In Canada’s Yukon Territory
in the "Land of the Midnight Sun" a tender South American plant
called stevia is thriving. Thanks to the ingenuity and daring of the
Little Salmon, Carmacks First Nation, a native band which has roots
in the area going back to prehistoric times, this transplanted herb
is showing signs of changing lives, in more ways than one. Here is
how Dawn Charlie, Implementation Researcher involved in this
project, describes their adventure into agriculture.
Yukon, is located a few hundred miles south of the Arctic Circle in
northern Canada. Today it is -40 degrees outside - the kind of
weather that when you start driving your vehicle you have to go
slowly since the tires are "square," and if you go too fast you will
end up with four flat tires to change . . . in what is definitely
not tire-changing weather.
So why did we ever think up a
project such as growing a plant native to South America in the
frozen north? Good question. Well I have friends who are growing
grapes in their greenhouses and other people are growing apples - so
why not stevia? The price of stevia is higher than many other herbal
crops and the qualities of stevia seemed very appealing. There seems
to be a high rate of diabetes among First Nation people and so
except that our climate was very much different than where the plant
originated from, I thought we could try to see if it could be grown
here…… or not.
I applied to Agriculture Agri-food
Canada’s Canadian Adaptation and Rural Development Fund for funding
to conduct research into the growing of both stevia and arnica as
possible commercial crops. We need successful economic development
opportunities to become more sustainable so this is just one venture
we are looking into. Our application for funding was approved and so
a lady with considerable growing experience was hired to conduct the
research -Shirley Bellmore. Her family started one of the Yukon's
oldest farms years ago and her mother's family has deep First Nation
roots in this tiny Northern Tutchone community. Shirley remembers
packing buckets of water from the Yukon River to water the family
garden years ago when she was young. Her present garden shows her
years of experience.
The research went really well
with forty-three plants which were started in a greenhouse
environment and then moved outdoors in June for the summer. We found
that the plants did not like the cold north wind so Shirley bent
willow sticks to hold row covers for the plants which worked really
well. We tried root propagation and found that did quite well too.
We harvested in late August
and shipped the dried stevia to Stevia Canada. We have not explored
too far for stevia markets as yet but there is a lot of interest
locally and regionally. Stevia Canada has been our only market so
far for our first experimental crop. We kept a number of the root
stocks from the stevia and we loaned them out to people to baby sit.
Some of these plants have now, in December, flowered and produced
seeds. They even started to sprout in the root cellar where it is
totally dark and cold.
Summer daylight on our longest
day on July 21st is about 22 hours. It actually does not really get
dark at that time either but has a quick twilight to daylight
transition which is hardly noticeable.
Our rainfall has been
fluctuating in the last number of years and we have been getting
more than our usually semi-arid climate is used to. We do have
plenty of fresh uncontaminated rivers, lakes and streams which are
used for watering purposes. Shirley used the nearby Nordenskiold
River to water her stevia crop and augmented that with doses of
Our region of the Yukon is
generally very "lumpy" which means lots of hills, mountains and
valleys. Most communities are located on large lakeshores or in
river valleys with very few roads.
Our soil is generally sandy
loam or silt on top of pretty cold root zone area since some of our
soil sits on permafrost. Our soil often needs considerable composted
material to bring it up to a better growing medium. In our farming
venture we try to make as much soil as we can by composting and
scrounging manure. Some people say "there's gold in them thar
hills!" and some gardeners say " there's gold in them thar manure
We hope that this project may
prove to be a sustainable activity for our future.
wishes Dawn, Shirley and all the members of the Little Salmon,
Carmacks First Nation good luck in this exciting and innovative
venture in growing stevia and we hope soon to hear them say,
"There’s gold in them thar stevia plants!"