It's harvest time! Yukon's 1st off-grid, no-dirt, hydroponics farming unit produces crops

·3 min read
'It's awesome to see what you put into the project, you get out,' said Brittany Weber, the agricultural operations coordinator at the Kluane Lake Research Station.  (Chris MacIntyre/CBC - image credit)
'It's awesome to see what you put into the project, you get out,' said Brittany Weber, the agricultural operations coordinator at the Kluane Lake Research Station. (Chris MacIntyre/CBC - image credit)

The Kluane Lake Research Station located between Haines Junction and Destruction Bay is known for it's studies on climate change and the impacts it has on wildlife and the ecosystem.

Now, they're taking a look at food sustainability in the North.

It's been months of work but their off-grid hydroponic containerized farming unit is now producing leafy greens and herbs.

The first harvest of crops comes after only six weeks of planting the first round of seeds.

Brittany Weber is the agricultural operations coordinator for the research station.

And she's responsible for taking care of the crops.

Chris MacIntyre/CBC
Chris MacIntyre/CBC

"We grow plants without the use of dirt," she explained.

"Instead we use this nutrient-rich water solution. Using pumps and gravity, we wash the water over the roots of the plants and that provides them with everything they need.

Weber says because the system is containerized it is a controlled environment so pesticides and herbicides aren't used.

Inside the container

The unit is eight by 40 feet and can hold up to 2,800 mature plants and 1,000 seedlings.

"We have six shelves going all the way from the floor to the ceiling," said Weber during the tour of the unit.

Chris MacIntyre/CBC
Chris MacIntyre/CBC

Entering into the container is described as an optical illusion.

"The trays are actually sloped so you'll stand there and see the next tray in the back row and it'll be a foot off of the first tray but really that's the gravity so the water can flow naturally down these trays," Weber said.

The plants are arranged in a "cascading of age".

The front of the container holds the big greens while the back of the unit will have the newly planted seedlings.

"You'll be able to see the different life cycles of the plants," Weber said.

Chris MacIntyre/CBC
Chris MacIntyre/CBC

The entrance of the container has been made into a processing area called an Arctic entrance.

This allows the vegetables and greens to be processed in freezing temperatures, without worrying about frost bite or losing any leaves.

"We have a little bit of a processing area called an arctic entrance,"

Harvesting the crops

Approximately 350 plants will be harvested next week.

Produce include kale, lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, basil, cilantro and dill.

Henry Penn,manager of the research station and the project lead, says the next step is to get the produce out into the community.

"The plan for the first number of harvests, they will be gathered up into a few small sample bags," Penn said.

"We'll be bringing them to locations around the Kluane region and offering them up to anyone that would like one free of charge."

Chris MacIntyre/CBC
Chris MacIntyre/CBC

The goal behind this is to let people try the product, understand how it is grown, and to provide feedback on what sort of produce is needed and wanted in the community.

Penn says now that the project is up and running, the public is invited to visit the station and see how everything works in person.

"People are more than welcome to come by the Kluane Lake Research Station and have a tour, see the facility and learn all about the project," Penn said.

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