North

Whitehorse greenhouse keeps stores stocked with local produce

A Whitehorse greenhouse is in full swing, growing and selling fresh, pesticide-free vegetables to local supermarkets.

'On the street, people say, 'hey good to see you at it, it tastes good, we like it,' says Yukon Gardens owner

Yukon Gardens owner Lorne Metropolit says it took three years to plan the greenhouse. It has been producing Yukon-grown vegetables for a year-and-a-half now.  (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

A Whitehorse greenhouse is in full swing, growing and selling fresh, pesticide-free vegetables to local supermarkets.

Hydroponic vegetables such as tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers are picked fresh at Yukon Gardens and hit local grocery store produce aisles in the same day.

Yukon Gardens owner Lorne Metropolit says growing vegetables year-round on a large scale was not easy until state-of-the-art horticultural technology made it possible.

"We have two different computer systems just for our heating facility," he said.

"We have another huge computer system designed to do everything from irrigation, our heating, our venting, it tells us the wind, the temperatures and adjusts automatically." 

Metropolit says growing vegetables year-round on a large scale was not easy, before technology made it more feasible. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

The large, 2,800-square-metre greenhouse production facility has heat curtains that cover the greenhouse at night, saving around 45 per cent of heat loss. 

Metropolit says it took three years to plan the greenhouse. It has been producing Yukon-grown vegetables for a year-and-a-half now. 

Hard-working bees

Metropolit also has help — from bees, which he calls the hardest-working members of his team. 

"We have two bumblebee hives inside the greenhouse and they do all the pollinating for us," he said.  

Metropolit says he used to pollinate by hand but it was a lot of time- consuming work.

He says even though the greenhouse is computer-controlled, it still needs help from Mother Nature. He uses ladybugs imported from Denmark, to help with pest control.

"We have a beautiful facility, it's climate-controlled, it's beautiful in there. We have a lot of luscious, juicy, tasty leaves and every bug in the Yukon says, 'lookit, if you have nowhere to go ... go to Yukon Gardens,'" said Metropolit.

Yukon-grown tomatoes at a Whitehorse grocery store. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Heating the large greenhouse in the winter months also posed a challenge.

Metropolit uses an automated biomass boiler system from Europe. He gets his wood chips from the Haines Junction area, from beetle-killed trees.

Metropolit says the greenhouse facility is not open to the public to keep it free of contamination.

He says the cost of growing fresh vegetables is higher than in the south, but he believes he produces a superior product.

Mark Wykes, owner of the Independent Grocer in Whitehorse, agrees.

"You can't get fresher," he said. 

"It sure beats transport which took 30 hours to get here, and who knows what it took to get to the warehouse before that." 

A happy customer stocking up on some local produce. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Wykes calls it a win-win for everybody. 

Metropolit says he gets a lot of good feedback.

"On the street, people say, 'hey good to see you at it, it tastes good, we like it.' That just gives you another reason to work harder and do better to feed the Yukon."

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