North

New Whitehorse grocery store aims to bring local food home

Two Yukon farmers are pooling their life savings to open a new grocery store in Whitehorse. The owners of Farmer Robert's hope to help more people grow more food and stock the shelves with local produce year-round.

Farmer Robert's — opening soon — will stock produce, meat and eggs from Yukon farmers

Farmer Robert's, which is opening in two weeks, will sell vegetables, eggs and meat from Yukon producers. (Meagan Deuling/CBC)

Two Yukon farmers are pooling their life savings to open a new grocery store in Whitehorse.

The owners of Farmer Robert's hope to help people grow more food and stock the shelves with local produce year-round.

Co-owner, Simone Rudge, says the store will stock produce, meat and bulk goods from farmers in Whitehorse and Dawson City, as well as fruit from British Columbia. She says she and business partner Robert Ryan, who runs Ibex Valley Farms, want to make it possible for smaller producers to find a market.

"If the infrastructure is in place — if you don't have to set up for the washing and the bagging and the grading and all the other pieces that go to into getting a product from a farm onto a retail shelf — it can be done here, it will be easier for smaller farmers to get in," Rudge said.

Backyard farmers welcome

Rudge says it will be a challenge to ensure that food at the store is affordable, while farmers are paid fairly for their produce.
Farmer Robert's co-owner Simone Rudge says the store wants to sell the produce of large farms and backyard farmers alike. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

"Our goal is really to get many, many small farmers including backyard gardeners farmers, producing for the store, and not just one or two big ones." she said.

Rudge says the store will connect farmers to the consumer. She says they'll do the regulatory work that sometimes prevents small farmers from selling meat and eggs in stores. An egg grading station is being built on site, and that will allow the sale of eggs certified by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Co-opted

The coming of Farmer Robert's could mean the end of the Potluck Food Co-op, which has been providing local food to the Whitehorse market since 2013. The co-op can't sell dairy or eggs, and founding member Bernie Hoeschele says the organization likely won't be able to compete with Farmer Robert's.

"What they're doing is just a different ball park compared to what we can do here," he said. "We have one kind of smiling eye and one tearing eye, so to speak. We're a little torn."

Hoeschele says it's too early to say what will happen to the co-op. He says it might convert to a food advocacy role.

Tony Hill, director of the Yukon government's Agriculture Branch, says the new store will make it easier for farmers to meet the booming demand for Yukon products.  It will also provide food security and serve as a boost for the economy. Farmer Robert's, he says.

"The more we're producing here, the better everybody's off because we're a little more sovereign over our own food production," Hill said.

Farmer Robert's is slated to open in two weeks.

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