A Dawson-area farmer is now using remediated placer mining claim land to raise local meat, in a new initiative undertaken with the Yukon government’s agriculture branch.
Megan Waterman, director of the Lastraw Ranch, said her farm located in Bear Creek originally started as a school project for her son in 2011, but quickly grew as the family acquired more animals.
Their property, however, is only three and a half acres. Lastraw Ranch was running out of room while demand for local meat in Dawson continued to grow. The ranch supplies local meat to the local BonTon and Company butcher for local consumption and retail.
Waterman had an interest in raising more pigs but she was reluctant to purchase and clear land near the Bear Creek Subdivision for a seasonal operation, and bringing on more animals to the existing property would risk the goodwill of both neighbours and zoning regulations.
“Our family liked it, and as it sort of evolved, it grew into a productive farm. Even though it was farming on a small acreage, we have made a pretty big community impact on what we can produce and provide for locally grown food,” she said. “So I have been kind of trying to think, ‘OK, how can we, you know, streamline what we do?’”
“I don’t need a title. I just really need 100 by 100 space to grow my pigs. It doesn’t need to be arable land. So I started thinking ‘What are the ways I can do this?’”
Waterman approached a neighbour with land under a placer mining claim nearby.
With the support of her mining friend, they approached the Yukon government last summer and were able to pitch the idea of leasing the surface of the already-mined area for pig pens. After consultation with neighbours and the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, a lease was signed for July 3.
The multi-use arrangement for developed placer mining land is new to the territory. Thanks to that partnership, Waterman was able to raise 38 pigs this year. All were butchered locally.
“This out-of-the-box thinking about land use has the potential to encourage new entrants to Yukon agricultural production at a low start-up cost and encourage local food production in keeping with the goals of the new Yukon agriculture policy,” said Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Ranj Pillai.
“As a result of Ms. Waterman’s determination and innovative approach, Yukoners will indeed be putting locally raised pork on their forks,” he said.
Pillai said the government plans to continue the partnership into the next season.
While Waterman admits that mining and agriculture land rarely overlap, she said the already-mined placer claim was well-suited to the pigs because the nature of the remediation was disturbed earth rather than pollutants.
The pig operation, which uses modular pens that can be relocated each season, can follow the remediation line and contribute organic material to the topsoil layer. An automatic watering system and electric fences allow the family to visit and monitor the site twice a day.
“The path was kind of uncharted. Like who in their right mind is going to do agriculture at a mining claim? But this made sense,” Waterman said.
“So eventually, as we move the pigpen I like to think we’re leaving it in better condition,” she said. “I’m really thankful to the mining family for just having an open mind and trusting us to work with them on their claims. It’s a nice agreement between us and it’s kind of a win-win situation.”
Contact Haley Ritchie at firstname.lastname@example.org