Start up promises the dawn of aquaponics in the Yukon

In The Martian, Matt Damon plays a botanist abandoned on Mars who is forced to MacGyver together a system that can grow potatoes.

In The Martian, Matt Damon plays a botanist abandoned on Mars who is forced to MacGyver together a system that can grow potatoes.

The movie takes an interesting look at how it’s possible to do more with less, and how a bit of creativity can go a long way.

In the Yukon it’s always been a challenge to grow vegetables year-round, despite farmers having more resources than Damon’s character ever did.

Now, an Alberta-based start-up says it plans to build a facility in Whitehorse that will offer fresh vegetables to Yukoners 365 days a year.

NutraPonics is touting aquaponics – a process that weds fish farming with the science of gardening without soil – to grow large amounts of produce in relatively small spaces.

The process is simple. Fish such as tilapia and trout produce waste that is turned into nitrates and ammonia. The waste is then processed through two bio-filters, where bacteria break it down.

What’s left is a rich broth of nitrogen, sulphur and potassium that is pumped into a third area where it is sucked up by plants.

LED lights are used to push the growth of the plants. They purify the water and send it back to the fish, completing the cycle.

The end result is a mutually beneficial relationship that can grow thousands of pounds of produce, as well as raise fish that can be harvested at the end of the season.

“It’s 21st-century farming,” said Dr. John Vidmar, chief technology officer with NutraPonics.

“There’s no fertilizer, no pesticides and no herbicides. Our system is controlled so we know exactly what we’re putting in and what’s coming out.”

NutraPonics has partnered with North Star Agriculture, a Whitehorse-based company, to bring the project to life.

North Star CEO Sonny Gray visited the NutraPonics facility near Edmonton a few months ago. It’s mainly used as a research and development facility, but Gray said it also supplies local restaurants and grocery stores with produce.

He said it felt like “visiting a lab.”

“Just from tasting the vegetables that were grown there, the taste is completely different,” he said.

“Can you imagine if you buy your food, take it home, unpack it and it’s still ripe a few days later? Ultimately if we can walk away from this one day and say that we provided food to the Yukon, that’s pretty rewarding.”

The biggest challenge lies with energy costs associated with heating the building, and the water in the tanks. Tilapia generally requires water temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius.

Gray said those issues can be fixed by making sure the building is well-insulated. NutraPonics has also been working with the University of Alberta’s civil engineering department on its next facility, which will be in New Brunswick.

“We don’t want people being worried about the building sciences side of things,” said Tim Goltz, the project’s business development officer.

“We’re working with some of the brightest people in the world. They can address every possible building contingency and they’re keen on this because they see the potential in what we’re doing.”

The location of the building in Whitehorse has yet to be determined, Gray said, but he has a few leads.

The next steps include securing funding, finding partnerships with First Nation development corporations and establishing a time frame for the project.

“We’re still fine-tuning our development plan and then we’ll be hitting the pavement looking for partners in the Yukon,” Gray said.

“We’ve locked down a partnership with the people providing the technology. If you don’t have that you don’t have anything.”

Gray explained that NutraPonics works similarly to the way a franchise would. The company provides the technology, training and 24/7 monitoring of the facilities.

Gray said he would probably be looking for 51 per cent ownership from local First Nations.

“We’d like to bang this out within the next two years,” Gray said.

“There’s demand beyond Whitehorse.”

In the future, more of these facilities could be built in other Yukon communities, he added.

He said he’d also like to see Yukon College develop a course that would train people to work in aquaponics.

“If you start getting multiple facilities going, that’s a career path,” he said.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Exposure notice issued for April 3 Air North flight

Yukon Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley has issued another… Continue reading

Crystal Schick/Yukon News file
Runners in the Yukon Arctic Ultra marathon race down the Yukon River near the Marwell industrial area in Whitehorse on Feb. 3, 2019.
Cold-weather exercise hard on the lungs

Amy Kenny Special to the Yukon News It might make you feel… Continue reading

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
YUKONOMIST: The Neapolitan election

Do you remember those old bricks of Neapolitan ice cream from birthday… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
This week at city hall

A look at issues discussed by Whitehorse city council at its April 6 meeting.

Two people walk up the stairs past an advance polling sign at the Canda Games Centre on April 4. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
April 12 is polling day: Here’s how to vote

If in doubt, has an address-to-riding tool

Today’s Mailbox: Rent freezes and the youth vote

Dear Editor, I read the article regarding the recommendations by the Yukon… Continue reading

Point-in-Time homeless count planned this month

Volunteers will count those in shelters, short-term housing and without shelter in a 24-hour period.

The Yukon’s new ATIPP Act came into effect on April 1. Yukoners can submit ATIPP requests online or at the Legislative Assembly building. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News file)
New ATIPP Act in effect as of April 1

The changes promise increased government transparency

A new conservancy in northern B.C. is adjacent to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (Courtesy BC Parks)
Ice Mountain Lands near Telegraph Creek, B.C., granted conservancy protection

The conservancy is the first step in a multi-year Tahltan Stewardship Initiative

Yukon RCMP reported a child pornography-related arrest on April 1. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press file)
Whitehorse man arrested on child pornography charges

The 43-year-old was charged with possession of child pornography and making child pornography

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The postponed 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been rescheduled for Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
New dates set for Arctic Winter Games

Wood Buffalo, Alta. will host event Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023

Victoria Gold Corp. has contributed $1 million to the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun after six months of production at the Eagle Gold Mine. (Submitted/Victoria Gold Corp.)
Victoria Gold contributes $1 million to First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun

Victoria Gold signed a Comprehensive Cooperation and Benefits Agreement in 2011

Most Read