New ag interns settling into positions

The local agriculture community is seeing some new faces around the area this year after three industry positions were filled in recent weeks.
Michelle Denys, who just graduated from the University of Guelph, has taken over the position of intern for the Rainy River Soil and Crop. Improvement Association while Josh Phillips, who spent last summer in the area, is filling the position of the Clover Valley Farmers’ Market agri-food marketing intern.
And as previously reported, long-time district resident Jeannette Cawston was hired by the board of directors of the Rainy River Future Development Corp. as the new rural and agriculture co-ordinator.
“It’s exciting,” Phillips enthused about his new one-year position. “There’s a lot to do and a lot that hasn’t been done previously in Northwestern Ontario, to the best of my knowledge.”
The recent philosophy graduate has a lot of experience working at and for farmers’ markets in the Toronto area.
“So there are lots of projects I can get started,” he said, adding his first task is to develop a directory of local food products.
“The purpose of the project is to boost local food production systems to make agriculture more feasible in Northwestern Ontario,” Phillips explained.
“We’re going to do an inventory of what’s being produced up here already to see what doesn’t need to be brought in and what Northwestern Ontario could be consuming more of that it’s producing itself.”
For example, he noted it seems there is a lot of produce being brought in from Mexico, Cuba, and southern Ontario.
“One of the most important things we’re going to do is try to find out who are the farmers growing produce that could be sold at market or even large-scale home gardens that are producing vegetables that could be consumed in the area,” Phillips said.
He added he will be looking for more food products and vendors for the local farmers’ market.
“Just so there’s more variety, more change, more to see and more to do,” he said, noting he believes people are beginning to realize that it may not be practical to transport food over long distances in the near future.
“It’s important for a variety of reasons, not only to prepare for the future but also to diversify the economy of the area,” he stressed. “So Northwestern Ontario can be self-supporting economically and in terms of its food production.”
Even though he’s just beginning his new job, Phillips feels the district will be able to achieve this in time.
But for the time being, he hopes to be able to make people aware of what is and isn’t being produced in the area, which they will be able to take into account in the future.
“So this year we are going to connect as many people as we can to the market and try to create a . . . food terminal where food comes in and is distributed using Fort Frances as the base of operation,” he indicated.
Cawston has some similar objectives as Phillips in her role as the new rural and agriculture co-ordinator, and the pair will work together on some projects.
“I’ll be working on some local food events that will involve public education and awareness for foods that are local,” she explained, adding she hopes people will buy local and learn what’s available.
To do this, Cawston is trying to develop several television segments that will air on the local Shaw cable channel.
For example, she noted, they could do a segment about Rainy River Elk—the health benefits and where it’s available.
“We’d show where the food is coming from. They could see the people, see the set-up, and garner their integrity,” she remarked.
Cawston also has been busy conducting research and visiting with local producers.
Her other current initiatives include re-establishing the district food council, developing an immigration promotional committee, and heading a main steering committee for the rural agriculture project.
She also said she’d like to perhaps get some more members to join the food council and enhance the relationship of groups in the area.
“And we’ll look at promoting the area as a safe place to live, work, and play to attract folks from other countries to the community,” she remarked, although adding their main focus right now is on sustainable food sources.
“It’s becoming huge across Canada and the U.S.,” Cawston warned. “People are becoming concerned about their food and more people are becoming educated. . . .
“We should be producing as much for ourselves as we can.”
Cawston held a luncheon last week for many members of the local agriculture community to gain support for her initiatives.
“The meeting was wonderful, standing room only. It was amazing and was motivational,” she enthused, adding she was able to get people signed up for her working committees.
Denys is the third new face in the area, And while she will work partly in conjunction with Phillips and Cawston, she has many projects of her own to head.
The previous Rainy River Soil and Crop Improvement Association intern, Eric Busch, got several of the initiatives off the ground last year and she will continue those.
One project is the Greencover Canada program demonstration project, which is aimed at protecting water quality, controlling erosion, and enhancing biodiversity and wildlife habitat.
Another continuing project is the mycorrhizae inoculate trials.
The trials first began at Pine River Ranch in Pinewood because owner Amos Brielmann could not use chemical or mechanical fertilizer on his certified organic farm.
But the tests were expanded to the agriculture research station in Emo, where Denys’ office is located.
“I also have a pasture rejuvenation program in its planning stages to help with water ways and fertility management—there’s always ways to improve, especially the environmental side of things,” Denys noted.
“But people are doing very well in the area already.”
The recent graduate, who studied biological science, is eager to get into the projects associated with the one-year position.
“It’s going to be a learning curve for all three of us,” Cawston conceded. “But we’ll help each other out. . . .
“It’s going to be really exciting,” she added. “[Denys and Phillips] are young and full of enthusiasm. It’s great that we have to chance to work on this.
“[The area] is sitting like a jewel ready to be tapped.”