Archive for the ‘Sustainable gardening’ Category

Things Have Been A’growing

October 26, 2012

Fresh tomatoes this summer at a Farmer’s Market

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)

Spring? It Should Be!!

March 20, 2012

Frozen rivers still abound!

On this first official day of spring it is still a little hard to feel it will be here in a few short weeks no matter what it might look and feel like now. 
While much of the lower 48 has had a much warmer than ‘normal’ winter and probably that trend will go into the spring, Alaska has not. Many places have shattered records for snowfall and cold temperatures and we have not been released from the grips of winter just yet, despite the calendar.  

Somewhere under all that snow is a wood deck, 25' high bank, and river!

Those of us who garden, and farm, have been telling each other ‘it will be OK’, spring will come and thus we keep up with our plans and activities. Seed catalogs that have pored over for at least weeks, if not months, now are yielding orders for the chosen seeds. Seed mats and flats are out and being put to work. If there is a grow lamp it is being hung up again and plugged in.
There is much discussion about how deep the frost level might be, given the mild fall, snowfall and THEN deep freeze with still more snowfall. Many old timers are thinking the ground is not frozen very deep and once the thaw starts it will move fast. Flooding might also be a concern for some areas.
Garden plans are coming closer to finalization and those with high tunnels and greenhouses are making sure they are cleaned up and ready to accept the seeds and starts once they warm up more.  
The bug to support those producing local food and/or to grow more of your own seems to have hit Alaska full force in the past few years. Whereas much of the lower 48 has been experiencing this movement for somewhat longer, it is something that has still not reached its full power here in Alaska.  
For many it seems impossible that such a cold, many times inhospitable place when it comes to growing conditions, could also be able to give us variety and great locally great food. It is not just the cold, but in many places the wind and soil that is less than perfect that has kept many from feeling anything of much value could be produced.  
The Interior region of Alaska has had a reputation for years due to its jumbo cabbages and other extra-large produce but the variety has always been questioned. Other areas of Alaska have never developed a reputation for growing much of anything but that is changing. 
Tim Meyers of Bethel,  whom we first wrote about in 2009 after attending the Alaska Sustainable Agriculture Conference, has helped bring attention to that area of the state. Dillingham has now run an ever growing gardening set of workshops to the growing movement there. Sitka is ahead of most villages and cities for its holistic view to growing local. It is making it a city-wide effort that hopefully more cities will follow.  
In our backyard here on the Alaska Peninsula we are moving forward with plans to build on the last few yeas of lessons learned. We will putting more land into production, expanding the varieties we grow and hopefully increasing the volume of food we can actually produce.
Hopefully this year we will actually have time, the space and means to raise some turkeys. Some plans for the a future orchard will be explored. We hopefully can add some additional types of fruit to the mix and mostly show still more people what all we in Alaska can accomplish.

Too Early For Spring Fever…

February 20, 2012

It’s been a wild winter for much of Alaska. Extreme cold, oodles of snow, warm interludes, high winds – lots of normal winter type weather, only squared or tripled.

The latest warm spell in my area has pushed me right past cabin fever into spring fever.

To quiet it some, I’ve been looking at garden notes from last year. My notes always start out great and as the season wears on get more and more scant and peppered with remarks and abbreviations I can’t understand this far away from events.  “NO!” scribbled on empty seed packets usually means whatever it was was not a success , but who knows what “ftt” or “snf” or “fgqh” mean now?! Once again, I’m promising myself I’ll make a list of terms and abbreviations… sigh… and know that I’ll probably forget by July.

The one section of notes which is easy to understand is “Potatoes”.

I tried something different last year and it was so successful I’m doing it again.

7 Ways to Plant Potatoes article I found outlined a number of methods and the author’s notes about what did and didn’t work and their notions of whys and hows of each result.

My criteria for choosing the wire cylinder method included suited-to-my-climate, cost in dollars and hours of work, and space needed in an already overcrowded garden.

Suited to my climate:

I wanted a method which drains well.

Southeast Alaska is just plain tough in a lot of ways. Summers are cool and wet and cloudy for the most part.

The last half of April, and May and June tend to be the driest months here. July and August are wet, averaging 4.5+ and 6.0+ inches respectively, but often exceeding those averages, in recent years, by as much as triple rainfall amounts. Gardens which start beautifully early on can simply melt or rot by late July or early August.

Native soils don’t help much with the rot thingy in many parts of my area as we are, in many places, mostly glacial till or flour (powdered rock dust) left behind by retreating glaciers. It packs almost as tight as clay soils do if it is not amended heavily.

I wanted a method which didn’t cost much to put in place and didn’t take a lot of time to manage through the growing season.

I wanted a method which would make maximum use of space as I’ve stuffed the small area I have very full but am always looking to expand what I can grow.

Potatoes do ok here in containers but most are expensive. After the last of the barrel type I used for years bit the dust I liked the inexpensive hardware cloth and zip-tie container idea!

My cylinders were almost 30 inches in diameter, much more than the 18 inches the article author made. I put leftover pieces of weed cloth in the bottom in anticipation of what heavy late summer rains might do in terms of washout in my larger cylinder. Given we had 12.91 inches in August, 15.06 inches in September, and 12.63 inches in October, I’m glad I did and will do so again!

The sticks are to keep curious ravens out – they sometimes dig around in or dig up fresh plantings. I’m not sure what is going on in their birdly brains when they do that but I try to discourage them, whatever it is that they are doing.

I used peat to fill up around the plants as they grew as it is readily available here.

This ended up being an almost no-maintenance way to grow spuds for me. The darn plants got to be almost 5 feet tall and worried me some that too much energy was going to above ground greens.

Harvest? Just yank the cylinder off!

The yield in the end was very high and very good quality so I guess they were just happy spud plants in all ways!

For Alaskan gardeners, here’s a list of certified seed potato sources here in Alaska, along with a list of all the mouth-watering varieties available. If I have to have spring fever, you do too!! 

My order is ready to go. Yours?

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.

Mapping Out, Beforehand, Where You Want To Go!

March 24, 2011

Spring sunrise over the tundra

After weeks of almost totally clear sunny weather, although cold temperatures, we are into rain, wind, and clouds. Where it seems parts of the lower 48 are having a winter that doesn’t seem to want to stop, some of us here in Alaska are thinking we never really got a ‘normal’ winter.

All I see, besides a glorious mountain range covered in snow, is brown landscape and a few drifts of snow left from earlier this year. Our river is still frozen enough to travel on, as are most ponds and lakes. The ground is still mostly frozen although on warm days the top inch or so of soil turns to mud.

Despite all this cold we are seriously facing spring and it is approaching FAST!!

Around the first of March we installed some basic temperature monitors in one of the high tunnels, similar to a greenhouse but in our case without added heat or light. We wanted to start monitoring the soil and air temperatures now that the days are over ten hours of daylight.  We put one sensor  about 4” into the soil, having hit at least somewhat of a frost level at that point.

The second sensor was hung just over our heads. We also have a full weather station which gives us the normal weather information so we can match outside with inside of the structure.

Since moving to this area of Alaska a little less than 10 years ago the farmer/gardener in me has wanted, or maybe by this age it is actually a ‘need’ having lived with this frame of mind so long, to gather useful information on frost dates, weather patterns and soil makeup. Much of what has been learned so far has been with the use of low ‘hooped’ beds and making a fair amount of missteps.

hooped for insects

Having the three separate high tunnel structures this year to work with means there is a lot to get planned out and working in short order. Usually by the middle of June all things ‘fishing’ have to take center stage. Being organized and ahead of schedule will be paramount to having things be successful, at least in my mind. (I am not going to discuss how it would be heaven to have a ‘wife’ about that time of year just to keep the day-to-day things running smoothly)

We set up the structures where we had gardened in the past, just expanding the area. The tunnels and the surrounding area get full sunshine, even in the winter. It is also pretty much sheltered from strong winds. This is a huge plus in our area.

Two other houses waiting for covering to go up

Observing the monitors these past few weeks we have seen a slow but steady rise in the ground temperatures. About a week ago we saw the ground temperature pop above 40 degree, while days were still hovering in the 20’s & 30’s, and stay there well into the evening. The last few days the ground is staying in the high 30’s overnight when the temps, even inside the tunnels, drop into the low 30’s.

The greens I planted last fall, much too late I thought, have now sprouted. Rhubarb is showing through the dark soil. Spring is pushing itself forward.

Fall seeded greens strating to sprout

Rhubarb peaking through this spring.

Most of the tomato starts are up and we are awaiting the first ‘true’ leaves to show up, signaling the need to transplanted into the next sized pots. Peppers are slow to sprout this year. The first tray of cabbage and cauliflower starts has become a casualty. The kitty thought all the nice warm peat mixture needed to be aerated.  He did not mess in it but did stir it up good enough to make a mess on the floor and get nice rich peat smell all in his coat!

Trouble watching the seed prepping activities!

Now to make all the plans are mapped out, supplies are on their way, and a schedule is mapped out! Hopefully all of this will lead to some success this summer.

Cabin Fever, Decisions and “What if..?”

February 18, 2011

February snows continue!

Feb 18, 2011

Although there is snow on the ground in most places in Alaska, as there also seems to be in many places throughout the US, many of us are thinking of spring.

The fishing gear flyers, seed catalogs, and the never ending paperwork for a fish oriented business are arriving with each load of mail.

We struggle between all these items pulling us into the spring and the desire to go ice fishing, planning for winter carnivals, and in some villages, potlatches.

The first forecasts for summer fish runs are out in many areas causing fishermen to pour over them for what is expected, the age/size of the fish they calling for. This information is used to order the fishing nets. Those fishermen who are targeting certain sized fish use this to order certain sized nets. Despite what many might think there is a fair amount of knowledge that goes into being a successful fisherman.

Any decisions about whether you want to order baby chicks, baby turkeys or maybe a piglet need to be made in the next few weeks unless you want to be raising SUMMER or fall animals!  Each spring this household goes through the ‘should we?’ and ‘if we ….’ until our brains are exhausted. Should we finally decide to try raising a few turkeys? (I have to say THIS might well be the year for that  “What if…” to finally happen!) If we do, where or how do we mix that with our current flock or any other baby chicks we decide to do?

Recently a state newsletter on agriculture issues came out. In it was the news that ‘hundreds’ of high tunnels are going up in Alaska under the new USDA program. This is so encouraging. Maybe Alaska can slowly get healthier and better food choices into the hands of the residents. To back that up it was mentioned in a conference call this week that the Kenai Peninsula alone has applied for over 80 more high tunnels to join the 50 or so that are already there.

A sample of reading materials hitting mailboxes!

In this little corner of Alaska our plans are being drawn out for planting times, varieties we want to try, fruit plants orders and all sorts of issues. The discussion of how to get water to things and monitor it when we are swamped with fishing activities has been spirited. How do we staff this bigger operation this year or do we see how it goes by stretching ourselves still thinner? What equipment is essential and what can wait? All questions that many business or operations face in these times.

Essential gear!

Over the last 3-5 years it has been refreshing to see real efforts by many portions of our state at attempting to answer the questions of where our food is coming from, what happens if that supply line is disrupted, and how can we promote more locally grown food and healthier eating.

In so many ways Alaska has the ability to lead the way in industries but I sure seem to find we are doing a quick race to catch up to things that seem to be  decades old.  I have my own theories as to why but in the area of agriculture I see some very dedicated people  sweeping past those barriers and bringing at least parts of Alaska into a healthier new time. Hopefully everyone will see the need and support the most basic of needs-getting food to those who need it and make it healthier for everyone!

Cold Climate Growing, Oh the Possibilities!!

January 11, 2011

Jan 11, 2011

Hopefully by this time next year when we have days like this outside ……..

We can be growing things like this inside, unheated…

Originally my hope was that with the new ‘high tunnels’ we were lucky enough to get via a grant this past fall we could hope to have fresh produce of one kind or another for maybe 7-8 months out of the year if we used them without any added heat.

Then I got to reading and hearing more about full winter productions with little or no heat. Realizing with some addition of added protection over the crops planted directly in the ground we might be able to stretch that maybe another month. Again I was figuring most everyone who was doing the full winter growing was in a much milder climate than our zone 5 ish, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones.

Eliot Coleman has authored a number of gardening books, of which many of us have read or at least had heard about. Well this winter I decided to dig into the slim coffers and buy his newest one The Winter Harvest Handbook. He has been growing organic produce in the NE for a good many years, most recently in the great state of Maine. (Ok I have to say the few times I have been to Maine I have felt I could move right in. I enjoy the people, the history, the great seafood, just about everything I have gotten to ever see in my short times there, thus just the mention of the state gets my interest!!)

He has worked out a way to produce a fairly wide selection of winter, and the normal summer, vegetable fare year around in his zone 5 conditions. With more research I figured out we are of course on a farther northern parallel, which makes a difference for daylight as much, if not more, than just the temperature. There is a darn good chance that within a year or two we here, in this area of Western Alaska, can capitalize on his research and experience. To be able to even get close to maybe a full ten months of fresh produce would be fantastic. Something tells me we might well be able to accomplish this. I am not even getting so far ahead as to think we can tap into our low temperature geo-thermal when making these statements. (Remember those volcanoes we have here in Alaska …we have them as close as 20 miles from us …and one that steams almost daily!)

When I see all of this coupled with the work Tim Meyer is doing in the Bethel area in the summer, it seems  we here in some major portions of Western Alaska could quickly become much more self-reliant for a greater portion of our food consumption.

I was recently sent a decent list of  ‘gardening’ events happening in 2011 here in Alaska by one of my contacts.`This is the first time I have seen such an effort to get the word out like this to help educate a wider variety of potential food producers. Great things in the produce arena could well be on the way for our villages and outlying areas. Absolutely exciting no less!!


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

Economic Development Can Wear an Apron!

May 3, 2010

May 3, 2010

IF there were a list of only a few things that a community could do to spur economic growth I am a firm believe near the very top of the list should be designing, building and running a ‘community kitchen’!

Be it a small village or a urban area like Anchorage, any area can do it.  In fact larger cities than Anchorage and small towns like our villages already do have them in many parts of the United States.

Community kitchens are just what  they sound like: food-preparation facilities that can be used by communities. What makes this more than just another coffee klatch at the neighbor’s house is that these kitchens are officially open to everyone. And larger ones can be commercially certified, so that cooks who prepare things here can sell their products, according to Come to the Table (pdf). p 24

These facilities don’t have to be very big or complex. They don’t need a high  priced consultant to be designed. There are lots of sources for ideas and specification can be found on the Internet.

It can start out as simple as good sinks, work areas, refrigeration and possibly freezer storage. Equipment can be added as demand  shows the need. The local food safety department ,or in Alaska, our state DEC office can assist you on what is needed to be ‘commercially certified’. It is not as complex or hard as it might look.

Facilities such as a community kitchen can serve many needs. From the basics of being a place where people can gather to do large volume cooking needs, such as community celebrations or potlatches.

It can be used as a place for people who want to develop food products to sell. They develop their ‘process’ to the point they feel it is ready for production. Then working with the state on that process to get it certified so it can be replicated in a safe manner by anyone. No, you do not have to share your secret formulas!  Then you are ready to go with a few more basic business steps.

Products such as jellies from local fruits, a favorite smoked fish recipe or even a pet treat turned into something that can be sold over the Internet are  things that can be developed in a community kitchen.

Things like cooking classes for new moms on the how to get your kids to eat more veggies or an elder passing on some of their special recipes can also use a facility like this.

Someone who wants to start a catering business would not have to invest in all the equipment immediately and instead build the demand for their services first, using one of these kitchens. Then maybe go onto open a small eatery?

Community Kitchens most often charge a small fee, usually daily or hourly, for the use of the facility that is then used to maintain and/or upgrade the facility. Most communities get the initial facility built by using grants. This is an easy and excellent use for those villages that have CDQ monies and can be done easily done in  total as an ‘local effort’, keeping as much of the monies local and costs down.

One such effort, of a half dozen in southern Wisconsin county has spawned dozens of food based companies.

“The real goal, in addition to sustainability, is economic development,” said Dan Viste, owner of the Mazomanie Heritage Kitchen and Market, which opened late last year. “

Leaders of the various kitchens in those counties coordinate efforts through their extension service. They have built networks to share everything from ideas to some equipment and contacts. Some offer marketing and technical assistance to help get products and businesses up and running.

Amongst a number of us at more than one table at the Western SARE meeting in Fairbanks, there was a healthy discussion on this subject and its benefits to a number of areas in the state. We got into quite a discussion on pet treats from salmon alone!! A billion dollar market…pets!

Having a place where villagers could prepare subsistence foods for those in urban areas who would want to buy them, is another idea. They can also serve as training facilities for those who are disabled to learn more hands on skills. Even as places for school groups to make products they can sell for fund raisers.

There continues to be a rise in holistic products, like a caribou leaf salve I get from a lady in Juneau to help with joint pain, and this can serve as a base for these ideas as well.

The ideas mentioned here are but just a few . I have to think there are so many more. It would be great to get an idea of what all you are thinking from your village or city. What can you see being developed from your area?

Given all the creativity of people, it would be great to hear other ideas you all felt could be developed with the help of a facility such as this.

Victoria Briggs~

photos courtesy of finnskimo

Cassidy and Maddisen are making The Perfect Gift!

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