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.

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.”

 

 

 

 

Art Napoleon on Food, Cultural Revitalization and the Need for Balance

Art Napoleon tends to a saute of rabbit and ptarmigan at Our Camp is Our Kitchen.

by Miche Genest

When Art Napoleon found he had to cook a selection of wild and cultivated ingredients from a local food “mystery box” over a campfire with three Indigenous Yukon Elders, he said, “Oh no! You’re going to gang up on me.” He had reason to be fearful—Tetl’it Gwich’in Elder Mary Jane Moses, Teetl’it Gwich’in Elder Dorothy Alexie, and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Elder Peggy Kormandy are all experienced campfire cooks with many years of cooking on the land behind them.

But as participants at “Our Camp is our Kitchen” learned, when it comes to campfire cooking Napoleon is no slouch. He and the ladies transformed the ptarmigan, rabbit, caribou guts, caribou meat, sheep ribs, wild rhubarb, cranberries, birch syrup and a host of other delicacies into soup, stew, fricassee, viande grillée and pudding that fed anywhere from 75 to 100 people. Their cooking fire burned in an galvanized metal drum with a grill set over top; their camp was a wall tent and a tarp shelter in the parking lot beside the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Community Hall.

Traditional pudding made with wild rhubarb and cranberries.

The event was part of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Myth and Medium Conference, held from February 19 to 23 in Dawson City. Napoleon was a special guest at the conference, and the organizers worked him from morning till night, calling several of his skills into play. He arrived Monday afternoon, gave the opening keynote address that evening, cooked all day Tuesday, performed a concert Tuesday evening, gave a talk on food and nutrition Wednesday morning and flew out Wednesday afternoon.

As Napoleon told the audience Monday night, he juggles several careers–singer-songwriter, educator, conservationist, naturalist. He holds an MA in Language Revitalization from the University of Victoria and is a former Chief of the Saulteau First Nation in north-eastern BC. Most recently, he’s co-host of APTN’s Moosemeat and Marmalade with British chef Dan Hayes — an exploration of two very different approaches to cooking wild game, the Indigenous and the classically trained.

Food and cooking are the sinews that tie much of Napoleon’s life and work together. He first learned how to cook on open fires and woodstoves as a child living in Peace River country, and later grew comfortable in modern cooking facilities. He has always loved cooking for people, and one of his approaches to cooking traditional food is to “gourmet it up.”

“It’s given me great pleasure to serve good food to people, especially if I can present traditional food in ways that people haven’t tasted,” he said. “If you want to show the beauty of your culture, food is one way to do that.”

Ptarmigan, rabbit, and thyme.

Napoleon said that at heart he’s an educator, and cultural revitalization is a cornerstone of his life philosophy. “So food is something that fits in there nicely. Food and philosophy and cultural teachings—I don’t really see much difference between those.”

Napoleon, who lives in Victoria, advised people on how to “Indigenize their diet” in an urban context. In his talk on food, nutrition and planning on Wednesday morning he reminded the audience, “If you live in the city there’s lots of ways you can still access your traditional resources.” He goes back to his traditional territory to hunt; he receives packages of wild food from his family; he learns what wild foods grow in his area and goes out foraging. “I can still be an Indian down there, I don’t have to be a Victorian.”

Napoleon also suggested ways of incorporating better nutrition into modern diets, noting that on the land, “People ate clean and they were very active. They were in great shape. Our meats were the original free range organic meats.” Today, he said, “The food industry sucks. It’s all about the money. You’ve got to make it all about health, and make your own choices.”

The reality is that Indigenous people live in two worlds, he added, and even hunters supplement their traditional diet with store-bought foods. “They’ve just become part of the culture.” He laughed. “Red Rose tea is part of the culture!”

He admires Suzanne for her efforts to eat only local food for a year, calling her endeavour “either crazy or brave, and maybe a little bit of both. I think it’s a lot of work, and would take great, great discipline.”

But he shares one of Suzanne’s concerns, mentioned in her presentation on Tuesday evening: how sustainable is her diet? Napoleon asked, “If everybody wanted to do it…would things get over-harvested? What kind of impact would it have on the land? Long ago people managed it in a way that was sustainable, but now there are bigger populations.”

These are questions shared and pondered across Canada and around the world: how do we feed ourselves in a sustainable manner? When the population will potentially reach 9.7 billion by 2050?

As Indigenous people who live in two cultures, Napoleon said, “There’s no way we can survive as an island. That’s the great thing about the Yukon–the divide is not so wide as it is in Souther Canada.” He ended his Wednesday morning talk on an emotional note. “You guys are lucky,” he said, near tears. “You guys who are living in territories that are bringing [the traditions] back.”

Napoleon said he always likes to contribute food for thought in his work. Asked what he would like people to take away from his participation at Myth and Medium, he reflected for a minute and said, “The need for balance. Always remembering that we walk in two worlds, and there’s ways to return to your cultural integrity while still living in these modern times.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suzanne’s Blog: The Search for Salt – Takhini Salt Flats

Takhini Salt Flats, Photo by Bruce Bennett.

I continue to search for a local option for salt in my community of Dawson which is nowhere near the sea.  I haven’t yet had to resort to collecting the sweat off Gerard’s back as he chops wood.

Illustration by Chris Healey 

So far coltsfoot ash has been the most surprising result – a wild plant whose bland tasting leaves magically transform into a salty ash after they are dried and burned.  Dried celery leaves have been my go-to salt substitute – adding a mineral rich flavour to all things savoury.

spoonful_of_coltsfoot_ash
celery-leaves

Coltsfoot ash (left), and celery leaves. Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

I am still researching the possibility of harvesting salt from local animal mineral licks.  In the meantime, the Takhini Salt Flats came onto my radar – an endangered ecosystem that occurs in a small pocket of the Yukon a short drive from Whitehorse. This ecosystem is so unique that it is not even found in nearby Alaska. The Flats are not close enough to Dawson to be considered an option for my year of eating local.  But it did inspire me to question if the salt from Takhini Salt Flats would be suitable for human consumption.  I contacted Bruce Bennett, Coordinator of the Yukon Conservation Data Centre, at Environment Yukon to find out more.

And the more I learned about the Takhini Salt Flats, the more fascinated I became – unique plants that can be watered with salt water, ancient arctic ground squirrel cloaks from the Beringia Era, and inland ponds of shrimp!  Read on and I will share some of the fascinating information I have learned about the Takhini Salt Flats.

Takhini Salt Flats is considered an athalassic salt flat which means the salt does not come from the sea.  Instead, with a mountain range close by, the salt comes from silt from glacial lakes. Areas of permafrost prevent the water from soaking into the ground and there are no outlets to take the water to nearby rivers. So the water gradually evaporates leaving salt crystals on its surface.

Besides being very salty, the ground at Takhini Salt Flats is also very alkaline with pH values between 8.5 to 9.5. For both these reasons, most plants will not grow there.  However there are some unique salt and alkali loving plants that flourish, many of which give the salt flats its distinctive red hue.  And some of these plants are also edible.

One such edible red plant, that does not grow elsewhere in the Yukon, is Sea Asparagus or Arctic Glasswort (of the Salicornia family).   Too bad it doesn’t grow near Dawson.   Apparently, the young shoots taste salty and are rich in calcium, iron, Vitamin B and C and are exceptionally high in Vitamin A.

Another fascinating edible plant at Takhini Salt Flats is Salt Water Cress (Arabidopsis salsuginea) part of the mustard family and a relative of canola.  Salt Water Cress, is a ‘super plant’  – you could water it with sea water and it would grow! And it will survive freezing, drought and nitrogen deficiency!  It used to be common throughout Alberta, Saskatchewan but is now virtually non-existent in those areas due to agriculture and housing developments.

Chenopodium (the Goosefoot family) is related to quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa).  The two most common Chenopodium in the Yukon are Lamb’s Quarter (Chenopodium album) and Strawberry Blite (Chenopodium  capitatum) – both edible.  (I ate a lot of both while foraging last summer and Fall!) However there is a rare Chenopodium, Chenopodium salinium, that dates back to the Beringia Era, that can still be found at Takhini Salt Flats.  Chenopodium salinium pollen, which is preserved by freezing, helps archeologists date artifacts uncovered by melting permafrost in the North.

The remains of Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi , Long Ago Person Found, was discovered in 1999 by sheep hunters on Champagne and Aishihik First Nations territory in Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Wilderness Park in British Columbia near Haines Junction, Yukon.  His remains were found as well as his walking stick, a spruce root hat, a small bag made of beaver skins and a fur cloak made out of arctic ground squirrel pelts.    A high portion of preserved Chenopodium salinium pollen was found on the fur of the cloak and that clue showed that he had visited alkaline flats and helped date Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi to around 1700 AD.

Arctic ground squirrel cloaks were worn ceremonially by indigenous people long ago and traditional trails can still be found in the Takhini Salt Flats which would have been used by indigenous hunters over 700 years ago. The Takhini Salt Flats were a natural grassland for arctic ground squirrels because the high salinity of the soil prevents forests from taking over.   Although, for unknown reasons they died out for a time, Arctic ground squirrels are now starting to return to the Takhini Salt Flats.

One would expect to have to go to the ocean to find shrimp.  Not so!  Several varieties of shrimp live in the inland ponds of the Takhini Salt Flats. One such variety is the Fairy Shrimp.   Fairy Shrimp are the Sea Monkeys that many of us remember from our childhood!  Many migratory shore birds come to the Takhini Salt Flats for a shrimp feast.

But I digress.   What about the salt?

Salt-encrusted stump. Photo by Bruce Bennett.

The salt itself is mainly in the form of mirabilite (Na2SO4·10H2O – also known as Glauber’s salt) and thenardite (Na2SO4).  There is about 5% sodium chloride (NaCl) which is what we eat as table salt, but there is no easy way to separate out the NaCl from the mirabilite and thenardite.  Mirabilite and thenardite are used by the chemical industry to make soda and also used in glass making.  Mirabilite is also used in Chinese medicine and thernardite is also used in the paper industry.

My conclusion?   Even if I did live closer to the Takhini Salt Flats, I’m not sure it would be safe to be sprinkling this salt on my food.   Although I would certainly be taste testing the edible plants that grow there.

Regardless, Takhini Salt Flats is a fascinating place to visit.  If you are in the area, Bruce Bennett gives tours of every August.  Details can be found at Yukon Environments Wildlife Viewing Program.

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

 

 

 

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Fall Harvest Culture Camp Celebrates a Timeless Tradition

(Clockwise from top left) Natasha Ayoub and Debbie Nagano cleaning a moose head. Leigh Joseph gives a tea blending workshop. Angie Joseph Rear cleaning a grouse. R.J. Nagano smoking chum salmon. Photos by Tess Crocker.

This past weekend the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation held their Fall Harvest Culture Camp at Forty Mile. This is an annual event where traditional knowledge is shared with youth and adults.

Forty Mile is  77 km down the Yukon river from Dawson City at the confluence of the Yukon and Fortymile Rivers. It is known as the oldest town in the Yukon, but  was largely abandoned during the Klondike Gold Rush. The location is currently a historic site co-owned and co-managed by Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and the Government of Yukon.

Forty Mile has a much longer history, however, as a harvest area used by First Nations for generations. This location was one of the major fall river-crossing points of the Fortymile caribou herd. Hunters would intercept the herd here as it crossed the Yukon River. In spring and summer, it was the site of an important Arctic grayling and salmon fishery.

The Fall Harvest Culture Camp saw harvesting of moose, chum salmon, and grouse, as well as wild plants and berries from the forest.  It was a successful harvest, taking place in a beautiful and peaceful location, and overall a wonderful weekend.

Moose a Yukon Food Staple

A bull moose in the wild. The Yukon has over 70,000 moose — twice the number of humans. Photo by Cathie Archbould.

Here in the Yukon, and throughout much of the North, it’s moose hunting season.

Moose is a staple for many Yukoners.  One moose can feed two families for a year.  Plus, since the animal has lived a good life feeding in the wild, moose meat is a lean and healthy source of protein.

Many Northerners rely on a freezer full of wild meat, such as moose, fish, seal and caribou to feed their families rather than relying on grocery store meat that travels a great distance to reach us.

In the Yukon, there are approximately 70,000 moose — that’s twice the human population of the territory. Hunts are carefully managed, with limits set on each region. Unless a limited number of special tags are issued by the government for hunting cows, only the bulls are harvested in the Yukon.

As Northerners we are acutely aware of where our wild meat comes from and we value the land and the animals that provide it.  Mähsi Cho Jejik.  (Thank you moose in the Hän language).

 

The bounty from a successful moose hunt. One moose can feed two families for a year. Photo by Cathie Archbould.

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.

Vertical Agriculture Coming to Carcross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Yu-Kon Grow It: A Look at the TH Working Farm

On a recent episode of Yu-Kon Grow It on CBC Yukon’s A New Day with Sandi Coleman, she looked at the newest happenings at the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Teaching Farm near Dawson City. The First Nation’s teaching farm is expanding this year. Dexter MacRae, TH’s Dir. of Human Resources, Education, and Training gave an update on what’s planned this season, including the farm’s first livestock, a new greenhouse, berries, apples, and expanded enrolment.

Fireweed Shoots – The First Vegetable of Spring!

Fireweed shoots are poking out in Yukon yards!
Fireweed shoots are poking out in Yukon yards!  Photo by Suzanne Crocker

Up North, we love it when patches of fireweed take over our landscape, after all, it is The Yukon’s official flower. But did you know you can eat it too? Suzanne is enjoying having this first fresh vegetables of the season in her diet.

Continue reading “Fireweed Shoots – The First Vegetable of Spring!”

To Market, To Market: Let the Season Begin!

The Market is Open

The first Fireweed Market of the season opened Thursday at Shipyards Park in Whitehorse on a beautiful sunny day—let’s hope Thursdays stay sunny for the rest of the summer!

A small but mighty crowd of farmers, vendors and enthusiastic customers were there, reconnecting after the long winter, sharing gardening tales, buying bedding plants, and snacking on kettle popcorn or samosas. Buskers busked, little kids chased each other through the stalls and the occasional dog was spied eyeing up  the snackers and hoping for a dropped pakora.

Katie Young and her trusty assistant with stacks kettle corn, a market favourite

Supplies of produce were limited, as always at the beginning of the season, but Bart Bounds and Kate Mechan of Elemental Farms had swaths of starts for sale. (Bart said recently, “My ultimate dream is to get everyone in the Yukon growing their own vegetables and I grow the seeds.”)

Bart Bounds with his and Kate Mechan’s starts

Local cook and author Michele Genest came home with starts of beets, cabbage and kale from Elemental Farms, (she’s not a gardener, but this year, in solidarity with Suzanne, she’s determined to succeed) a dozen eggs (the blue ones are so beautiful) from Michael Ballon, and an order for two chickens and two turkeys from Grizzly Valley Farms. All in all, she reports, a most satisfying day.

Allan and Joan Norberg of Grizzly Valley Farms

It won’t be long before markets open in Dawson, Mayo and Haines Junction. Here’s to a great growing and eating season!

Market bounty: blue eggs and starts

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.

A Spring Treat: Atlin Lake Whitefish

One of the great treats of spring in the Southern Yukon is fresh whitefish from the Yukon end of Atlin Lake. The local fisherman lays a net underneath the ice anytime from late March to early May, and sells his catch under the name Great Northern Fish Company. The season is short and the yield small, but on a good day he can take out 75 fish, each one about weighing about two kilos.

This year, on a blazing, blue-sky morning, Michelle Genest’s husband went out to Atlin Lake to help with the harvest. He came home in the late afternoon with 10 kilos of beautiful pinky-white filets wrapped in 10 500-gram packages. (The harvesting, fileting and packaging all happen on the same day, and the guts feed the eagles and the ravens.)

Michelle and her husband cooked a batch that night, in the simplest way imaginable: dipped in egg and flour and fried in butter. Glorious. Atlin Lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis) cooks up firm and tender and is so delicate in flavour you have to pay attention. The reward for that attention is the flavour of lake, sky, and a sparkling spring day on the Yukon end of Atlin Lake in late April or early May. It doesn’t get much better.

There’s nothing better than fresh-caught whitefish cooked in butter.

Our local fisherman already has a full roster of customers, but for information on how and where to catch your own whitefish in the Yukon, visit http://www.env.gov.yk.ca/hunting-fishing-trapping/wherefish.php.

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.

Author/Environmentalist J.B.MacKinnon Does Yukon Tour

J.B. MacKinnon, the award-winning independent journalist and author whose works include The 100-Mile Diet, a bestseller that helped catalyze the local foods movement, will be speaking and showing slides this week in the territory as part of the 2017 Yukon Writers’ Festival. The Festival is produced by Yukon Public Libraries in partnership with the Canada Council for the Arts.

All events are free and open to the public. MacKinnon’s Yukon schedule is as follows:

Monday 1 May
7 p.m. – 8 p.m. Dawson Library

Tuesday 2 May
1:30 – 2:30 p.m. Pelly Crossing School (students only)
7:30 – 8:30 p.m. Faro Library

Wednesday 3 May
7:00 – 9:00 p.m. Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre, Whitehorse
15-minute reading along with other Festival authors plus reception

Thursday 4 May
7:00 – 8:00 p.m.Teslin Library

From vanished bison herds to collapsing fish stocks, the natural world as we know it is a shadow of what it used to be. In his talk and slideshow, bestselling author J.B. MacKinnon revisits a time when grizzlies roamed the Canadian prairies, wolves howled in England, and ten times more whales swam in the sea. He calls for an “age of rewilding,” in which we rebuild a wilder world everywhere—from the city to the backcountry, and also in ourselves.


J.B. MacKinnon’s latest book, The Once and Future World, was a national bestseller and won the international Green Prize for Sustainable Literature. Other works include the seminal local-food book The 100-Mile Diet (with Alisa Smith), and Dead Man in Paradise, which won the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Nonfiction. J.B. also writes in the field of interactive documentaries, most notably for the NFB’s Bear 71, which premiered at Sundance. As a journalist, he appears in both major outlets such as The New Yorker and National Geographic and vanguard publications like Adbusters. J.B. is a rock climber, mountain biker, snowboarder, and—yes—a birdwatcher. He lives in Vancouver.

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”

Our Baby Spinach is Growing Up

You may remember an earlier post  where we mentioned Riley Brennan’s success growing an early crop of spinach in an unheated greenhouse in Dawson and France Benoit’s similar success  with an early crop of Asian greens.  Suzanne tried planting spinach seeds this year in mid-April in her unheated greenhouse and they have sprouted.  Hopefully they’ll provide a crop of baby spinach by the beginning of June!

Photo by Suzanne Crocker

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.

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?”

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.

More Baby Animals!

It is a wonderful thing that our farmers have the ability to overwinter and breed livestock in the North!

Red and black piglets from Aurora Mountain Farm - Whitehorse Yukon
Piglets on Aurora Mountain Farm, Whitehorse – Photo submitted by Simone Rudge

Piglets, Calves, Kids and Chicks are a Spring ritual at Aurora Mountain Farm  in Whitehorse. Aurora Mountain produces certified organic chicken, eggs, hay and vegetables (including garlic, yum!) available seasonally from their farm. They also offer delectable wild crafted preserves, jams & mustard, and even handmade goat milk soap!

Continue reading “More Baby Animals!”

Sweet and Crunchy Local Carrots in January in Dawson?

Klondike carrots
Klondike Carrots! – Photo by Suzanne Crocker

Yup!  Suzanne has been munching on sweet & crunchy carrots from Kokopellie Farm all January.  “They taste like they are freshly picked only even sweeter!” offers Suzanne.

Otto Muehlbach, whose farm is in Sunnydale (Dawson), has designed a large root cellar to store carrots, potatoes, cabbage, beets, and other root veggies all winter long.  The trick seems to be 2-4 degrees C and keeping the humidity and condensation low.   If you can find a way to get to Sunnydale, Otto’s fresh root vegetables are sold from his house on Saturdays between 2 and 5 pm as long as it is warmer than -30C.

It is definitely worth the trek!

New Life on the Sadlier’s Farm!

Newborn calf and two kids
Newborn Klondike calf and two kids

Introducing Lily’s calf and Cleo’s kids – born today, Feb 9th, at the Sadlier’s Klondike Valley Creamery in Rock Creek, Dawson, Yukon. Successful overwintering and breeding of livestock in the Klondike!

Thank you Jen and Becky for welcoming Suzanne and Tess to witness the births.

Stay tuned Dawson – Jen’s delicious local cheeses will be coming to you later this year or next!