N.W.T. farmer harvests potatoes near Arctic Circle
Norman Wells farm produced 30,000 pounds of potatoes this year
One man in Norman Wells is transforming his town into the potato capital of the N.W.T., harvesting 30,000 pounds of the vegetable this year from his farm about 130 kilometres south of the Arctic Circle.
For seven years Doug Whiteman has experimented with fertilizers, frost, top soil and timing on three acres bordering a grass airstrip.
The short growing season and cold temperatures make growing vegetables a challenge. Government grants have covered three quarters of the cost of the seeds and harvesting equipment but he’s spent thousands out of his own pocket and may finally make a profit this year.
"The main thing is to show it is possible," he said. "You always think of moose, caribou, berries — this is food from the land also."
His grandchildren help pick potatoes in the field, his daughter helps him sort and does sales while he’s away, and his son helps him with deliveries.
Whiteman sells to residents and businesses, for whom fresh produce is a welcome change, and even to boats travelling along the Mackenzie River.
Jeff Gilroy runs the Yamouri Inn in Norman Wells and goes through more than 100 pounds of potatoes a week. Buying locally saves the cost of shipping by air or winter road, as there is no all-season road to the town with a population of about 800.
"When we order groceries, there's an odd time there's a shortage," said Gilroy. "[With locally-grown produce] there's no shortage, and it's fresh."
Potatoes aren't Whiteman's only project. He also has the only pigs this far North, named Pork Chop and Ham Bone.
"I’m really promoting, to any individual who is willing to sit and listen to me, community agricultural co-ops where no one is looking to make a profit but what they're looking to do is find a cheaper way for food," he said.
"I can think of [Fort] Simpson, Wrigley, Tulita, [Fort] Good Hope, those communities for sure can do the same thing. With potatoes, there's not a lot of effort."