The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Teaching and Working Farm in Dawson City were big winners at this year’s Arctic Inspiration Prize (AIP) ceremony, receiving a combined $1 million for their proposed project to build an extended-season cold-climate greenhouse. The $500K AIP award was matched on the spot by the federal government, with Yukon MP Larry Bagnell making the surprise announcement at the ceremony in Whitehorse on February 12th.
Currently, the northern growing season is constrained to a five-month period from May to September. The funding will enable TH Farm, who partnered with Yukon College for the project, to construct an innovative greenhouse, the first of its kind in the Yukon. that will allow the farm to produce food and to teach growers for up to 10 months of the year, including during some of the coldest periods of winter.
The final greenhouse design and the lessons learned from the project could also be of use to other Yukon First Nations and northern communities seeking to solve their own food security challenges.
TH Farm is currently engaged in an ongoing project to help with the revival of northern farming, improve food security in the North, and develop a viable and productive First Nations working farm north of the 60th parallel in Canada.
According to TH Farm manager Derrick Hastings, the new greenhouse will allow the farm to grow select vegetables well into the fall and winter months. This produce, including pak choi, bok choi, spinaches, microgreens, sunflower sprouts, pea shoots, Chinese cabbage, green onions and various herbs, can grow densely, and does not require warm temperatures but, Hastings adds, the farm team will also be experimenting to see what else can be easily grown in the facility.
Indigenous households across Canada experience food insecurity at a rate nearly twice that of non-Indigenous households. Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Chief Roberta Joseph says the entire TH Farm project is vital to the First Nation’s future.
“There’s been a great decline in Chinook salmon, one of our main food sources, the Porcupine caribou (herd) has a different migration … We have a lot of traditional foods that are no longer fully accessible, the way we used to be able to harvest without limitations,” she said in a recent interview. “Not only will [the greenhouse] provide food security, it’s also an opportunity for our citizens and others to learn how to develop and manage a greenhouse.”