V is for Vegetables

Written by Jamie Jackman, Program Coordinator, Labrador Campus


V is for Vegetables

In June 2019, Memorial University, under the leadership of the Labrador Campus, became the proud new owner of an 85-acre parcel of agricultural land on Mud Lake Road in Happy Valley-Goose Bay—a monumental step toward the establishment of the Pye Centre for Northern Boreal Food Systems. Formerly known as Grand River Farm, the Pye Centre will continue the legacy of Frank and Joyce Pye, two pioneers of commercial agriculture in central Labrador.


The Pyes began farming back in 1987 with a dream to provide fresh vegetables to their community, and they did so together for 30 years until Frank’s passing in 2017. Building upon this legacy, the Pye Centre for Northern Boreal Food Systems will be a vibrant and community-led hub of Northern-focused food systems research, education, production, and distribution in Labrador. The Centre will move forward in partnership with the community and scientific researchers to support and enhance already-present local food networks, the availability of fresh and desired foods, local food sovereignty, food security, and related programs that serve the overall health and wellbeing of Labradorians.

Accounts of farming activity in Labrador date back to the late 1700s when the Moravian Missionaries arrived on Labrador’s North Coast, gardening for their own general use, and not necessarily to teach the associated skills. Farming was not customary to Innu and Inuit, who were nomadic and semi-nomadic, living in tune with the seasons, following caribou, moving inland in the winter and to the coast in the summer, with a diet consisting of wild meat, fish, and berries. The Northern Labrador climate and terrain presented obvious challenges, too, not to be downplayed in the slightest. That is to say, it was likely they were as uninterested in learning about gardening as the missionaries were in teaching it.

Later on, Sir Wilfred Grenfell noticed fresh vegetables were lacking in the population’s diet and determined this to be a contributing factor to illness and poor overall health, so he implemented gardening as way to address the issue. Grenfell Mission Stations had their own gardens that supplied vegetables to schools, hospitals, and local residents. North West River’s in particular was a rather large, productive garden, whose success was attributed to long daylight hours in the summer months and a more favourable inland location.

A community-centred initiative

Today, backyard gardens in Upper Lake Melville are common and bountiful. Gardeners are able to grow a wide range of fruits, vegetables, and berries, despite the short summers. In January 2019, the Labrador Campus hosted a Garden Planning & Seed Swap event in Happy Valley-Goose Bay featuring guest speaker, Kim Rapati, of the Northern Farm Training Institute. The small meeting room was set up to receive 25 guests. You could imagine our surprise when 80 showed up! Needless to say, it was a welcome turn of events, and a reminder of how much knowledge already exists in the community around food production—truly a remarkable foundation of wisdom upon which to build a community-centred initiative such as the Pye Centre!

Not surprisingly, many old family homesteads eventually had gardens that were kept at fishing homes, such as the one in Adlatok Bay. It is worth noting that Labradorians have sustained themselves by hunting, fishing, and trapping for hundreds of years. Less than two generations ago, most relied solely on themselves to provide the necessities for survival—a true testament to the character, strength and resilience of the people of Labrador, where winters are 7 months long!

Commercial farming in Labrador

Commercial farming in Labrador is rather small in scale and the industry faces challenges associated with short growing seasons, precarious distribution networks, a changing environment, and a small number of producers. Despite this, farmers in Upper Lake Melville contend with these barriers relentlessly and manage to grow an impressive variety of crops each year. Their products can be found roadside most weekends during the growing season, at the Community Outdoor Market on Saturdays, and to a smaller extent, in local grocery stores.

According to the Harris Centre’s 2019 NL Vital Signs Report, 34% of farmers in Newfoundland and Labrador sell directly to customers: more than double the national average of 13%. It is reasonable to assume that in Labrador the number is closer to double the provincial average.

Planning for the Pye Centre

The Pye Centre for Northern Boreal Food Systems, through an integrated and strategic approach, hopes to address some of the issues that farmers face in order to encourage more entrants into the market and to better support those currently producing. Plans include the establishment of incubator plots that may benefit soon-to-be farmers by giving them a chance to develop skills, or a plot to produce on while they await the approval of agricultural leases. 

The Pye Centre itself will also cultivate community garden plots for schools to further promote earth science learning and an opportunity for youth to actively participate in food systems. It will play host to research and experimental plots for researchers, scientists, and other partners.

The significance of the land upon which The Pye Centre for Northern Boreal Food Systems is being established is not lost on the Labrador Campus. The abundant strawberry patch that is 300 feet long and approximately 100 feet wide is still there and when the Grand River Farm was in operation, the u-pick was a major attraction. Since it stopped operating in 2017, it has been greatly missed by the community, along with hayrides through the fields and pumpkin picking in the fall. The strawberry patch was harvested by Labrador Campus staff and partners in 2019. The strawberries were donated to the Community Food Bank, the Labrador Grenfell Health Long-term Care Facility, Charles Jay Andrew Treatment Centre, residents of the Nunatsiavut Supportive Living Units, and many other community organizations. In 2020, the strawberry patch will undergo a renovation to mitigate weeds and become a public u-pick once again, operating as a social enterprise. The Grand River Farm has taken on a new life that will forever bear the Pye name in acknowledgement of their important contributions to agriculture in Labrador and their uncanny ability to bring people and food together.

The Labrador Institute’s Pye Centre for Northern Boreal Food Systems is uniquely positioned as one of the only University-led research and education farms located in a Northern region. The Pye Centre will provide a consistent presence in Labrador dedicated to improving agriculture and access to fresh, local, and sustainable food for Labradorians, to continue, in a way, what Frank and Joyce started all those years ago.

To learn more about the Pye Centre, visit: www.pye-centre.ca

Back to all Encyclopedia entries