Canada’s Family Farmers

Tom Rudge, Aurora Mountain Farm, Yukon

Aurora Mountain Farm is located in Yukon’s Takhini River valley.
Photo: archbould.com

Our family operates Aurora Mountain Farm, 35 kilometres northwest of Whitehorse, Yukon, in the Takhini River valley. Started in 2000, our property covers 160 acres, all of which is covered under our organic certification. We have 30 acres in hay crop with alfalfa and meadow brome mix, 30 acres in pasture with 1 acre market garden. The remainder of the property is treed and natural vegetation, which we hope to eventually fence to provide natural habitat for some of the animals we raise.

Each year we import free-range broiler chicks from Quebec and grow them out on pasture using certified organic grain and hay. The certified organic broilers are contained inside moveable pens — chicken tractors — and moved daily to new ground. Our certified organic layers live within a fixed pen and winter inside an insulated chicken coop. Although we utilize fencing and covers for our poultry, due to a wide variety of raptors in the hinterland, we also have four Maremma livestock guardian dogs for those nighttime intruders including foxes, coyotes, wolves, and the occasional bear.

Tom Rudge, Aurora Mountain Farm, Yukon
The Rudges’ broiler chickens are kept in moveable pens, called chicken tractors, that are moved daily to new ground.
Photo: Gwyn Tanner

We raise a few steers each year and keep several cows and a bull year round, including an additional Jersey milk cow. Behind the barn we keep our pigs on pasture and into the winter they help finish off anything remaining on the market garden. The pigs are all heritage breeds — Tamworth, Large English Black, and Berkshires — that do extremely well in our environment with a three-sided shelter and straw for bedding.

Each fall we butcher pigs and steers and sell the meat locally through direct marketing. The customers who buy our broilers are offered the choice of coming to the farm and helping to process the birds and many do. A group of farmers share a trailer full of poultry processing equipment that travels from farm to farm during butchering season, with many volunteers helping to process poultry for the freezer.

Our garden produce is predominantly for our own use, although when we have a good year of moisture, and we can keep the ground squirrels away, we sell any excess at the local Fireweed Community Market or through our Potluck Food Co-op. We have such an incredible customer base that we rarely have any leftovers. Our small herd of Spanish goats provides us with meat and cashmere fibre.

All of the hay that is grown on our farm is baled in small squares and utilized on the farm for our cattle, pigs, goats, and two horses. The goal of our operation is to achieve a self-sustaining unit some day with a zero-balance of inputs and product.

Tom Rudge, Aurora Mountain Farm, Yukon
The Rudges’ goats produce meat and fibre.
Photo: Gwyn Tanner

My wife, Simone, and I operate the farm together and during the summer months our son Graham helps as well. Typical of most family farms these days, Simone also has a full-time off-farm job at the local college. I keep things running and provide the routine on the farm. In years past we’ve had interns and volunteers — wwoofers from World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms — but at the end of the day our capacity relies on what we can do ourselves. Farming isn’t a lucrative business but it certainly provides an excellent quality of life and provides incredible educational opportunities for children and adults alike. All of our customers are welcome to visit our farm and many have helped muck stalls, stack hay, process chickens, or milk the cow.

My wife and I were both born and raised in Alberta in the midst of cattle, grain, and oil fields. Simone was brought up on a farm and I was a city boy who couldn’t wait to get out into the country. Simone graduated from the University of Alberta with a teaching degree and I graduated with a science degree in Agriculture. It wasn’t long after graduation that we both migrated to the north to find wide open spaces and plenty of opportunity. We’ve always been tied to land in some way and to find a place such as Yukon was amazing. I spent many years working different jobs since the agriculture industry in Yukon is very small. Simone worked first as a temporary sessional instructor at Yukon College and later moved into a permanent position. Once our children were of schooling age we tried the school system but felt that they could develop well through homeschooling. After years of looking for land we bought our current piece and began developing what we’ve always dreamed of and involved our children through each piece. Regardless of where their future lies, both our children have a firm connection to the land and the food we produce.

Typical of many family farms, capital available to create what some people consider a modern farm is in short supply. There are no dedicated farm stores or suppliers within the territory. Most operations here are considered very small in Canadian farming terms, with ours at 160 acres being one of the larger ones. The most innovative and productive farming techniques here involve being diversified in production and creating lasting relationships with customers through direct marketing.

Machinery used on most Yukon farms came from somewhere else and was bought used and shipped up. There are a few farms with new machinery but the industry is much smaller than it is in the south. Having a mixed bag of products for our small population works extremely well and accordingly small machinery and access to ideas on innovative farming methods via the Internet has influenced much of how we farm. Seeds, sources of small machinery, and information sharing with like-minded people are now easily accessible online.

Small machinery, like a walk-behind tractor, has been a tremendous benefit to our farm as has the ability to find open-source technology online for plans to build our own skid-steer loader. Keeping in touch with folks in similar situations around the world via a high speed link to the Internet has provided a constant source of new information. More than the basics of farming, being connected has linked us to people from around the world who can speak at a conference or connect through email or a webinar. Most of what we do on our farm doesn’t require much technology or huge sums of money. We use appropriately sized machines along with hand labour in the fields and garden, and share ideas with other similar sized farms around the world.

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