Archive for the ‘Igiugig’ Category

Alaska IS Growing… More of Our Own Food!!

September 17, 2011

Tomatoes grown in Bristol Bay

Gardening or farming in Bristol Bay seems to be taking off again with gusto! If you ask around  you find   almost everyone gardened until relatively recently. Many things point to the high salmon prices of the 80’s as the main mover but sometime, somehow, the desire and then the skill went away.

 Growing your own food has taken off again for a variety of reasons, amongst them high cost  and generally low  quality of produce which has to be shipped in,  coupled with lots of new ideas about how-to-grow from the lower 48 figure prominently.

A variety of projects are assisting the effort from grants to help pay for high tunnels, to a ‘growers school’, to tours and cooking classes. In Dillingham, for the second year, a Gardening Symposium will be held later this week. Everything from canning to helping figure out what ails your plants will be covered.

All summer all over Alaska many have been taking part in Alaska Growers School in variety of ways. From study at your own pace, conference calls , and  webinars people have been learning the basics of gardening from botany to how-to specifics for growing in the various part of Alaska. The first group of students then gathered in Fairbanks for some hands-on skill building. Over 40 of us from 26 different villages, a number in the Bristol Bay area, ended up with a wealth of knowledge backed up by great handouts and links to keep us going.

Ugashik's Community Greenhouse

Some villages, like Igiugig, have community greenhouses and outside garden plots to help residents get into the mood to grow more of their own food. Some residents and villages have those who grow for personal use but some are also looking at supplying near-by lodges with produce.

Learning about venting! This is easy to do in Alaska in early spring!

In touring and talking to a number of participants it’s obvious there is a learning curve. Many community operations are ‘staffed’ by volunteers and a number of issues have arisen, from learning how quickly the houses can warm up in the spring,  easily over 100 degrees as early as May, to the onset of gray mold or botrytis in those with circulation issues.  Hopefully, as these issues have come up, they are identified and solutions have been worked out so the efforts of many can be built upon.

In the past, weeds and the spreading of those darn things, has caused some villagers to give up after a few years of trying but hopefully as more people learn how to deal with these issues they will give producing their own food a try again.

Locally grown strawberries

Everyone should be able to enjoy a fresh bowl of greens, berries or veggies from their backyards if they so desire.


July 22, 2010

Jul 22, 2010

Greenhouses, or, in some instances, ‘high tunnels’, which are the same basic thing without heat, are coming to Bristol Bay!!

In the last two or three years, a number of greenhouses of all sizes have gone up around Bristol Bay. You may have already heard about the new one Igiugig is installing after their last one traveled some distance, and in pieces, in a wind storm.

Egegik, a village between King Salmon and Pilot Point, installed one last year as a community project.

I understand still others are going up as private enterprises in other villages. All of us share the common goal of wanting to produce more of our own food supply for ourselves and others.

In 2009, Ugashik Traditional Village, our local tribal organization, received a grant from the Pebble Foundation to install a community greenhouse. This came as a surprise to me – you can read more about our village and the grants they receive here.

The greenhouse remains today just like it was delivered last summer: packaged up and waiting on the floor of the dock building for someone to assemble it.

Ugashik greenhouse one year later

After asking a number of questions about it in a meeting back in February, I agreed to take on the job of assembling it.

Unfortunately, the particular style purchased, with its hard-sided material, will require some additional reinforcement to help protect it from the high winds we get here several times a year. Currently, the budget doesn’t have enough in it to fly in the needed wood for reinforcement. The only remaining option is to await the arrival the lumber sometime this summer by barge.  Since that coincides with our fishing season, the assembly of this greenhouse will have to wait until the ‘fall’.

It is a shame the villagers must wait another year, making it two after the grant was awarded before the community greenhouse can even be assembled. The chances of it being used before NEXT spring are pretty low. A little preliminary consultation by the tribal office in Anchorage office with the local villagers might have prevented some of this.

What I get more excited about are the other greenhouses or high tunnels now going up in the area. We are working on getting one in Pilot Point. One is going up in Dillingham, and I have heard of another one in the general Bristol Bay area.

Here in Ugashik I will finally, after at least a five-year family discussion, get to have a couple installed. I am going for smaller structures versus one large one for a couple of reasons. Having less air under the structure that must be warmed up in the spring or kept warm in the fall should add some weeks to my growing time. Additionally, although the style and material we chose is supposed to hold up to constant winds of 90+ mph, I don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket with just a single structure when it comes to possible wind damage.

My hope is that we can increase our production of greens, some fruits, and even, in time, maybe some warmer temperature-loving plants to help feed us, our summer crews, and maybe even a few others.

Those of you who are fans of Eliot Coleman, the author of some great Four-Season Harvest books, will recognize my strategy of “a structure in a structure” to help add extra protection.The chances are pretty low that we will get everything done with the new high tunnels before fishing starts in a few short weeks.  Therefore, as in the past, I will continue to plant and hoop our summer garden as usual. If we can get these new tunnels up as soon as fishing season ends, we might be able to do some August planting with production that extends into the late fall.

As the summer progresses, hopefully, we will have the news that we are successful, and news of that success will spread to more villages! I love it when things grow :-)

~ Victoria Briggs

Sustainable Gardening: Village Success Stories

April 5, 2010

Apr 5, 2010

It has been an interesting March and very early start of April. Not sure where the last month went but as it seems we are sliding into the final days of what I always USED to think of as spring, my head it planning for things in the ground. The gardener/farmer never leaves the soul!

The Fairbanks Agriculture conferences were even MORE fantastic, sorry I know that’s not the best use of English!, than it was last year.!!

I then was able to take a little time to head south to the lower 48 to see dashes of spring, much needed and absolutely heaven!! It has been a great way to end the month and start a new one.

What was also nice is I got a chance to defuse some, absorb what all I had seen and learned the previous week, then on top of that, get to do more ‘research’ into another area’s agriculture.

Now to roll all of that into some planned thoughts and hopefully future action.

To see the effort that goes into making agriculture an industry in Alaska is amazing. So many people working to further the residents and businesses of the state getting good fresh products continues to amaze me. Everything from putting together more and better CSA’s to seeing if we can form a statewide organization to serve various needs of the industry is great to see.

We saw so much effort being put into food being grown in places such as Galena, off the road system, Igiugig, a tiny Bristol Bay village, and even rainy places such as Skagway.

Galena shared how they were excited to hear last year that they should be able to get a high tunnel, similar to a greenhouse but without heat, delivered into Alaska at a reasonable cost of $1200. This had happened in other areas in Alaska and this gave them some hope. You see Galena has been on this sustainable food ‘kick’ for a few years already.

They hold a food fair in the late summer, help each other learn new ways to garden and are getting more and more of their own villagers involved each year.

Well it seems that this is the story on the high tunnel….

High tunnel (freight included) to Alaska …..$1200
Highway built so high tunnel can be ‘delivered’ …..$2.3 billion
Desire to have fresh local grown food…..priceless

To say that we ALL laughed and many understood first hand would have been an understatement!

Soooo they dug in and went to work salvaging anything and everything they could to help put up small cold frames and sheltered areas and getting still more people involved. We were shown pictures of 5 gal buckets with potatoes growing in them, windowsills filled with starts of things like tomatoes. This village that is northwest of Anchorage, off the road system, in a growing zone of 2, I believe. The roughly 600 people there are putting a large value on growing as much of their own food as possible. This might mean a bucket of potatoes or a full sized garden, but producing food none the less.

We then heard about Igiugig, in the northern part of Bristol Bay with about 60 people in the winter. This village serves a number of lodges and outside visitors in the summer. They have also been working on becoming sustainable for years in some pretty ground breaking ways.

They have a community food scraps for eggs program. Residents bring food scraps to a central location and in exchange are able to get fresh eggs from a community flock of chickens.

The community had gotten a small grant to help start a greenhouse, acquire some low tech garden machinery and other technical help to assist them in increasing their current food production. The village had been growing things like potatoes as a staple for some time to help subsidize villagers subsistence efforts.

They were able to increase their food growing knowledge, potato production and other needed skills to move forward toward still more sustainability with the help of a visiting extension agent.

Although their first attempt at constructing and running a small greenhouse ended when they got close to a full week or 50+mph winds that blew the structure all over the tundra they have not given up.

They are back at it this year with a structure to withstand the winds better and I believe bigger still. I will be watching to see how they do.

What all the communities have in common is that the effort is happening from the ground up. People want to have a hand more in the furnishing of their own food. Part of it comes from the economics of it but also the increased variety we can get by growing some of our own.

After a packed week I headed to the lower 48 for some R&R. Of course laced with just relaxing I got in a time for a bead and then needlework shop visit.

More importantly a great local neighborhood farmers market, time on the water front browsing vendor booths and peeking in on a cheese making facility. (I laugh at myself each time I get near a cheese making facility. When I was attending university there is NO WAY you would get me into food processing and especially cheese processing. At that time it was dominated by large yucky product producing companies, in my eyes. NOW I would give my eye teeth to have had some experience in cheese making … hopefully in time :-)

To see how the farmer’s markets have progressed from mainly fruits, veggies and flowers to now offering local meats, smoked products, fish products, of course fruits, vegetables and flowers. There are local cheese and candy makers. Even a company that was making jewelry from seeds. All local and mostly organic.

There is hope for villages and our rural areas. I KNOW we can grow and produce at least some of these products.

None of these companies are big, have huge inventories or ship their products far from home. They all spend time trying to improve their products and offer something the customers want.  I do believe it is possible for many areas to offer products to support the variety of different businesses that are in the areas; processing facilities, lodges, guides, restaurants and of course schools. These can help to supplement the local year around markets and provide opportunities for small companies.

It is just a matter of exposure, belief that it is possible and support from all of us. Maybe overly optimistic but I guess that is what keeps me going in bush Alaska.

~ Victoria Briggs