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Learning to homestead in a pandemic

Athabasca Ag Society hosting modern homesteading classes
Janis Borgen_WEB
Horticulturalist Janis Borgen will be teaching a series of classes starting Jan. 27 on how to plant a variety of gardens, from outdoor plots to raised beds to indoors including irrigation, pest control, weed identification and more. The classes are offered by the Athabasca and District Ag Society as part of its modern homesteading series and more classes like canning, basic beekeeping, basic horse and cow nutrition, and a sourdough course will be offered in the fall.

ATHABASCA — If there has been anything positive to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic for the Athabasca region, it may be that a fair amount of formerly urban people have relocated to the area to take advantage of the wide open spaces, and get away from a more confined city lifestyle. 

And with country-living comes the opportunity to have a large garden and be more self-sufficient, but not everyone knows where to even get started in transitioning to such a lifestyle. To that end, the Athabasca and District Ag Society will soon be offering modern homesteading classes for new and long-time residents alike. 

“How do we, first of all, help those people moving onto those farms and just people in general trying to get back to more self-sufficient roots and everybody's trying to grow garden and all those things,” said Camille Wallach, director for events and marketing with the Ag Society. 

The series of classes will start Jan. 27 at 6:30 p.m. with horticulturist Janis Borgen teaching how to garden both outdoors and in, from garden plots and raised beds to container planting. 

“I've just completed my horticulture diploma through University of Guelph, and I've worked in the industry for over 15 years as well,” Borgen said. “I grew up on a farm and gardening and that sort of thing, and that's my passion.” 

The first class titled Modern Gardening Techniques will explore things as simple as watering the plants. 

“I was always raised to use overhead sprinklers, if we even use that, or pail water or whatever, and now there's these really awesome drip irrigation systems that help us to conserve water, which is important with climate change,” she said. “They're a more efficient way of watering because they bring the water deeper down to the root system and they also help to avoid getting pests and disease.” 

As the courses go along, Borgen said there will be more discussion around container gardens, growing in your home and even joint venture gardens where one person grows potatoes, another tomatoes, another corn, and so on, then exchange the produce at harvest time.

“The second one I want to get into is seed starting, seed selection, how to map out a garden and then that's where we'll cover more indoor gardening techniques and systems, and transplanting,” Borgen said. 

There are many topics to cover over the four-session course including spring and fall cleanup of gardens and flowerbeds, types of perennials suitable for our climate, care and fertilization of annuals and greenhouses. 

“(It’s for) anybody who wants to do anything with gardening or just learning new skills this year,” said Wallach. “We're looking at doing a diverse bunch of classes for the rest of the year from basic farrier for horses to horse and beef nutrition, canning and pickling in the fall, basic beekeeping, (and) a sourdough course.” 

More information on this and future courses can be found on the Athabasca Ag Society Facebook page or their website The fee of $30 can be e-transferred to and includes a drink ticket. 

The event is being held at the Athabasca and District Ag Society Hall on Range Road 224 north on Highway 813 and the restriction exemption program (REP) is in effect. 

Heather Stocking

About the Author: Heather Stocking

Heather Stocking a reporter at the Athabasca Advocate, a weekly paper in Northern Alberta. Heather covers all aspects of the news in and around Athabasca and Boyle as well as other small communities.
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