The Northern Table: A Non-Traditional Trade for Land Use

Posted by Michelle Lam on April 07, 2021

The Northern Table is based on Treaty 6 territory, a traditional gathering place, travelling route and home for many Indigenous Peoples including the Nehiyawak/Cree, Tsuut’ina, Niitsitapi/Blackfoot, Métis, Nakota Sioux, Haudenosaunee/Iroquois, Dene Suliné, Anishinaabe/Ojibway/Saulteaux, and the Inuk/Inuit.

The land is also known in Canadian geography as Edmonton, Alberta.

This case study is a part of Young Agrarians Alberta Land Access Guide, a toolkit for farmers seeking land opportunities.

While Melanie was working her magic in the kitchen of the YA Winter Mixer in Alix, Alberta, Tom was busy socializing with the wonderful Phil and Heather Seutter of Bretona Farm Co. It quickly became clear that their dream of being on land could be realized. Heather and Phil invited these city slickers (Melanie’s words) to their farm to plant a small field of culinary herbs for Melanie’s business, The Northern Table.

There was no formal agreement to their land use arrangement. Though not having formal agreements or contracts can sometimes create trouble, Melanie shares why it worked out for the period of time they shared a common land base.

Heather and Phil extended such a level of trust, homecoming, and generosity that Melanie said she was ‘incapable of taking without giving back.’ They began their own micro trade economy, trading recipe development and photos for CSA shares; tea and salt for garlic; time, labour, and even shared some childcare. To thank them for the land use and the wisdom they so freely shared, Melanie went on to create Bretona Farm’s beautiful new website.

When asked what was required of everyone to make it work so well, Melanie said the keystone was that everyone in the partnership practiced being honest and forthcoming about everything that was good, everything that was uncomfortable, and everything that was required. Emotions were not suppressed or given the opportunity to culminate into something toxic. They all shared deeply aligned beliefs surrounding farming and food culture. That, and everyone involved are people who love to give – they were all generous with their time, hands, and skills. When mistakes were made, processes and checklists were put into place to avoid repetition.

It was a symbiosis of farming partners that felt more akin to family than a business exchange.

When the time was right, Mel & Tom moved on to a new piece of land where they now live but they keep in touch with the Seutters whom they now consider great mentors and friends.

Photo Credit:  Sara Jewell Photography // Location: Riverbend Gardens

Interested in exploring a career in regenerative farming in Alberta? Here are some helpful places to start:
  • The Young Agrarians Apprenticeship Program is a full immersion program that puts you into the heart of running a farm business, day in and day out.
  • The Business Bootcamp is a pay-what-you-can online, community-based program that will give you the space and skills to write a stellar business plan for the farm of your dreams.
  • The YA U-MAP is an online tool that can link you to nearby educational, land, and job opportunities!
  • Sign-Up for the YA Newsletter to receive the latest updates on news, events, and jobs.
  • Join the Young Agrarians Alberta Facebook group, an online community of regenerative farmers in Alberta.

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