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Farm visit leads to larger discussion on agriculture in the NLC region

On , In College News, Connections & Community

A simple field trip has brought larger discussion and program development to the forefront as Northern Lights College (NLC) looks to the future.

NLC was invited to join a workshop hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food after AGRI 223 students from the Land and Water Resource Diploma program visited one of the many farms surrounding Fort St. John.

David Wuthrich of PW Farms Ltd gave students a first-hand look at farming practices, grain types, different machinery, and some of the challenges farmers face daily and season-to-season.

“Spanning over 6,000 acres, the PW Farms represents a blend of tradition and innovation, cultivating a rich tapestry of crops, from staple grains like canola and wheat to specialty plants such as timothy and fescue,” said Mahtab Nazari, Land and Water/AGRI 223 Instructor. “During our visit, we explored the farm’s agronomic practices, the symbiotic relationship between soil health and crop rotation, and the modern technological tools enhancing their agricultural expertise.”

The trip to PW Farms also gave students a unique opportunity to discuss some of the challenges of local fauna and climate, the farm’s economic landscape, and their commitment to sustainability and community engagement.

After discussing agricultural practices and Mahtab’s PhD thesis, David asked if he could share Mahtab’s contact information with the BC Ministry of Agriculture and Food, thinking Mahtab might be interested in participating in an upcoming workshop.

Mahtab — who is new to the region and pursuing her PhD in Plant Science and Agronomy from McGill University — jumped at the opportunity to learn more about local agriculture and to participate in the larger discussion surrounding the Regional Extension Program. The Regional Extension Program, as indicated on the program website, is focused on the “objective […] to increase on-farm adoption of beneficial management practices that support producers in making their operations more climate resilient, sustainable, and economically viable.” Exactly the sort of topics Mahtab is exploring with her PhD.

Mahtab, along with Cindy Broberg, PhD, University Arts and Science Chair and Instructor, and Tara Hyland-Russell, PhD, Vice-President Academic and Research, attended the workshop on November 23, 2023.  

“The workshop was so informative. We learned a lot of new things about agriculture in the Peace Region.” Mahtab said.

Cindy Broberg echoed her sentiment. “It was great to see what’s going on locally and to connect with farmers in the region.”

“And of course, it was a great avenue for us to promote the Land and Water program,” Mahtab added. “During the workshop, I was able to connect with a number of people in the Ministry and the local agriculture associations. These connections have opened discussions about work placements with the Land and Water students.”

While attending the workshop, Mahtab even noticed a gap that could be addressed with the help of students.

“Data is being collected by the farmers, but lack of resources and researchers has led to the interpretation of the data being delayed,” Mahtab included, “this is something students could, in theory, assist with.”

Most students pursue placements with environmental consultation firms. However, with these new connections being made, there are opportunities to create placements with local agriculture organizations and potentially the Ministry.

The experiences and connections gained while attending the workshop have added to a much larger discussion happening at NLC.

“We want to work with local agricultural producers to develop new programming that focuses on sustainable agriculture practices,” said Tara Hyland-Russell.

With the research happening in the Peace Region and projects being led by local producers, Tara sees an opportunity to work with producers and build regional-specific programming that focuses on sustainability, resilience, climate change, and potential solutions to challenges in the area.

Learn more about the Land and Water Resources Diploma program here.

Meet Mahtab Nazari!

Mahtab joined the Northern Lights College team in September 2023 as an instructor for the Land and Water Resources Diploma program after relocating to Fort St. John from Montreal. She is currently working on her Ph.D. in Plant science and Agronomy at McGill University.

Mahtab’s Ph.D. thesis is a combination of lab and field work where she worked with a bio-stimulant bacteria that can promote the growth of plants. With Mahtab’s research and field data, she tested her bio-fertilizer in a greenhouse and a field setting over a few years. Significant results were observed on multiple crops — such as corn, wheat, soybean, and canola — and on different soil types. Mahtab is currently preparing to defend her thesis this spring.

Outside of her teaching and studying, Mahtab enjoys gardening and growing plants; she has a deep love for plants and taking care of them. She is a very social and active person, so getting outside is her way of finding balance.