“Beet or carrot?”
That was the follow up question the operations manager of the Northern Farm Training Institute (NTFI) had for me after she asked if I wanted a fresh Popsicle.

I was hesitant at first, but went with beet. Much to my surprise, the Popsicle was not just refreshing, but sweet.

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It doesn’t take much time at the Northern Farm Training Institute to realize that operations manager Kim Rapati and her team of volunteers are full of surprises – delicious, nutritious surprises.

Now thanks to free, from-the-land cooking classes – which the Northern Farm Training Institute started running at the end of June – nearby residents can get a first hand taste of the dynamic ways that local produce can be incorporated into healthy tasty treats.

“This is a new thing that we’re working on,” said Rapati. “People get to experience the whole spectrum from going and harvesting their vegetables, to cooking and taking it home.”

The weekly program, which is funded through the Department of Health and Social Services, has been running since the end of June.

Last week was NTFI’s third class, and like the previous two, it was full. Considering the class size is limited to an intimate group of five people, it’s easy to see why it would fill up so quickly.

After all, the two-hour cooking class is free and each participant can take home as much food as they want. Those in need are also provided specialized kitchen ware, such as vegetable shredders.

“Our big goal is to find recipes that are easy, good for families, and are diabetic friendly and can be storeable so that people can cook a bunch on one day and then store them or freeze them.”

In addition to Popsicles other items on the menu have included breakfast muffins, fish recipes, pizza pockets, rhubarb and zucchini cakes, and all kinds of preserves and canned foods.

Joletta Larocque, left, Melvin Larocque, Becky Oribello, Judy West-Pratt, Mary Davies, and Kim Rapati pick fresh vegetables in the Northern Farm Training Institute greenhouse before preparing fresh recipes at a free cooking course at the farm. The weekly program, which is held on Wednesday evenings, encourages residents to make healthy meals that are also tasty. Cody Punter/NNSL photo

Becky Oribello, who was born and raised in Hay River but now lives in Edmonton, decided to go to the July 24 cooking class with her mom.

“I don’t have a garden or anything because I live in the city now, but it’s nice to just see the kinds of things you can do in your own backyard,” she told News/North.
“I’ve never liked kale but kale chips are so easy and it’s only two ingredients.”

Indeed most of the recipes that NTFI offers require only a few simply ingredients. The recipes also tend to complement one another. So rather than throwing away the pulp used to make carrot and beet juice – both of which are so much sweeter than expected because the produce is so fresh – it is recycled to be used in making the muffins.

Leslie Solomonian is one of the dozen or so volunteers that help around the farm. The Toronto resident is a naturopath currently taking a year off to work on her masters. With her background in nutrition, Solomonian has been helping NTFI innovate recipes.

“I’m finding it a really fun challenge to take what I know theoretically and practically for Toronto and translating that into, what are people likely to eat,” said Solomonian.

A big part of the NTFI’s program also involves a partnership with Katlodeeche First Nation. Starting Wednesday NTFI will be partnering with the band’s wellness centre to provide weekly cooking courses followed by a free meal for the community. The band will also be organizing a wellness activity in the afternoon following the community feast.

“We’ll be cooking food to give away so people can come and eat a community lunch there,” said Rapati.

With the Wednesday meals starting up for KFN, Rapati said she might have to change the dates for the weekly cooking class at the farm. Regardless of whether the schedule shifts, Rapati said the farm plans to continue the courses indefinitely.

Anyone interested in joining a class is requested to contact the institute on the Friday ahead of the week they hope to attend.