A Wednesday ritual*. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment.
*inspired by a great flower site –floret
The number of households that are keeping poultry has skyrocketed in the last 5 years. You hear all the time about cities changing their zoning and animal laws to allow for small numbers in a ‘backyard’ flock.
Zoning laws are seldom the reason chickens are not raised here in rural Alaska. Three issues affect our ability to raise chickens out here in Western Alaska: Getting the chicks out here alive in the first place, keeping predators at bay, and, of course, keeping them warm enough in the winter.
Most of us bring the chicks in via mail in the spring. You order weeks in advance and try to guess when the temperatures will be mild enough not to kill them off in transit.
It is most important that you keep them at 90+ degrees for the first 3-5 weeks, as they feather out and can then regulate their body temperature.
Yes, heat lamps can help but I have found if the general room temperature is not at least 75 degrees they will just pile up on top of each other, under the heat lamps, to get warm and your losses will be huge.
When you run your household and business off as much as 70% renewable energy, wind in our case, loading on a few 250W heat bulbs or a 1300-1500 W heat lamp the costs start to rise quickly, making the project less sustainable.
This year we decided to try something a little different, starting the process in the fall.
We got chicks the week before Thanksgiving, during one of the few weeks that had negative temperatures. The pilot on the mail plane was kind enough to make sure the box of babies was kept away from drafts, covered with a blanket and in the warmer area of the plane. As things went a couple, originally from Texas, that were on their way out of the area sat next to the box of chicks coming IN from a Texas hatchery!!
They arrived quickly (less than 4 days) from the hatchery which greatly improves the chances of getting them off to a good start.
The first 2-3 days are the toughest so I have found if I keep them in a box or tub in our house, with a heat lamp or two, we can keep the rate of death to almost nothing. One small complication we found this time is that one of our (new at the time) kitties is a very determined hunter. Now the box or tub must have a screen or metal rack of some type over it at all times or we will find the count down and stray feathers showing up here and there.
Into this adventure almost two months now, all seems to be working well. We have found that our brooder, located in an outbuilding that has electricity but not heat, works well down into the single digits for temperature. It is insulated between the concrete floor and bottom of the chicks, has some insulation on the top and sides and a couple of places for lights, heat or otherwise. We did not hook our 1500W infrared heater up this time and have not used the thermostat to turn off one of the heat lamps just yet.
Given our success this time we hope to use this same method through the summer and into the fall to try to raise more meat birds. They are harder to raise than these replacement layers but we are hopeful we can do it and have another source of meat.
There are number of other issues to consider -like figuring out alternative food sources for the frozen times of the year and housing so they can ‘free range’ once they are feathered out.
The possibilities for having local and ‘fresh’ sources of food seem to be possible, just working to figure out the details to make sure they are sustainable too!!
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)
Has it been since July that we last had a new post up? Unbelievable! You can tell most of us just can’t make ourselves sit in front of a computer when so much is happening to share it in as timely of a manner as we would wish.. If we could work out how to clone ourselves for that activity, we are open to suggestions!
Well the weather is getting colder, and the days shorter. Most of us have done the most critical things to prepare for the winter, now we are left with just some of the detail work to be completed.
Over the coming months, as things change pace, but seldom get really ‘slow’, we hope to catch you all up with some of the great things that have been happening across our great state.
Everything from fishery and by-catch issues to our Community Development Quota, CDQ, organizations reviews that are supposed to be coming, we have things to share.
Of the trips taken to learn new things so we can share with those around us. Lots of updates on past discussions are coming.
Village and rural issues that deal with food security, in the widest of views….everything from availability of healthy food to preparing for emergencies. Of course we will have to share the updates on the food we have been growing and the efforts across the state in some of the most far-flung places to grow more of their own food. From swamps to almost rock beds, you will be amazed.
Rural power issues are also on our radar, as well as some of the efforts being done by villages to make their villages sustainable in as many ways as possible.
As you well can tell by the lack of posts, we have not been sitting still or in front of our computers, so get ready!