It’s that time of year again when we pour everything we’ve got into our lawns, our flowers our vegetable gardens — because the season’s almost over, though it’s barely begun.
Summer in the Yukon is an intense time of year for us.
We set our sights on summer in March, when our southern relatives begin wearing shirtsleeves and plunking tulips into long-stem vases. Here, some of us are still waiting for our tulips.
And once June is upon us, we have to face the grim fact that our days will soon start getting shorter — that summer, which hasn’t even gotten comfortable enough to pull up a hammock, is pulling up stakes.
The seasonal panic has a lot to do with food. And with the global food crisis ever-present, food scarcity and the importance of local agriculture has made the northern reality starker than before.
So many of us push hundreds of seeds into trays of dirt for the seedlings’ indoor spring, an annual event which sees every surface of our homes near a window covered with little green sprigs of hope, which we water and talk to and marvel at and praise.
We sweep out the greenhouse and shovel the snow off the garden.
We get the chicken wire in place for the peas and buy our bags of compost from the dump still frozen.
For the surplus produce that we’ll surely need, we start researching key foraging spots: u-picks, farmers’ markets, roadside veggie stands, berry patches, friends’ backyards.
The Yukon Farm Products & Services guide, which I picked up for free at a local gas station, is an invaluable tool for helping locate growers of every vegetable imaginable, not to mention meat and dairy products, wool, honey and hay.
These first hot days, we’ll suffer through tasteless watermelons from Mexico and tart strawberries from California, just as we have all winter long, and we’ll remind ourselves as we consume them that sweet Yukon raspberries and blueberries will be here soon enough.
It is an exercise in patience, this thing we call Summer in the Yukon.
And the Yukon garden is discipline of the finest art.
For the veteran, the veggie garden can take up to a full year of planning. If you’re a master forager on top of it, you’re not just eating well in summertime, but all winter long.
On the calendar, July, August and September are inked with berry-picking weeks and veggie-picking days.
Your very own potatoes are eventually picked and stored. Apples are ordered from the Okanogan and hidden in a dark place for fall. Peaches are trucked up and canned.
Backyard raspberries are made into jams.
Wild cranberries are frozen for winter muffins. Herbs from the market are hung to dry.
Most of what gets produced here will be eaten quickly rather than stored.
We don’t grow enough in the Yukon to keep everyone happy in local veggies.
Only the super-organized, somewhat competitive and fittest survivalist ends up eating local year-long. (There are indeed a few 100-mile dieters in town who are doing it.)
And what, at the end of this intense season of growing, foraging and canning have we accomplished?
For one short and luscious season, we have raked in what is ours. We have sought out the best to eat in a place where there is always a food shortage, though never a crisis (so far), and we have replenished our bodies after a very long, bland, vitamin-deficient winter.
Our bits of winter meal planning allows for Summer in the Yukon to appear at our tables the other nine months.
It makes us happy when we pull summer raspberries out of the freezer in February … it just does.
And with the food shortage gone global, there is more reason than ever to eat local.
Aid organizations, including the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, are, in fact, telling countries to eat local produce as much as possible to reduce the pressure on shipping and imports.
Poor countries forced to rely on local foods, which are not enough to feed them either, are paying 75 per more for imports than they were a few months ago. About half of humanity is said to be facing food insecurity.
It sure puts the importance of a local food economy, including our own gardens, in perspective, even though the foodies have been trying to bring our attention to it for years.
It is a harsh lesson, one we should all appreciate here in the Yukon.
Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.