Hot Crops in a Cold Climate: Tomato Security in Northern BC

Posted by Jolene Swain on January 28, 2021

growing tomatoes in the north hope farm organics

Hope Farm Organics grows vegetables near Willow River, BC, one hour outside of Prince George. The farm operates under a co-operative model, sharing resources, knowledge, skills and tools, to grow a diverse number of crops, foraged wild products and value-added products for the local markets.

Tomato Production in Zone 3

Farming in the North is not for the faint at heart. Late frosts, early frosts, arctic fronts bringing in -30 °C hard freezes – how do they do it?! Many crops (think brassicas, root crops, potatoes, etc) readily adapt to the short, intense northern summer, where long summer days more than make up for the abbreviated season. Unfortunately, long days alone don’t cut it when it comes to heat loving crops like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. With a passion for growing nightshades, Andrew Adams of Hope Farm Organics has not let his claim to fame of farming in one of the coldest, wettest geographical climates (zone 3, class 7), hinder his efforts to produce bountiful tomatoes northeast of Prince George.

Tomatoes, a love story

Building up to a full-on heated high tunnel did not happen overnight. Hope Farm started with small “primitive” tunnels, progressively moving towards Farmers’ Friend caterpillar tunnels, and eventually adding wood heat (and a maybe a little blood sweat and tears). During the long, cool shoulder seasons, heating the caterpillar tunnels meant “carrying arm loads of wood literally every couple hours through the night on snow shoes to keep our tomato babies alive.” You can only do that for so long,” says Andrew. “You’re only young for so many days.” Bringing a baby into the farm family also highlighted the importance of sleep, and taking life a bit slower.

growing tomatoes in the north hope farm organics

From Flintstones to Jetsons

Scaling up to a modern heated greenhouse meant adapting to technology and taking on some risk for this self-proclaimed “Flintstone farmer,” while trying not to flinch at the cost. The project wouldn’t have moved ahead this soon without some financial support from a friend, but the investment of building a tunnel to withstand the northern clime has put the pressure on to “not fail.”

But not to worry – along with a passion for hot loving crops, Andrew is ready for the challenge and knows from research, diligent recording keeping, and experience, that the more control you put on your environmental conditions, the more you get per square foot. “We anticipate flooding the local region with tomatoes and showing the Vancouver region Northern farmers can compete with our Southern neighbours.”

Beyond tomatoes, the greenhouse will also house cucumbers, early greens, transplants and late season crops – meaning nearly year-round availability of fresh, local vegetables in this northern community. The increased production should yield a good return on investment in a region where the demand for tomatoes and fresh, local produce far outweighs current local production.

To hear more about Hope Farm Organics and to follow their food production journey find them online or follow on facebook or instagram