Creating Jobs in Rural Alaska: Feeding the Crew

by

Aug 8, 2009

Victoria and Roland Briggs operate Ugashik Wild Salmon Company, a small fish processing plant started by Rollie’s mother in 1961. Ann and Segundo have been working there this summer and  Vic and Ann have been sharing glimpses of commercial fishing in Ugashik.

The Briggs employ a small crew each summer, one of the few employment opportunities in the area. It’s not easy.

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As we hit the mid point in our summer fishing season, with the heaviest part of the actual fishing behind us my thoughts turn to getting ready for winter.

You see, for those who are used to a real spring, summer and fall, we pretty much have only two real season, as far as I am concerned, in our part of Alaska, frozen and not frozen.

Since ground can stay frozen into July and then can enter a phase of at least freezing the top 6” or so in October you have to think ahead.

Also in these plans for the winter comes getting in groceries that can easily freeze when mailed in. We are lucky in that we keep a ‘warm room’ in our warehouse where we pack our glassed salmon all winter for customers. It has a little extra room that we have made into a storage area for such things as food, latex paint and other items that do better not freezing. We are lucky in that we have the room to stock ahead some. Not the whole winter but at least some.

My tiny village and the one next to us, Pilot Point, do not have even a basic grocery store, although Pilot Point did at one time years ago and talk of trying to do one again.

We do have two small grocery stores in the hub town 70+ miles away we can get things in from BUT they have been written up as being one of the most expensive in the US!

Last I heard, in April of this year at a meeting, we have an average cost of 300+% of the costs of Anchorage, for basics of food and fuel, in our area of Western Alaska!!

With all that in mind I try to think ahead and get at least basic groceries stocked up some while we are running planes back and forth to ship out our fresh fish in the summer. IF we watch our costs right we can sometimes get supplies in almost as cheap as mailing them but much faster and without the risk of freezing.

As Ann and I had some basic food supplies to start the summer we had time to do a little planning for what was needed to get us going for when our crew got bigger and meals became an event in need of planning, not just rifling through the cupboard when hunger pains drove us there.

Out came the Costco “Special Orders” catalog or as we view these – BUSH ORDERS.

Each of us did a ‘wish list’ then plugged in the food needed to accomplish the menu plan Ann had developed THEN the CHOPPING of items started!!

(I don’t care who you are doing a $10,000 food shopping spree scares you, so you CHOP, even if you have to come back later and order more.)

Of course we could have saved part of this by not doing the ‘wish list’ part but everyone needs a chance to ‘window shop’!

After determining what we MUST have and then what it is still fairly necessary we go through one more time to chop items that just don’t make sense in MY book. For many it would be different but things like soda, most quick bake/cook, and lots of ‘snack foods get dropped.

When I look at the cost of the items that it is not usually what stops me but the cost of the freight to get them in. Of course it also gets to be nuts when it takes 5 boxed pizzas to feed the crew and at $15-$20 each by the time they get here you look at skipping them.

I do not care how many times I do this the costs still are hard to get used to. When it stretches in the thousands and you know it will only be enough for a month or so you think hard on each item.

We finally get our Costco order done and faxed in – all five sheets of it and hope they have most of it in stock.

Making sure airline knows it is coming. That the frozen and refrigerated stuff gets stored properly and ultimately hoping it all gets to us in one piece.

Crew is excited as it means fresh salads, fruit, veggies and more variety. They also have any ‘goodies’ they wanted added to the order coming.

The plane arrives and it is hurry up to unload the plane so fish can be loaded before they get too warm and the plane leaves. No matter what,  fish come first as we only get a few WEEKS for this income to be earned!

It takes Ann, Gundo, my hubby and I two days to get stuff sorted, stored and put away.

When I read people’s comments about how families should just order their year’s supply of food ahead and plan better when we started the Food Drive this past year, I just shake my head. (Thinking of Nick Tucker’s family with around a dozen people!) Yes, we do some subsistence food gathering too.

It took Ann and I all of this to get less than a month’s worth of food and people expected others to do this for a year? I truly wonder how many could do this for their family and not have to run to the grocery for a whole month, let alone a year.

Gets me thinking!

~Victoria

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8 Responses to “Creating Jobs in Rural Alaska: Feeding the Crew”

  1. Jim Says:

    Victoria: I like to go to the grocery store every day or two. On the opposite end there are extremely remote places like Grise Fiord on Ellesmere Island or McMurdow Station in Antarctica where it is difficult or impossible to get resupplied often. I’ve wondered how they estimate an entire year’s need.

    Canada has their sealifts. Ironically one of them goes from B.C. right past Alaska through the Bering Strait to Northwest Territories and western Nunavut:

    http://www.cbc.ca/canada/north/story/2009/04/20/ntcl-route.html

    I was at Pangnirtung on Baffin Island one time when sealift arrived there. Cracked me up– most folks at Pang speak inuktitut and some speak english, but not a soul spoke french. An icebreaker full of french speaking guys showed up and unloaded stuff but no one could understand what they were saying. There was a lot of grunting and gesturing.

    Sealift is so important, it happens only once a year, and they literally have all their eggs in one basket. I don’t know how they do it– how they estimate what they need. I imagine the Canadian government may have provided special financing so people may afford to purchase supplies for the upcoming year. And of course they provided the icebreaker and the french speaking guys.

  2. Michigander Says:

    Vic, thanks for sharing this. It opens peoples eyes to how much planning and work is involved in your daily lives.

    This is off topic but Jane said below ‘pool money to send a delegation to Bethel’ for the rural tour Aug 12. I haven’t heard anything since so hoped for an update.

    You are lucky to have this opportunity – surely someone is going?

  3. Martha Unalaska Yard Sign Says:

    @ Michigander

    Ann is checking with Nick Tucker to see if he is going, or knows who will be able to speak at least for Emmonak. We had hoped that Ann could go, but the cost of leaving Ugashik to get to Bethel, and the time required away from her duties, would be a hardship even with generous donations.

  4. Jane Says:

    Michigander-

    We don’t have any formal drive to send anybody. I just meant that, if you can go to or send somebody to one or the other, go with the Feds.

    Jane

  5. Martha Unalaska Yard Sign Says:

    Sorry, I hit enter too soon – the posted price for RT airfare is around $900 from Ugashik to Bethel. And I thought getting out of Alaska to Seattle was bad!

  6. Martha Unalaska Yard Sign Says:

    I loved this – it really gets one to thinking about how everything you do requires planning and risk.

    I’m so glad you provided the link to the Ugashik Wild Salmon Company. The description makes my mouth water and I will be ordering some salmon via the website!

  7. Kath the Scrappy Says:

    Sounds like Ann & Segundo have turned into some serious help for your company. Nice, having the friendship & all, but this sounds like it turned into a Win Win all the way around. Best wishes, don’t think I could do it.

    Are they able to smoke any fish to take back to cover themselves over the winter?

  8. UgaVic Says:

    We are working getting some fish dried and smoked so Ann and Segundo can take some home with them.

    The summer I believe has turned out well so far for both and I believe has given all of us ideas of how to build on this to help our communites and families in the future.

    It DOES take planning and work to live in the bush, something that STILL surprises me at times.

    For others to think that they can just tell a family to ‘plan better’ is one of the biggest surprises to me. MOST everyone who I have seen come out here to live has such a learning curve, myself included, that it takes YEARS to be comfortable with what you are doing to take care of yourself.

    Ann, Segundo, my hubby and I are always talking about what was done in the past to survive. How it has changed, what ALL of us have lost, what all others went through.

    It is a learning experience that keeps growing.

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