Co operative farm moves to greener pastures

The owners of Wild Blue Yonder Farm are planning to move the operation to a smaller acreage closer to Whitehorse.

The owners of Wild Blue Yonder Farm are planning to move the operation to a smaller acreage closer to Whitehorse.

The current 88-hectare farm straddles two titles near Tagish in the southern lakes district.

“We’re exhausted,” said Garrett Gillespie who, with his wife Heidi Marion, runs the family farm.

“The farm is too big to manage properly and we couldn’t afford it; we had to downsize.”

The couple founded the Great Green Growers Farm Co-operative last December to raise the investment they needed to buy the farmland and necessary equipment.

Only 45 shares in the co-op were sold at $5,000 a piece. They needed to sell 86 to buy the farm with a manageable mortgage.

There was an agreement for sale, but the purchase had not yet been completed.

The decision to buy a different farm went to the co-op’s board of directors that, after debating the issue, recommended the move to its shareholders.

“Everyone was very supportive,” said Gillespie.

“They’ve been behind Heidi and me 110 per cent every step of the way.”

Wild Blue Yonder is the Yukon’s first organically regenerative farm.

The current ranch contains 48 hectares of pasture and hay fields, as well as herds of cattle and dairy goats.

Two hectares are dedicated to growing fresh organic vegetables.

The couple is looking for something around eight hectares. 

The new farm would concentrate on vegetables, small-scale animals and a greenhouse, said Gillespie.

After all, growing veggies is what the farm does best.

With this year’s bumper crop, the family farm was the biggest producer of vegetables in the Yukon.

This summer, Gillespie and Marion were bringing four pallets of vegetables to the Fireweed Market each week.

One day they sold three pallets in a single hour.

“There’s a huge demand here because it’s so hard to find fresh vegetables,” said Gillespie.

And it’s not just the allure of organics.

“The biggest demand is for produce that is fresh and locally grown — it just so happens that anyone who is producing vegetables up here is organic anyway.”

Gillespie and his family want to move closer to Whitehorse to encourage more participation in the farm.

When the farm was located on Crag Lake, near Carcross, the public was much more involved.

One year, 100 people came out for the annual harvest festival. They could glean the fields for leftover produce, which was theirs to keep.

Later, a large bonfire was built and a thanksgiving circle led by the local First Nation was followed by a potluck and live music.

Attendance dropped significantly in 2005 when the farm moved to the current location, which is farther from town.

“We have other events as well, we want people to be able to come out and see what it’s like,” he said.

“A lot of people have never been to a farm before.”

One of the benefits to co-op members is that they are able to participate in the production of their food.

A closer, smaller location for the farm will make it that much easier for members and everyone else to get involved.

It will also be more affordable.

“When we began the co-op we were looking for more members, and we still are, but now that the scale is being reduced we won’t need as much capital.”

The farmers have looked at a couple possible locations for the new farm, but won’t really decide on anything until they’ve created a strategic plan to run by the board of directors.

“We finished on a high note and there’s been overwhelming support,” said Gillespie.

“But we’re really delighted to be moving on.”