As spring arrives and the snow melts away, you’ll find that juniper berries are there to be picked and consumed. (Actually, they were there all winter — you just had to look under the snow).
Juniper is a coniferous shrub that produces berries. In Old Crow, Yukon it is sometimes known as ‘sharp tree’ thanks to its very prickly needles which are very familiar to all who pick juniper berries.
Juniper berries should be picked with great respect as it takes 3 full years for a berry to ripen! When ripe they turn from green to a dark blue. The ripe berries can be picked any time of the year, but you may have to dig to find them under the snow in the winter, as juniper is a low lying shrub.
Eaten raw, juniper berries have a distinct aromatic spicy flavour reminiscent of gin.
Juniper berries make an excellent spice — especially once ground into a powder. A coffee grinder works very well for this. A small amount of ground juniper berry goes a long way. It can be used in marinades or dusted on wild game including moose, caribou and grouse. It can even be lightly dusted on salmon. A small amount can also be added to soups or stews. According to Boreal Herbal, in Sweden a conserve is made out of juniper berries and used as a condiment for meats.
Juniper berries have a few extra qualities as well. They help digest gas-producing foods such as cabbage. Also, because juniper berries have a light coating of yeast on their skin, a few berries are often added to ferments to help out the lacto-fermenting process. So adding a few juniper berries when making sauerkraut has a triple effect: flavour, aiding the fermentation, and less gas when you eat the kraut!
The yeast coating on the berries also makes them a useful ingredient in creating sourdough starter (which is another form of fermentation). Mix some flour and water and add a few juniper berries. Once it becomes bubbly and smells yeasty, you can remove the berries and the sourdough starter will be well on its way!
In Old Crow, juniper berries are also boiled as a tea, which the Vuntut Gwitchin say also helps ease colds and cough symptoms.
Juniper berries should be used in moderation and avoided in people with kidney disease and in pregnant women.
Research for this post is from Boreal Herbal by Beverley Gray and Gwich’in Ethnobotany by Alestine Andrew and Alan Fehr.
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.)
In this small territory, it’s sometimes surprising how much we don’t know about what’s going on. A case in point: farmers and food businesses. There are 145 farms in the Yukon, but many of the territory’s chefs, caterers, retailers and distributors aren’t tuned in to who the farmers are or what they’re growing. The same is true of the farmers — they know those chefs, caterers and retailers are out there, but they don’t know who’s interested in local food or what products they’re after. A
ll this not-knowing leads to lost opportunity — the opportunity to feature Yukon foods on local menus, in retail outlets and farmers’ markets, and on our tables, and to build lasting relationships that benefit everyone in the local food chain, including we who want to eat more of that food.
Over the past several years Yukon farmers and food businesses have started to find each other, with great results, but there’s more work to be done.
The good news is the Yukon Agricultural Association (YAA) and the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon (TIAY) are on it. For the second year running, the two organizations co-hosted the Meet Your Maker event, held this year on Monday January 14 at the Gold Rush Inn in Whitehorse, bringing farmers and food businesses together.
Imagine the scene: Yukon farmers, producers, chefs, caterers, restaurateurs, distributors and a Who’s Who of agriculture and food sector representatives, including Minister of Tourism Jeanie Dendys and Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources Ranj Pillai, all in one big room, cooking, eating, talking, making new friends and business connections, sharing recipes, tips, and growing techniques.
“Farmers and producers were thrilled with Monday’s Meet Your Maker event,” said Jennifer Hall, executive director at YAA. Hall noted there were 100 attendees, evenly split between farmer/producers and buyers, including two large food distributors and a representative from a company that supplies groceries for mining camps in the Yukon.
There were product samples and tasters at each of the 20 booths in the room, as well as two cooking demonstration stations where local chefs transformed home-grown products into dishes such as hollandaise sauce, ceviche, gravlax, cranberry fudge and mini, coffee-spiced burgers.
Chef Robert Brouillette of the Gold Panner restaurant and his team produced a selection of appetizers made with products from eight local suppliers, proving that not only is local food abundant, it is delicious.
This year’s event was fifty percent bigger than last year’s, and the number of buyers more than tripled. Next year, look out, said Jennifer Hall: “Several farmers/producers said that they wanted a booth next year so we will have to get a bigger room!”
One of Suzanne’s greatest challenges early in her year of eating locally was the problem of grain and flour. Farmers Otto Muelbach and Connie Handwerk of Kokopellie Farm had earmarked rye and barley for Suzanne’s use. But the moose got to the barley first, and weather, busted machinery and road closures almost did in the rye.
Happily, the rye was saved and Otto surprised Suzanne with a secret planting of Red Fife wheat. Baked goods were once again a possibility and so were healthy, whole grains for breakfast and dinner.
But the barley was just a fond memory.
This year Suzanne planted several rows of hull-less barley from seeds ordered from Salt Spring Seeds, and farmer Grant Dowdell planted some too. Suzanne’s personal stock is about three bushels of seed heads, according to Gerrard; they don’t yet know how much grain that will translate into until they get around to threshing.
But once the threshing is done, a delicious world of barley-based recipes awaits, like this blissful wild mushroom risotto. Mmm, barley!
You will recall that I went on my first ever moose hunt in early October. It turned out to be a beautiful clear-skied, seven-day river trip – without the moose – and so I prefer to think of it as a moose conservation trip.
One day, while drifting down the river, we could see smoke emanating from above the river bank in the distance. It looked like a campfire – but there was no boat.
It was an ominous sign that was, in fact, an ominous situation.
A small forest fire had developed on the bank of the Stewart River, just downstream from Scroggie Creek. It was clear that it had started from a campfire.
The bank was high, about ten feet up from the river. A beautiful vantage point to call for moose and boil up some tea. But not such a great spot for a campfire. The ground was covered in a thick layer of old spruce needles and moss and the spruce trees were densely packed.
It looked like the campfire had been buried, rather than doused. Which might be understandable considering you would have had to haul water up that steep ten foot high bank. But making it, fundamentally, not a great spot for an open fire.
The campfire, which had not been properly extinguished, had spread. When we arrived, a ground cover of about 20 x 30 feet was burning – many areas hot and smoking, some areas open flame. Tree roots and the bases of tree trunks were charred.
It took us two to three hours of hard work to contain that fire. We made a fire break around the edge, digging with our boots down through the moss to dirt level, pushing the combustibles towards the centre of the burn and away from tree trunks and roots.
Gerard chain-sawed and removed a dozen trees, many standing dead, from the burning area so that they wouldn’t burn through and fall, adding fuel to the fire.
The crashing of trees seemed to have caught the attention of a bull moose on the other side of the river who started banging on trees himself. Unfortunately, it never lured him out of the cover of the forest. He must have thought we were quite the mighty bull and chose to stay away.
We emptied a plastic tub that held our food and hauled tub after tub of water up the 10 foot bank to douse the perimeter , the base of the trees and the areas still smoking.
That night we camped upstream and the next morning we checked on it again. A few warm areas continued to smolder, so we hauled up more tubs of water until the ground was no longer hot to the touch.
It seems we succeeded.
It was a good reminder of the camping axiom from my youth: the campfire’s not out till it’s cold and out.
We may not have bagged a moose, but we did help prevent a forest fire.
In the words of the forest fire prevention folk, the best way to make sure your campfire doesn’t spread, even if you think it has died down completely:
Soak It. Stir It. Soak It Again.
Let the fire burn down before you plan on putting it out. Spread the embers within the fire pit, then add water or loose dirt, and stir.
Expose any material still burning. Add more water and stir again until you can no longer see smoke or steam. Do not bury your fire as the embers may continue to smoulder and can re-emerge as a wildfire.
Repeat until your campfire is cool to the touch.
If your fire is out, you should not be able to feel any heat from the ashes.
Fall in the Yukon is just one of the million reasons I love living here. The spectacular undulating carpet of yellows and reds and greens takes my breath away every year.
And it’s cranberry season!
High bush cranberries for juicing and low bush cranberries, also known as lingonberries, for almost anything else – pies, muffins, scones, pancakes, jam, jelly, chutney, and delicious cranberry sauce. I became addicted to the low bush cranberry when I lived in Newfoundland where they are known as partridge berries. They are excellent keepers for the winter as they sweeten, not soften, with freezing.
Last year was a very poor wild berry season. Thanks to the generosity of many Dawson berry pickers and some careful rationing I had just enough cranberries to get us through. This year is better and I am rejoicing in the ability to pick buckets full of cranberries once again.
Their exploits have produced a cookbook that features recipes and stories collected on the road, from home cooks to seasoned professionals alike, including our own Miche Genest. They not only celebrate Canada’s culinary diversity, but also note how important it is to look at where our food comes from and what we can do to get involved.
We had a chance to ask them some questions about their project.
How did the idea originate for your project? What sparked the whole thing for you?
When we were camping this one time we had a long conversation about food and culture, Canadian food culture, and how we had both travelled across the country (we both grew up in different parts of the country) and it turned into a talk about what we point to as Canadian food and we didn’t quite know the answer. We thought, wouldn’t it be interesting if there was a project where we went around for a certain amount of months to specifically talk to people in different regions and see what people were making and what they were eating. And we thought the most efficient way to do it would be on a road trip.
What makes Canadian food Canadian?
Canadians tend to think that we don’t have a distinctive culinary culture, it is interesting because there is this mentality that we are an immigrant nation and that the foods we consume are imported from other cultures, but it is in the mixing of those influences that you can find it. There are all these dishes that maybe come from somewhere else, but they are transformed by Canadian-specific ingredients and they become a whole new thing.
And there is this feeling of “oh, this is just what we eat. This isn’t Canadian food”, as if we are reluctant to claim a food culture, and the wider sentiment is that we don’t have one. It is almost like the cliché of Canadians, that we are always apologizing for everything, and we are also apologetic for our own culinary culture.
What kind of dishes or cooking techniques that you had never heard of before did you discover on your roadtrip? Did any of them make their way into your everyday cooking?
There were almost daily discoveries. One of the coolest discoveries of a cooking technique was when we were on Spring Island on the northwest coast of Vancouver island and we were on a kayak expedition, and cooks from the Kyuquot first nation showed us this traditional cooking method for fish in which they butterfly the salmon and weave it through cedar slats and they roast it vertically over the fire. And it was the best roasted salmon I‘ve ever had, but it also felt like a whole experience, not just a meal.
The trip and the process of writing the cookbook completely opened us up to new cooking techniques and ingredients, like for example I had never cooked wild boar before, and we got this recipe from a Saskatchewan chef for wild boar meatballs and then we started seeing that you could actually get these ingredients around our area. Learning to cook different types of wild game and realizing how different all the flavors are, and that there really is so much variety out there. We definitely expanded our kitchens
In P.E.I. a chef gave us a recipe for scallops that combined them with a pear and currant salsa, a combination that you normally wouldn’t think of but they are all super Canadian ingredients that were locally sourced from the area. All the recipes in our cookbook feel Canadian for different reasons, either ingredient based or culturally based. Perhaps a recipe just happens to be really popular in a specific region, or the reason is because of the ingredients that are found there.
What are your thoughts on the issue of food security?
It is interesting for people who want to change the way they eat and be more aware of what they consume, I think this is such a much easier time to do so. Food is a topic that has been exploding for the last 10 years or so, the local food movement has expanded so much. In my experience, the best way to get involved is to reach out and talk to different people, ask more questions, ask what everyone is eating and where it comes from. Also we have to think on practical terms, not everyone has the economic means to start spending more money on organic food at farmer’s market or the time to grow their own food all of the sudden, but the fact that things are shifting is very important. Making an effort to be part of the conversation is important. A good way to do this is sharing meals together.
Dana and Lindsay's Yukon visit included a tour of Klondike Valley Nursery and a special dinner at Miche Genest's house - Photos by FEAST
Salmon roasting with cedar slats, Kyuquot stye - Photo by FEAST
Ione Christensen, an 84-year-old baker (and former Senator) in the Yukon, is using a sourdough starter that her great-grandfather carried over the Chilkoot Pass on his way to Dawson City during the height of the Klondike Gold Rush. Now 120 years old, the venerable sourdough is continuing to attract a lot of attention.
CBC’s The Doc Project did an article and podcast about the iconic Yukon sourdough. That piece caught the attention of Karl De Smedt — Earth’s sourdough librarian. De Smedt collects samples of sourdough from around the world and studies them. The samples are then stored in the refrigerated Puratos Sourdough Library in eastern Belgium for the future.
Excited to hear of the historical specimen, De Smedt and a documentary crew travelled to the Yukon to meet Christensen (who cooked her Belgian guests sourdough waffles) and arrange for a sample of the starter to be shipped to Europe and stored in the Library. A sample will also be sent to a university in Italy, where the micro-organisms living in the bread will be analyzed and studied.
The same sourdough starter was in Christensen’s household when she was growing up in Fort Selkirk, Yukon, where her father was an RCMP officer. Christensen’s mother used it regularly to make bread and flapjacks.
Sourdough has a special place in Yukon history, and was a staple for many of those who flocked to the region during the Klondike Gold Rush. The nickname “sourdough” still applies to anyone who manages to survive a Yukon winter.
During her year of eating locally, Suzanne even managed to produce her own sourdough starter using only local ingredients. Perhaps this will be the start of its own new centuries-old tradition.
I’m in my groove.
I can tell because it no longer phases me to have a two-gallon batch of yogurt on the go while simultaneously making chevre (goat’s cheese). I can whip up a triple batch of rye waffles to stack in the freezer so the kids have an easy ‘toast and go’ breakfast before they head to their summer jobs.
Mostly, I can tell I’m in my groove because I just came back from four days of camping in the Tombstone Mountains and I did it 100% local.
Last year, I would not have been able to pull this off. I would not have been able to contemplate camping without the usual campfire staples of Kraft Dinner, instant oatmeal, pancake mix, bannock and marshmallows.
This year – no big deal. I prepped intermittently a few days in advance – probably no longer than it would have taken me to go grocery shopping and then return again to the store for the things I forgot the first time. And because I pre-made most of the food, cooking while camping was both easy and delicious. Roasted moose sausages and moose stew were the supper staples – accompanied by a fresh salad with saskatoon berry dressing.
Lunches were a smorgasbord of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, rye crackers, garlic chevre and smoked cranberry birch moose sticks. For breakfast we grilled pre-made waffles over the fire or fried up eggs with potato cakes. Dry meat was the trail mix during the day hikes. I snacked on birch syrup-pumpkin seed brittle instead of roasted marshmallows. I even successfully made a batch of local popcorn popped in pig lard over the open fire!
I am definitely in my groove. Seems a shame to realize I finally have it figured it out two days before the family will bring grocery store food back into the larder. Sigh!
Check out the menu from this 100% Yukon local feast served in 1912! Courtesy of Kathy Gates.
From The Dawson Daily News — Friday August 2nd, 1912
YUKON PRODUCE AFFORDS A SWELL DINNER
One of the most unique dinners ever held in the North was given Tuesday evening at “Messieur Pete’s” Merchants’ Café by Peter Rost, the Dominion operator, in honour of Rev. Father Vaughn.Every article on the menu was a Yukon product. Nothing but Yukon grown vegetables, Yukon meats or game and Yukon beverages and berries were placed before the feasters.
The dinner was termed a ‘potlatch’ and the menu included cream of tomato soup, from Yukon’s own love apples; combination salad, Yukon vegetables, Yukon salmon and other fishes; Yukon grizzly bear, and other big game entrees; stuffed Yukon chicken, and Yukon birds. Dawson grown native strawberries; wild Yukon blueberries and raspberries; ice cream from Yukon dairy; Yukon milk, and Yukon’s peerless sparkling water. Yukon brewed amber drinks might have been provided also were it not the crowd comprised tee-totalers.
Those at the table were: Peter Rost, host; Father Vaughn, Father Bunoz and B. L. Jelich. A magnificent menu in many colours was printed by the News as a souvenir. Father Vaughn said he will have London newspapers write up the feast, and give wide publicity to what Yukon can produce in foodstuffs.
Fireweed shoots are the asparagus of the North and our first vegetable of Spring!
The tender shoots are now poking up around the Yukon. They can be eaten raw, sauteed or steamed. The best part is, that even though they are being snipped, they will grow right back! Harvesting the shoots doesn’t damage the plant, so you can harvest some now for eating and then let them grow back to enjoy the flowers later in the season. The sweetest fireweed shoots are those cut when the leaves are still reddish. They are a good source of Vitamin C and Vitamin A
Fireweed is the official flower of the Yukon and its eye-catching fuchsia blossoms add an extra layer of beauty to the Yukon landscape.
But it is not just another pretty flower, all parts of the fireweed are edible. The young leaves can be eaten raw in salads or sautéed in a stir fry or with other greens. The flowers and buds make a beautiful garnish and can be used to make fireweed jelly.
Fireweed grows rapidly during a typical Northern summer, as the hours of daylight extend to more than 18 hours a day. As a result, the season for harvesting the shoots is very short, and you better get them fast before they grow too tall and become bitter.
If you live in the North, have a look in your yard or your garden and have a taste of a young fireweed shoot.
The Yukon River ice broke yesterday around 1:30 p.m. officially marking Dawson’s transition into Spring!
Every year the The Imperial Order of Daughters of the Empire (IODE) hold an ice pool in Dawson to guess the exact date and time that the ice will break up. The charity splits the proceeds of the pool 50/50 with the winner. And there is almost always someone who guesses it to the minute!
Once the ice clears (usually in about a week) the George Black Ferry will be launched and folks will once again be able to cross the river in their vehicles.
Good news for me as it means I can re-stock my dwindling potato supply from the root cellar at Kokopellie Farm on the far side of the Yukon River!
As the swans return and the Yukon River breaks up, the longed-for foraging season inches ever closer. This waiting-for-spring seems endless now, but we know from experience that once the new plants start to appear it’s all going to happen really fast.
First the dandelions and the spruce tips will appear, then the wild roses and the plantain and lamb’s quarters, then the Labrador tea and then the berries, the rapid succession of beautiful berries.
Now, as we lounge in spring’s waiting room, it’s a good time to reflect and prepare for the foraging season ahead. As our love of wild foods grows, there are more and more of us out there, and it becomes crucial to practice ethical harvesting, doing our part to protect and conserve, so we, the animals and the birds can continue to enjoy the wild harvest for generations.
The north is a big place, and sparsely populated, but even so the forager’s effect on the environment, especially sensitive environments, can be devastating. One Dawson resident said recently, “Indiscriminate harvesting concerns me as our population grows and more people are interested in the wild things.” When we’re out in number, our cumulative effect is far greater than we might think.
Stories from the forests of Quebec provide a cautionary tale. The wild leek (Allium tricoccum, also known as ramps, wild onion or wild garlic), once abundant in the wild, was so over-harvested for commercial and personal use that it became endangered. Urban sprawl and habitat destruction also played a part. Since 1995, by Quebec law, the only wild leek harvest permitted is 50 bulbs or plants for personal use.
Today, though commercial harvesting and sales of wild leeks have been banned, the species is still listed as endangered.
Chef Nancy Hinton and her partner, the legendary Quebec forager Francois Brouillard, own Les Jardins Sauvages, a restaurant and small wild-food condiment business in Saint-Roch de l’Achigan just outside Montreal. Brouillard grew up spending summers in the woods near his grandmother’s cottage, now the restaurant, and was foraging for wild foods long before they became de rigueur on restaurant menus and at farmer’s market stalls.
Now, says Hinton, though she and Brouillard are very happy people have learned about wild foods, the downside is the woods are becoming overcrowded and habitat is threatened. “There’s a lot of people going out, and they’re going too fast, they don’t have the knowledge and the patience or the experience necessary, even if they care about sustainability.”
Worse, continues Hinton, the demand for wild food is so great it has spawned a flourishing black market. “There’s tons of people, and they sell to chefs, or to other people that sell.”
This causes a number of concerns. “First, there’s no traceability, so if there’s a problem you don’t know where it came from or how it was picked. Second, these people are not people who are so concerned about sustainability.”
Hinton and Brouillard now sit on a committee that’s trying to develop guidelines for this burgeoning industry, but it’s complicated. How do you monitor compliance? How do you monitor the woods?
In the case of wild ginseng, an endangered species in Ontario that brings high prices on the black market, Environment Canada is using video surveillance cameras on known patches.
In the meantime, wild ginger and crinkle root, plants that Brouillard has been gathering for years, and which still thrive on his family’s property because of careful harvesting, are listed as “at risk” in Quebec and their harvest subject to regulation.
Hinton says that while she doesn’t want to dampen enthusiasm for beginners interested in wild harvesting, and understands that mistakes are made innocently, it’s frustrating to be denied access to much-loved plants because of others’ ignorance or willful negligence.
We might think it can’t happen in the Yukon. But in Whitehorse low bush cranberry pickers have already noticed that they have to go farther and farther afield to find berries, even in a good berry year. There are simply more of us out there.
The way foraging works, one friend brings another, who then goes back to the same place with a new friend, who then returns with one of her friends, and so on, until the small patch of wild berries that might once have supported one person’s family with a few cups of berries for the winter is now under an enormous amount of pressure.
Last year at an area in BC famous for its wild watercress and its beautiful, extremely sensitive Karst landscape, my husband and I came across a Whitehorse family in the midst of harvesting wild watercress. They already had three large garbage bags full, and they were filling a fourth. “We do it for all of our family,” they said.
Well, okay. But surely we have to think beyond our own families. What if we all filled several large garbage bags every spring?
Amber Westfall, herbalist and wild food educator from the Ottawa area, has compiled a short list of helpful reminders on how to forage with care. It’s not a bad idea to review her guidelines while the season is not yet upon us.
Guidelines for Ethical Foraging
Composed by Amber Westfall, herbalist and proprietor of The Wild Garden, in Ottawa, Ontario. Amber says, “Please practice good stewardship and take care of the plants that take care of us!”
Make sure you have a one hundred percent positive ID. Ideally, reference more than one field guide, or go out with an experienced forager or wildcrafter.
Do not over-harvest. Be mindful of how many remaining plants are needed to ensure the stand will continue to flourish and thrive. Learn about how the plant reproduces. By seed? Rhizomes? Slow growing bulbs? Think about what other animals, insects and people might be using those plants.
Know the poisonous plants in your area and what to avoid.
Be aware that anyone can have an allergic reaction to any plant. Eat a small amount and wait 24 hour to see if you have a reaction.
Harvest away from busy roads and rail lines. Avoid contaminated areas and areas that have been sprayed with chemical fertilizers or pesticides. The edges of farm fields, unless organic, are not appropriate for harvesting for this reason.
Know the history of the area you are harvesting from. Be wary of empty lots and avoid ‘brownfield’ land.
Do not harvest on private property without permission.
Do not harvest on protected land, fragile or at-risk environments or in provincial or national parks.
Learn which plants are threatened or at-risk and do not harvest them.
Learn which plants are prolific and which plants are invasive. These are ideal for harvesting.
Only harvest the appropriate part of the plant at the proper time of day and/or in the proper season.
Use clean, appropriate tools to reduce the spread of disease. Make neat, clean cuts at growing nodes to allow the plant to heal well and continue growing.
Leave some of the best specimens to go to seed and reproduce. If we take all the best plants and leave behind weak or diseased specimens, we are selecting for future plants that will be weak and subject to disease.
Have as little impact on the surrounding area as possible. Fill in any holes, re-cover bare dirt with leaf litter and try to leave the area better than you found it.
Don’t waste the plants that you harvest. Use and process them promptly while still fresh and compost any parts that are not used.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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 Southern 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.”
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.
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.
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 (Chenopodiumcapitatum) – both edible. (I ate a lot of both while foraging last summer and Fall!) However there is a rare Chenopodium, Chenopodiumsalinium, 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 haslived 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).
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.
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.
An avid gardener and inventor, 82-year-old Chris Bartsch claims tomatoes like to keep their feet warm. He says raising the temperature of the soil will work for all Yukon vegetables too. With that in mind he is working on a DIY solar collector for warming the soil and increasing food production in Yukon.
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.
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.
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.”)
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.
It won’t be long before markets open in Dawson, Mayo and Haines Junction. Here’s to a great growing and eating season!
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!
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.
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’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 .
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Continue reading “Vadzaih: Cooking Caribou from Antler to Hoof”
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.
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.
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 reading “Yu-kon Grow It – Brian Lendrum: Goat farming pioneer”
On April 18th, Dawson City based ethnobotanist Leigh Josephhosted 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.
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 might not be easily found in the average grocery store, but it actually grows wild in many places in the world, especially the Americas.
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.
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!
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?
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?”
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!”
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,
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.
It is a wonderful thing that our farmers have the ability to overwinter and breed livestock in the North!
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!”
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!
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!