Ontario students complete (main) course on new Yukon food tour

A group of students from the University of Guelph has concluded a Yukon tour that focused on food distribution, cost and local growing. The new Yukon Food Security in Northern Canada was offered this year to 22 undergraduate students.

Field School on Food Security in Northern Canada toasts its first Yukon tour

Michele Genest points out some rose hips which have been growing in Whitehorse. 'When you start looking, you start seeing that edible wild food is all around us,' she said. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

A group of students from the University of Guelph has concluded a Yukon tour that focused on food distribution, cost and local growing. 

The new Field School on Yukon Food Security in Northern Canada was offered this year to 22 undergraduate students.

Over a week the class visited farms and restaurants as part of a learning culinary tour. This included a visit to the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in Teaching and Working Farm near Dawson City.

Students also met Suzanne Crocker, whose family completed a challenge to eat only local Dawson City food for one year.

Arvinder Pannu, a University of Guelph international development student, said he did not expect to see so much agriculture at this latitude and so much potential for local food in a short growing season.

"There's a lot more farming than I thought there would be, there are a lot of investments going on and I am looking forward to see what happens here in the next 20 years," he said.

These rose hips like these can flavour tea but Michele Genest also makes a Rosehip and Crabapple Ketchup. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Looking for edible plants

On May 24, students took a guided walk in downtown Whitehorse with Michele Genest, a food columnist and chef whose Boreal Gourmet books explore how to use Yukon's wild plants. She's developed recipes through interviews, consulting guide books and trial-and-error over many years. 

Students hiked the Whitehorse clay cliffs to find pasture sage, rose hips, dandelions and spruce tips which are budding this time of year. 

"Spruce tips have become very popular, in culinary uses, in the Yukon over the past several years," Genest said. "They of course have been used by Indigenous people in Yukon for thousands of years. When you start looking, you start seeing more and more that edible wild food is all around us."

Cat McInroy guided students through using dandelions at her Whitehorse cooking school.. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Tips on spruce tips

All the foraged material was brought it to the Well Bread Culinary Centre a teaching space run by Cat McInroy in Whitehorse. 

The local plants were there used to make syrups, flours and more. 

For example, McInroy float-cooks dandelions in a mixture of white rice flour and soda water to make them crisp like tempura.

"My dad had a trapline when I was growing up in Carmacks, so eating locally-foraged flowers, berries, parts of the tree, that is nothing that's new to me. I just love sharing this with people that don't know that you can eat dandelion heads, the stems, the leaves, everything is edible on the dandelion," she said. 

The students are not in culinary arts, but rather are learning about food distribution and agricultural systems. Making non-alcoholic cocktails using northern berries was a fun cap to the tour. (Philippe Morin)

Yukon defies expectations

The Yukon government's agriculture branch estimates that only about two per cent of all food eaten in the territory is locally grown or harvested. 

Nevertheless, some students said they were surprised at the prevalence of local foods and accessibility in Yukon. 

Cassidy Cross, an arts and science student at the University of Guelph, took part in the tour. She said she was expecting food prices to be higher and more in line with what is seen in more remote communities in N.W.T. and Nunavut. 

"I was expecting to experience more barriers in relation to food security and I thought there would be more difficult for food costs," she said. "I think it really shocked me the community that has banded together here, and the locality fo the food, the sustainability of it."

Students also visited a new startup company in Whitehorse, which is selling greens harvested in an energy-efficient modified shipping container.

Spruce tips can be eaten whole or made into a variety of things like teas or syrups. (Philippe Morin/CBC)


Philippe Morin is a reporter based in Whitehorse. Follow him on Twitter @YukonPhilippe.