tomatoes and tomorrow

Serious backyard gardeners here in Whitehorse, who carefully watched the temperature in their greenhouses, already had metre-high tomato vines by May .

Serious backyard gardeners here in Whitehorse, who carefully watched the temperature in their greenhouses, already had metre-high tomato vines by May 1.

I complimented a couple of them in the downtown area as I walked my route picking up bags for the Whitehorse Food Bank during the last ecumenical food drive eight weeks ago. By now their first fruits should be well set, maybe even coming close to the table.

The late Richard Stuart, a noted Parks Canada historian, once told me the rich, unglaciated soils and long hours of summer sunlight around Dawson City made it the tomato capital of the territory a century ago. As I recall, he even mentioned it counting as a Yukon export, with the treasured fruit crated onto steamboats headed downstream for Alaskan markets.

Growing your own tomatoes, like gardening in general, links you to the soil. In an increasingly food-aware world, this might be a good starting point for getting a grip again on those first principles focused around family, community and stewardship of our environment that our global economic system seems to have woefully strayed from.

A recent BBC interview introduced me to a tomato-processing company trying to incorporate those first principles into its business. The Morning Star Company, founded in 1970 by Chris Rufer hauling tomatoes with his truck to California canneries, now accounts for “over 25 per cent of the California processing tomato production, supplying 40 per cent of the US ingredient tomato paste and diced tomato markets, with sales of approximately $350 million.”

This rags-to-riches story would be interesting, but not important if not for the Morning Star Company’s management model captured in part by its vision statement: “To develop and implement superior systems of organizing individuals’ talents and efforts, to achieve demonstrably superior productivity and personal happiness.” Its website goes further, highlighting their innovative self-management model.

As Rufer defines it, “Self-Management is the organizational philosophy represented by individuals freely and autonomously performing the traditional functions of management (planning, organizing, coordinating, staffing, directing, controlling) without mechanistic hierarchy or arbitrary, unilateral command authority over others.

“For Morning Star colleagues to be self-managing professionals, initiating communications and the co-ordination of their activities with fellow colleagues, customers, suppliers and fellow industry participants, absent directives from others.

“For colleagues to find joy and excitement utilizing their unique talents and to weave those talents into activities that complement and strengthen fellow colleagues’ activities. For colleagues to take personal responsibility and hold themselves accountable for achieving our Mission and shaping the Tomato Game.” (

The egalitarian, community building Morning Star approach fundamentally challenges the “grab with both hands” and “damn the human or environmental consequences” model notoriously pursued by many top executives.

“We should be thinking deeply,” argues Professor Kevin F. Hallock of Cornell University in a May article in Workspan ( when contemplating the fallout from the corporate pay disaster linked directly to the global financial meltdown, “about why 1) hourly earnings of workers at the bottom have been incredibly flat for the last generation, 2) only the top five per cent of workers have seen large earnings over that time, and 3) even against just these highly talented folks, the CEO pay ratio has doubled.

“But most importantly,” Hallock concludes, “we should be thinking about what, or whether these numbers forecast about future regulatory pressures and economic sustainability in the United States and other free-market economies of interest.”

Our backyard tomato, and those of the Morning Star Company, aren’t that different, nor are arguably the “putting people first” principles that underpin them.

Our national and international political and corporate leaders have some catching up to do.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact

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

Just Posted

Maria Metzen off the start line of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association’s sled dog race on Jan. 9. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Mushers race in preparation for FirstMate Babe Southwick

The annual race is set for Feb. 12 and 13.

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

The Yukon Department of Education building in Whitehorse on Dec. 22, 2020. Advocates are calling on the Department of Education to reverse their redefinition of Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) that led to 138 students losing the program this year. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Advocates call redefinition of IEPs “hugely concerning,” call for reversal

At least 138 students were moved off the learning plans this year

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21, 2020. Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive up to $20,000 to help recover from losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Details released on relief funding for tourism and culture non-profits

Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive… Continue reading

Most Read