The giant green machine inches its way along a row of potato plants with the fall coloured mountains as the backdrop. From far away it looks like a slow-moving, peaceful agrarian scene, but this changes as I get closer.
First I begin to hear the big John Deere tractor motor running, then I make out five people who are standing on the potato harvester. Their attention is on a fast-moving conveyer belt that is propelling potatoes before their eyes.
Their hands are moving very quickly as they pick out rocks, weeds, and anything else that doesn’t look like a potato.
Welcome to the harvest at the Yukon Grain Farm: the busiest – but most rewarding – time of the year.
The Yukon Grain Farm is owned by Bonnie and Steve Mackenzie-Grieve who started farming here in 2001. They initially focused on grain production, but then branched out to also growing potatoes and vegetables. The farm is located 30 kilometres north of Whitehorse – a short distance for food to travel when much of the produce at the grocery stores in the Yukon travels thousands of kilometers to get here.
Potato harvest begins at the beginning of September and usually lasts for six long and dusty days. Twenty acres of potatoes with pretty names are harvested, such as Sylvania and LaBella, and, of course, Yukon Gold.
They range in colour from red, to golden, to purple. The potato harvester digs out the potatoes and then sends them onto the conveyer belt where the crew picks out debris.
Then, they fall into the hopper where they get stored until it is full. The hopper is emptied into the 4’x5’x4’tall wood pallet boxes that get transported and stored in the climate-controlled cold storage at the farm.
A good potato crew consists of a tractor driver, five people on the harvester, one truck-driver who transports all the potatoes to the farm and one person who puts them into storage.
Once the potatoes are all harvested, the washing and bagging can begin. The potatoes are first size-graded, then loaded into the drum washer that cleans them to impeccable grocery store standards.
Next they are bagged into 3lb, 5lb, and 10lb bags, which is the finished product you see in the grocery stores in Whitehorse. Keep your eyes peeled for some beautiful ‘taters this year (that you won’t need to peel!). Everyone here is excited about them.
Now it’s time for the other veggies: carrots, beets, cabbages and parsnips. The carrots and beets get harvested by the carrot harvester, which is smaller than the potato harvester, but has a similar set-up in terms of the crew and operation.
Acreage wise, the farm plants less carrots, beets, and cabbages, and parsnips than potatoes so it does not take as long as the potato harvest.
The most fun and least dusty harvesting job is picking cabbages. Three people cut the cabbages and then in a sandbagging type fashion pass them down the line to the people on the trailer who gently place them into boxes. It involves a lot of yelling of names, grunting, laughing and bad cabbage jokes. Some of the cabbages are pretty hefty and it feels like you are heaving a medicine ball across the field.
This job requires good throwing and catching skills… otherwise you may get hit in the head (has happened)!
All these veggies also get put into the big bins and then stored in the climate-controlled storage.
The last to get harvested is the grain. The Yukon Grain Farm grows approximately 300 acres of barley, rye, oats, wheat and field peas. This grain gets processed on the farm into a variety of livestock feeds and then sold to local farmers and outfitters. The main livestock feeds sold are for chickens, pigs, horses and cattle.
Grain is harvested with a combine and then dried to a 13 per cent moisture content in a grain dryer. This is done so that it will not heat or rot when it is stored in the grain bins for the year.
After the grain is combined, the straw that is left over is baled into small square and round bales. These are also sold from the farm, usually for livestock bedding and to mushers for their dogs.
Agriculture in the Yukon is a race against time and once the harvest is in, everyone breathes a little easier. It’s been another successful year at the Yukon Grain Farm with the following safely in storage so far:
Potatoes: 236 boxes
Carrots: 95 boxes
Beets: 24 boxes
Cabbage: 24 boxes
Parsnips: in progress
Grain: in progress
Produce from the Yukon Grain Farm can be found in most local grocery stores from fall until spring and livestock feed is available year round.