In My Alaska Garden: Eating Locally
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.