When the highway flooded-out last spring it meant that cargo trucks full of food couldn’t deliver their goods to grocery stores.
It was a wake-up call that as a whole, we’re pretty dependent on food from hot, foreign places.
Still, there are Yukoners with a passion for supplying healthy, chemical-free food produced using sustainable practices.
But being an organic farmer is a tough row to hoe.
If local, organic produce is more expensive than industrially farmed produce, some mental justification is needed to pay the extra sum.
But if you’re ready to support our local farmers, then locally produced vegetables, eggs, cheese and other products can be found in Whitehorse at the Fireweed Market, every Thursday throughout the summer.
Producers will also sell from their farm gate; take food orders; and sell through the Potluck Food Co-op.
Bart Bounds and Kate Mechan, who operate Elemental Farm off the Takhini Hot Springs Road, sell a variety of vegetables at the market and through the Alpine Bakery’s weekly produce box service.
Bounds and Mechan are passionate about using healthy and sustainable techniques for growing food. But they say a change is needed.
“Lots of people think there’s no farming in the Yukon,” Mechan says.
And Bounds says it would help farmers if people would think about eating regionally and seasonally. If we calculate the cost of industrialized farming and long-haul transport, a banana starts to look like an environmental problem.
“We need to put the true cost on food,” Bounds says.
But can we be happy and sated on the kinds of produce the Yukon can offer?
The Elemental Farm harvests cherry tomatoes, onions, carrots, potatoes, beans, beets and so on.
“Boy, I really like the turnips when I get them – and the greens,” Bounds says. “I’m grazing out here all day.”
Down the Takhini Hot Springs Road from Elemental Farm is Rivendell Farm. There, Mary and Rolland Girouard work to produce healthy food.
Rolland knows first-hand about the powerful effect food has on our bodies. After farming for nine years, his health deteriorated to the point that he and Mary decided to shut the whole operation down. They had to figure out what was going on.
Turns out it was a wheat allergy.
“I already knew that food is critical to everything,” Rolland says. “If you put bad things in, it accumulates to the point that you pass away from — whatever.”
So they started up again and the Rivendell Farm earned organic certification in 2006.
Their primary method of selling produce is through an annual membership that provides grazing privileges.
“Mostly we do a Pick-your-Own,” Rolland says. “It’s a $150 membership per year for a family of three. Then they can come in and pick whatever they want for their meals and we grow a certain quantity of our harvest.”
After 30 years, the business is still challenging. They grow bedding plants to bolster their revenue.
“We’d rather have the greenhouses filled with food,” Rolland says. “But bedding plants are the engine that drive us.”
There doesn’t seem to be easy money in farming — even though we all need to eat three times per day. At least.
Brian Lendrum and Susan Ross are also juggling products to make farming feasible.
They have been operating the certified organic Lendrum Ross Farm since 1986. Situated on the marge of Lake Laberge, they produce 15 different vegetables, and goat cheese.
“Cheese is our biggest income, but because we have to keep the goats through the winter, it’s also our biggest expense,” Ross says. “Our biggest profit is vegetables.”
They have been producing goat cheese for 25 years. Lendrum, who is blind, explains the process:
“It’s just a sink and a stove and a fridge, that’s pretty much it,” Lendrum says. “We do all the pasteurizing on the stovetop. Our biggest pot is 30 litres. That’s all I can lift.
“We can produce enough milk to keep this little place busy. And if we produced more milk, then we’d have to get a bigger fridge. So we’re in balance now.”
There are at least nine more farms in the Yukon putting their hearts and souls into healthy food production. Check out the Growers of Organic Food Yukon website at Organic.YukonFood.com to find out what they offer and how to buy it.
The Fireweed Community Market is located in Shipyards Park in Whitehorse, and runs from 3 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays.