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September 16, 2014

In My Alaska Garden: Eating Locally

Web of a Banded Garden Spider on an Asiatic Lily

There is no getting around it…Southcentral Alaska’s flora of both the edible and decorative variety is late this summer. My lilacs, though lovely this year, were about three weeks to a month later than usual. Many other folks made the same comment about the famous Anchorage downtown lilacs as well as the beautiful blooming apple and crabapple trees. Today, I received an interesting report. My friends went to their favorite Salmonberry-picking spot this weekend, the same time they do every year. (I cannot reveal the location upon threat of murder.) They were dismayed to discover that the plants are just starting to flower. This could be a little concerning for the bears if we end up getting an early snow/frost.

Wait…pretend I never said that…about the white stuff…(throwing salt over my shoulder)…

The same late growth has been true for our local Alaska farmers and gardeners. The cool weather slowed the development of many food crops. At last, today many of the veggies were in view at the South Anchorage Market:

What was also in view was a new booth that will enable folks to use debit, credit and Quest cards to purchase their local produce and other food products.

South Anchorage Farmer’s Market currency exchange booth

Over the last several years, there has been a push to not only get an increasing number of Farmer’s Markets established in Alaska, but also to find as many opportunities as possible for more Alaska families to access local foods.

That push has been helped in no small way by First Lady Michelle Obama’s focus on obesity-prevention and home agriculture programs. This influence is seen in the Northwest Arctic School District, which won recognition by offering a fruit and vegetable bar for their school lunches beginning in January 2012.

With these priorities has come grant money for states to encourage local food production and greater food access…like accepting Quest cards at farmer’s markets. Other programs like “Farm to School” are working towards getting healthy local products into as many Alaska school cafeterias as possible. These are important not just for the better health of Alaskans, but from an agricultural market standpoint as well.

Baby beans have a visitor

It’s also important to increase the food supply to Alaskans experiencing dwindling food security.

Due to salmon closures along the Kuskokwim River, some of the most impoverished Rural Alaskans are forced to depend on storebought food that is frequently out of their reach financially, with $10.00 for 2 liters of milk and $7.00 for a loaf of bread. Even more concerning, a drought across the US that is effecting approximately 88% of the corn crop. The Dept. of Agriculture predicts that should drive up food costs about 4 to 5% for average Americans next year.

Alaskans are never treated like “average Americans” — especially those Alaskans living in the rural areas. There is no reason to believe that Alaskans won’t be charged outrageous increases for food and other products while the explanation will remain “transportation costs.” (even in the midst of falling gas prices) Alaska is especially vulnerable to outside food shortages as we import 95% of our food.

Baby (still yellow) strawberries

It’s one reason why I’ve taken such an interest in all aspects of growing and eating locally.

This drought is a sobering reminder of just how vulnerable we are to events far away and completely out of our control. It’s also a reminder of why I was so excited to meet and hear Tim Meyers at the Spring Gardening Conference this year and learn about his hugely successful farm in Bethel. Thanks to his ground-breaking season-extending and storage techniques, he is providing the local community with fresh vegetables just about year=round.

Tim Meyers shows that he can grow enough for his community of Bethel (courtesy of KSKA)

The Meyers took it upon themselves to learn what was required to become a steady food source in Alaska. As we can see once again this month, sometimes that is the only way to get things accomplished. Mountain View;s determination to have a Community Garden stands as an example on how to get things done when the red tape brings it all to a standstill.

The Quest card acceptance is good news for Alaskan families. The fact that Bragaw has a new Community Garden is good news for 40 families who will be able to eat healthier. I hope that by building my own hoop house and writing about it, I encourage others to take control of their own food destiny.

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7 Responses to “In My Alaska Garden: Eating Locally”
  1. leenie17 says:

    Tomorrow morning I’m heading outside to put up the new veggie garden fence that I bought yesterday. The bunnies and/or woodchucks have really been enjoying the vegetables they apparently believe I grew just for them. I had a low fence around the veggie bed already, but clearly the fuzzy gluttons have been taking inspiration from the Olympic high jumpers and are regularly hurdling the wires with room to spare. The new fence is more than twice the height so I MIGHT get some produce out of the garden after all.

    While I don’t mind sharing the rest of my garden with them (and there is plenty to share), I do draw the line at them eating ALL my veggies! The only things they seem to not eat are my one zucchini plant and the basil.

    Furry marauders!!! :(

    • mike from iowa says:

      Send your furry varmints to mike from iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They can wander about the farm looking for a field of dreams whilst I’ll be fixin’ to show them heaven by way of heavy metal they can’t digest. Got to admit,I is a mite short on groundhogs and raggits. Need some new blood ,so to speak.Like my business card would say-”You got ‘em,I’ll swat ‘em” Not exactly Tippecanoe or Tyler too-but it gives you a better idea where I stand.

  2. Zyxomma says:

    I’m guessing that Quest cards are the Alaskan equivalent of EBT cards here (works like a debit card for SNAP). So, you had a late bloom. The lilacs in NYC were three weeks to a month early. Food security is a major issue for all. If you’re a gardener, save your seeds. You can exchange them with others and increase the variety of foods you grow. Health and peace.

  3. mike from iowa says:

    Not even August yet and my gardening is nearly over for the year. Still waiting on sweetcorn,for some reason the deer and coons have left it alone. I also have some late gourds-apple and birdhouse-that are running,but,have no blooms,yet. Still have plenty spuds to dig. Dug one Yukon Gold and took it to my ex-MIL. Had nine good size taters and she eats so little these should last her a couple weeks. We got six tenths of an inch wet stuff on Saturday(it does even out) and it is 95 today.I also have about six little tomatoes on three plants. No one has decent soze tomatoes in this heat. Landlord will soon be hauling cow stuff and fresh dirt for me to spread in my garden spot. Onions are small.plentiful.delicious and all mine. Can’t wait for next year. Chow,and I mean that literally!

  4. Alaska Pi says:

    Linda-
    Excellent job! There are so many facets as to what constitutes food security and you’ve drawn almost all of them together here.
    I get nervous sometimes thinking how fragile our food web really is, how vulnerable it is on so many levels.
    Having scrounged up some historical references and photos , I see early settlers grew massive quantities of cool weather crops here which gave way to “modern” ways of shipping in food rather than producing it.
    Combined with the local foods so well known and harvested by our Tlingit neighbors for so long, I think we can do a lot better meeting our food needs than we do. Lots of work ahead!

    Various places far from Southcentral are working on ways to beat part of the problems associated with shipping in fresh foods. This is one of the ones I watch.
    Hasn’t been updated for a bit and hope to hear how this year’s work has gone soon.
    http://www.igiugig.com/tribal-government/igiugig-local-foods-program/greenhouse-news/54-kvichak-produce

  5. merrycricket says:

    I saw a list on Facebook this morning of GMO vegetables that are now commonly sold in grocery stores and a list if products that contain GMOs. On the list was baby food. BABY FOOD! There are people unknowingly feeding their babies that junk. Growing local, buying local those are important issues yes, but so is protecting our food source and that is what you are also doing.

    I have come to the conclusion that my rden soil needs a major compost goose. I rented a plot in the local community garden and everything I planted there is doing much better than in my own yard. If I get this job, my first paycheck is going to the garden center.

    • Alaska Pi says:

      Can you do a worm compost box there? And use all your waste garden material ?
      Too cold much of the year here for an outdoor one and too many bears the rest of the year but have an indoor one in which the lil boogers churn their way through kitchen and garden greens waste at an amazing rate.
      Garden sure likes the “proceeds” too! :-)

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