Elemental Farm takes a back to basics approach

Bart Bounds comes across as a bit of a mad scientist with his dishevelled beard and hair. Sitting at a small table inside a cozy yurt, he talks about his passion for food.

Bart Bounds comes across as a bit of a mad scientist with his dishevelled beard and hair.

Sitting at a small table inside a cozy yurt, he talks about his passion for food and the successful growing season he’s just had with his partner, Kate Mechan.

The couple runs Elemental Farm on the banks of the Takhini River, a 120-acre parcel of pristine land about six kilometres away from the Takhini Hot Springs Road.

Two weeks ago, they were named the 2015 Yukon farmers of the year. Recipients of the award are nominated by their peers for their commitment to, and passion for, local farming.

Bounds is driven, ambitious and always willing to experiment with something new. In the five years they’ve run the farm, the sheer variety of vegetables they’ve been able to grow is impressive.

The greenhouse crops include tomatoes, cucumbers, basil and eggplant, to name a few. The cold crops include cabbage, broccoli, kale, bok choi and brussels sprouts.

They even managed to grow cantaloupe last year.

“They came out beautiful,” Bounds said.

They’re familiar faces at the weekly Fireweed Community Market in Whitehorse during the summer time.

But they also do catering events and weddings and supply Cafe Balzam, their biggest customer, among other places.

Bounds estimates that he works about 100 hours a week during harvest season, which ran from May to October this year.

Nowadays he goes over his notes, does more research about farming and gets his seed orders ready for the spring, he said.

“The more we can get ready in advance, the quicker we can hit the ground running.”

Beyond the food they grow, Mechan and Bounds also have 66 laying hens, several meat rabbits and a few baby bunnies.

In the summer, they have about 300 meat chickens and around 50 turkeys.

That’s on top of the dog and pair of cats that roam around the yurt.

“It’s a lifestyle choice,” said Mechan.

Living completely off the grid doesn’t come without challenges.

Bounds said he’d love to have electricity on the property, especially for the laying hens to have light in the winter and for running electric pumps.

“If we had electricity here that would be a major game-changer,” he said, adding that it would cost about $100,000 to do so.

And in the summertime, when volunteers come up to help on the farm, they often need to be connected to the modern world.

“Whether it’s because they need to send an e-mail or take a shower, that’s something else to take care of,” Mechan said.

The couple bartered an agreement with the Takhini Hot Pools where they supply some food in exchange for use of their facilities.

Even their four-year-old daughter, Juniper, was born on the farm.

She’s already learned how to grow her own food and can recognize plants, Mechan said.

“We have a really healthy kid who knows how to live more simply,” she added.

“The first time she saw a toilet it was like ‘What the heck is this’? I think it’ll be much easier for her to go in the direction of having more amenities in life rather than the opposite.”

Bounds grew up in a small town in South Dakota, where he became acquainted with farming.

He moved to Alaska as a teenager and that’s where he experienced some profound realizations about food, he said.

“When I was 18, I was on LSD and I had a vision,” he said.

“A group of us went to McDonald’s and I took one bite out of the hamburger. I couldn’t even swallow it.

“The whole reality of it came crashing down on me – the toxicity, the pain and suffering it took to make that food, the manipulation to sell those products.”

Bounds became a vegetarian and learned more about eating well.

When he moved up to the Yukon about 10 years ago, with the intention of starting a small farm, he couldn’t find the right piece of land.

He had almost given up when an acquaintance gave him the opportunity to lease the land on Takhini River Road.

“I jumped in with very little capital but a lot of ambition and it keeps growing every year,” he said.

The couple’s second child is on the way and they’re going to need a bigger yurt, Bounds said.

He’d like to get to a point where he can work less and focus more on the management and supervising side of things. Building season lines up with farming season, which creates a small problem, Mechan said.

“I have different visions of where I’d like to get it in the future, but I’m liking where it’s at right now,” Bounds said.

“Yay!” exclaimed Mechan.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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