The Sundog Veggies project continues for a second year
In 2020, when the Yukon closed its borders to the outside world due to COVID-19, Sundog Retreat owners Andrew Finton and his partner, Heather, found an opportunity in the challenge. They created the Sundog Veggies project, allowing them to pivot from a focus on tourism to agriculture. In so doing, they created a space to mentor youth while supporting the community and increasing Yukon’s food security.
Despite getting a late start on the season (beginning to plant around Easter), last year’s project was a huge success.
“We hired thirty people last year, planted almost three acres of crops, and harvested 40,000 pounds of vegetables, all by hand and starting from scratch,” says Finton.
In the process, he re-ignited his passion for community development and training projects, combined with his long-standing interest in food security. “I’ve always enjoyed working with youth,” he says. “I did a similar project to this 30 years ago with youth in Brazil. It has been really inspiring to create a similar project again here in the Yukon.”
Finton worked closely with Yukon youth in the past when he founded the Sundog Carving Project (which became the Northern Cultural Expressions Society), which has allowed him to draw on existing relationships, especially with the local First Nations, to make the Sundog Veggies project a success.
Recognizing that the farm is on the traditional territory of the Ta’an Kwach’an Council and Kwanlin Dün First Nations, the Sundog Veggies project was designed to benefit the communities on whose traditional territory it is housed. In 2020, the project provided 13,000 pounds of vegetables to the Whitehorse Food Bank, Ta’an Kwäch’än and Kwanlin Dün families, and other community families and volunteers. In 2021, the project aims to build on its relationships with Elders and young people wanting to spend more time on the land.
After the success of the 2020 Sundog Veggies project, Finton is working with several organizations to train young people in the agricultural sector this summer. “We’ve got a great team of growers, learners and mentors eager to start as soon as the snow melts.”
The snow is slowing things down a bit however, as fields are buried in three feet of snow.
The Sundog Veggies team has sectioned off about 11 acres with game fencing to keep the deer out of the fields this year. The plan is to plant roughly the same area as last year (about three acres), but to house more of the produce in greenhouses.
There are four key goals to the Sundog Veggies: Our Growing Community Project for 2021:
- Build and offer a youth agriculture training program, based on the 2020 pilot program.
- Increase local food production for Yukon residents.
- Strengthen agricultural and community networks through paid mentorship opportunities.
- Utilize existing tourism infrastructure to support transition to an agri-tourism social enterprise.
“We started really last-minute last year, says Finton. “It was really sort of off-the-cuff, but the crew who worked here was amazing and what we accomplished with them was amazing. The support from the community has been incredible, and we owe thanks to a huge number of people who helped and made this a success. We’re really excited to continue the project for a second year.”