikong High School and will be built into the south-facing slope. “Students will have the chance to experience firsthand the advancements in building science and will work with the latest technologies to accomplish a one-of-a-kind greenhouse,” said Mr. Milburn.
“We’re excited to be moving ahead with the project and are looking at July as far as breaking ground,” he continued. “Twelve students from the high school will be involved with students in Grades 11 and 12 eligible to apply.”
Interested students will have to prepare resumes with the school choosing 12 participants from those submitted. “This is an important component,” Mr. Milburn said. “Students will be learning resume writing and other skills from the initial application phase right through the build.”
Focus Forward collaborates with Indigenous communities across Canada, empowering youth through locally developed trades-based education to strengthen individuals’ and communities’ futures. The organization worked in partnership with the Wikwemikong Development Commission and the Wikwemikong Board of Education to develop this project and obtain funding. The Greenhouse for Change project will serve as a four week educational tool for the school and the community, providing agricultural and nutritional education to Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory.
There are two components to the program: theoretical classroom programming and practical build site experience. During the build phase, Mr. Milburn explained, “Each day six students will learn theory in the classroom while the other six gain hands-on experience working with tradespeople. The next day or half-day they will switch.”
The pre-build classroom programming will include safety training and basic workshop skills such as tool operation, blueprint reading and understanding scope of work. Practical hands-on build site experience with the contractors will include framing, roofing, insulation, drywalling, bricklaying and greentech installation. At the end of the program students will complete a career workshop to learn about possible education and career avenues they can pursue.
“Having the greenhouse will allow the high school to implement a green technology program geared to students in Grades 9 and 10,” Mr. Milburn said. “There will be different programs through different stages of high school student careers, from gardening and growing theory to hands-on growing experience.”
The greenhouse will be 56 x 24 feet. “It’s unique in that it will be large enough to fit a whole class of students with instructors,” said Mr. Milburn. “It will allow not only the implementation of various technologies such as hydroponics but also more traditional grow methods like raised beds; all the different types of ways that greenhouse growing can be utilized.” The design is currently undergoing final engineered structural review.
Focus Forward founder Evan Veryard spoke about project beginnings at Wiikwemkoong’s recent Indigenous Agriculture Gathering. It started with a simple conversation, he explained. “It’s based upon what the community wants. Our team had an initial conversation with Christianna Jones and Jocelyn Bebamikawe of the Wikwemikong Development Commission back in May 2017.”
Mr. Veryard thought the call would last 20 minutes. “That’s not how it went,” he laughed. “Two hours later we were wrapping it up. When I realized how many great things were happening in Wiikwemkoong and how many great ideas Jocelyn and Christianna had, I knew we had to work with them.”
They decided to focus on the agriculture aspect. The women had already experienced some success with a community raised garden bed project, agricultural workshops and the implementation of the Foodshare project. The greenhouse was selected as a potentially powerful project. Key factors were structure, self-sufficiency, and the use of solar power. “It fit well with other ongoing initiatives,” said Mr. Veryard.
The next question to be addressed was funding. The group entered the project into the AVIVA Community Fund Challenge, pulling out all the stops to make it to the finals. In December 2017 they received $50,000 as a grand prize winner in the competition. Focus Forward is continuing its fundraising efforts for this project.
“The greenhouse will create experiential learning opportunities for Wiikwemkoong students,” said Mr. Veryard. “It will increase knowledge of and access to healthy and nutritious foods and will extend the growing season.”
Long-term benefits are expected to include the growth of community agriculture resources, strengthening of food sovereignty and a seed saving program.
“This is a homegrown project,” stated Ms. Bebamikawe. “It is rooted in Wiikwemkoong land and represents what Indigenous food sovereignty is all about. It will be locally owned and operated. The greenhouse allows us to provide agricultural education to youth and work towards decolonizing our food system. It will serve the needs of the Wiikwemkoong community based on the needs and desires of the Wiikwemkoong community.”