Suzanne’s Blog: We Did It!

Suzanne and her family.  Photo by Hélène Roth

We made it!

The year of feeding my family 100% local food at 64 degrees north has come to an end.

I am very proud of my family.  They didn’t join this venture willingly. Gerard made it through an entire year, only ‘cheating’ when he left town.  The kids joined in to the best of their abilities  – respecting the ban on all grocery store food from our house, including salt. Adapting to strange new foods, not all of which have been palatable!

The family is ecstatic to have ‘normal’ food, previously considered contraband, back in the house again. Tess is throwing a party for her friends – complete with junk food.  Kate is looking forward “to being able to cook again”.  Sam can once again indulge in instantly grab-able late night calories.  Gerard is looking forward to his first beer.

For myself, the grocery store food holds no allure.  I remember the taste of an orange out of season and grocery store bread.  Even chocolate does not beckon.  Give me a Saskatoon berry plucked from the bush or a cherry tomato fresh off the vine any day!

For the past year I have known where every single ingredient on my plate has come from.  It has been both an amazing and a humbling experience to be so connected with my food and with the people and the land that helped put it on my plate.

Check out some of the many, many people who helped make this year so successful:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it takes a community to feed a family.

If I had to choose the place in the world where I would want to be if a major disaster struck, it would be Dawson City.   We have food, we have water, we have wood for heat and cooking.  And, most importantly, we have resourcefulness, knowledge and ingenuity in spades!

For tens of thousands of years prior to colonization, the land was both the grocery store and the pharmacy for indigenous people of the North.  Since colonization, we have gradually moved away from sourcing and producing our food locally.  In  2018 we find ourselves dependent on one road to truck 97% of our food from thousands of kilometers away.  With this dependence, comes vulnerability.

So, in 2018, it is reassuring to know that there is a bounty of food that the land and the people of the North can provide.

Thank you Dawson City – I am so fortunate to call this remarkable community my home!

Not Your Typical English Country Garden

Sister Island, a 42-acre property located just a couple of kilometers down river from Dawson City, has a long tradition of growing. 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.

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Sister Island has a long-standing reputation for growing great veggies. Photo by Lou Tyacke.

The island was purchased a few years ago by Lou Tyacke and Gary Masters, and the couple are keeping the island’s growing tradition very much alive. Visitors are also able to come and stay on the island.

Lou and Gary are originally from the U.K., and while the sub-arctic climate and short growing season they deal with is about as un-English as you can get, they are  trying some new cultivars and livestock not typical to the Klondike. Among the fowl they are raising are some species more common to the British Isles than the Yukon. This year they are raising  quail, pheasant, and heritage chicks as well.

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Lou and Gary are trying some exotic species more familiar to the U.K. like quail, pheasant, and heritage chicks. Photo by Lou Tyacke.

A Tamworth Pig enjoying its mud bath. Photo by Lou Tyacke.

There are also Tamworth pigs, a well-known species in the U.K. The animals seem well-adapted to their home, and when they are not chasing the farmers’ quad, love to take mud baths.

Lou and Gary have been growing turnips to help feed the pigs, but they are growing so well, the farmers are thinking they’ll be keeping some of the vegetables for themselves.

Turnips were meant for pig feed but some of them are finding their way into the farmers’ pot too. Photo by Lou Tyacke.

> Check out the Sister Island Facebook page

 

Berry Season Has Begun!

Suzanne picking wild strawberries. Photo by Tess Crocker.

The first fresh berries are ripe for the eating!

Domestic haskap berries are ripe in gardens and the wild strawberries are now ripe in the fields.

The sweet taste of a fresh, in season, strawberry is divine.   In the North, wild strawberries are very small – but their taste is the sweetest of all – making them worth the effort of picking.

Domestic haskaps are now in season. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Haskaps, Lonicera caerulea, are a blue honeysuckle.   Native to Russia, they withstand frost and the minus forty cold winters of the North quite well.  They are currently  flourishing in gardens around Dawson City.

Also native to Japan,  ‘haskap’ is an ancient Japanese name which translates to ‘berry of long life and good vision.’   Haskaps are packed with Vitamin C and contain more anti-oxidants than any other berry.

The haskap berry is grape sized.  They are perfectly ripe when they are dark blue in colour with an obvious dimple in the bottom of the berry.  The taste of a haskap is a combination of sweet blueberry with tart cranberry.

Check out  the Haskap Canada Association for haskap recipes.

At Tundarose Garden in Dawson City, a bird found a well-protected area for nesting in the interior of the a thick row of haskap bushes.  Not wanting to disturb, Suzanne and Mary Ann snuck a very quick peek at the eggs and were surprised to find two had just hatched.  They backed off quickly so that mama could attend to her young in peace.

 

 

Suzanne’s Blog: “Knee High by the 4th of July”

Home-grown barley already waist high by July 7th. Photo by Tess Crocker.

“Knee high by the fourth of July” is a farmer’s refrain south of the 49th Parallel – predicting a healthy crop of grain.

So waist high by the 7th of July is looking pretty good up here at 64 degrees north!

Inspired by Miche Genest’s post “Back Yard Grain Growing in the Yukon – the Logical Next Step”and Kokopellie Farm’s success in growing grain in Dawson,  I decided to give back yard grain growing a try.

My experience last Fall taught me that hulling grain is no easy feat.  In fact sometimes, as is the case for oats and buckwheat, it is virtually impossible for a home gardener.  Therefore I was thrilled that Salt Spring Seeds carries hulless varieties of grain.   After consulting owner Dan Jason, I decided to try Faust Barley (hulless) and Streaker Hulless Oats.

And look how well they are doing!

Hulless Faust Barley. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Gardening has never come easily to me.   I struggle to grow brassicas while the local farmers produce them in abundance.

This year I decided to try my luck growing edibles that are not so easily found at our local Farmers Market.  My raised beds are hosting oats, barley, amaranth, Tom Thumb popping corn and onions.   The onions are not looking so good but, so far, the rest seem to be growing well.

Streaker Hulless Oats. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

With the idiosyncrasies of our short growing season, grains have often been difficult to grow in the North.  Perhaps as a result of climate change, perhaps due to hardier cultivars, it seems that in the past few years growing grain is becoming more feasible.

So it is a good time test out the possibilities of back yard grain growing in the Yukon!

Fingers crossed that local barley and local breakfast oats will be on the menu in our house next year.

Asparagus Does Grow in the North!

I always thought of asparagus as an exotic vegetable.

But guess what, it will grow in the North!

Several Dawson gardeners have been successful growing asparagus and generous in sharing some of the harvest with me this year — yum!

For all your asparagus cravings dine on firewood shoots in May and garden asparagus in June and July!

Tips if you want to try growing your own asparagus:

  • Buy roots, not seeds
  • Plant the roots in spring in 1⁄2 dirt and 1⁄2 sand
  • The harvest will be in the second year
  • Harvest by cutting from June till mid July, and then stop cutting

To check out varieties that have grown well in the North, check out Louise Piché’s Seed Guide.

 

To Market, To Market

by Miche Genest

Fresh baked goods at the Stewart Valley Community Market by Ashley Washburn-Hayden.

The buds are appearing on the trees, there’s new growth on the ground, and across the territory farmers, gardeners and consumers are gearing up for market season. In Dawson the first outdoor market took place on May 13, Mother’s Day; in Whitehorse the Fireweed Community Market officially opens May 17; and the Stewart Valley Community Market (SVCM) will rev up on May 26th. “Keep your friends close and your farmers closer,” says a poster on the SCVM Facebook page, which pretty much sums up the idea behind local markets: farmers and community.

Joella Hogan is one of the SCVM organizers, along with Sandy Washburn and Susan Stanley. “We usually try to have five or six markets a year,” she says. “Usually the first one in spring so people can get bedding plants and visit, and celebrate spring.

“When we started, our whole point was about connecting farms to local people, because lots of people couldn’t get out to the farms,” she continues. “We had no idea that it would become this huge social thing.”

The market started up about seven years ago, with the help of funding from the Community Climate Change Adaptation Project at Yukon College, which enabled organizers to invest in tables, tents, a barbecue and a cooler. Now the market is totally self-sufficient, deriving revenue from table rentals at $10 a shot and a $25 buy-in fee for food vendors.

Farmers Ralph and Norma Meese from Minto Bridge Farm are market regulars, and so are Adam and Danica Wrench from North Wind farm, a small family operation just up the road from the Meeses. “The Meeses sell mostly vegetables and eggs, whereas Adam and Danica are getting into pigs and chickens,” says Hogan. “There’s even a local lady selling eating rabbits.”

The farmers are joined by a good handful of local food producers, artists and artisans. Sometimes jeweller Esther Winter of Winterchild Jewellery takes a table, especially when she’s testing new designs. “She’ll say, ‘These are three new designs; pick your favourite and there will be a draw.’ I love it!” says Hogan.

This year market organizers are hoping to get more kids interested in participating, whether to sell lemonade or hold a bake sale. “We want to encourage entrepreneurship and small business, so we want to get the kids involved in the market so they understand more.”

The other group in the community the organizers have their sights on is the seniors and Elders. “They’re our biggest fans; they love getting out and visiting. Our thinking is, let’s engage them to have more ownership — phoning their friends to remind them there’s a market and putting up posters, so that it becomes more of a community-wide thing.”

Hogan recently attended the Zero Waste Conference in Whitehorse. “I said to Sandy, ‘We have to get on Zero Waste!’” Now, like the Fireweed Community Market and other markets across the country, SVCM is grappling with how to reduce garbage. “How do you do that? Do you offer incentives to the vendor? Do you, as the market, supply all the dishes and utensils so it meets your values? At what expense?”

Already, SVCM uses compostable cups, and Susan Stanley has made felt holders that will go around mason jars, which Hogan then takes home and washes after the market.

That is, if folks will allow her to take their coffee cups. Hogan says, “People don’t want to go home at the end of the day. We’re packing up and they’re like, ‘I just want one more cup of coffee!’”

Market day at Stewart Valley Community Market: a time for visiting.

Suzanne’s Blog: Tree Water

Nature is turning off the tap for birch sap. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

The buds on the birch trees are just starting to turn green, which means it’s coming to the end of birch sap season.  For the past few weeks you could spot a birch tree being tapped in many Dawson City backyards.

Most of us have been tapping a tree in order to drink the cold, refreshing and nutrient rich birch water – loaded with thiamine (one of the Vitamin B’s) and manganese, as well as some Vitamin C, iron, riboflavin, zinc, calcium and potassium.  Birch water tastes like a super fresh and delicious glass of crystal clear water with only a rare hint of sweet if you look for it.

When the sap is running, the tree is actually pulling the sap from its roots all the way up to the top of the tree to feed its leaf buds which is an amazing anti-gravitational feat in itself.

Birch water goes bad within a couple of days, even in the fridge, so it needs to be consumed fresh.  Alternatively, you can freeze it  (even in ice cube trays) and save some frozen birch water to consume later in the year.  The tapping of one tree will produce a lot of birch water, so be careful not to tap more than you can consume.

Very few of us will boil down the sap we collect to make birch syrup.  We leave that to Sylvia Frisch and Berwyn Larson and their crew who are currently very busy, working around the clock, collecting sap from about 1500 trees and preparing Uncle Berwyn’s Yukon Birch Syrup to supply us all with the sweet stuff for the upcoming year.

My birch syrup supply is down to the last cupful.  We are consuming about 1  litre of birch syrup per week! So I decided to boil down some sap and see if I could supplement our supply until the end of syrup season when we can get our next 12 L bucket from Sylvia and Berwyn’s birch camp.

Birch syrup and maple syrup, although both sweet, are quite different in both taste and components.  Birch syrup contains fructose, the sugar in fruit, and it does not crystallize like maple syrup does.  Maple syrup contains sucrose, the sugar in table sugar.  One of the major differences between the two is the sugar content of the sap. It takes twice as much birch sap to make a litre of birch syrup, compared to making maple syrup.  In fact the ration of birch sap to syrup is an astounding 80:1!

What does that look like in real life?  I took my two largest pots and boiled down 14 litres of birch water.  All that sap produced a scant ¾ cup of syrup!

A big thank you to the birch trees for sharing some your sap and to Sylvia Frisch and Berwyn Larson and crew for all the hard work that goes into turning it into syrup!

If you haven’t yet tasted birch syrup, you really must.  It is delicious!  When using birch syrup in recipes, I find I don’t miss the absence of other spices such as cinnamon or allspice.  Check out the many recipes using birch syrup on our Recipe Page.

As the leaf buds start to turn green, the sap will take on a bitter taste, marking the end of the tapping season for another year.

> Check out photos of birch camp here

Suzanne’s Blog: The Family Dog Desperate to Eat Local

It is ‘break up’ time in Dawson City.  Break up as in the river, not as in divorce!

The ice is breaking up, the rivers are not crossable and my milk supply is on the other side of the Klondike River.

It’s break-up time on the Klondike River which means Suzanne is cut off from her dairy supply. Photo by Suizanne Crocker.

In anticipation, I froze 12 gallons of milk in advance.  Throughout the winter, they easily remained frozen on our verandah.  However, Spring has now arrived and the great outdoor deep freeze is no more.  Twelve gallons of milk would take up too much room in the freezer so I have been trying to keep them frozen in an ever-shrinking snow bank – the last of the winter snow around our house.

Unlike my children, Sadie, the family dog, desperately wishes she had been included in the local diet this year.

We found out  the hard way that she was lactose intolerant, after letting her lap up some whey  — a by product of yogurt and cheese making.  Sadie loved it, but was quickly cut off when her intestines revolted.   She steals whatever bit of local food she can get her paws on.   Rock hard sourdough bread, that my family can’t chew, is better than dog biscuits according to Sadie.  If you accidentally drop a carrot on the floor, you had better be quick to pick it up before Sadie devours it.

Recently Sadie struck it rich when she realized she could chew the caps of the milk jugs in the snow bank!

Local Dairy Products for Sale in Dawson

Local Klondike Valley Creamery products on sale at the Dawson City General Store. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

It’s something Dawson City hasn’t seen since the 1930’s — local dairy products for sale. Klondike Valley Creamery, a dairy farm in Rock Creek, on the far side of the Klondike River, has been raising the first dairy cows the region has seen in almost 80 years.  And now the Creamery’s first dairy products have just arrived on grocery store shelves in Dawson.

Products for sale at  the Dawson City General Store include  a delicious onion-and-dill cheese spread and, for those with a sweet tooth, Mocha Labneh — the nutella of dairy products. Each container is labelled with the names of the cows who donated their milk for the cause!
The Creamery is planning to have  more local Dawson dairy products after this year’s river break-up.

Then and Now

Betty St. Jean (née Fournier) and a dairy calf in Dawson City in the 1930’s. Courtesy of Betty St. Jean
Loren and Jen Sadlier with Duchess and Lilly. Photo by Cathie Archbould

There’s a Lot of Eggs in that Basket!

By Miche Genest

Mandalay Farm chickens.

Alan and Cathy Stannard of Mandalay Farm have been raising free-range chickens for the last nine years on their acreage off the Burma Road near Whitehorse. For eight of those years theirs was a small, family-run business with a flock of about 100 birds. They sold the eggs through neighbourhood buying groups, who knew the Stannards well enough that they invited them to community brunches. Today, the egg business is still family-run but you wouldn’t call it small.

Under the brand name Little Red Hen Eggs, the Stannard’s brown free-range eggs are sold in four supermarkets and one variety store in Whitehorse, plus a grocery store in Haines Junction. Their other commercial customers include Air North, two local coffee shops and two large downtown hotels.

In 2017 the Stannards upped their egg ante considerably — they built a large barn, brought in 2,000 chicks and invested in a commercial grader that can grade 7,000 eggs in an hour. In the spring of 2017 Al Stannard told the Yukon News, “Our goal is to provide a brown, free-range egg for the Yukon.”

There’s no shortage of eggs in the Yukon — consumers across the territory have some access to eggs sold over the farm gate to buying clubs or through private arrangements. And local, graded eggs are available for sale at Farmer Roberts grocery store in Whitehorse. But the difference here is one of scale. Since the Partridge Creek Farm stopped egg production in the mid-2000s there has not been a large-scale egg producer in the Yukon; there’s never been a large-scale free-range brown egg producer.

Little Brown Hen eggs, graded and ready to be packaged.

There is a market, or several. Jonah Tredger, executive chef at the Westmark Whitehorse, has been a customer since late January. He currently buys 8 to 10 cases of 15 dozen eggs a week, and that’s in the slow season. Wykes Independent Grocer purchases 500 dozen a week; the owner reports they’re the best-selling brown egg in the store. Consumers want to buy local free-range eggs, and they’re willing to pay extra for them.

That the birds are free-range is key to the Stannard’s success, and to their own job satisfaction. “We love those birds,” says Al Stannard. “We want [them] to have a good life.” It’s hard to imagine 2,000 birds being able to range freely. But the Stannards make it work.

Inside the barn, “the girls” have a 10 by 90-foot patch of gravel, six inches deep, for scratching and digging, two essential chicken needs. “They like to dig foxholes, and lie in there and dust themselves,” says Stannard. “It’s like walking through a field full of gopher holes.”

In winter temperatures up to -10C the girls get out into the sun.

In winter, as long is the temperature is -10C or above, the birds go outside into a fenced-in enclosure to catch some rays. They’re given feed that has not been genetically modified. “We do our utmost at all times to make sure our feed is GMO-free,” says Stannard. This is for customer satisfaction as much as bird health.

By all accounts, customers are satisfied. They send thank you cards to the Stannards. One long-time Whitehorse resident wrote, “I’ve been waiting for 60 years for something like this to come along.”

Chef Tredger of the Westmark is satisfied too. His goal had always been to serve local food at the hotel, and a recent change in hotel ownership made that possible. So he went out in search of consistent sources of local product. He met the Stannards at Meet Your Maker, an event connecting farmers and buyers co-hosted by TIA Yukon and the Yukon Agricultural Association in Whitehorse last January. “My biggest concern was trying to keep up volume,” he says. “It’s really reassuring to know, and exciting to know, that they can.”

“What I really like about being able to use [Little Red Hen Eggs] is there’s a high demand.” Any egg on the breakfast menu is a Little Red Hen Egg, and that has been good for business. “Every time we tell a customer [the eggs are local] they get pretty excited, and they tell their friends, and we see a lot of repeat business that way.”

“One of the best things is the money stays in the community. We’re supporting a local business and in turn they support us.”

The Stannards plan to build a second barn in 2018 and purchase another 1000 birds. “That way, we will not have a lack of eggs when the birds change out.” He’s referring to when the first set of birds wind down, or become “spent”, as they do after 18 months to two years of laying. The calcium in the egg shells comes from the chicken’s bodies, and their bones eventually become brittle and vulnerable to injury. At that stage, Stannard says, “we put them down quickly and quietly.” Stannard shares this aspect of egg production frankly, saying, “It’s part of the process, and it’s important that people know.”

He would like to see the spent birds be consumed as food, and has recently spoken with a local chef and café owner about giving cooking lessons on how to make soup and cook chicken feet, a classic dim sum item that’s now gaining traction in mainstream cuisine as chefs and consumers become more sensitive to eating the whole bird or animal.

In the meantime there are the eggs: free range, brown, and commercially available in Yukon markets and restaurants. If all goes as planned, Little Red Hen Eggs will soon be in a store near you.

From peewee to extra large eggs–the girls produce all sizes, though the goal is always the commercially popular, large size.

Spring is in the Air!

The cows at Klondike Valley Creamery catch some rays while awaiting spring and grazing. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

The nights are still cold in Dawson City (-20°C), but the days are warm, the sky is blue and the sun shines for at least 12 hours every day.

In the mid-afternoon it is very pleasant to bask in the warmth of the sun.  The cows at Klondike Valley Creamery agree.

During the winter, the snow cover prevents the electric fence from grounding properly, so the cows spend most of their days in the barn.  But soon, they will be pasture grazing once again.

Bring on the sun!

Backyard Grain-Growing in the Yukon: The Logical Next Step

by Miche Genest

Faust Barley, a hull-less variety.

I used to think you needed a prairie to grow grains, or at least a big field. Then I met Dan Jason, farmer, gardener, author, cook, and owner of the seed company Salt Spring Seeds. His dearest wish is that we all become grain growers, whether we have a plot of land, a box in a community garden or a backyard of clayey soil in downtown Whitehorse.

Jason lives and gardens on Salt Spring Island, and he is a legend in British Columbia. For the past 30 years, he has been finding, cultivating and saving the seeds from ancient varieties of grain; grain that has grown in different parts of the world for thousands of years, providing sustenance and a way of life for numerous peoples.

Jason is passionate about the beauty of these grains, in the field and on the plate; he loves the way they look and the way they taste, their grace and their nutritional benefits. In 2017, introduced by our mutual publisher, we collaborated on writing Awesome Ancient Grains and Seeds, a garden-to-table book with growing information and recipes for grains from amaranth to rye. Now he has me convinced that not only can I cook with grains, I can grow them too. “Growing grains is a lot easier than just about anything else,” he says. “It’s like planting grass.”

Despite our short growing season and cold winters, farmers have been growing grain for animal feed and green manure in the Yukon since the Gold Rush era. But we have a history of growing grain for human consumption too. Hudson’s Bay Company trader Robert Campbell harvested a “keg” (about seven and a half gallons) of barley at Fort Selkirk in 1848. In 1901, the Pelly Farm produced wheat and sold it, ground into flour, in Dawson City. Oats, wheat and barely were successfully grown at the federal experimental sub-station at the J.R. Farr farm on Swede Creek, 10 kilometres south of Dawson, in 1917.

Whole grains. Clockwise from left: emmer, hull-less barley, buckwheat, oats, rye.

In the present day, Otto Muehlbach and Connie Handwerk at Kokopellie Farm near Dawson have grown and harvested rye, barley and even wheat, keeping Suzanne Crocker and her family well-supplied with grain to grind into flour for baked goods in this year of eating locally.

In 2016 Krista and Jason Roske harvested 40 kilos of triticale, a rye and wheat hybrid, at Sunnyside Farm in the Ibex Valley near Whitehorse. I worked with their grain and flour all year long. Several years ago Tom and Simone Rudge of Aurora Mountain Farm on the Takhini River Road harvested rye and ground it into bread flour; it made beautiful bread.

But this is all grain grown on a larger scale, with the expectation of a fairly substantial yield–if not enough for the commercial market, then at least enough to contribute to the grain and flour needs of a small household. It’s unlikely that backyard grain growers will feed the family more than a few meals with their crop.

Their yield will be of a different sort—fun, satisfaction, and beauty in the garden at every stage of growth. And maybe a celebration or two.

This sesaon Randy Lamb, Yukon agrologist and chair of the Downtown Urban Gardeners Society (DUGS), which runs the Whitehorse Community Garden, plans to plant a 4 x 20-foot bed with barley from local farms, a hull-less barely from Salt Spring Seeds, and Red Fife wheat. “I should have enough to make bannock or pancakes for one of our season-end potluck socials at the Whitehorse community garden this year,” he says.

He plans to thresh and mill the grain himself, make hot cakes, and serve them with raspberry jam made with honey and berries from the garden. “My goal is to present it as “100-metre hotcakes”, based on the 100-mile diet theme.” That’s a pretty great incentive to grow some grain. Dan Jason would add, remember to eat your backyard grains whole, too. Or sprout them. “You get a lot back, sprouting your grains,” he says.

Jason thinks hull-less barley is a great idea, because it’s pretty tricky for the home gardener to remove the hulls from other varieties. He suggests rye, too, for the Yukon climate. “Rye is super-hardy. It can go to -40°C easily. And it’s easy to harvest, because the hulls are really loose-fitting. You just rub them and they come apart.” Flax and buckwheat are also good possibilities for the northern backyard grain grower. They’re hardy, adaptable and produce beautiful flowers.

Flax in beautiful flower.

Those who grew up in the Whitehorse suburb of Riverdale will remember oats and wheat growing in their midst, in the front yard of the Cable family’s house. Jack Cable planted the grains as green manure. “I was brought up in market garden country, so I knew that soil needed amendment, up here. It wasn’t a grain harvesting exercise, it was a soil-amendment exercise.” Urban grain-growing was so unusual (and still is!) that the 15 x 5–foot plot in the Cable front yard became a local attraction.

Cable’s intention was to grow a lawn once the soil had been amended. In my downtown Whitehorse backyard there is no lawn, but there is grass. Long, wild, tenacious grass. My intention is to replace some of that grass with grain. Jason suggests roto-tilling a few times first to dislodge the grass. He thinks I might even be able to grow amaranth—it’s worth a try. I’m hoping that raising grain turns out to be as low-intervention as raising the wild grasses, lambsquarters and dandelions currently holding dominion in my yard.

Would it not be the coolest thing, to walk through a Yukon community and see not mown lawns, but waving seas of grain growing in all the backyards? That would be some local attraction. As Randy Lamb says, “The locavore movement has been growing for years up here. Every season I’ve been adding something extra to my local diet. Veggies and berries are easy. Fruit, eggs, and honey take a little more effort. Grain is the logical next step.”

 

 

 

 

The Forest Garden of Agnes Seitz

by Miche Genest

A food forest in the boreal forest.

Guild is an old word denoting an association of like-minded people engaged in a common pursuit — armorers, cobblers, or weavers, for example. In Whitehorse weavers, sewers and felters have organized themselves into a Fibres Guild, and theatre-goers attend plays at the Guild Theatre.

On a small homestead on the Annie Lake Road, there’s a different sort of guild at work, involving players of another kind. They are plants; all kinds of plants from herbs to berry bushes to fruit trees, and they work together in a “food forest” planted and maintained by Agnes Seitz and her partner Gertie.

For the past several years Seitz has been slowly building what has become known in permaculture circles as a food forest, but is actually, she says, “comparable to a really extensive home garden.” This kind of home garden has been grown in tropical climates from the Amazon to India for thousands of years; such gardens are a low-intervention way of ensuring food security. In the mid-1980s, British gardener Robert Hart began experimenting with “forest gardening” in Shropshire, England, bringing those techniques into a more temperate climate.

In the Yukon several gardeners and homesteaders are experimenting with building food forests in a much colder environment, Seitz among them. “The idea is that a young woodland is the most perfect natural system and the most prolific one,” she says. “And that’s what we’re trying to copy, a young woodland.” A young woodland occurring naturally is basically self-sustaining. While a planted food forest is not entirely self-sustaining, it can come close.

Planting in guilds is a cornerstone in the building of a food forest. “You plant in such a way that throughout the season [the plants] support each other,” says Seitz. “There are nitrogen fixers in there, there are attractants that bring in the bees for pollination, there are plants that bring up minerals from the soil. You bring all these players together in a system that makes it so much easier on us.”

Some of the players in the “guild.”

When she was starting out, “because we don’t have soil here,” Seitz brought in a truckload of compost from the City of Whitehorse dump. Five or six years later, now that the system is up and running, Seitz’s interventions are low-tech and low-key. She fertilizes with wood ash and human urine. “Humans are one more part of the habitat we are building there,” she says. “An apple tree needs about five pees a year to get all the nitrogen it needs.”

Seitz also uses “green manure,” turning plants into fertilizer using a technique called “chop and drop.” After harvesting, “you just cut the plants and let them fall, and they feed the micro-organisms and that’s how you build the soil.”

Seitz also grows a huge annual garden of organic vegetables, which she says requires lots of controls and lots of work. Square foot for square foot, the annual garden uses nearly twice the mount of fertilizer of the perennial food forest.

She estimates there are about 80 species of herbaceous plants in her 4,000 square-foot food forest, most of them edible, like sorrel, burdock, mint, lovage, a wide variety of chives and onions, and Old World plants like sweet cicely and Good King Henry. Mixed amongst these plants are nettles, fireweed, lambs quarters and dandelions. “Wild foods, what we call weeds, are an essential part of the system,” she says.

The next layer up is composed of berry bushes such as Saskatoons, gooseberries, red, white and black currants, haskaps and raspberries. Among the next layer, the fruit trees, are hawthorns, sour cherries, pin cherries, several species of apple, Siberian pear, Manchurian plum, Manchurian apricot, Siberian pine (there may be pine nuts in 12 or 15 years) and even hazelnuts.

The more exotic species are still “kind of a research project,” says Seitz. Though the hazelnuts are not yet fruiting, they have lasted three years. “It’s going to be interesting to see how they did with this really cold winter.”

Seitz has not planted low-bush cranberries, a favourite Yukon berry, because she can easily walk into the surrounding boreal forest to find them. “They’re right around the corner.”

But for just about every other kind of herb, plant, berry or tree fruit, she says, all she has to do is walk into her backyard food forest and “kind of like just – forage.”

For further reading and resources on food forest gardening, a good place to start is Permaculture Research Institute.

Herbacecous greens, ripe for foraging.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suzanne’s Blog: Berry Bounty Boosts Vitamin C

Diana McCready of Emu Creek Farms picking Saskatoon berries. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

People often ask what we are doing for Vitamin C over the long Northern winter – in the absence of oranges and grapefruit from the south.

Worry not.  No scurvy in this family!

Besides spruce tips and some precious local apples, it is berries that are providing most of our Vitamin C this year.

Saskatoon berries at Emu Creek Farm, Dawson City, Yukon. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

We have one freezer devoted entirely to berries!

Two of the many awesome women farmers in Dawson are Diana McCready of Emu Creek Farms and Maryanne Davis of Tundarose Garden.  Both produce succulent crops of delicious berries – saskatoons, haskaps, raspberries and black currents.  Emu Creek Farms even grows some northern cherries!  Diana and Ron McCready have the added challenge of having no road access to their farm, it is only accessible by boat.

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Northern Cherries and domestic Haskap berries at Emu Creek Farm. Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

A late June frost wiped out many of the wild berries that we normally count on.   We will be forever grateful to the many Dawsonites who donated some of their precious wild berry stock to help supplement our year.  Wild low bush cranberries are a family favourite!

Fortunately, although the wild berry crop was meek, domestic berries thrived!

A bounty of Saskatoon Berries. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Berries have become one of our staples: berry sauce on custard, berry  and beet muffins, crepes with berry sauce, steamed berry pudding, breakfast clafouti.  And one of my new favourites:  Saskatoon Berry and Birch Syrup Roast.

Imagine a roast moose or roast pork cooked slowly slathered in birch syrup, Saskatoon berries and garlic.  Wicked!

Saskatoon berries and birch sryup  are an awesome combination.

Many thanks to the McCready’s and to Maryann Davis for keeping us healthy this winter thanks to their delicious berries.

> Check out the recipe for Saskatoon Berry and Birch Syrup Roast.

Suzanne’s Blog: How Do You Like Them Apples?

A mid-winter treat for Suzanne — a locally-grown apple. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

It is the middle of winter and in my hand I hold a crunchy, juicy, sweet, locally-grown apple.  Yes, that’s right, locally grown – in Dawson City, Yukon – 64 degrees north.  Further north than Iqualuit, Yellowknife and Whitehorse.

It is all thanks to the ingenuity of John Lenart at Klondike Valley Nursery, Canada’s northernmost nursery.  John has spent the last thirty years studying and grafting apple trees in order to cultivate varieties that can withstand the climate of the north.  The nursery now has 65 cultivars and some of those varieties are ‘winter apples’ – meaning that they keep well in cold storage throughout the winter.

2017 was a tough season on the apple trees due to a late frost in the middle ofJune.  But Klondike Valley Nursery has generously been sharing some of their personal apple supply with me for this year of eating local.  And I can tell you that a crunchy locally-grown apple in the middle of winter is a treat beyond all measure!

John Lenart has been cultivating apples n the North for over 30 years. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

New Life at  Klondike Valley Creamery!

Klondike Valley Creamery welcomes the newest member of the team. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Lily gave birth to a new calf — a heifer.

Gentle Lily is one of Jen and Loren Sadlier’s dairy cows at  Klondike Valley Creamery in Rock Creek, just outside of Dawson City, Yukon.

Another wonderful celebration of farmers’ ability to overwinter and breed livestock at 64 degrees north!

Suzanne’s Blog: Northern Popcorn?

Bowl of popped Tom Thumb popcorn. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Corn is notoriously difficult to grow in the North.  Even with nearly 24 hours of sunlight in June and July, our growing season is just not hot enough for long enough.  Last summer, Dawson had only 66 consecutive frost-free growing days.

When I was thinking about eating local to Dawson for one year, my mind went immediately to what I would miss.  Popcorn was right up there!  I know it is not an essential food item. But a large bowl of popcorn smothered in melted butter and nutritional yeast has, for years, been one of my favourite snacks and one of my comfort foods.  Call me a ‘popcorn geek’ – since high school, I have carted my hot air popcorn maker around the country – to various universities and job sites.  In fact, I still have it.   And Friday Night Family Movie Night has always been accompanied by several large bowls of popcorn.

Grant Dowdell, who has been farming on an island up river from Dawson City for over 30 years, has the best luck growing corn in this area – in part due to his farming skills and in part thanks to the unique microclimate on his island.   Grant has tried many varieties over the years and Earlivee (71 days to maturity) is the only one that has ever been successful.

Corn growing in the field on Grant’s Island. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

That is until last year.

Last year, I asked Grant to grow Tom Thumb popping corn for me.  With the shortest maturity date of any corn I know – only 60 days – Grant agreed.

Tom Thumb popcorn proved to be both Northern hearty and moose hearty.  Moose pulled out all the stalks early in the summer but Grant and Karen stuck them back in the ground and they continued to grow!

An ear of Tom Thumb corn. You can see why they call it “Tom Thumb.” Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

I let the cobs dry for a month and then crossed my fingers and tried to pop them.

Failure.

The kernels cracked, but didn’t actually pop.  Having never popped popcorn that didn’t come from a store, I wasn’t sure if they were too dry or not dry enough.  Distraction intervened and I let them hang for another month before I had a chance to think about them again.

Ears of popping corn hung up to dry. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

This time they did pop!  And they popped really well, with very few kernels leftover.  The popcorn is small, but very tasty. So good the kids say it doesn’t even need butter!  My winter is saved.  Bring on Friday night movie night!

Tom Thumb popping corn seeds, which date back pre 1899, can be ordered from HeritageHarvestSeed.com

> Download GrantDowdell and Karen Digby’s seed guide

Suzanne’s Blog: Saskatoon Berry Beet Cake

Grain has become a precious commodity during Suzanne’s year of eating locally. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Precious, precious grains of wheat and rye.  This is how I think of them now.  Every food has become more precious to me since starting this project of eating only food that can be hunted, foraged, fished, grown, or raised in Dawson City, Yukon.

Just prior to the ‘freeze-up’, that time of year in October and November when the Yukon River is too full of ice to boat across, but not yet frozen enough to cross by foot or by snowmobile, Otto at Kokopellie Farm handed me a 25 kg bag of wheat grain and a 25 kg bag of rye grain.   The wheat grain has been disappearing all too quickly thanks to sourdough bread and Christmas baking experimentation.  So I now am turning my attention to rye flour and saving the wheat for special occasions.

I carefully consider how much flour a recipe calls for.  Two cups or less and I’m in.  More than 2 cups and it’s usually out.  There hasn’t been much sourdough bread recently in our household for just that reason.   I also carefully consider if rye flour could be substituted for wheat flour and in many cases it can.

Thus far in my experimentation it seems that rye flour makes dough stickier.  But it easily works in many recipes including this delicious Saskatoon Berry Beet Cake, by Miche Genest.  It makes a great 9×9-inch ‘spice cake’ or muffins.  The grated beets make the cake moist and add a charming pink colour to the batter.  The birch syrup adds sweetness as well as a cinnamon/allspice flavour.   Although any berry would do, Saskatoon berries and birch syrup just taste like they were made for each other!

Do you have a recipe that uses rye flour (but not more than 2 cups!) – let us know.

> Check out Miche Genest’s Recipe for Beet and Saskatoon Berry Muffins or Cake

The New Kids In Town

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New kids Freddie, Fiona, and Freda. Photos by Suzaane Crocker.

There are 3 new kids in town!  Welcome to Freddie, Fiona, and Freda, born 10 days ago at Sun North Ventures in Rock Creek, outside Dawson City, Yukon.

Goats are a marvellous addition to food security in the North.

According to the Northern Farm Training Institute in Hay River, NWT, one person needs approximately 1 million calories per year.  The milk from just one goat provides 600,000 calories per year, more than half our calorie needs!  In contrast, the meat from one goat would only provide 40,000 calories.

Goats are multipurpose.  Female goats will provide milk as long as they are breeding and reproducing.  Goat manure can be added directly to a vegetable garden as fertilizer – it doesn’t need to compost first as does horse, cow and chicken manure.   And goats not capable of milk production or not required for breeding can become a local source of meat.

Becky and Paul Sadlier are two of many farmers who are successfully raising livestock in the North, despite the challenges of overwintering, feeding and breeding.

Becky Sadlier with Freddie. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Larger animals, like goats, pigs and cows are able to produce enough body heat to keep their barns warm without needing any external heat – even at minus 40° C.  Finding local feed is important, as shipping costs are expensive to bring feed from down south.  And then there is the breeding – keeping variety in the gene pool to keep the stock healthy without having to import animals from down south.

Congratulations to the Northern farmers who are finding ways to make it work.

Do you know of other goats being raised further North than Dawson?  Let us know.

2017: My Banner Year With Local Triticale

Triticale bounty!

by Miche Genest

On the last day of 2017, I’m looking back on a year of cooking with local foods and reflecting on the highlights. I was lucky enough to spend much of 2017 cooking and baking with a locally grown grain: triticale from Krista and Jason Roske’s Sunnyside Farm, located in the Ibex Valley close to Whitehorse. The Roskes acquired some seed from Yukon Grain Farm in the fall of 2015 and planted it on a portion of their land, intending to plow the plants back under to enrich the soil. But 2016 was such a good growing year that the plant actually matured, a rarity for grain in the Whitehorse area.

From that planting the Roskes harvested about 40 kilos of grain, by hand, and sold small quantities of whole grains, bread flour and  pastry flour to customers in and around Whitehorse. I learned about their grain and flour from Jennifer Hall, executive director of the Yukon Agricultural Association, and a great champion of local farmers and their products.

The Roskes delivered one kilo each of grain, bread flour and cake and pastry flour to my house in early 2017. I was in the midst of developing recipes for a cookbook celebrating ancient grains, written in partnership with Dan Jason, a passionate organic farmer and owner of Salt Spring Seeds, and experimenting with all kinds of grains. (Awesome Ancient Grains and Seeds will be released by Douglas and McIntyre in early 2018. Stay tuned for Whitehorse and Dawson launch details!)

The Roskes’s bread flour made a beautiful sourdough pumpernickel-style bread, and the pastry flour produced gorgeous muffins, excellent quick bread, delicious beet gnocchi and most recently, lovely birch syrup shortbread cookies for Christmas.

That triticale got around in 2017. Chef Chris Whittaker of Forage and Timber Restaurants in Vancouver made tiny mushroom tartlets with the pastry flour at a Travel Yukon dinner last February, and in June, chef Carson Schiffkorn and I served whole triticale grain with a morel mushroom-miso butter to guests at Air North and Edible Canada’s Across the Top of Canada dinner at Marsh Lake. I served the very last of the whole grain, with more miso butter, for a media dinner hosted by Travel Yukon on November 26. Everybody loved the story of the accidental success of this beautiful, locally grown grain.

Triticale is not an ancient grain, but a hybrid of wheat and rye first developed in the late 1800s in Scotland and Germany, combining the grain quality of wheat with the hardiness of rye. In 1954 the University of Manitoba experimented with the viability of spring triticale as a commercial crop, and in 1974 the University of Guelph did the same with winter triticale. Winter triticale varieties are particularly good for short-season areas like the Yukon.

For the Roskes, hand-harvesting triticale grain “quickly lost its charm,” reported Krista. However, the success of growing triticale has whetted their appetites for more grain experiments, and Krista said they’re planting spring wheat in 2018. “Fingers crossed we will have wheat for flour by next September. I’ll definitely let you know if it works out!” Last time we spoke, the Roskes were contemplating buying more machinery — perhaps a small combine and a small grain cleaner. “It’s farm evolution,” said Krista.

I’m sad to say goodbye to the last of the whole triticale grains, but very happy that I will be returning from Christmas holidays in Ontario to a few cups more of triticale flour in my pantry at home. Birch syrup shortbreads anyone?

> Click here for a recipe for birch syrup shortbreads.

Follow the story of the Roskes’s grain growing adventures on their Facebook page, @sunnysidefarmyukon

 

 

Suzanne’s Blog: Sugar Beets Sweeten the Deal

Sugar beets can be turned into sugar (in jar, at left) or syrup (right). Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

I love birch syrup and am grateful to Sylvia Frisch and Berwyn Larson who are raising their two daughters in the bush and producing birch syrup commercially.  During the past 4 ½ months of eating only local foods, we have consumed 24 litres of birch syrup.  I have discovered that the flavour of birch syrup alone can substitute for the ‘far east’ spices of cinnamon and all-spice.  I have even been known to down a shot of birch syrup, straight up, during those moments when, in a previous life, I would have grabbed a piece of chocolate – to get me through a moment of emotional or physical despair.

I also love David McBurney’s local honey – it is pure, delicate, and divine.  And it is treated like a delicacy in the family.  It also makes the perfect sweetener to enhance other delicate flavours that would be overpowered by the robust flavour of birch syrup.

But there are times, especially in baking, when chemistry is required and a liquid sugar option just doesn’t do the trick.  Now that I have local flour, and Christmas is coming, baking is on my mind.  So what to do when crystalized sugar is required?

Birch syrup, unlike maple syrup, does not crystalize.  I learned this last April while visiting Birch Camp.  So, with birch sugar no longer an option, I ordered GMO-free sugar beet seeds.  I have never had any luck growing regular beets, so I recruited others to grow the sugar beets for me –  the great gardeners Paulette Michaud and Becky Sadlier.  Unbeknownst to me, long-time Dawson farmer, Grant Dowdell, also had my year of eating local on his mind and ordered non-GMO sugar beet seeds to see if they would grow in the north.  The sugar beets grew marvelously for all, confirming that they are indeed a reasonable crop for the North.   They like warm days and cool nights – perfect for a Dawson City summer.  I ended up with 350 pounds worth to experiment with!

Sugar beets contain approximately 20% sucrose, the same sugar found in sugar cane.  One quarter of the world’s refined sugar comes from sugar beets. In Canada, Taber, Alberta is the industrial hot spot for growing and processing sugar beets into sugar.  On a commercial scale, lime (calcium oxide) and carbon dioxide are added to form calcium carbonate which solidifies and pulls out any impurities – thus resulting in familiar white sugar.  No such additions for a local home-made sugar, so the resulting sugar is brown with a richer taste.

There is a paucity of information out there on just how to make sugar from sugar beets at home, so I gave up on research and moved to trial and error.   After all, with 350 pounds of sugar beets, there was room for experimentation and failure.  And failure there has been!  Although no failure has yet to see itself in the compost.  The family seems more than willing to devour the failures – be they sugar beet toffee, sugar beet gum, sugar beet tea.  Even burnt beet sugar has found a use. (Thank goodness because there has  been a lot of burnt beet sugar!)

In the process, I have also discovered the wonder of the sugar beet – a root vegetable that was previously unknown to me.  Sugar beets are often touted as a food for livestock or a green manure crop so I was expecting the taste of the sugar beet itself to be unpalatable.  But it is just the opposite!   Cooked up, it is a delicious, sweet, white beet.  The sugar beet leaves are also edible.  And amazingly, even after the sugar is extracted, the sugar beet pulp remains sweet and delicious.  I’m afraid the local Dawson livestock will be getting less sugar beet pulp than previously anticipated this year.

One thing is for certain – processing sugar beets into sugar requires time and patience.  Here are my step-by-step instructions on how to make syrup (easy) and sugar (difficult) from sugar beets.

Sugar was first extracted from sugar beets in the mid 18th century.   In the early 19th century, during the Napoleonic wars when French ports were cut off from the rest of the world, Napoleon encouraged wide-scale sugar beet production and processing.  France remains one of the world leaders in sugar beet production and most of Europe’s sugar comes from sugar beets, rather than sugar cane.

Consider adding non-GMO sugar beet seeds to your next seed order.  In Canada, they can be found from Salt Spring Seeds and from T&T seeds.  Sugar beets grow well in the north and are a delicious root vegetable in their own right.  But don’t throw out the water you cook them in, as this water is sweet and can easily be used to make beet syrup and beet syrup candy.   And, if you are brave, sugar!  If you live in an area populated by deer, be warned that sugar beet tops are a great attractant for deer.  Word is now out to the Yukon moose so perhaps next year Dawson’s sugar beet rows will require fencing!

> View the recipe for Sugar Beet Sugar and Syrup

Suzanne’s Blog: Flour Power and the Ol’ Grind

Gerard and Tess grinding fl;our by hand. Photo by Miche Genest.

Despite a very cold November, with several weeks of -35° to -40°C, it looks like it is going to be a long freeze-up for the Yukon River again this year. I am lucky enough to have 25 kg. of wheat grains and 25 kg. of rye grains that were secured from Otto at Kokopellie Farm just before the ferry was pulled.   But Otto’s wonderful grinder is on the other side of the Yukon River.  So, for now, I am left to my own devices.

I tried to grind the grain with a combination of blender and flour sifter.  It took many, many passes.  It was possible to eke out a small amount of flour, but certainly not very efficient.

Although Dawson is small (about 1,500 people), it is the kind of community where you can put out a request for an obscure item, such as flour grinder, on the local Crier Buyer Facebook page and expect to get a response.

I was not disappointed.

Within a day, I was very grateful to receive a call from Louise Piché.  She had a hand crank flour grinder, not yet tried, that she had picked up somewhere or other and I was welcome to borrow it.   A flour grinder is a wonderful thing!   A couple of passes through the grinder along with a bit of an upper body workout and voilà – flour! Flour!!  Flour means the possibility of bread and baking!

We have flour!

Subsequently, I received another call – this time from Becky Sadlier who has an electric flour mill that we could borrow.  However Becky lives on the other side of the Klondike River, now filled with slush.  But Yukoners are never too daunted by the weather.  Loren Sadlier was making one last canoe trip across the Klondike, through the slush, and the grinder could go with him.  I had thought the hand grinder was a gift from the heavens.  The electric grinder was able to make an even finer flour!

There are still a few obstacles to overcome, such as the lack of yeast, baking soda, baking powder and crystalized sugar.  But where there is a will, there is a way. Let the baking experiments begin!  (And let me remember my lesson in grain moderation! )

Miche Genest sent me this wonderful breakfast option, Breakfast Caflouti, which only requires ½ cup of flour and no leavening agent.  It was a tremendous hit in our family – and a very welcome change from our usual fried eggs and mashed potato cakes.

A close look at the hand flour grinder and its handiwork. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Rooting Around in The Root Cellar

by Miche Genest

Sheila Alexandrovitch at Mount Lorne Community Centre in September 2017

Sheila Alexandrovitch has homesteaded on the Annie Lake Road, 40 kilometres south of Whitehorse, since 1981. Over the years she’s raised goats, llamas and sled dogs; she’s brought up her two children on the farm, and pursued an artistic practice there, working with materials like willow, beads, precious stones and wool. These days she raises sheep (producing beautiful felted work with their wool) and as always, vegetables. Lots and lots of vegetables.

Alexandrovitch is locally famous for her vegetable ferments, selling jars and jars of them at the Fireweed Market in Whitehorse and the weekly market at the Mount Lorne Community Centre on the Annie Lake Road all summer long. At Mount Lorne’s last, stock-up market of the year, on September 26, she and her helper stood behind two tables groaning under her ferments, and giant mounds of fresh carrots and potatoes. As I purchased a few pounds for our house, we struck up a conversation about root cellars — I knew she was pretty much self-sufficient, and curious about her storage methods.

Every winter, Alexandrovitch stores an impressive weight of vegetables in her root cellar — this year, she’s got 135 pounds of potatoes, 80 pounds of carrots, 40 pounds of beets, 20 to 30 pounds of parsnips, 35 pounds of turnips and 7 or 8 cabbages. Asked when she runs out of supplies, she replied, “I don’t. By the end of June I’m out of carrots, but I always have rutabagas and beets, and I always have potatoes. And by the end of June, we’ve got greens.”

The cellar that stores this bounty is a hole dug into the ground under her house, accessed by a trap door in the kitchen floor. The cellar is framed in with 2 x 6 boards, insulated with Styrofoam, sheeted in on the inside and completely sealed. In the 2½-foot crawlspace between the earth and the floor of the house, the walls of the cellar are exposed, so the above-ground portion is wrapped with Styrofoam and foil and banked with dirt.

The space is 7 feet long by 6 feet wide and around 4 ½ feet deep — about chest height for Alexandrovitch. There’s no ladder — she just lifts the trap door and jumps in. She piles whatever supplies she’s retrieving onto the kitchen floor, and then jumps out of the cellar, the same way you’d push yourself out of a swimming pool. (She finds this athletic feat unremarkable.)

In winter the temperature in the root cellar is around 2° or 3°C above freezing. There’s no air circulation system, but she’s never noticed any ill effects from ethlylene — not surprising, because most of the foods she stores don’t produce ethylene. (Learn more about the fruits and vegetables that produce ethylene here.)

Alexandrovitch keeps endive, leeks and chicory in pots, in another cold space, this one on her porch. She runs out of those greens sometime in January, but then she’s got all her ferments, plus frozen leeks and kale, kept in her freezer at a neighbour’s place. She has canned goods and grains in the root cellar, and she might drive to town for coffee, butter and oil, but she prefers to use goose fat—she’ll render 6 to 8 litres this year–or pork fat, which she’ll also render.

Alexandrovitch estimated that she spends about 95% of her time growing, processing, preserving and preparing her food. “But what a good way to spend 95% of your time,” she said. “It’s not so hard. It’s just a bunch of work.”

Some of Sheila’s work.

 

Suzanne’s Blog: A New Appreciation of Freeze-Up

The George Black ferry sits on shore after being pulled for the season. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Freeze-up has begun in Dawson — a unique, but very significant, season to communities in the north who are separated from roads by rivers.

Dawson is nestled at the confluence of two rivers:  the Yukon River and the Klondike River.  Some folks live on the far side of the Yukon River in West Dawson and Sunnydale.  Some folks live on the far side of the Klondike River in Rock Creek.  These folks have no access to any stores or other amenities of town during ‘freeze-up’ — the time of year when ice floats down the rivers preventing boat travel and the ferry that crosses the Yukon River gets pulled for the winter.  They must wait till the river freezes solid enough to cross by skidoo or eventually by vehicle.  Last year freeze-up lasted 7 weeks.  So for those folks, stocking up on enough water and food to last them through freeze-up season is a normal part of October.

I am not normally one of those folks.  I live on the town side of the rivers.  But this year the grocery stores are off limits to me.  This year, freeze-up is playing an entirely new role in my life.  Because this year, some of my main local food sources are on the far side of rivers.  My root vegetables are on the far side of the Yukon River – at the Kokopellie Farm root cellar in Sunnydale.  The dairy cows (the source of all my milk, butter, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream) are on the far side of the Klondike River — at the Sadlier’s Klondike Valley Creamery.

So this year, I too must stock up for a freeze-up that could last up to 7 weeks. The last ferry run across the Yukon River was on Oct 29th.  On this side of the river I have stocked up with 150 lbs of potatoes, 150 lbs of carrots, 40 lbs of beets, 40 lbs of rutabagas, 20 lbs of cabbage and, of course, lots of pumpkins. 

The Klondike River is still crossable by canoe, despite the ice.  But not for much longer.  For the past 6 weeks, I have been collecting empty milk jugs from friends and neighbours and freezing as much milk as I can.  I have also been making extra butter and ice-cream — all in preparation for freeze-up.  On our local diet, we have been consuming about 1 gallon of milk per day.  At that rate, for a freeze-up lasting 7 weeks, we would need 49 gallons of frozen milk!  We don’t have that.  We have about 20 gallons.  I will continue to collect and freeze as much as I can and then …  let the rationing begin.

After slush makes the rivers unnavigable, those living on the opposite sides from Dawson must wait until they can cross over the ice. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Suzanne’s Blog: The Good News, Bad News Grain Story Conclusion

The combine at work harvesting fields of rye at Kokopellie Farms. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

I didn’t realize that the Good News, Bad News story of grain would end so quickly.

Shortly after posting my tale on Oct 23, I received a call from Kokopellie Farm.  More snow was in the forecast so Otto decided it was now or never for harvesting the rye and the Red Fife wheat.   And so the story continues:

After some serious labour with ropes, the wet snow was removed from most of the grain heads in the field. Unfortunately some of the grain was laying flat under the snow.  Fortunately some could be resurrected via pitch fork and muscle power.  Unfortunately some patches were already frozen to the grown and not harvestable.  Fortunately there was still a good section standing.  Unfortunately the wet stalks of the rye kept getting jammed in the combine requiring manual removal.  Fortunately Otto was able to do this without injury.  Unfortunately the engine of the combine broke down.  Fortunately Otto was able to fix it.  Unfortunately the combine engine kept breaking down.  Fortunately Otto never gives up and was able to get it going again each time and finish harvesting the rye.  Unfortunately it was getting close to dark, more snow was in the forecast and the wheat had not yet been harvested.  Fortunately, Otto discovered the final issue with the engine, repaired it and was able to harvest the wheat before darkness fell!   Yeah!!!

Many, many thanks to the tenacity, mechanical genius, ingenuity and hard work of Otto and Conny who were able to harvest the rye and wheat against all odds!  Now it dries (under shelter) and can eventually be ground into flour.

The last of the crops has now been harvested.  There is sourdough bread in my future.  Let it snow!

Success! Harvested rye grain in the hopper. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Suzanne’s Blog: Good News, Bad News – Grain Drain

Red Fife wheat plant topped with snow. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

I am often asked which food I miss the most.   I had expected it would be chocolate or caffeine (very strong black tea was my comfort drink).   Surprisingly it is neither.  What I miss most is grains: cookies, pies, bread, bagels, rice, pasta – these items that were once staples in our household are no more.  The potato is trying its best to fill the gap, but after 85 days without, grains are definitely missed.

It is not easy to grow grains in the far north, as our growing season is so short.   But it has been done.

I feel like Northern grain is a character in one of those ‘Good News, Bad News’ stories:

The good news is that in 2016, Otto at Kokopellie Farm had a successful crop of rye and barley that he was able to grind into flour.  The bad news is that I used up all I had last winter experimenting with wheat-free and salt-free sourdough bread recipes.

Fortunately Otto planted rye and barley again this year and it grew well.  Unfortunately, in August, a moose ate the barley.  Fortunately the moose didn’t eat the rye (because it was protected by a fence).  And the GREAT NEWS is that, unbeknownst to me, Otto had also planted Red Fife wheat and it grew well (and was protected by the fence)!

Unfortunately, the combine required to harvest the grain was stuck 550 km away in Whitehorse, waiting for a bridge on the North Klondike Highway to be repaired.  Fortunately the bridge repairs finished just in time for harvest season mid September.   Unfortunately, while hauling the combine to Dawson, the trailer had several flat tires which caused another week’s delay.  Fortunately, the combine did eventually make it to Dawson.

Unfortunately by the time the combine arrived in Dawson, it began raining and you can’t harvest grain when it is wet.  Fortunately there was a brief break in the weather in early October.  Unfortunately, there was no time to put the combine together because the root vegetables had to be harvested before the ground froze.  Fortunately grains can withstand frost.  Unfortunately, after all the vegetables were harvested it began to snow.  Fortunately dry snow can easily be knocked off the grain.  Unfortunately this snow was heavy and wet.  Fortunately the combine is now fully assembled and ready to go.  Unfortunately it is already October 23 and the wet, heavy snow remains on the grains.

There’s still a sheaf of hope that Kokopellie Farm’ field of snow-covered wheat can be hearvested. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Otto, a very pragmatic and optimistic farmer, still feels there is hope.   The wheat and rye are still standing. Some cold, clear weather might dry up the snow and make it possible to remove the snow from the grain so it can be combined, but time is running out.   I am not sure how this good-news, bad-news story is going to end. My moose anxiety resolved with a successful hunt.  Now I have grain anxiety.

Suzanne’s Blog: A Thanksgiving Message to Farmers

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Some of the Dawson Farmers contributing to Suzanne’s Thanksgiving Dinner

 

I received the ultimate compliment last week in the bank line up when a local farmer said to me “ Suzanne, you’re looking like a farmer these days!”

I looked down at myself.  I had worn both knees out of my jeans. My hands were rough.   Garden dirt was etched into the creases of my palms as well as a permanent fixture under my nails.  My ‘bush coat’, previously only worn during camping trips, had become my practical everyday wear.  And I felt a small surge of pride.

Over the past year, I have witnessed how hard farmers work.  For my part, mostly from the other end of a camera.  But I have experienced snippets of hands on work  (such as helping a farmer dig up 300 pounds of beets) and gleaned a new appreciation for the difference between gardening and farming.  Every day farmers are working hard outdoors from early morning till sunset (which during a Yukon summer, can be a very long day!)  On rainy and blustery days when I choose to stay indoors with a hot cup of tea, farmers are outdoors working.  When the blackflies are at their worst, farmers are out in their fields.  No such luxuries as a weekend off or a summer camping trip. I believe that farmers are one of the most undervalued segments of our society. No matter where we buy our food, it is the incredible hard work of farmers, invisible to most of us, that provide us with this necessity of life.

This past Thanksgiving weekend, as I sat down to share a turkey feast with family and friends, I felt especially thankful to farmers.   And I felt both privileged and humbled to know each farmer responsible for every single ingredient on our supper table.  Our turkey was thanks to Megan Waterman at Lastraw Ranch.  Our carrots and potatoes thanks to Lucy Vogt.  The milk and butter for our mashed potatoes thanks to Jen Sadlier at Klondike Valley Creamery.  The brussel sprouts thanks to Otto and Conny at Kokopellie Farm. The celery thanks to Becky Sadlier at Sun North Ventures. The onions thanks to the Derek and the students at Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Farm.    Our pumpkin pie thanks to Grant Dowdell’s pumpkin, Megan Waterman’s eggs, Jen Sadlier’s cream, and Sylvia Frisch and Berwyn Larson’s birch syrup.   A precious apple thanks to John Lenart at Klondike Valley Nursery.   And our low bush cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie spices thanks to the forest.

There are many, many folks who have helped me during our first 72 days of eating only local to Dawson City, be it the farmers who grow the majority of our food or the folks who have leant me garden space, shared some of their produce or shared their helpful advice.

Thanks to all and a very special thank you to farmers.

Tom Thumb Grows Up … But Not Yet Ready for Prime Time

An ear of Tom Thumb corn. You can see why they call it “Tom Thumb.” Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

We previously posted how Grant Dowdell and Karen Digby were attempting to grow popping corn for Suzanne on Grant’s Island, located about 10 km upstream from Dawson in the Yukon River.

Grant has tried many varieties of corn in the past and the only one consistently successful has been EarliVee sweet corn  (See Grant’s Seed Guide) which takes around 70 days to reach maturity.)

This year, however, he agreed to give the Tom Thumb variety of corn a try, since it has a short growing season (only 60 days to maturity). He used seeds from Heritage Harvest Seeds.

Tess at work in the popcorn field. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Things looked iffy when a hungry moose visited Grant’s Island and pulled up the crop early in the season but Karen popped them back in the ground and they grew!

Recently Suzanne and family harvested the plants, hoping for a favourite family treat to accompany their movie watching. Unfortunately, first attempts at popping have been unsuccessful. Suzanne’s not sure if the kernels are not dry enough — or perhaps they’re too dry.  She will keep experimenting, but any suggestions are very welcome. If anyone has grown and successfully popped their own popcorn, let us know.

Ears of popping corn hung up to dry. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

A Pile of Pumpkins for Thanksgiving

Pumpkin growing on Grant’s Island. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Thanksgiving weekend is coming up. For Suzanne and family. a favourite Thanksgiving treat is pumpkin pie.  Now, Suzanne does have 91 pie pumpkins in storage for the winter!  Thanks to Grant Dowdell who grows great pumpkins on his Island about 10 km upstream from Dawson on the Yukon River.  Grant has had great success with the Jack Sprat variety of pie pumpkin (check out Grant Dowdell and Karen Digby’s Seed Guide). Grant finds they have the best storage capacity of all the squash, storing well into May.

So, although Suzanne has no grains for a crust, she certainly has the pumpkins — as well as cream for whipping, eggs, and birch syrup for a sweetener.  But she has no pumpkin pie spices such as  cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, or allspice.  So what to do?  Could she use dried and ground spruce tips or Labrador tea?

First We Eat collaborator Miche Genest has a great pumpkin custard recipe for Suzanne. Miche has suggested adapting it using cream instead of evaporated milk. plus birch syrup to taste instead of sugar, and adding an extra egg. For spices, Miche suggests dry-roasting low bush cranberry leaves in a frying pan, then grinding and adding those. Suzanne will give it a try and report back on the results.

If you have any suggestions for alternative pumpkin desert recipe, or a northern local alternative to pumpkin pie spices, let us know!

Pumpkins and corn in storage. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Hey, Who Doesn’t Love Fresh Vegetables?

Tracks of moose marauding through the vegetable gardens of Henderson Corner. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Moose were spotted having a garden vegetable buffet in Henderson Corner, near Dawson City, last week.

Bites were taken out of cabbage, the tops eaten off of kohlrabi, beets, romanesco, and broccoli, and some beets plucked out of the soil. The tracks told the tale of the culprits responsible.

Seems like a mama moose  and her offspring were craving some fresh greens — and backyard gardens in Henderson Corner were ripe for the picking.

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Munching moose leave their mark. Top eaten off of a kohlrabi plant (left) and a romanesco (right) with a big bite taken out of it. Photos by Suzanne Crocker.