Gerard’s Blog: On Day One


I woke in a sweat this morning, feeling like I had missed the plane or like the phone was ringing in the middle of the night.  No plane.  No phone.  Just “Day One” of Suzanne’s year-long local diet commitment.  Just the beginning of sacrifice and hunger.  Just the beginning of caffeine withdrawal, bread dreams and sugar cravings.  This is just the beginning.  So, I sweat.

But it does make one wonder why anyone would commit to this and toss away a perfectly comfortable life.  And then drag the rest of the family into this nonsense with luring promises of renewed appreciation for quality food, and improved health, and all the meat you can eat.  And the unforgettable opportunity to browse in the forest for anything edible.

Are the rest of us committed to this?  Not really.  The kids mostly want to support Suzanne, and I mostly want to, well, support Suzanne.  But total adherence to this diet?  No salt?  No chocolate?  No cake or pie or bagels or pancakes or cereal or coffee or burgers or pepper or nuts?  This is nuts!  It was Bob Dylan who wrote that “people who suffer together have stronger connections than those who are most content.”  I guess we’ll see about that.

The Moose is Loose … and Looking for Popcorn!

In a previous post we wrote how Suzanne and family were looking forward to some popcorn in their local-only diet, with the help of growers Karen Digby and Grant Dowdell. Having had success with sweet corn in the past, they planted a field of Tom Thumb popping corn especially for Suzanne.

The plants survived the mid-June frosts that savaged so many other local crops, but now there’s another, much larger, hazard afoot.  It turns out a trio of moose have been hanging out  at Grant’s Island. Of all the vegetables growing in the fields, the moose seem to have a particular appetite for Suzanne’s Tom Thumb popcorn plants, even more so that Grant’s sweet corn.

1 a.m.  end of June –  cow moose looking wistfully across Grant and Karen’s fields towards Suzanne’s Tom Thumb popcorn! Take at Grant’s Island, Yukon River. Photo by Karen Digby

The family dog does his best to dissuade the marauding ungulates, but finds it harder to run off moose than bears.  A scarecrow is now on the job and we will just have to see if it can keep the moose at bay and protect Suzanne’s precious popcorn.  Grant’s Island is one of the rare microclimates in the Dawson area capable of growing corn outside, so Suzanne’s popcorn experiment is “all in one basket.”

How to Grow Food for 200 People

Photo courtesy of Northern Farm Training Institute.

The Northern Farm Training Institute (NFTI) in Hay River is turning an abandoned, industrial pig farm into a teaching campus, with the help of a contribution from the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor).

Since 2013, NFTI has trained more than 150 people from 30 communities, and 13 of those people have gone on to start their own farm businesses. With the 260-acre farm campus, NFTI will demonstrate and teach how to feed 200 people. “Our most isolated communities are 200 people are or less, so we wanted to show, in a realistic way, what does it take to feed community of that size,” said Kim Rapati of NFTI.

The farm will develop the sustainable systems needed to provide a complete diet for 200 people, including greenhouses, permanent food forests and orchards, hardy northern grains and pastures, meat and dairy farming, food storage and marketing.

The focus is on “regenerative agriculture”, or agriculture that supports a healthy and abundant ecosystem, that will also help northern people protect wild herds and wild harvesting.

Rapati said that the failure of the pig farm, established in 1990 and abandoned in 1995, demonstrates that industrial, confinement agriculture does not work in a northern context, “for our people and our markets.” The NFTI farm campus is representative of a new model of agriculture taking hold in Canada–small-scaled, highly productive farming systems. “It is now possible for small, bio-intensive market gardens to earn between $25,000 and $150,000 in Canada,” Rapati said.

For more information on the NFTI farm campus, watch Rapati’s presentation on the Northern Food Network’s Webinar # 3

The Question of Salt

Illustration by Chris Healey

Salt is humankind’s oldest spice. But it’s not just a question of taste.  Salt is also an essential nutrient for human health and a key ingredient in preserving food.

Suzanne is not worried about her physiological salt requirements.  Her local diet will consist of enough meat and fish, which naturally contain salt, to meet her health needs.  However, she is concerned with salt as a flavour enhancer and, more importantly, with salt’s role in the preservation of foods and in the making of cheese.  Which all translates into a major problem for Suzanne, as she has no source of salt for her year of eating only local foods. Throughout history and across cultures the problem of acquiring salt has been solved through trade. Without resorting to the option of trading, and with no ocean nearby, Suzanne is seeking alternatives for a local salt source or salt substitute in Dawson City.

Suzanne’s husband Gerard has jokingly suggested that the family could harvest the salt from his sweat as he chops wood for the winter. Not surprisingly, this offer of a paternal salt lick has not found any takers. So what is Suzanne to do? She is currently researching alternative salt sources, and we will continue to report on her findings.

Any ideas?

If you have any suggestions or thoughts for Suzanne about an alternative salt source, please leave your comment below or send us an email with your ideas, hacks, or experiences.

Internship Program Helps Arctic Communities Run Greenhouses

The Inuvik Community Greenhouse hosted a week-long workshop with community greenhouse coordinators from several Northern communities.

An innovative project led by the Inuvik Community Greenhouse Society is helping small, isolated Arctic communities, where access to fresh produce is scare, set up their own greenhouses and start raising fresh food. In June, community greenhouse coordinators from Aklavik, Fort MacPherson, Paulatuk, Sach’s Harbour, Tsiigehtchic, Tuktoyaktukc and Uluhakaktok attended a week-long internship program in Inuvik.

The program covered everything from soil preparation through weeding, trellising, pruning, and soil care to harvesting and worm composting. The interns worked in the greenhouse and in outdoor gardens around the community, even receiving instruction in raising chickens.

At the end of the course, each coordinator delivered a 30-minute workshop to prepare them for giving workshops in their own communities. The coordinator from Aklavik focused on engaging young people in the greenhouse, since it has been shown that when youth participate in community greenhouses, vandalism decreases significantly.

Emily Mann, coordinator of the Inuvik Community Greenhouse, said that being gathered in once place allowed community coordinators to learn from each other and to establish a network for troubleshooting and sharing knowledge—the coordinators have since set up a Facebook page.

The interns are now busy in their own communities, reaching out, teaching workshops and bringing local people in to garden together. In Aklavik recently, local children made hanging flower baskets for the Elder’s home. Every Elder received one. As Mann said, flowers are important for pollination, but they help to build community too.

To see Emily Mann’s presentation on the internship project, watch the Northern Food Network’s Webinar # 3

Farmers’ Markets Bring Local Produce to Dawsonites

For those in the Dawson City area seeking fresh, local produce, this is the best time of year. Local producers are starting to harvest their crops and there are two separate markets available where the freshly-grown vegetables and herbs are available for purchase.

The wealth of produce already available at the Dawson Farmers Market. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Every Saturday until mid-September the Dawson Farmers Market, located by the river on Front Street, is in full swing. You’ll not only find produce from several local growers, but there are also trees and plants for gardeners, and crafts as well.  Fresh vegetables and  herbs are already available in abundance, and as the season progresses  there’ll be berries, apples, and preserves as well.

The Farmers Market runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. but you’re best advised not t wait until late in the day, as the produce is popular with Dawsonites, and some items sell out quickly.

Photo by TH Farm Instagram

Starting tomorrow, Wednesday 19 July, TH Working Farm will also sell their products to the public on their own Farmer’s Market, which will be held every Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre.

The staff at TH farm has been working hard all year to provide local produce for Dawsonites, which will include radishes, green onions, zucchinis, potatoes lettuce and spring mix among others, with more variety of veggies to come as the season progresses.

They also have been raising chickens and rabbits that are close to being ready for harvest, as well pigs and ducks, which will be available for purchase in the fall.

Radishes are ready to be enjoyed. Photo by TH Farm Instagram.

With this initiative, they are hoping to increase the variety and amount of locally grown food in the area, while teaching and training younger generations with an interest in agriculture.

Cooking Lessons With Driss

The finished gnocchi recipe Driss taught Suzanne how to prepare. Photo by Driss Adrao.

Dawsonite Driss Adrao knows his way around a kitchen, and was generous enough to share some of his culinary skills with Suzanne recently.  During her year of eating only local foods, recipes and cooking techniques will be very helpful in making the most of the fare available to Suzanne and her family.

Fish skin crackers are a great way to use more of your fish. Photo by Driss Adrao.

Two recipes that Driss shared with Suzanne, and patiently taught her how to prepare, are gnocchi (a traditional Italian potato dumpling dish) and fish skin crackers. The latter is a case of how something we often throw out can be consumed as food — a lesson long preached by indigenous hunters who have traditionally harvested fish and game with minimal waste. As fishing season approaches (in the Dawson City  area you can already fish for grayling and whitefish, and later there will be chum salmon) this recipe could come in handy.  This year, don’t leave the fish skin on your plate.

> Click here for the gnocchi recipe
> Click here for the Fish Skin Crackers recipe

Do you have a recipe that you think would be good for Suzanne to try? Let us know.

Driss Adrao and Suzanne pose with their finished gnocchi dish. Selfie by Driss Adrao.

A Very Special Gift to Start Suzanne’s Journey

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in elder Angie Joseph-Rear (right) presents Suzanne with fish eggs from the first King Salmon harvested by that First Nation in several years. Photo by Tess Crocker

Suzanne has been given a very special gift to start her journey of a year of eating local — fish eggs from the first King Salmon harvested by the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in in many years.  Mähsi cho to Angie Joseph-Rear and all the elders, youth and adults involved in First Fish Culture Camp at Moosehide Village.

First Fish Culture Camp is an opportunity to pass on knowledge to youth regarding the fishing, cleaning, processing and smoking of salmon.  It takes place over 5 days at Moosehide Village.  Chum salmon has generally been the salmon processed at First Fish.  With the decline of the King Salmon population and the moratorium on commercial King Salmon Fishing in the Yukon, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in voluntarily stopped harvesting King Salmon for subsistence fishing approximately 5 years ago in order to aid in the re-growth of the King Salmon population in the Yukon River.  And there is evidence that the King Salmon population is increasing.

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First Fish Culture Camp teaches youth traditional methods for fishing, cleaning, processing and smoking of salmon. Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

On Tuesday, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Elders Committee made the decision to allow a 48-hour window of King Salmon harvesting for the purpose of this year’s First Fish Culture Camp.  So yesterday, for the first time in many years, the fish nets were set for King Salmon.  And that evening, under the watchful eye of a boat of elders and another boat of youth and Hän singers singing ‘Luk Cho’ (which means big fish in the Hän language), the first net was checked and two beautiful King Salmon were harvested.  A special day for the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and First Fish Culture Camp, and a very generous and special gift to start Suzanne’s journey of eating local.

Mähsi cho.

The roe from one King Salmon. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Wild Strawberries Are Worth the Work

Suzanne shows off her hard-picked bucket of berries. Photo by Tess Crocker.

Wild strawberries are one of the first wild berries to ripen (followed closely by soap berries, which we’ll cover in a later post).  It’s best to “get low” when harvesting wild strawberries as they are located very close to the ground, often hiding underneath their foliage. You’ll typically find wild strawberries in meadows, young woodlands, sparse forest, woodland edges, and clearings.

It may take a while to cover the bottom of your bucket,  but your patience will be amply rewarded.  They are oh so sweet and bursting with strawberry flavour!  Best popped straight into your mouth, but if you have the willpower to save them. then they can be also be frozen for later and used for all things strawberry.

They’re small and often hiding under their leaves, but wild strawberries are definitely worth the effort it takes to fill your bucket. Photo by Tess Crocker.

Lambsquarter: Taste It Before You Toss It

Lambsquarter is now Suzanne’s favourite raw foraged leaf. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

It may be time to start looking at lambsquarter in a different way.  Much like chickweed, this common garden weed (sometimes also known as pigweed) is another often-overlooked plant that has great potential as a wild food.

A prolific grower, lambsquarter is well-suited to Dawson gardens, and does well in many Northern regions.

Lambsquarter leaves are delicious raw and are not bitter like many other edible foraged leaves.  Suzanne reports that she loves the taste, and they are her new favourite foraged leaf to eat raw. Sometimes called “northern spinach,” the leaves can also be cooked and used as a spinach substitute in stir fries or baked dishes like lasagna.

The leaves keep well in the refrigerator for a couple of days, or for the long term can be dried or frozen and stored for later use in sauces, soups, or stews.  Lambsquarter is rich in Vitamins A and C, so the dried leaves can be a great source of these vitamins in wintertime.

One cautionary note: lambsquarter absorbs pollutants so avoid harvesting near roads or industrial areas.

Yukon News Profiles Suzanne and First We Eat Project

In a feature published this week, The Yukon News profiled Suzanne and her upcoming year of eating only local foods, which will start by the end of July. The piece, by Lori Garrison, discussed the project, and highlighted some of the challenges – as well as pleasant surprises – Suzanne has encountered in preparing for her one-year experience.

It is clear that Suzanne’s journey thus far has been a highly educational one, and while she laments some of the things she will be forced to go without (such as coffee, chocolate, and salt) the lessons  she is gaining from the project have been invaluable.  As a filmmaker and storyteller, Suzanne can naturally find the lighter moments and human interest aspects of First We Eat, but the interview also touches on the project’s potential importance beyond entertainment value. The traditional food acquisition methods – and their practitioners – that she is documenting can ultimately have a beneficial impact for all Northerners in terms of developing their own long term food security.

Suzanne also paid tribute to the many and diverse local producers on whom she is leaning heavily, both to acquire food for her larder, and to provide the insights and knowledge to help her with her own growing and foraging activities.  As noted in the article, the local growing activities are even more remarkable when you take into consideration that many farms in Dawson are off-grid without access to electricity or municipal running water.

> Read the Yukon News article

Haskaps Are First Domestic Berries of the Season

Suzanne hard at work picking haskap berries at Tundarose Garden in Dawson City, Yukon. Photo by Tess Crocker.

Berry season has begun! Berries are one of the most common foraging foods to be found in the North, and we’ll be reporting on them as the different varieties reach maturity and get added to Suzanne’s larder. Wild strawberries are starting to emerge, but here we’ll have a look at haskap berries.

Haskaps are the first domestic berries of the season to ripen. They generally grow well throughout the north, and taste like a combination between a sweet blueberry and a tart green grape.

Tess Crocker helps out with the picking. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

In addition to eating them raw, haskap berries can be made into jams or fruit leather. Or try them mixed in with vanilla ice cream.  And they freeze well so they can be enjoyed throughout the winter.

In Dawson City, Yukon, Maryann Davis of Tundarose Garden sells fresh haskaps and haskap jam at the Dawson Farmers Market approximately every other Saturday while they last.  Emu Creek Farm (run by Diana and Ron McCready) supply Dawson’s local restaurants with haskaps.  Both are helping out Suzanne with a source of haskaps for her year of eating local.  And if you would like your own haskap bushes, they can be purchased from Klondike Valley Nursery, run by John Lenart and Kim Melton.

In Whitehorse there are several local haskap producers. Click here for a list.

Do you grow or sell haskaps in your northern community?  Let us know.

The berries of their labours. Haskaps are great eaten raw, can be made into jams, or used in cooking. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.