Alaska: Sustainable Gardening Gains Momentum

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Mar 18, 2010

Organic vegetables produced at Jewell Gardens, Skagway, Alaska

How do you capture all the ideas presented in just last two days? Give up and do an overview!!!

I can tell you I have started two posts so far and had to scrap them for later as there is too much information and excitement I want to pass on NOW :-)  I am going to go for a recap of the last two days and hopefully come back and do more in-depth.

First off there are more people here than last year and they had 200 then. I haven’t heard a final count but will find out. Also the presence of farmers, some with 2,000 acres or more, has been a surprise this year.

I am also trying to get more information on all the places in the state that have things happening in agriculture. There were over 27 communities present last year and I am hearing still more this year.

The national speaker, Chris Blanchard from Iowa, brought us up to date on a lot of issues from the lower 48. Things like food safety. Case in point…spinach sales have YET to recoup from the food poisoning recall of 2006 so these things make an impact EVEN if you are not involved directly in the production of the problem product.

He also did a great presentation on time management for farmers that I believe can be transferred to anyone’s life. More than getting more organized it was on choosing priorities and giving yourself permission to say no to more things, at least for this time in your life. Also how to give yourself credit for all the different hats you tend to wear. (we do a lot of that kind of thing in Alaska so it hit home with LOTS of people)

Some type of federal regulation structure for fresh greens and produce will most likely be passed in the near future, with little to no exemption for smaller farmers. IF this goes the way of organic certification it will take a number of years to be fully implemented but it is coming. The FDA and federal government have food safety on the radar now and are being pushed to come up with some guidelines. It is understandable, although I am not sure how much it will really help when you look at how much is produced in the US and how relatively safe it is.

We had a number of presentations on subjects such as Insects That Threaten and Enhance Alaska Agriculture, If You Garden, Think Cabbage Moth/Potato Virus and Bees That Help. We are pretty lucky that we do not have lots of harmful pests, but would benefit from a few more positive ones.

We had a GREAT presentation on a historical garden in Skagway, Jewell Gardens. This is an old homestead from the 1840’s gold rush time that was one of the biggest vegetable producing gardens in the state.

The current owner has used the cruise industry as a way to support her gardening. She does vegetable gardening as much as flowers. One neat thing she brought up was that she planned at least one of her gardens to look like a big flower from the air as a way of bringing attention to her place. Also, each year she gets at least one complaint from the visitors that they did not get to see a HUGE vegetable, like a cabbage, on the tour in MAY!!! She is determined to do that but is not sure how it will ever happen. It does bring to mind how much of a disconnect there STILL is for people about how and where their food comes from!

Meyers Farm, Bethel, Alaska

We got a quick update from Tim Meyers of Bethel, he is the farmer in the coastal village north of us that is producing such things as squash and cucumbers in a growing zone of 4. (Photos)If you are not aware of what that means, it is where temperatures rarely get over the 40s at night, is cloudy and cool most of the time. He let us know that he continues to have great success with converting the tundra into vegetable producing lands.

He brought an article for us to review that shows the food growing regions of the world, and areas that are some of the most productive or fertile, even if they do not produce food. Some of the BEST AND MOST FERTILE LANDS are in the Alaska Peninsula (that is us in Bristol Bay) and the Bethel area!! This is in a National Geographic, September 2008 issue!! His comment, of which I have to agree, is ‘what are we waiting for?” It was brought up later that the entire organic movement was pretty much taught farmer to farmer. It sure looks like this is needed to help get food production going again in Alaska.

Unfortunately there was no presentation on goats, thus nothing on cheese and milk products, although they were discussed in another context.

Our neighbor to the north, Igiugig Village, gave a presentation on how their first small greenhouse constructions went, until a major wind blow 50+ mph hours in July. They were left with it in shambles and a few beans surviving.

They currently do a community table scrap to egg program (Editor’s note:??) that might turn into a business someday, also a community potato growing program.

They will put in a new, bigger greenhouse this coming year – not sure what all they will do as a precaution against the wind but as the tribal president said, sometimes baby steps are better when you are just learning.

We learned of a new community grocery, featuring only AK grown products, that has just opened in Fairbanks.

There were a couple of presentations of programs that provide resources so that farmers, researchers and support people can work together to exchange ideas and methods of research. Some funding is available for these projects but must undergo a pretty tough examination program.

Composting, grant writing and more food security finished up the day. Lots of subjects, presented in a quick, efficient and interesting program.

LOTS of energy and excitement that carried into the dinner featured upstairs.

Oh yes, fun things! I noticed some differences between fishermen and farmers; farmers tend to wear jeans, fishermen Carharts; lots of women are doing knitting and crocheting today, more real young kids are present,  and LOTS more food at farmer events, much more coffee for fishermen :-)  Biggest thing, everyone here also gets excited over new ‘toys’. A tractor dealer brought a ‘sample’, we all flocked around it :-)

~ Victoria Briggs

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13 Responses to “Alaska: Sustainable Gardening Gains Momentum”

  1. elsie09 Says:

    Vic, I love your report here about what you are experiencing and learning at the conference. It makes me want to be there, too.

    Hmmm…I feel like this is just the beginning for you. Where will be in your dreams of gardening in the next 5 years…it seems to me you are gathering the information, the contacts, the support system and the basics for making some exciting things happen in your little corner of the world. With your educational background in ag science, and marketing, and your great desire to have a garden, who knows where the future will lead you? This is just so darn exciting! I look forward to more reports from you as you continue with your meetings and seminars this week.

  2. anonymousbloggers Says:

    Good job adding the credentials!

  3. GreatGranny2C Says:

    My goodness, my head is swimming! If this is just a small recap of all that you were exposed to in these last few days, I can’t imagine how jam-packed your head must be with info. It all sounds so promising Vic – not just the ideas and processes, but if others have come away with the excitement and positive attitude that we are getting from you, then there is a great future for home-grown in Alaska.

    Ah…..the dreaded cabbage moth! I pray you don’t ever have that problem. My daughter kept telling me about the prettiest little white butterflies around her garden all summer, yet couldn’t understand why certain crops weren’t doing well. As I don’t get out and around much, I hadn’t been over to see her gardent. I gave her one of my books on crop problems and garden pests…..that’s when she discovered her butterflies were the cabbage moths. I think she’ll be more aware this season and not lose so much of her produce.

    I look forward to reading the next installment!

  4. alaskapi Says:

    Holy moley!
    What a huge pile of information crammed into a couple days!
    Looking forward to sorting-it-all-out posts in coming days !
    :-)

  5. thatcrowwoman Says:

    How exciting and inspiring. Spring is just around the corner!
    Thank you for sharing with us.

  6. UgaVic Says:

    IT HAS been filled with excitement, ideas and energy. I have been lucky enough to spend the evenings with a number of people as things have spilled over into dinners and after seminar talks.

    Everyone is ‘pumped’ and exhausted. Seeing so many young people, mixed with those who have more experience is great to see.

    Note …table scraps to eggs is….villagers bring their table scarps to a village flock of chickens and then come get eggs when they need them. I don’t know all the details but it seems to be working well and keeps the villagers in at least basic needs.

    The also run a community ‘food bank’ where some of the community efforts in gardening go into this avenue to help those who are more in need.

  7. Martha Unalaska Yard Sign Says:

    Whoa, I ditto GreatGranny2C with my head spinning. Fantastic Vic – how do you soak it all in? You are an endless well of ideas and information which is so very cool. Have fun! Keep writing!

  8. Jim Says:

    I have some unused seeds– the seedlings are up so I probably won’t need to use the remaining seeds. Would anyone like unused seeds? (tomatoes, herbs, peppers, eggplants; later I’ll have lettuce seeds and other greens).

    It may already be too late for tomatoes and peppers unless you are using poly tunnels or greenhouses, but for future reference I could share seeds next year too.

    I selected varieties that have worked in warm spots outdoors in Anchorage (unless the summer is cool). I also ordered some shallot bulbs and I could send out a few of them after they arrive, although I’ll probably hog most of those.

  9. Jim Says:

    GreatGranny:

    We call our Alaska cabbage moth variety “moose moth”. They are uniquely wingless and their mouths are bigger than your average moths– their bites are about 8 inches in diameter. I use an insecticide called 8-foot-tall reinforced fence. Haven’t found anything else that works– haven’t taught our nocturnal family member (the cat) how to blast moose with 12-gauge rubber bullets at three in the morning, and I can’t stay awake that long. So I’ve had to resort to fences instead.

  10. alaskapi Says:

    ” I also ordered some shallot bulbs and I could send out a few of them after they arrive, although I’ll probably hog most of those. ”
    ———————————
    Jim-
    It’s called “utilizing” , not “hogging” …
    :-)

  11. UgaVic Says:

    Just got back to the village mid week so am slowly getting back into things.
    Jim…I was thinking long and hard on the “moose moth” and FINALLY it dawned, guess the brain is still NOT back up to speed :-)
    If we would be so bothered by those moose moth our villagers would be thrilled :-)
    If you still have extra seeds, even the tomato and pepper send them this way. I am getting my starts going this weekend and will be sharing with people in PIP. All of us will be using tunnels and hoops, for sure.
    There should be a couple of posts to get done and share things ASAP.
    An update on the Ugashik greenhouse.
    Some news on the local effort to get high tunnels going in the bay and a few other things coming.
    Thanks for all the support and interest… it is a motivator!

  12. Jim Says:

    Victoria:

    I’ll get some seeds in the mail. I haven’t received the shallots yet. Let me know if anything works out o.k. for you.

    We had one yearling “moose moth” in the neighborhood eating young trees and bushes. I had to walk around another while hiking this morning at Kincaid Park. We’re perpetually infested. They like urban areas– not as many grizzlies. People are easier to trample.

  13. Jim Says:

    By the way; you can just picture the Cat trying to take out over-sized-cabbage-eating moths at 3 a.m. with a 12-gauge. (I’d buy a ticket to see that). For some reason this reminds me of the classic film “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.”

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