Editorial — My Kind of, Sort of, Northern Obsession

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Yukon Grain Farm potato harvest
Potatoes being dug on Yukon Grain Farm with their AVR harvester. Photo: Yukon Grain Farm

I have a secret to admit. I love to go on about how great Canada’s North is. I’ll brag to anyone about the polar bears and say how a friend of mine lived in Churchill for eight months. But the truth is, I really don’t know anything about the North.

The North has always fascinated me. I knew living there wasn’t for the faint at heart and those who did grappled with a multitude of issues from isolation to food insecurity. I always wanted to know more and since becoming the editor of Spud Smart I have been wondering, can you grow potatoes in the North?

One day I received an email from Brett van Heyningen in Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC)’s communications department. He regularly sends me stories on potato research by AAFC scientists. The story he sent me this day was different from the rest, it was about a project AAFC scientists were doing on growing vegetables in the North. I was right away excited as it finally gave me a lead to write a story about growing potatoes in the North.

The result is Pushing to Boost Potato Production in Northern Canada, an in-depth look at food insecurity in northern Canada and what role potatoes can, and are having, in solving those food issues. Writing it was an eye-opening experience.

I hadn’t realized there’s commercial farms located in the territories. When I talked with Steve MacKenzie-Grieve at Yukon Grain Farm, I learned the scale of their farms are similar to what I’ve seen in Europe. On Yukon Grain Farm, they use this European similarity in the equipment they own. Through trial-and-error MacKenzie-Grieve discovered an AVR potato harvester from Belgium works best for him as its smaller and handles the potatoes less than its North American counterparts.

Another discovery was the true potato seeds connection to Canada. I had been interested in this idea of planting potatoes from seed instead of tuber for a while. However, I had yet to find a Canadian story on it through my potato industry contacts. When I reached out at Jackie Milne at the Northern Farm Training Institute in Hay River, N.W.T. the first thing she said to me was how excited she was about the possibilities of true potato seeds in the North. The seeds are the perfect fit for remote areas of the world where shipping tuber seed is expensive, aka Canada’s North.

There’s a lot of opportunities in the North when it comes to growing vegetables and in some cases grain crops. It can’t happen though without research support from scientists at places like AAFC and open minds from others in the agriculture industry. We need to understand while large commercial production works for southern Canada, smaller production and in some cases backyard gardens is the right fit for northern Canada. By growing food these ways, it can help solve some of the North’s food insecurity issues.

P.S. Our team at Spud Smart is excited to partner with the Potato Growers of Alberta (PGA) and Ontario Potato Board (OPB) to offer two bursaries for the upcoming school year. These bursaries come from funds from the Canadian Spud Congress held last February and are open to family members of PGA and OPB members. Please reach out to PGA or OPB if you’re interested in applying.

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