5.25.2014

Toolik's First Garden

Ever since I started cooking I've aimed towards scratch cooking; everything handmade and rustic. Now that I have a broader sense of GMO-free, organic and local farming I incorporate those variables in the kitchen, too. I see myself as more of a middleman between the land and the people, and not so much a chef. I've traveled to some pretty darn remote and crazy kitchens on Earth, and I've also seen alien greenhouse operations, e.g. South Pole Station greenhouse during winter of 2010. With a little hands on in the dirt at an organic farm in Hawaii and extensive knowledge on cooking I'm looking to blend the two into my life. What I am proposing here is that wherever fresh produce is being served, it should be grown on site also. It doesn't matter if it's Antarctica, on the International Space Station or in your front yard and on top your roof. To grow your own food grounds you to your surroundings and encourages respect and conservation for those gifts of nature that we so often enjoy. Keeping the fire burning. 


Today is May 25th... 3-6 inches of snow and 32 degrees outside. Forecast for the week is all the same. Could be snow free by mid-June. A few weeks ago it was sunny every day and the snow was melting rapidly, we thought it was going to be an early melt, but looks like the winds are changing.



This was taken a week ago when the creek opened up into the Toolik Lake.




Getting back to the local and organic food scene... this is why I steer away from processed vegetables. It comes in a plastic bag, the product is tasteless and perhaps less nutritive, it has artificial color to it and it's more like a plastic vegetable. 


If you go to an organic farm and raise heritage crops, they will likely look nothing like this.


These are the fresh veggies we do get brought in, but they are not organic and are grown in a very commercialized and engineered environment. Veggies grow very simply with dirt, water, sun and a little human interaction. We don't need machine cutters and slicers, plastic wrappers, box cutters just to handle vegetables... we don't need to transport these crops from the farm to a warehouse for processing, then back on a plane to the distributor and finally shipped to the kitchen. We need to grow our own food.


Hence, my proposal to build Toolik's first garden to supply our kitchen with freshies. If/when this free-market garden is executed it will serve as a model for indigenous tribes of north to be able to grow their own produce as well as educate their children on sustainable living. The reality that polar region communities are witnessing environmental changes that are restricting traditional diets and hunting, fishing and harvesting practices means we have to act to adapt our diets and methods to maintain a relationship with where our food comes, and not rely so much on the importation of processed and inorganic foods.

The Arctic garden idea involves both the traditional soil, sun and dirt method and the hydroponic method, especially for winter. No better way to start it than to use food waste (vegetable tops) and put them in water for regrowth. Next step will be to tract down a viable soil source. The possibilities are endless... 100% off grid using solar and wind, obtain Alaskan heritage seeds from farmers in the Matsu family and bring them up north, harvest seeds from the garden and keep a sustainable supply, recycle the stations grey water and even naturally purify it before it's pumped back into the ground, recycle food waste with composting, minimize the carbon footprint of shipping produce thousands of miles to the Arctic. The goal is to keep it simple, alive and open the door for future research into high latitude organic farming. This could be Alaska's most northern Arctic garden right now?


Carrots.


Turnips.


Celery.


All I'm waiting for is brother sun to shine down and melt the snow so I can find soil to walk on and harvest.





5.09.2014

Birthday Boomerang

It is a cultural tradition in Hawaii to celebrate a baby's first birthday with as much rejoice as possible. To be there in person, I must drive 9 hours southbound on the haul road from the North Slope to Fairbanks, then fly roughly 5,000 miles from Alaska to Toronto, Canada. This trip crosses over four time zones and by going south, I re-enter the land of nighttime. On May 24th, the sun will rise here and it won't set until around July 17th. Even right now I cannot see stars at 1 AM since it remains twilight throughout the night. 

Two days before I departed the station I made Canadian butter tarts for the first time. It's the sweetest delicacy of Canada, definitely worth a taste if you ever get a chance. I made them using a simple pie crust and focused on keeping the butter and water ice cold while preparing the dough, and the result was a super flaky crust. The filling is made of butter, touch of brown sugar, maple syrup, egg and nuts, if you wish. 



The day of departure there was a fog bow.


Adios Toolik, see you again in 7 days.


Before jumping on the truck I quickly moved everything into my new bedroom so I have a cozy Arctic bungalow to return home to.



When I left last week there was still a nice blanket of snow on the ground.


Driving up the Atigun Pass was icy. Truckers on the CB talked about tire chains and a guy who wiped out on the pass a few days prior.





The further south, the less snow, and more trees.


Pit stop at the Yukon river.


From there I was dropped off at the Fairbanks airport and made way to Canada with a few layovers. I am so used to flying that I hardly even know what airport I land at nowadays, all the big ones kind of look the same and the food is pretty much similar. Here's one unique food find... the picture below shows bananas, apples and oranges packed for individual sale. When I saw this my heart stopped. Is this what 'natural' food has come to? At every airport I try very hard to find one piece of organic hand fruit or vegetable, and you'd be shocked as to how unavailable those things are. I mean, if we took out half the candy on the shelves and replaced it with healthy, organic options... would people not grow accustomed to eating them more often? If I have to run through every terminal looking for a healthy bite, and find none, well, I guess I will just have to pack my own for now on. If airports open up the doors to local, organic produce then the market for those products would grow and support the farmers, and support human health.


Shortly after my heart stopped it starting beating again after reading a sign saying 'airport garden on floor 2'. Oddly though, the garden was tucked away upstairs away from the busy halls and nestled next to a private airport lounge. I was afraid that if I touched one of the chard leaves that alarms would go off and the TSA would be all over me. Stinks we can't eat what's being grown. The garden was all alone, but standing proud given that it's the only green and living within the airport. Well, it's a start... now let's fill the hallways with gardens and turn the walls green. Help us offset the emissions associated with air travel. One day.


Time and space warp. 20 hours later after my encounter with the airport garden. In a backyard in Hamilton, Ontario eating yarrow with the little one. Being a father has really slowed me down on the inside and brought me back to Earth. It's the little things in life that are most important. And, by little things, I mean clean air, clean water, clean soil, fresh and healthy food, dreaming, love, good sleep, respect and giving thanks. They live in a concrete jungle, and I live in an Arctic wilderness. I love my family, but don't love where they live. I love where I live, but don't love being away from them. It's a bittersweet pickle. Somewhere in between 5,000 miles that separates us there has to be a town or village where we can live close to nature and still be a part of a vibrant community.



The best part was a picnic in the woods.


And... I'm off again. Back to the Arctic for round 2. Goodbye city, Aloha wild.


On the way up I noticed tremendous snow melt. The Yukon river ice is over half melted. The snow on the low lying mountains is gone. Everything is turning brown and green.






Back up the Atigun Pass going north. No snow on the roads, but still plenty of snow on the slopes. Everyone was talking about how crazy quick the snow has melted this year. Last year there was snow up until the very end of May and I remember it snowing on June 7th of 2011. I wonder how the wildfires will be this year?


Shucks, they took down the community room next to the dining hall and put up more tables. Guess that means there's more people to feed.


Today was fun being back in the kitchen. I tweaked Farmer Phil's recipe from Hawaii of a pineapple eggplant pizza and turned it into a crispy breaded eggplant (crust), lathered with fresh basil pesto, loaded with caramelized tomatoes and onions and mushrooms, topped with feta cheese.


Not sure what time zone my circadian system is tuned into right now... it's either 1 AM or 9 PM, perhaps both. Whichever the case may be, tomorrow is another day...