Lease of First Nations land produces million acre farm.Toronto
The fertile soil of the prairie provinces has always been of vast value when it comes to farming, but many First Nations people rarely had the opportunity to reap its benefits on a grand scale, until now.
Toronto-based Sprott Resource Corp. is investing $27.5 million in the One Earth Farms project that will lease land from First Nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan to grow crops and raise livestock. First Nations people will be trained and hired to work.
"We intend to build an industry leading business based on environmentally sustainable practices, respect for the First Nations peoples and a culture of excellence which extends across the One Earth Farms organization," said President and CEO of One Earth Farms, Larry Ruud.
"With large tracts of high quality land, Western Canada provides significant opportunity to develop a large, efficient and profitably managed corporate farm."
One Earth Farms is now leasing--and plans to lease--land from 18 First Nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan totaling one million acres, with plans to expand to Manitoba and British Columbia First Nations.
"We are starting in Saskatchewan this year," Ruud explained, with field operations for the project expected to begin in May of this year.
Although One Earth is not mentioning the First Nations who have already signed lease agreements, three Saskatchewan bands who announced their involvement are Thunderchild First Nation, Muskowekan First Nation, and Little Black Bear First Nation. Blood First Nation in southern Alberta is also part of the mix.
Chief Clarence Bellgarde, of the Little Black Bear First Nation, said his band decided to lease their land after a presentation was made to chief and council and talks were held with One Earth Resources Corp. President and CEO, Blaine Favel.
"We were in discussions on non-renewable resources with companies. Then came this offer to look at perhaps a corporate farm," said Bellgarde. "And I think it's fair to say--now with our involvement--we've increased our lease rates by 30 percent."
Bellgarde added that it was an opportunity to participate in an equity share of the company, to actually participate in the farming operation itself, and to train and employ band members. He noted that employment would range from farming right into management, "through the whole company, there's going to be opportunities opening up for our band members."
One Earth Farms will create training programs for First Nations people to ensure a pool of qualified employees is ready for any future job openings.
To deliver the training, the company is working on a partnership with Lakeland College, in Vermillion. Memorandums of Understanding are already in place with the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies, the First Nations Agriculture Council of Saskatchewan, and the College of Agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan. Ruud expected to have people trained as early as this fall.
"The stage that we're at right now is we're just finalizing our leases on land and secondly, securing our inputs, purchasing inputs and getting our custom operators ready for this year," said Ruud.
As for the company's promise to promote environmentally sustainable practices that respect First Nations people, Ruud explained that one of their key pillars is the respect for the land.
"My overall hopes are to build a world-class corporate farm, in partnership with the First Nations communities. Training and employing the First Nations people and providing the opportunity for the First Nations community to build equity in the company and their farming ventures," said Ruud.
"A number of the bands have had the mandate of taking back control of the land so we wish to help facilitate that process of taking back control of the land in the way that they would define it," he added.
"I guess the whole thing about it is, this is a company that is sensitive to our First Nations needs," Bellgarde said.
Farming operations will begin in "a hub and spoke system designed to plant crops and ranch lands in annual increments, beginning with an initial minimum target of 50,000 acres in the first year of operations," said Ruud.
BY CHRISTINE FIDDLER