The Bounty of the Harvest

Grant Dowdell (foreground) with Suzanne and family and their onion and pumpkin harvest. Photo by Karen Digby.

Here in Dawson City, it’s harvest season!

For Suzanne, this means it is ‘now or never’ for many of the veggies grown this summer.  Suzanne is trying to gather enough for her family for the year and to store them all away.

On Grant’s Island on the Yukon River, the harvest for Suzanne’s family included 148 pounds of onions and  226 pounds of pie pumpkins, along with 10 large seed pumpkins.

Fortunately for Suzanne, she will continue to be able to buy root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, turnip, beets and kohlrabi throughout the winter thanks to the amazing root cellar at Kokopelli Farm.

The pigs at Kokopelli Farm enjoying the end of harvest season, when they get an amazing buffet — being allowed to eat up the leftover kale and broccoli in the garden. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Saturday,  Sept 16th will be the last Dawson Farmers’ Market for Lucy for the year.  However, Kokopelli Farm will continue to sell for a few more Saturdays  in town and to sell root veggies from the farm gate in Sunnydale all fall and winter.  Lucy Vogt will continue to sell veggies at the gate at Henderson Corner into October.

The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Teaching and Working Farm will be having their final public market on Wednesday 20 September at the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre.

If you are interested in which onions and pumpkins grow and store well in the North:  the onions that Grant grows are Expression onions, which store extremely well if they are well dried before storage. Grant’s pie pumpkins are of the Jack Sprat variety, and they store well in a cool room till May.

> See Grant’s Seed Guide

 

A Good Year for Corn in Dawson

Corn growing in Louise Piché’s greenhouse. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Corn is a southern crop that has traditionally been quite difficult to grow in the North.  But this year, many of those who attempted to grow corn in Dawson City have been successful.  After a rocky start with late frost in June, the heat in Dawson in July and early August was beneficial for those who have been growing corn.

Some growers, like Sebastian Jones, Megan Waterman and Grant Dowdell, have had luck growing corn outdoors.  Others, like Louise Piché, have done well growing it in their greenhouses.

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Corn growing outside Sebastian Jones’s cabin. Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

As reported earlier, Grant Dowdell is growing a crop of popping corn for Suzanne’s family on Grant’s Island, and we’re pleased to report it is doing beautifully, despite some unwanted attention from a midnight marauding moose.  Grant also has good success growing sweet corn outdoors.

The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Teaching and Working  Farm are also  experimenting with growing corn. It’s good news to know that with some special care and cooperation from Mother Nature corn can indeed be grown in Dawson!

Precious cobs of sweet corn from Grant Dowdell’s garden on Grant’s Island on the Yukon River.. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Sister Island Growing Tradition Continues … With Some Twists

Lou of Sister Island is growing some crops not typically seen in the North, including “black” indigo rose tomatoes. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Sister Island is a private 42-acre island just downriver from Dawson City, and has a longstanding agricultural tradition. Given to the Sisters of St. Ann in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, the nuns used the Island to grow vegetables famous for their quality, and raised cows, chickens and pigs to feed a hospital and orphanage in Dawson. Suzanne visited there recently to meet the current owners, Lou Tyacke and Gary Masters, who are now farming there.

Suzanne was thrilled to discover that Lou was growing fennel as it is hard to come by in Dawson this year.

Lou and Suzanne with some Sister Island fennel. Photo by Jennifer Hall.

Lou is also successfully growing some other unique produce, not usually found in the North. This includes Jerusalem artichokes (a type of sunflower), which is grown for its edible root/tuber), and is growing very well in the Sister island greenhouse. She is also raising a variety of colourful carrots, as well as “black” tomatoes, which are actually vine tomatoes of the indigo rose variety.

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Jerusalem artichokes growing in the Sister Island greenhouse (left) and some colourful carrots.  Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

For Suzanne, the timing of the visit to Sister Island was especially fortuitous, as she arrived the day before she started her 100-per-cent-local eating.  She was treated to one of Lou’s amazing cupcakes — a floral art form in itself  — and a cup of tea. … which turned out to be her last cup of orange pekoe tea (and cupcake) for a year.

If it’s going to be your last cupcakes for a year, might as well make it colourful. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

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

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.

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.

Northern Farm Training Institute’s Founder Receives National Honour

Jackie Milne, NFTI Founder & President.

One of the leaders in Northern food sustainability, Jackie Milne, the Founder and President of the Northern Farm Training Institute, was in Ottawa last Friday to receive the Meritorious Service Decoration from the Governor General.

With global warming affecting traditional hunting grounds, Jackie saw a need to increase access to fresh produce in Canada’s northern communities. She established the NFTI in Hay River, NWT to teach the local population about sustainable, environmentally sound farming practices that would supplement traditional diets. Since 2013, the institute has trained nearly 100 farmers from across the north, with Indigenous students making up more than half of the program’s graduates.

The Meritorious Service Decorations were established by Queen Elizabeth II to recognize the extraordinary people who make Canada proud. Their acts are often innovative, set an example or model for others to follow, or respond to a particular challenge faced by a community. The best candidates are those who inspire others through their motivation to find solutions to specific and pressing needs or provide an important service to their community or country.

Farming Tradition Lives On at Pelly River Ranch

Pelly River Ranch is the the oldest, continuously working farm in the Yukon territory, located  10 kilometres up the Pelly River from its confluence with the Yukon River. Dale and Sue Bradley are the second generation of Bradleys to run the Pelly River Ranch, and the Bradley family are the fifth in a series of owners dating as far back as 1901, when Edward Menard bought 20 acres on the Pelly River and brought in farmer George Grenier as his partner. The farm changed owners through the years until 1954 when Dale Bradley’s uncles Hugh and Dick Bradley bought the place from the Wilkenson family.

Like their family before them, Dale and Sue and their son Ken run a mixed farm, which means they engage in several agricultural practices. They raise chickens and beef cattle, mostly Hereford and Angus, have a big vegetable garden, and they raise hay to feed their cattle. The Bradleys sell their eggs, chickens and beef to customers in Dawson, Faro and especially Whitehorse. In addition, they supply local markets with a range of root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, rutabaga and parsnips.

Pelly River Ranch mantains a herd of about 50 cattle, which they feed with their farm grown hay as well as fresh forage, from grasses to rose leaves to young fireweed, a feed that gives the beef a wild, natural flavour that Bradley appreciates.

In the year 2000, the Yukon Agriculture Branch presented the Bradley family with the “Farmer of the Century Award” for their nearly 50 years of agricultural work at the Pelly River Ranch.

Surprise Dawson Cold Snap Takes Its Toll

Unusually cold temperatures struck the Dawson area bringing frost and crop damage. Ice on grass in Henderson Corner.  Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Suzanne’s preparations for her year of eating local suffered a setback this week as the lowest  temperatures in 35 years descended on Dawson, bringing three days of frost . Microclimates abound in the Klondike, so depending on their location the severity of damage to gardens and farms varied, with the town only mildly affected, while outlying areas saw temperatures as low as -4.7°C.

Suzanne covers her garden in preparation for possible frost. Photo by Tess Crocker.

Where frost did occur, even some plants that were covered suffered — especially brassicas (plants like cauliflower and broccoli) and beans.  Many of those who suffered losses were veteran growers, who had taken precautions to try to mitigate the frost damage.

Brassicas (plants like cauliflower and broccoli) were especially hard hit by the frost. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Klondike Valley Nursery in Rock Creek,  where  they are adapting fruit tress to the north, was especially hard hit. They lost their haskap berry crop as well as their early apples, even those that were in shelters with kerosene heaters.  Only the apple trees that were in greenhouses heated with wood stoves made it through.

Lucy’s Plants and Vegetables in Henderson Corner has a sprinkler system that is thermostat controlled and turns on automatically when the temperature hits zero.  The sprinkler system and the row covers saved the day.  There was still some frost damage to early peas and early potatoes, but hopefully they will recover.  The rhubarb was frozen hard, but there’s still time in the season for them to bring out new shoots.

Kokopellie Farms in Sunnydale irrigated their plants and put them under row cover but still suffered frost damage to some of their cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce and early potatoes.  Fortunately for Suzanne’s hopes of getting some grains, their winter rye is doing well.

Kokopellie Farm’s crop of winter rye survived the frost. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Growers have always been at the mercy of the weather, but occurrences like this one underscore the challenges of gardening and farming in the north. Northern growers have developed techniques for weathering frost, including irrigating well before and during the frost, covering crops, and moving what one can into heated shelters and greenhouses.

Do you have other ways of dealing with frost or some lessons to share with us? Let us know.

 

 

Vertical Agriculture Coming to Carcross

A vertical agriculture facility is in the planning stages with the goal of having it built in Carcross this fall. This innovative project will be the first  of its kind in the Yukon.

Tami Grantham, Natural Resources Coordinator with the Carcross-Tagish First Nation, says:  “What attracted us to this technology is the ability to grow greens year-round. It’s a goal and a mission for the government of Carcross-Tagish First Nation to become food-secure.”

Construction would be managed through a new corporation created as a partnership between the Carcross-Tagish First Nation and Northstar Agriculture of which the First Nation will be 51 per cent owner.

The system will recirculate water from a fish tank through a vegetable grow bed. Nutrients from the fish waste feed the plants, and the plants filter the water to keep the fish healthy. In normal aquaculture, excretions from the animals being raised can accumulate in the water, increasing toxicity. In an aquaponic system, water from an aquaculture system is fed to a hydroponic system where the by-products are broken down by bacteria into nitrates, which are utilized by the plants as nutrients, and the water is then recirculated back to the aquaculture system.

The vertical part of this type of farming will be in the form of stacked layers that could be up to 10 meters high, in order to maximize production, contained in a warehouse-style space.

Not only would this mean a possibility for fresh local produce and lower food prices in the community, but also the promise of food security, as this system allows year-round growing of vegetables in a sustainable way.

The fish raised would be Tilapia, which is common in farming systems. Vegetables grown would include kale, spinach, and perhaps even strawberries and other vine crops.

 

Plant. Water. Worry.

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There’s a frost warning in Dawson, and baby plants will be especially vulnerable. Photo by Suzanne Crocker

According to Environment Canada, the next three days will see the chance of frost in the Dawson City area. This is much later in the month than even the most pessimistic of local planting advice that Suzanne had to consider when planting her garden.

While this particular frost warning is a local issue — and even in Dawson, temperatures and exposure to frost will vary based on altitude, terrain. and proximity to water — it highlights a point about sub-arctic/arctic growing, and the quest for Food Security North of 60.  Our colder climate brings its own set of challenges and risks.

Suzanne will be busy the next few nights trying to protect the plants in her garden by covering them with row cover and sheets.  John Lenart at the Klondike Valley Nursery will be putting kerosene heaters in his greenhouses to keep the precious Dawson apple trees with sensitive blossoms warm during the next few nights.  Lucy Vogt at Lucy’s Plants and Veggies will be irrigating her fields to help keep the frost away from her growing produce.  Lucy has a sprinkler system attached to a thermostat.  The sprinkler system automatically turns on when temperatures drop below freezing.  Fingers crossed that Dawson gardens and farms will make it through the next three nights unscathed!