Robert’s ready to roll

Six months ago it was a Harley Davidson retail hangar. Now it's housing an egg-grading station, all the nuts, spices and dry goods you could dream of and soon fresh Yukon-grown food.

Six months ago it was a Harley Davidson retail hangar. Now it’s housing an egg-grading station, all the nuts, spices and dry goods you could dream of and soon fresh Yukon-grown food.

Meet Farmer Robert’s, the latest effort in strengthening the territory’s local and organic food options.

Two Yukon farmers, Simone Rudge and Robert Ryan, teamed up last fall and acquired the building on Waterfront Place in January.

They hope to be open within the next month.

Rudge grew up on a farm in Alberta. She has been farming in the territory for 15 years, and Ryan for the past five years.

Both know firsthand the challenges that farmers in the territory face. “We talked to a lot of farmers, we’re pretty aware of what the issues are,” she said.

The biggest one: getting their products to consumers.

“Because we’re able to go in a building, we can meet the regulatory requirements for selling dairy, meat, and produce,” said Rudge.

Farmers can easily sell eggs directly to the consumers, but not to retail stores. Any food that ends up on grocery store shelves has to follow the Canadian Food Agency rules. For eggs, it means they have to be graded, which requires expensive equipment.

They’re washed, then go through a light to inspect their content, and are scaled.

“It’s the kind of rules that are set up for big places, so for each individual it doesn’t make sense,” she said.

The store was able to purchase a grading station with the help of the Yukon government, which contributed half of its price.

Charcuterie and preserves will also be sold at the store, from mustard to rhubarb marmalade and fireweed jelly. The store will also offer organic dry foods, spices and nuts in bulk.

Most of it will be organic, Rudge said. And selling it in bulk will reduce the packaging.

“It’s a trade-off that will help us to get prices in a range that people can actually afford,” she said.

People will be able to bring their own jars, as Rudge set up a weighing station.

Pricing of Yukon-grown food requires balancing consumers’ and farmers’ interests.

“We’ll do our best to keep our prices as low as possible for consumers while making sure that our farmers are paid fairly,” she said.

It’s not that organic and locally-grown products are expensive, she said, but that other products are artificially cheap.

“So much of our food is subsidized, either through tax breaks for huge companies or through slave labour,” she said, referring to other countries.

Yukoners also know that quality products come with a price, she said.

“We have a really strong consumer base who recognize what kind of work goes into producing food and are willing to pay for that work,” she said.

During the winter months, Farmer Robert’s will import some of its food from Outside from “as close as we can,” Rudge said.

The store is an imposing hangar with a warm atmosphere thanks to its wooden furniture. The store still feels empty, with construction workers still working on final touches, despite rows of bulk dispensers lined up on one end of the store. Windows around the egg-grading station, in front of the store, will allow customers to watch it assiduously process eggs. There’s also a small coffee-shop like area for customers, except it’s catering to tea drinkers.

And it won’t be the tea bag and lukewarm water kind of deal a lot of places have for tea drinkers, Rudge said.

“We have real tea pots and an artist in town is making us tea cozies,” she said. There will even be tea and natural herbs grown in the territory shoppers will be able to taste.

Farmer Robert’s is also part of a wider effort to strengthen food security in the North.

“The idea is, if there is a place you can bring locally-grown food, hopefully more people will grow it,” said Rudge.

In early August the Yukon government released a draft of its local food strategy, asking for the public’s input. The strategy is twofold: encouraging Yukoners to eat healthy and stimulate local food production.

The arrival of Farmer Robert’s also means the Potluck Food Co-op, created to fill the lack of organic and locally grown products, will have to decide whether to continue its operations. In July, Potluck Food Co-op board member Roslyn Woodcock told the Yukon News the co-op may partner with Farmer Robert’s, or shutter and launch a new venture, such as offering low-interest loans to farmers.

While the territory is growing more and more food, Rudge doesn’t see it becoming self-sufficient anytime soon.

“I don’t think we could be self-sufficient in the Yukon without changing what our expectations are for what we eat,” she said.

Short summers make it tough to grow grains on a large-scale, except for rye.

“I do know people who are pretty self sufficient in the Yukon,” she said, but that requires drastically changing your diet.

For more info about Farmer Robert’s, go to farmerroberts.com.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at

pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

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