Cooking with CropBox Greens

By Miche Genest

Greens, greens and more greens. Local. In winter.
I picked up my first Solvest Inc. CropBox subscription order of fresh, local, hydroponically grown greens on January 23 at Baked Café in Whitehorse, located a 10-minute walk from my house (convenient!). For the uninitiated, the CropBox System is a portable, hydroponic greenhouse system, entirely contained in a sea can, developed by Vertical Crop Consultants, an American company based in North Carolina. Solvest Inc., a Whitehorse- and Yellowknife-based company that sells custom solar energy systems, is the Canadian provider and distributor of the CropBox system.  Solvest Inc. has a particular interest in the viability of the system for growing fresh greens in remote northern locations. The company installed its first CropBox unit in Whitehorse in the spring of 2018, and is tweaking the system for optimal production in cold climates. And they are selling the crops — fresh lettuces, kales, chards, herbs — produced in the unit to Whitehorse residents and some restaurants on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. I am a brand new subscriber. A couple of other subscribers arrived at the cafe at the same time as I. They clearly knew the ropes — one had a clutch of breathable string bags with her and the other a small cooler. (Customers are asked to bring their own bags or containers and transfer their order from the company’s refillable boxes at the pick-up point, part of Solvest Inc.’s effort to be a zero-waste operation. ) Next time I too will bring a cooler, easier than bags because you can lift the whole clump of greens out of the box and put them into the cooler, which insulates the greens if you’re transporting them in cold temperatures, and then sort them at home. The smell of the fresh greens when I opened the box  was intoxicating — pungent, sweet, peppery — a complex blend of fragrances emanating from  basil, dill and arugula that was utterly uplifting at five o’clock on a winter afternoon. This first box contained butter lettuce, rainbow chard, and the arugula, Thai basil, Genovese basil (the classic pesto basil), and dill that were causing my nose to twitch. The total weight was 400 grams; though the mix of fresh greens varies from week to week the weight remains the same, and so does the price — $15 for 400 grams. That amount is calculated to  be enough to feed one or two people. Tarek Bos-Jabbar, who coordinates the CropBox program and operates the unit in Whitehorse, harvests greens such as chard, lettuce and arugula by cutting leaves from the plant. With herbs, he generally harvests the entire plant, with the root plug attached. Once you get the CropBox order home, there are a few things to sort out. If the herbs come complete with plug, theoretically you can place them in a jar of water and they’ll continue growing. I haven’t yet tried this, but a Whitehorse friend who has subscribed to Cropbox since December reports anecdotally she hasn’t been successful at keeping the herbs going; they tend to wilt fairly soon. My herbs came without a plug. I cut a couple of millimetres off the ends of the Genovese basil and dill stems and stood them in cold water, but they wilted in a few hours. I think the old trick of refreshing herbs and greens in ice-cold water, and then wrapping them in a tea towel and putting them in a re-sealable bag in the fridge is the way to go. The lettuce I treated this way is still crisp and crunchy, six days after pick-up. There were a few wilted leaves among each crop but those went straight into a bag in the freezer and, once the bag fills up with other vegetable ends and trimmings, will contribute to vegetable, fish or meat stock. Nothing wasted! (Well, except a bit of dill. See below.) The flavour of the greens fulfilled all the promise of the first smell: from-the-garden fresh, and to my palate, more intensely alive than the basils and arugulas and lettuces I bring home from the supermarket. This is the crux of the matter: the flavour. In winter, the flavour of greens grown elsewhere and brought up the highway just doesn’t compare. Here’s a quick rundown of what we did at my house with our first CropBox order, with a rough calculation of number of servings.  Butter leaf lettuce and arugula: Half the  lettuce and all the arugula went into a mixed salad that fed three people at supper, with seconds all around  (just for interest, the protein was elk smokies and the starch, sourdough buns). Thai and Genovese basil: On the second day after pick-up my husband turned both basils into pesto, in order to catch the herbs at their best. The pesto was more than enough for 250 grams of linguine, which again, served three people (with no accompaniment except extra grated Parmesan and black pepper). Rainbow chard and dill: I used all of the chard and a third of the dill in a Colcannon, along with eight large baking potatoes, one large onion and three cups of cheddar and Parmesan, mixed, for a Robbie Burns supper. The dill is not traditional in Colcannon and neither is the chard but it worked; my visiting sister, who is a fine cook, said it was superb. Our Robbie Burns supper was cancelled due to illness, so I froze two-thirds of the Colcannon for later consumption; there are at least 12 servings in the freezer. The remaining third fed three people at two meals and there is still some left over. The remaining dill: I bought a cucumber in order to make tzatziki with the rest of the dill, but I didn’t get to it on time and the dill wilted and then rotted in its jar on the windowsill.  Entirely my fault. And a lesson for next time. (See section on storage, above.) Genovese basil stems: The stems were packed with flavour, so I made a basil simple syrup for use in cocktails and anything else I can come up with. The remaining lettuce: Salad, to come in the next couple of days; there’s enough left to feed two of us one serving each. In conclusion, I’m in. I have a small household, so the amounts seem to work for me. Still, it remains to be seen whether we will subsist on greens from CropBox alone for the winter (there are options for ordering more frequently), or whether we will need to augment. But I’m excited about what might be coming in tomorrow’s box, and the culinary possibilities that will open up.  And I like that this one $15 investment in 400 grams of greens contributed to dishes that fed many mouths — well, the same three mouths — many times over many days. That is, 26 separate servings of very different dishes. And that’s not counting the cocktails that will emerge from the basil syrup. Ultimate conclusion: Two green thumbs up. (Sorry.) For information on how to subscribe to the greens program in Whitehorse visit cropboxcanada.ca
Oh, Colcannon! A hearty Scottish or Irish dish combining our winter stalwarts, potatoes and cabbage. Or, in this case, fresh, local rainbow chard and dill.
> Click here to view the recipe for Colcannon  

When Planning Planting it All Starts With the Seeds

When Planning Planting it All Starts With the Seeds Katie English recently posted on the Dawson Community Garden Facebook page reminding us that it’s time for planning the coming season’s planting. As January is upon us, so too is the gardening season. The New Year marks the time for getting your plans and dreams in order. Seeds are selected and ordered, gardens get planned and it is even the month for some of our earliest starters. If you are anything like Katie, then seed variety and quality is of utmost importance. For a seed is where it all begins …. Seeds can be the carrier of many of the diseases we find later on our grown plants or starters, furthermore poor quality seeds can mean poor quality germination, so quality is important. Katie is big on heritage and heirloom seeds. She looks for high quality organic seeds so she can later save the seeds she obtains from her own growing for the future. > Visit our Seeds page to see recommended varieties from local Dawson growers that have been successfully cultivated in the Northern climate  Katie likes to know the long history of the seed and how it was saved over generations, and looks for interesting varieties that you can’t find in the grocery store. She also supports the small companies that are working hard to save our heirloom varieties and to produce organic seeds.  She points out that 60 per cent of the world’s seeds are owned by big chemical companies and avoids those seeds makes sure she does not support those corporations. Monsanto, and a handful of other corporate biotech giants, such as Pioneer and Syngenta, have been using their profits to buy up small seed companies, acquiring more than 200 over the past 15 years or so. They are doing so to dominate the seed market, not just by owning the source, but also to acquire the DNA of heirloom and open-pollinated seed varieties for use in their future GMO products. Most of the advantageous plant traits that megacorporations like Monsanto boast about bioengineering, such as drought tolerance, higher yields, or resistance to insects, are in fact the result of traditional breeding over many generations to produce superior seeds. Once the acquisitions are finalized, however, these biotech corporations can splice in their own modified proprietary genes, and patent the resulting seeds. For those looking for organic or non-GMO seeds, here is a list of seed companies who have taken the safe seed pledge as presented by the Council for Responsible Genetics. Scroll down to see the list of Canadian companies. > See the Safe Seed Resource list

Farmers’ Markets Bring Local Produce to Dawsonites

For those in the Dawson City area seeking fresh, local produce, this is the best time of year. Local producers are starting to harvest their crops and there are two separate markets available where the freshly-grown vegetables and herbs are available for purchase.
The wealth of produce already available at the Dawson Farmers Market. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.
Every Saturday until mid-September the Dawson Farmers Market, located by the river on Front Street, is in full swing. You’ll not only find produce from several local growers, but there are also trees and plants for gardeners, and crafts as well.  Fresh vegetables and  herbs are already available in abundance, and as the season progresses  there’ll be berries, apples, and preserves as well. The Farmers Market runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. but you’re best advised not t wait until late in the day, as the produce is popular with Dawsonites, and some items sell out quickly.
Photo by TH Farm Instagram
Starting tomorrow, Wednesday 19 July, TH Working Farm will also sell their products to the public on their own Farmer’s Market, which will be held every Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre. The staff at TH farm has been working hard all year to provide local produce for Dawsonites, which will include radishes, green onions, zucchinis, potatoes lettuce and spring mix among others, with more variety of veggies to come as the season progresses. They also have been raising chickens and rabbits that are close to being ready for harvest, as well pigs and ducks, which will be available for purchase in the fall.
Radishes are ready to be enjoyed. Photo by TH Farm Instagram.
With this initiative, they are hoping to increase the variety and amount of locally grown food in the area, while teaching and training younger generations with an interest in agriculture.

Growing Northern Ginger and Tumeric

Here is a follow-up on Louise Piché’s ginger that she planted earlier in the winter from a piece of ginger root from the grocery store. It is still alive and well and certainly growing — it is now 4 ft tall!
ginger-at-4-ft
ginger-close-up
Photos by Suzanne Crocker. Louise’s success with growing ginger from ginger root in Dawson has inspired her to try the same thing with a piece of tumeric root. It successfully sprouted, and is now growing beautifully.  Will keep you posted how it does.
tumeric-sprout
tumeric-growing
Photos by Suzanne Crocker. Have you had success re-growing a plant not typical in the north? Share it with us.   

Inuvik Turns Old Arena Into North America’s Most Northerly Greenhouse

Located 200 km north of the Arctic Circle in the Mackenzie Delta, Inuvik is at the end of the Dempster Highway that runs from Dawson City. It is also home to the Inuvik Community Greenhouse, which bills itself as North America’s most northerly greenhouse. The project has come a long way since its germination almost twenty years ago. Today it has grown to a marvelous maturity, and according to the Community Garden Society of Inuvik (CGSI), which runs the facility, it is the only Community Greenhouse of its kind in the world. CGSI is a not-for-profit organization formed in November of 1998. With the help and support of Aurora College, they began by converting a decommissioned building (the former Grollier Hall Arena), into a community greenhouse as a focal point for community development. The objective was to utilize the space to allow for the production of a variety of crops in an area where fresh, economical produce is often unavailable. Based upon the success to date, they believe the Inuvik Community Greenhouse can serve as an effective model for other northern communities. The greenhouse consists of two major areas: raised community garden plots on the main floor and a commercial greenhouse on the second floor. Garden plots are available to residents of Inuvik, and are also sponsored for elders, group homes, children’s groups, the mentally disabled, and other local charities. A 4000 square foot commercial greenhouse produces bedding plants and hydroponic vegetables to cover operation and management costs. Today, the greenhouse holds 174 full-size plots. Each full plot is approximately 8 ft. by 4 ft. The rental fee per full plot is $50 per plot. Each member pays a $25 membership fee per year and completes 15 volunteer hours. The greenhouse is naturally heated through the summer by the 24 hour sunlight. The typical greenhouse season lasts from late May to the end of September. Members are able to grow anything they like, and with the 24hour sunlight, anything is possible! Greens such as spinach, chard, and lettuce grow very well, and many members get multiple crops each year. Tomatoes, carrots, peas, herbs, strawberries, rhubarb, zucchini, and squash are among the common crops. Flowers abound, and rarer crops include flax, cucumbers, raspberries, Asian greens, roses, kohlrabi, and watermelons!

Know of an innovative northern greenhouse project?

Tell us about it!  

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.

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!