Lil'wat Nation looks to take its farming to the next level 

First Nation is keen to expand farming on its extensive lands

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - raising crops Lil'wat Nation is looking to expand its agricultural footprint. The nation already owns a four-hectare farm on Lillooet Lake Road.
  • photo submitted
  • raising crops Lil'wat Nation is looking to expand its agricultural footprint. The nation already owns a four-hectare farm on Lillooet Lake Road.

Lil'wat Nation is looking to step up its game when it comes to agricultural production, kick-starting an ambitious plan that will see it grow more of its own food and potentially even sell it to market.

"From what I've learned from working in this community for the past three-and-a-half years, we are reawakening a lot of strong values," said Lil'wat Nation chief administrative officer Ernest Armann.

"It wasn't that long ago where everybody was doing their own thing, growing their own food. I think we are here to try to help with that reawakening."

The First Nation is in the process of implementing an agricultural plan that was first developed in 2014, hiring Shannon Didier as an agricultural manager to help implement it in July 2019.

The nation is also in the process of hiring an "agricultural lead hand."

The successful candidate will assist with the forthcoming community engagement process and be involved in all aspects of food production, from planning to planting through to harvest, according to the job description.

The Pemberton Valley is considered some of the best agricultural land in the province, and the Nation has approximately 910 hectares of it, much of which is suitable and zoned for farming.

Didier's role will involve supporting some current small-scale farming activities that are already taking place and looking at expanding them.

Currently the First Nation is focusing on a four-hectare farm on Lillooet Lake Road, close to Lillooet Lake, that it owns.

It is home to a couple of fields of potatoes, a large orchard, and some berry patches as well as a greenhouse.

The nation is treating the farm as a sort of testing ground, before expanding further.

"We've got a lot to learn about [agriculture] and how you get it to the market place and process it," said Armann. "This is part of the research that we need to do."

According to Armann, the most important goal of the agricultural plan is to be able to provide nutritious food for the community.

So far, some of the potatoes that have been grown at the farm have been distributed to elders and the Xit'olacw Community School, and sold to community members, he said.

What's more, the nation also wants to develop a farm school.

"We will be looking at exploring that opportunity and options for partnerships and really bringing a new twist to what you might consider a farm school," said Armann.

For models, the First Nation is looking to Kwantlen Polytechnic University's partnership with Tsawwassen First Nation.

It has led to a small-scale farm that runs a hands-on educational program and sells products at farmers' markets, local restaurants, and through a box program, according to a recent article in the Vancouver Sun.

"It's a good example of a partnership that might work," said Didier. "[Kwantlen Polytechnic University] has established some good partnerships, and we will be looking at that in the future as well."

The First Nation is also furthering its plans against the backdrop of self-determination. "The Agricultural lead hand will partner up with the Agricultural Manager in implementing the nation's food production and food security initiatives aligning them with our efforts towards self-determination," states the job description.

There is already some farming going on, and the next step is to develop a viable way to expand it, said Armann

"We want to take a bit further," he said.

"It wasn't that long ago when everybody was independent and did their own farming."

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