For those of you who have followed our efforts to address rural issues from the very beginning, you might remember the majority of us hoped we would be able to make a difference, not only in the short-term, but to help find some answers for the long-term, at least on some issues.
Sponsoring a food drive for the hungry year after year was not something we wanted to do. Although it was greatly needed and did help a number of families, and ALL of us will forever be thankful, we did not feel that being just another group with some form of a handout was what was wanted OR needed.
We feel the great majority of people in these great United States prefer to earn their own way and to be as self-sufficient as they possibly can be. This might be contrary to the stereotype, but we have seen it too many times to believe the opposite.
(picture above is of a farmer field in Fairbanks. Amazing bounty and variety)
On that note it has been fantastic to see the food ‘movement’ from the lower 48 and around the world start to reach all the way up here and into the Arctic. A great variety of organizations and individuals have devoted a lot of time and energy to reach out, teach, encourage, offer forums, and other methods to spur all of the activity we have seen in the last 2-3 years towards growing at least a portion of our own food in the state.
Alaska has always had a great dedicated group of people of all types here that make their living by farming. What has been so rewarding in recent times to see their continued interest and support in helping others learn the skills needed to grow food.
Through their industrious efforts they have formed the Alaska Community Agriculture Association which has the following as a mission:
The Alaska Community Agriculture Association is an organization of Alaskans growing crops and livestock for direct sale to the public. Its members are committed to promoting, supporting, and working towards healthy, sustainable local food systems. We want to encourage agricultural practices that benefit our environment, our communities, and our customers.
This offers both new, and established farmers, an organization to work together to gain wider markets, much-needed research, and a variety of other needs. This in turn makes available even more options for healthy, fresh, local foods.
Other efforts have brought about such things as the establishment of the Alaska Grower’s School, which focuses on rural Native, specifically Tanana, residents. However, it is open to all on a space-available basis. Classes are offered via a number of methods, from the Internet and conference calls to guest speakers and even study at your own pace, to help everyone from thevery beginner who wants to farm or garden to out-of-date farmers re-entering the industry. They do this over a course of 22 lessons, sharing great ideas and resources. All this is capped off, for those who complete the beginning, advanced class work and an essay, with a full week of hand-ons on a working farm in Fairbanks. You can follow them on Facebook if you are inclined.
There is now a strong Farm to School program in the State of Alaska. It is not as fully functional as some other states’ programs but it is still just a few years old. The program brings local farm products to our local schools across the state.
This helps our farmers or ‘producers’, (those who do grow food but do not feel they are a ‘regular’ farmer) and our kids. The schoolchildren are introduced to products, often grown near their homes which they might otherwise be unfamiliar with. The taste difference is noticeable and the kids are ‘getting’ that message.
This program is part of a larger national program and an important avenue to increase the nutritional value of the meals our kids get at school, for many the only well-balanced meal of the day.
It strengthens our economy not only on the statewide level but also in our more rural areas. As this effort grows many of us believe you will see foods being supplied from closer and closer sources to all of our schools. Opening up lands not typically thought of as ones suitable to grow foods, makes our state more sustainable but also helps the local villages and their boroughs.
(picture above, Bristol Bay Wild Salmon, huffington post supplied)
On the heels of the Farm to School program Alaska has now started a Fish to School program. This first began in a couple of different school districts back in 2009/2010 and has spread to more villages along our western coast line. Getting our local fish and seafood into the school lunch program is still another way of helping our kids get better meals while also supporting the local businesses.
To help facilitate all of this Alaska also now has a Food Policy Council to assist with the growth of a sustainable food system in Alaska. The council first began working together a couple of years ago to evaluate the present food ‘system’ in Alaska and how they might facilitate the growth and strengthening of it so as to assure ALL Alaskan’s access to healthy, affordable, and local foods.
This is an exciting time to share with you what we are learning and the impact the food movement is beginning to make in our state. (the work the council is doing can take up a number of posts on it own. We will fill you in on some of the happenings in the coming months)