Twenty five years ago Lucy and Jack Vogt left Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and came north looking for work. They found it in Dawson City.
Every year, during the short growing season, the Vogts make the Saturday drive into Dawson to sell their vegetables and bedding plants at the Dawson City Farmers Market.
It is hard to imagine that just beyond the barren tailings piles lining the Klondike Highway is the Vogts’ fertile 10-acre plot at Henderson’s Corner along the Klondike River. There the Vogts work the land, started a business and raised their four children.
This fall they were named the 2011 Yukon Farmers of the Year by the Yukon Agricultural Branch, having been publicly nominated for their contribution to the wellbeing of their community and the health of the land. Vogt Enterprises is among over 150 farms in the Yukon.
The Vogts were not present to receive their award at the North of 60 Agricultural Conference and Banquet, held in early November in Whitehorse.
For four months they work with a local church in Hermosillo, Mexico, a large urban centre in the northwestern part of the country, returning to the Yukon in March to start the growing season.
When asked the secret to their success, having been named Yukon Farmers of the Year, Jack answers, “Someone picked us.”
Sitting beside him on a couch, Lucy quickly chimes in, “Lots of hard work, good tasting vegetables and the support of the community.
“The community has really been behind what we grow – they are there buying it, they are anxious to get the product. Without the community support we couldn’t do it, we couldn’t have a business.”
Lucy is the conductor of the operation, attending to the one-acre garden and three greenhouses. They have a part-time helper and Jack deals with the mechanics of the farm.
They produce potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, cabbage, broccoli, peas, lettuce, spinach, radishes, tomatoes and bedding plants, selling out every year.
The Vogts’ passion for growing stems from their prairie roots and the desire to feed their family fresh vegetables that have not been saturated with pesticides and herbicides.
“We both grew up on farms. Growing things has always been part of our lives, so when we moved to the Yukon it was only natural that we would plant our own garden,” says Lucy.
When the Vogts came to Dawson, Jack worked in construction while Lucy stayed home. In one year she had more vegetables than she was going to make use of and decided to sell them.
Realizing it could be an extra source of income she planted more. The Dawson City Farmers Market provided a venue, and it developed from there.
“It was something I could do at home and that the kids could help me with,” she says.
The Vogts adapted to growing food in a northern climate, not only proving that innovation comes with the territory, but also challenging the misconception that it is too cold to grow anything in the Yukon.
Lucy explains it is the short growing season, long days and cool evenings that give the vegetables the vibrancy and taste that is indicative of the place that they are grown.
“I think it is a benefit. They grow fast, it makes them taste better. It is the coolness of the night that makes vegetables like carrots sweeter. The temperature affects the way the starches [turn] into sugars,” she says.
One of the greatest challenges Yukon farmers face is summer frosts. The Vogts devised a sprinkler system that protects their produce during light frosts, and lessens the damage of a severe frost.
This past year Lucy also grew hydroponic tomatoes, yielding a good crop. Growing tomatoes has been a struggle in the past, but there is a high demand for them.
The Vogts have noticed many changes over their 19 growing seasons, one being an increase in frost free days in the summer. Another is local food consciousness.
“The idea of buying local has grown phenomenally over the last few years. More and more people are learning it’s important to know where there food is comes from and want to buy from someone that they know. They want to buy from the local farmer, and that’s great,” says Lucy.
“We have a lot of people asking questions about how do you grow this or how do you do that, when do you plant,” she continues.
Lucy suggests the booming community garden in Dawson is evidence of this interest.
Growing vegetables in the Yukon is extremely site specific, she explains. It is important to understand the variations in the soil and the wide range of climates that can be in one area.
Their land at Henderson’s Corner is fertile and was previously used for agricultural activity, but is considerably colder than other areas around Dawson.
“If we had chosen our land with only the purpose of farming in mind, we probably would not have chosen Henderson’s Corner. We are able to make it work but there are areas with better climate in the Dawson region,” says Lucy.
Attending to the land is a full-time commitment. To the Vogts, however, the benefit of growing your own food and making it available to others is invaluable.