In Far Northern Norway a Chef Strives for Polar Permaculture

Chef Benjamin Vidmar in front of his domed greenhouse. Photo courtesy of PolarPermaculture.com.

Local eco-chef and self-proclaimed foodie Benjamin l. Vidmar, has a dream. He wants to make the remote northern Norwegian community of Longyearbyen, Svalbard more sustainable, and to produce locally-grown food. Svalbard is an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, located about midway between continental Norway and the North Pole. The latitude of the islands range from 74° to 81° North, making them some of the most northerly inhabited places on Earth.

Like many communities north of the arctic circle, there is no viable soil in Svalbard.  How does one grow local food if there is no local soil?

In 2015 Chef Vidmar started a company called Polar Permaculture Solutions, whose goal is to apply permaculture principles and ecological design to create a circular economy in Longyearbyen, and “to connect people back to their food.”

Working at the time as head chef at the Svalbar Pub, he noticed how all the food was being flown or shipped to the island. However, in the past food had been grown on Svalbard, and Vidmar wanted to return to that tradition — but with some modern enhancements and without having to ship in soil.

Vidmar started with hydroponic systems using commercial fertilizer, but felt he could do better. Why ship fertilizer up to the island, he reasoned, when there is so much food waste available to compost and produce biogas? Food waste in his town is dumped into the sea, and he took up the challenge to grow locally-grown food making use of available resources on the island.

Polar Permaculture researched what others were doing around the Arctic, and opted to go with composting worms, specifically red worms, which excel at producing a natural fertlizer from food waste. He got permission from the government to bring worms up to the island, which took a year and a half, but “was worth the wait.”

Vidmar’s company is now growing microgreens for the hotels and restaurants on the island.  Fine dining chefs use microgreens to enhance the attractiveness and taste of their dishes with their delicate textures and distinctive flavors. During the growing process, worm castings are produced, and this natural fertilizer that can be used to grown more food.

In addition to composting with worms, Polar Permaculture has started hatching quails from eggs and is now delivering fresh locally produced quail eggs to local restaurants and hotels. Their next step will be to get a bio-digestor setup and to produce biogas with it. The worms are mostly vegetarian, but with a digestor, the operation will be able to utilize manure from the birds, as well as food waste that would normally be dumped into the sea. This will also allow them to produce heat for their greenhouse, as well as produce electricity that can run generators to power the lights. A natural fertilizer also comes out of the digestor, which will then be used to grow more food for the town.

What started as one chef’s personal journey has become a local permaculture operation that is reshaping the nature of the local food economy, and providing an inspiration for other Northern communities interested in food sustainability.

Bee Whyld Produces “the Champagne of Honey”

Despite its sub-arctic climate, the Yukon is blessed with several apiaries. With care, bee hives can survive the harsh winters, even as far north as Dawson City. This is the profile of one of the Yukon’s honey producers.

Bee Whyld is a small apiary in Watson Lake, Yukon, specializing in producing Fireweed Honey. Owned and operated by Courtney and Joel Wilkinson, Bee Whyld was officially founded in June of 2016, although it had been in the works for a few years prior.

Bee hives around a field of fireweed - Photo Courtesy of Bee Whyld
Bee hives around a field of fireweed – Photo Courtesy of Bee Whyld

Courtney originally had a job as a salesperson for an Alberta honey company, and was working towards keeping her own bees. On a visit to the Yukon to visit her then-boyfriend Joel, she noticed the fields of fireweed common in the territory.  Courtney knew from her experience selling honey that Fireweed is not only one of the rarest honeys, and also one of the best for flavour and medicine, and this sparked the idea to bring bees up to the Yukon and make Fireweed Honey.

Bee Whyld’s hives have managed to successfully overwinter – Photo courtesy of Bee Whyld.

Beekeeping in the North is quite challenging, especially overwintering and maintaining the health of the hives, but through trial and error Courtney and Joel have learned what it takes to successfully produce honey in the Yukon.

This brood frame was attacked by a bear, who killed more than half the population of bees - Photo Courtesy of Bee Whyld
This brood frame was attacked by a bear, who killed more than half the population of bees – Photo Courtesy of Bee Whyld

Their honey bees gather all of the nectar that they turn into honey from the Boreal Yukon forests, with fields of flowers that are untouched by pesticides, and not genetically modified. Their honey is also both unpasteurized and raw, meaning they don’t heat it at all. This ensures all the natural antibiotics, pollen, and Royal Jelly are still intact within the honey,  making it a good choice for medicinal uses (such us helping to heal wounds, helping to fight off infections, helping to reduce allergies, and alleviating sore throats).

Bee Whyld’s Yukon Fireweed Honey has been called “the Champagne of honey.” It is a rare honey prized around the world for its medicinal qualities, and its light sweet taste.

Bee Whyld’s Yukon Fireweed Honey – Photo Courtesy of Bee Whyld

 

 

 

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.

Wilted Dandelion Salad with Crispy Onions and Garlic

by Michele Genest, The Boreal Gourmet

Wilted Dandelion Salad with Crispy Onions and Garlic

I’ve kept this salad as simple as possible, reflecting the scantiness of the spring pantry, but the basic recipe can serve as the starting point for several variations. Feel free to add whatever else you’ve got on hand from last year’s bounty–grated carrots or beets, sautéed potatoes, toasted sunflower seeds. I used new dandelions from my backyard, last year’s onion from my sister’s garden on Vancouver Island, and last year’s garlic from a farmer in Atlin, BC.

Suzanne isn’t going to have a lot of oil in her pantry come May 2018, so here I’ve opted to use ghee instead, because she will have access to a cow. Ghee is a great substitute for olive oil. And, a bonus: somehow this salad needed no added salt.

Wilted Dandelion Salad with Crispy Onions and Garlic

4 cups (1L) of washed dandelion leaves, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 small red onion
3 Tbsp (45 mL) ghee, divided
6 Tbsp (90 mL) rhubarb vinegar
1 tsp (5 mL) Uncle Berwyn’s Pure Yukon Birch Syrup

Have the dandelions ready in a salad bowl. Cut garlic in half lengthwise and slice into thin lengths. Do the same with the onion. Melt 2 tablespoons of ghee in a frying pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook until brown and crispy, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towel and reserve.

Reduce heat to medium low and add garlic to the pan. Watching carefully that it doesn’t burn, cook garlic until golden brown and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towel and reserve.

Melt the third tablespoon of ghee in the pan. Once it has melted, whisk in the vinegar all at once (stand back, it could spatter a bit), followed by the birch syrup. Allow to bubble for about one minute, remove from heat and pour over the dandelions greens.

Toss in onions and garlic and serve at once.

Makes 4 servings.

Refreshing and Versatile Birch Sap

Birch sap makes a delicious drink fresh from the trees – refreshing water taste with only a hint of sweetness – but packed full of minerals. Birch sap contains natural carbohydrates, organic acids, fruit acids, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, zinc, sodium, iron and copper, vitamins B (group) and vitamin C.  It is said to have diuretic and detoxifying effects on the body, and it has been used as a folk remedy for many ailments in Europe and Asia for hundreds of years.

But birch sap needs to be consumed right away – it doesn’t last more than 24 hours even in the fridge.  Sylvia Frisch, however, tried pressure canning the birch sap and storing it in her root cellar and it preserved very well and tastes great!

Photo by Suzanne Crocker

Also, Sylvia Frisch took advantage of the natural yeasts in birch sap to try and make vinegar.  She bottled fresh birch sap last year and added a few raisins or black currents in each bottle and stored them in her root cellar.  Suzanne and Sylvia cracked one open last week at Birch Camp and it was a delicious light white vinegar. They have bottled some fresh birch sap with local low bush cranberries this year and will see if they have equal success.

Will keep you posted!

Suzanne talked about her search for locally-sourced vinegar on a recent episode of Yu-Kon Grow It on CBC North’s A New Day with host Sandi Coleman.

Photo by Suzanne Crocker

See the Bees, Eh? Dawson Hive Successfully Overwinters

The bees look healthy despite of the challenges for beekeeping in the North
The bees look healthy despite of the challenges for Apiculture in the North
Photo by Suzanne Crocker

David McBurney’s honey bees have survived the winter!

Bees have been successfully overwintered in southern Yukon, but it has been trickier to achieve in the Dawson area due to big temperature fluctuations in March/April,  when it can be +20C in the afternoon heat of the sun and -20C at night.  David and the bee’s success this winter means Suzanne should be able to add a bit of honey to her local diet for this upcoming year.

Suzanne recently talked about sweeteners, as well as her search for vinegar, on a recent episode of Yu-Kon Grow It on CBC North’s A New Day with host Sandi Coleman.

Are you aware of other honey bees that have been successfully overwintered in Dawson or in areas further North? Let us know.
Suzanne visited David McBurney’s honey bees
Suzanne visited David McBurney’s honey bees – Photo by Suzanne Crocker
David McBurney’s honey bees
David McBurney’s honey bees – Photo by Suzanne Crocker
David McBurney’s honey bees
David McBurney’s honey bees – Photo by Suzanne Crocker

Sweeeeeeet! A Bucket of Birch Syrup

Suzanne’s main sweetener for her year of eating local will be birch syrup from Berwyn Larson and Sylvia Frisch’s birch camp not far from Dawson. The sap has been running well and Suzanne is starting her year with a 12-litre bucket of delicious Uncle Berwyn’s Yukon Birch Syrup .

Photo by Scott Buchanan

Suzanne recently talked about her experience at the camp on Yu-Kon Grow It on CBC North‘s A New Day with host Sandi Coleman.

Pemmican – Wild Kitchen Style

Another great pemmican recipe!

This “Traditional Raspberry Pemmican” recipe comes from the show and blog “Wild Kitchen”.  Wild Kitchen is a project based in the Canadian sub-arctic about people who harvest wild food. 100% of the cast and crew are from the Northwest Territories and they work with what is available on the land to prepare nutritious recipes with a distinct wild flavor.

You can watch Wild Kitchen episodes here and on their website you can find their awesome recipes.

Traditional Raspberry Pemmican recipe by Wild Kitchen
Traditional Raspberry Pemmican recipe by Wild Kitchen

 

Pemmi-can-do with Ch’itsuh

Ch’itsuh or pemmican - photo by Mary Jane Moses from Old Crow
Ch’itsuh or pemmican made by Mary Jane Moses from Old Crow

Suzanne is looking for ways to keep her ever-hungry 17-year-old son, Sam, full next year.  Sam suggested that pemmican might be a reasonable locally-sourced snack food that will help him get through the year, especially since he spends lots of time doing physical activity.  After all, Canada was practically built on pemmican. Trading posts would seek this high-protein and high-energy food from the natives, and it was used to sustain the voyageurs, especially in winter,  as they traveled long distances.

Mary Jane Moses of Old Crow shared some of her ch’itsuh (pemmican) with Suzanne.  Click here for a couple of classic pemmican recipes:

Have a recipe for pemmican for Suzanne to try?  Please share here.

 

 

 

 

“Le Refuge” – France Benoit’s charming farm in Yellowknife

France Benoit in Le Refuge - Photo by Up Here Magazine
France Benoit in Le Refuge – Photo by Up Here Magazine

In a beautiful article by Up Here Magazine, France Benoit opens the gate to her home and farm “Le Refuge“, which she has lovingly built and tended to for the past 25 years. On this property, by the shores of Madeline Lake in Yellowknife, France grows a variety of vegetables to feed herself as well as to sell in the local farmer’s market, of which she is a founding member.

France has been kind enough to share many growing and homesteading tips with Suzanne, which we have featured on FWE, and her creative and smart solutions for northern greenhouses keep us inspired.

Thanks, France!

Vadzaih: Cooking Caribou from Antler to Hoof

The Caribou cookbook has arrived!  Learn how to use all parts of the caribou. Traditional recipes such as ch’itsuh (pemmican), head cheese, and Caribou Bone Broth combined with new recipes such as Caribou Wonton Soup and Mushroom and Caribou Brain Ravioli.

Vadzaih: Cooking Caribou from Antler to Hoof" published by The Prcupine Caribou Management Board
“Vadzaih: Cooking Caribou from Antler to Hoof” published by The Porcupine Caribou Management Board

Continue reading “Vadzaih: Cooking Caribou from Antler to Hoof”

Celebrating the Porcupine Caribou Herd

On April 21 and 22 Vuntut Gwich’in citizens, conservationists, scientists, members of the public and families got together to celebrate the Porcupine Caribou Herd with two days of presentations, films, panel discussions, kids’ activities, and caribou tastings at the Beringia Centre in Whitehorse. The event was hosted by Yukon Conservation Society (YCS), Vuntut Gwich’in First Nation (VGFN) and the Porcupine Caribou Management Board (PCMB), all of whom have a keen interest in the health of the herd.

There was lots to celebrate. The herd is robust and growing in size. The relationship between northern indigenous peoples and the caribou that sustains them is respectful and strong. Harvest management strategies and hunter education programs are helping to ensure the herd continues to thrive.

But there’s bad news, too. Of 15 barren ground caribou herds the Porcupine herd is one of only two that are known to be increasing. The others have decreased alarmingly in recent years. Barren ground caribou have been listed as threatened in Canada. And the Porcupine herd’s calving grounds in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are once again under threat from oil and gas exploration. VGFN and their First Nations and Inuvialuit neighbours, conservationists, scientists and concerned citizens are working together to ensure protection of the herd, and Porcupine Caribou: Celebrate and learn about the herd was part of that effort.

To watch the proceedings from the Porcupine Herd celebration event, visit yukonconservation.org.

Yu-kon Grow It – Brian Lendrum: Goat farming pioneer


In this episode of Yu-kon Grow It,  Sandi Coleman interviews Brian Lendrum and Susan Ross, who have been goat farming outside of Whitehorse for decades and producing delicious goat cheese.

Pioneers in the dairy business around Whitehorse, Lendrum and his wife found that their area around Lake Laberge had perfect conditions for raising goats, with rolling hills and lots of different vegetation for the goats to enjoy. On a regular basis, they would produce about 30 litres of milk a day, which translates to around 3 to 4 kg of cheese. Every week, they would take around 10 kg of their freshly made goat cheese to the local market, and sometimes sell out within the hour. They also experimented with goat milk yoghurt and sold bottled goat milk.

Continue readingYu-kon Grow It – Brian Lendrum: Goat farming pioneer”

Celery Flavor All Year Round

One way to have celery year round from the garden is to grow celeriac root. Weird looking but quite flavorful, celeriac root is edible raw or cooked, and tastes similar to the stalks of common celery. 

It grows well in the North, keeps well in cold storage all winter, and apparently can have a shelf life of approximately six to eight months if stored properly. You can serve it roasted, stewed, blanched, or mashed, or added to your favorite stews or casseroles.  Peel it and chop it and use it in place of fresh celery in cooking.  Excellent combined with potatoes when cooking mashed potatoes! 

Celeriac Root - Wikimedia Commons
Celeriac Root – Wikimedia Commons

 

Traditional Plants Community Info Session in Dawson City

On April 18th, Dawson City based ethnobotanist Leigh Joseph hosted a community information session at the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre .  It was a great chance for Dawsonites to learn about the area’s traditional plant foods and medicines, as well as an opportunity to take part in the conversation.
Ethnobotanist Leigh Joseph
Ethnobotanist Leigh Joseph working with Devils club, an important medicine plant in Squamish.

Tickled Pink – How April’s Full Moon is special for growing


Tonight, April 11th, is the date of this year’s Pink Moon, and everyone is talking about it on social media. But what makes the Moon pink on this particular date?

Sorry to disappoint you, but turns out the Pink Moon isn’t actually of a rosy hue. The title “Pink Moon” is credited to Native American tribes, many of them practiced the custom of naming every Full Moon according to the cycles of the year (like Cold Moon in December or Harvest Moon in September). In the case of this moon, the “pink” comes from the wild ground phlox that rapidly blooms in the springtime. The different full moons were a way of tracking the seasons ahead, and you can still find this knowledge in the Farmer’s Almanac.

Continue reading “Tickled Pink – How April’s Full Moon is special for growing”

Don’t Judge a Vegetable By Its Cover!

Another tasty, although not so pretty vegetable that grows well in the Yukon is the root called salsify.  Don’t let the hairy dark exterior intimidate you. Peel it, and it tastes similar to a very sweet parsnip, and you can eat it raw or you can cook it as you would cook most root vegetables.

Salsify, peeled and unpeeled - photo by Suzanne Crocker
Salsify, peeled and unpeeled – photo by Suzanne Crocker

Salsify might not be easily found in the average grocery store, but it actually grows wild in many places in the world, especially the Americas.

Purple Salsify flower- Wikimedia Commons
Purple Salsify flower- Wikimedia Commons

But not everything is under the ground: the flowers from the salsify root are gorgeous to look at, and also edible! The shoots can be used like asparagus, either raw or cooked, and the flowers can be added to salads.

 

 

Ginger in the North?

Louise Piché is experimenting growing ginger this year – by planting a piece of ginger root from the grocery store.  So far it’s doing well!

Louise Piché's ginger is looking great! Photo by Louise Piché
Louise Piché’s ginger is looking great! Photo by Louise Piché

Did you know you can re-grow other vegetables from what you buy in the grocery store? Apparently, you can re-grow celery, romaine lettuce and even herbs like mint and basil. All it takes is a little patience!

Have you re-grown any store bought veggies at home? How did it go?

Early Leafy Greens in a Cold April Greenhouse?

Asian Greens - Photo by Wikimedia Commons
Asian Greens – Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Take advantage of your greenhouse in April and May,  before you plant your tomatoes and cucumbers, to give you an early crop of spinach or Asian greens!

Riley Brennan, of Dawson City, direct seeds spinach in her greenhouse as soon as the soil thaws in April.  She leaves the greenhouse unheated and the seedlings don’t require any covering.   By the time she goes to plant her greenhouse proper in late May, she has a crop of baby spinach to harvest.

Continue reading “Early Leafy Greens in a Cold April Greenhouse?”

Seedy Saturdays and Birch Syrup workshops in Dawson

Next weekend, Dawsonites will have a chance to participate in two amazing workshops!
Seedy Saturdays will be held on Saturday March 25th at the Recreation Centre, and it will include presentations by Karen Digby and Grant Dowdell about northern gardening and by Scott Henderson about mushroom cultivation.
The following day on Sunday the 26th, there will be a Birch Syrup workshop in which participants will meet at the Rec Centre and then go hunting for Birch sap.

There are limited spaces on both, so make sure you sign up soon!

Peanuts and Ground Cherries Growing in the North!

Ground cherries in their husk - wikimedia commons
Ground cherries in their husk – ph. Wikimedia commons

If there is something exotic you wish to grow in the North, ask Louise Piché of Rock Creek, Dawson City, Yukon.  Louise is a well known gardener in Dawson and a frequent ribbon winner at Dawson’s annual Discovery Days Horticultural Fair.  She loves experimenting with new and colorful varieties.  She has successfully grown peanuts and ground cherries (aka golden berries) as well as asparagus, giant pumpkins and buckwheat.

Louise has generously shared her ‘tried and true’ cultivars that grow well in Rock Creek, which you can view on our seed page.   This year she is experimenting with ginger, turmeric, artichokes and pink potatoes.

We will keep you posted!

Continue reading “Peanuts and Ground Cherries Growing in the North!”

Hear it on the radio: CBC Yukon’s “A New Day” catches up with Suzanne

Great news!

The CBC morning radio show “A New Day” hosted by Sandi Coleman on CBC Yukon, has started a  new regular column called “Yu-kon Grow It”, which will air every other Wednesday morning between 7 and 7:30 am. On this segment,  Sandi will check in with Suzanne about her “First we Eat: Food Security North of 60” project, as well as featuring other Yukoners involved in local food issues such as Miche Genest and other guests.

Sandi Coleman will next check in with Suzanne on Wednesday March 8th, between 7.00 and 7.30 am on CBC Radio Yukon.

Don’t forget to tune in!

You can listen to the first interview with Suzanne and Elyn Jones here,

 

Northern Food Network’s 1st Webinar – Dawson’s TH Working Farm School and Shirley Tagalik from Arviat, Nunavut

If you are interested in issues of Northern Food Security, consider signing up for webinars with the Northern Food Network.

Their First Webinar is taking place Monday, Feb 27 from 10-11 am. It will feature Dexter MacRae & Darren Bullen,  from Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Teaching and Working Farm and Shirley Tagalik and team, from Arviat Wellness and Arviat Greenhouse.

The Northern Food Network (NFN) is co-hosted by the Arctic Institute of Community-Based Research (AICBR) and Food Secure Canada (FSC) as a space for people working in and interested in northern food security to share, learn about best practices across the North and advance collective action on food security.

Sign up here for this great opportunity.