It must be spring. The swans are back, the mud is beginning to overtake the snow, and Yukon Agricultural Association’s online Yukon Farm Products and Services Guide is updated with this year’s info.
Up and down the territory, farmers are getting ready for the season. They’re mapping out what they’ll plant where and they’ve got their seeds sprouting under grow lamps, ready to transfer to the greenhouse. Shipments of chicks and piglets will soon be coming in. It’s time for Yukon local food lovers to put in their orders for local meat and produce.
Yukon farmers find a variety of ways to get local food to their customers, through farm gate sales, farmer’s markets, retail outlets, food clubs, buying groups and email lists. For those who don’t already have an arrangement with a farmer, the online farm guide (www.yukonag.ca/guide) makes it easy.
Individual farms are listed in the left hand column of the guide’s webpage. Click on an entry and you open up the farmer’s page, with a short bio and contact info, a list of products, and in some cases a map showing the farm’s location. If you don’t know who does what, and you’re looking for eggs, for example, click the boxes on the right-hand list of 30 products and a page pops up showing all the farms or businesses that provide what you’re looking for. As well, your search result will be listed and once you have a list of the farms you’re interested in you can press the print button to publish your own farm guide.
If you’re searching for a store or a market that sells local goods, the column in the middle will provide you with a list of suggested contacts. There’s more: does your horse need a dentist? Do you want to buy some local seeds? Do you think it’s time your kids got out to a farm to see where their food comes from? It’s all there.
A click on “eggs” brings up a list of more than 20 suppliers, though some are already sold out. That’s good news for Yukon egg lovers, who are legion. In 2010, the last year for which statistics are available, 27,000 dozen eggs were produced on 21 farms. Anecdotally we know that there are many more laying hens in the Yukon now. And by August, that number will increase by 2,000.
Alan and Cathy Stannard of Mandalay Farm on Burma Road near Whitehorse have been raising chickens for the last eight years. Typically their free-range flock was about 100 hens strong. Now they’ve invested heavily in birds — 2,000 — and in infrastructure — a large barn and a commercial grader that can grade 7,000 eggs in an hour. “Our goal is to provide a brown, free-range egg for the Yukon,” says Alan Stannard.
The Stannards have made this investment partly because they love the birds. “They’re particularly social birds. They’re just nice to have around,” says Stannard. The birds range freely around the farm, protected from predators by an electric fence, with access in winter to an outdoor “winter garden” where they can scratch around in the sun when temperatures are -10C or higher.
When their flock was smaller, the Stannards distributed eggs through buying groups. In the Whitehorse subdivision of Hillcrest, for example, one resident received two coolers of eggs per week, and customers picked up their orders from her. The Stannards loved the personal connection with their customers — they’d be invited for brunch sometimes at various people’s houses “to celebrate the eggs,” says Stannard. The farmers will continue to distribute through buying groups and farm gate sales, but their ultimate goal is to be in retail outlets throughout the territory. In the meantime, they’ll be selling eggs by mid-August.
Farmers Krista and Jason Roske of Sunnyside Farm pop up on the website when you’re looking for eggs, but like the Salzbergs they’re fully subscribed. However, if the universe aligns and sun, rain and warmer temperatures happen in the right order, the Roskes might have whole grains such as spelt, barley and wheat for sale in the fall.
It’s a gamble. It’s difficult to get grain to mature in the Yukon. But the farmers have been inspired by their success with growing triticale, a rye and wheat hybrid they planted in the fall of 2015 on their farm in the Ibex Valley. They expected to plow the grain back under to enrich the soil. “But we had such a good year last year that it actually matured,” says Krista Roske. They’ve been selling whole triticale grain, bread flour and pastry flour on a small scale ever since.
“I’m quite excited about it, actually,” says Roske. “We’re going to try spelt and barley in small quantities, and I’ve got some red fife that I’m determined to get to mature this year.” She and her husband harvested the triticale by hand, “which quickly lost its charm. The trick for us is we need to buy more machinery, something small to combine it, and a small grain cleaner. It’s farm evolution.” Interested buyers can check in on the grains’ progress via the farm guide or the Sunnyside Farm Facebook page.
When you tire of cruising for eggs on the farm guide webpage and go for vegetables, you’ll land on several Dawson farms. Dawson is famous for its vegetables, where long summer days yield magnificent produce. Kokopellie Farm and Vogt Enterprises are among the bigger produce suppliers. But when you explore Kokopellie a little further, there they are again: grains. Otto Muehlbach and Conny Handwerk are growing small amounts of barley, wheat and rye, cheered on by Dawson consumers.
Derrick Hastings and Katie English of Narrow Gate Herbs/Full Circle Farm, are micro-farmers who supply everything from rabbits to manure to goats to honey. For Hastings and English, who hold down full-time jobs while they farm and raise their three kids, “the farm is a necessity for a good life.” Hastings says one of his most satisfying achievements has been to encourage more people in Dawson to micro-farm.
For many Yukon farmers, farming is a lifestyle choice. Consumers dedicated to buying locally are the beneficiaries of that choice, and the farm guide helps them find each other. Visit www.yukonag.ca/guide to start ordering.
Miche Genest is a chef and writer based in Whitehorse. This piece was commissioned by the Yukon Agricultural Association.