Posts Tagged ‘local food production’

Interior Alaskans often picture themselves as self-reliant individuals, growing huge cabbages and putting a moose in the freezer each fall.  Growing produce in the long days of summer and gathering from the bounty of nature indeed can be productive, spiritually rewarding, and economical.  However, the reality is our population as a whole imports a high percentage of its food from outside the state.

With only an estimated 10-day supply of food in warehouses, Alaska is vulnerable to a prolonged disruption of the long-distance transportation network on which we rely daily.  Rising cost of fossil fuel will impact food production and transportation prices.  Relying heavily on outside sources means we are also at risk when one of the few major producers has contamination that can manifest widespread effects on many people, even if caught relatively quickly and recalled.

U.S. policies favoring inexpensive food after World War II included price supports for commodities (foods, fuels, and fiber crops, such as cotton) and low taxation on fossil fuel, which is also a feedstock for fertilizer and pesticides.  The cost of food as a percentage of annual income has steadily declined in the industrialized world during the 20th Century.  Today Americans spend only about 10% of income on food.  However, the “savings” come at a price to the environment (chemical loads, water use) with consequences to international policy on energy (including military engagement), immigrant labor, and trade—externalities that don’t show up on the label in a grocery store.

A local system of food production and processing for storage capability in Interior Alaska, if it (likely) does not qualify for price supports enjoyed by “industrial” agriculture Outside, would be more expensive to consumers because it would reflect more of the true costs. However, what is the value of not being so vulnerable to a disruption of transportation, such that shelves of major grocery stores begin to go bare when trucks or barges are delayed for just one day?  What is the return on your dollar spent when you can see it remain in the community, providing jobs for producers, processors, and grocers?  How much are you willing to pay for supporting a local food system has to be more accountable because it is composed of your neighbors, not a faceless entity thousands of miles distant with many corporate fingers taking a cut between the grower (doing the work and taking the greatest risk) and the supermarket?

The mantra of industrial process is increased efficiency, which indeed can help feed the world—if consumers can afford the shipping.  But heavily mechanized production means high start-up and operational costs for younger people with the urge and skills to produce food. To quality for many of the federal cost share programs you need to have the private money or loan collateral up front–a Catch 22 for young families.

Alaska is highly unlikely in our lifetimes to produce all the food needed by our growing population approaching ¾ of a million people across a vast area, some of which is unsuitable for agriculture or livestock. However, trials a hundred years ago at various locations across the state demonstrated a high potential for growing food on relatively small areas with intensive labor—something young aspiring farmers can handle. There are incredibly resourceful producers of crops and livestock in the Interior right now, growing for personal consumption and maybe a little at the farmer’s market or customer shares.  Our collective challenge is to help them scale it up!

I envision Fairbanks Community Cooperative Market as one venue that can help with food security by providing a reliable local outlet for many smaller producers.  We can still buy the more exotic foods from far away, but we can buy a lot more of the basics much closer to home.


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This event, part of the Anthropology Colloquium Series, may be of interest to FCCM members:

Anchorage? Uh, Washington? Anyone? We Have a Problem! Disaster Politics and Cumulative Effects in Alaskan Food Systems
David Fazzino and Phil Loring, Department of Anthropology, UAF
Friday, Dec. 11
3:30 p.m. – Schaible Auditorium, Bunnell Building, UAF
Information: pplattet@alaska.edu

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The Fairbanks Coop’s Health and Wellness Committee in conjunction with the UAF Peace and Justice Coalition presents a FREE showing of the film Eating Alaska Tuesday night, November 24, at 7 p.m. at UAF’s Schaible Auditorium. Running time is 57 minutes.

We’ll have a brief introduction and open discussion afterwards. All members of the Fairbanks and surrounding community are invited (both present and future members of the Coop!), so invite your friends to a FREE showing of this excellent documentary.

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Hans Geier, FCCM board member, attended a forum at Noel Wien Library Nov. 4 on community sustainability and food security. From the blog of the UAF School of Natural Resources & Agricultural Sciences:

Hans Geier spoke on the imminent establishment of the Fairbanks Community Cooperative Market. Geier, who is a board member of the FCCM, is also a Cooperative Extension Service agent, an instructor with SNRAS, and a farmer. The FCCM will concentrate on selling locally produced goods and food. He described one of the difficulties in getting Alaska-grown food into the hands of consumers, saying that most Alaska seafood in the state’s supermarkets has been first shipped to distributors in Seattle and then shipped back up to Alaska. The market will try to establish direct shipping from Alaska businesses, such as seafood cooperatives, farmers’ cooperatives, the two dairies (Matanuska Creamery and Northern Lights Dairy), Alaska-grown oyster producers, and so on.

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for SARE New Voices Contest
December, 2007

I didn’t grow up on a farm.  When I was young, I never learned how to fix a screen door let alone a tractor.   I didn’t know which end of a seed to plant in the ground.  If you had told me twenty years ago that I would own the farthest north certified organic farm in the country, I would have told you that you must be crazy.

I come from a long line of Jewish tailors who never ventured too far from the city.  My connections with agriculture were like many kids growing up in suburban America – with the pictures of fields of grain on cereal boxes or occasional trips to the “country” to visit an apple orchard or to see goats and rabbits at a petting zoo.   But my parents always had a garden we always liked to eat and we liked to eat good fresh food.  This is how I came to agriculture – through gardening.  Through getting back to that connection with where your food comes from and acting on it.  I wanted that feeling of looking down a row of crops and feeling that connection with the plants and soil and the thousands of years of farmers and gardeners before me – food growers.

It took me a while to get into farming.  It didn’t come until my mid-thirties, when after many years of having a garden, I quit my day job and followed the dream of many back-to-the land folks before me. I had no idea of what I was doing, but I expanded the garden, bought a rototiller and Elliot Coleman’s “The New Organic Grower”, and started to make a go of it as a market farmer.  It certainly hasn’t been easy, especially since we live in interior Alaska square in the middle of agricultural zone 1.  There is very little historical farmland where we live.  Our farm was literally carved out of the Alaska wilderness with a chainsaw and bulldozer – hardly a soft footprint on the land.  But we justified the destruction of 10 acres of our forest with the belief that having a farm and feeding people was, in the end, a good thing for the community.  After all, wasn’t that what all farmers had originally done?  Also by farming organically, we hoped we were insuring a healthy environment for any wildlife that used the farm, for ourselves and our workers, and for those who ate our produce.  The demand for quality local produce is high, and despite our growing pains as a farm, we are still able to stay afloat with a lot of hard work, and all of our savings.  After 10 years, we have a healthy farm and an increasingly successful business.

Since I come from this new movement of market gardeners turned farmer, my models for success and role models to seek advice from have been organic farmers many with similar experience as I but with more years under their belt.  We have learned the appropriate models for ecologically sound agriculture and the goals for our farm are the same as the goals for many farms like ours across the country – to minimize off-farm inputs while maintaining high soil fertility, to produce high quality and healthy produce, and maintain a profitable business.

We think about sustainability a lot in Alaska, however most of the discussion focuses on natural fish and wildlife populations and their relation to subsistence versus commercial harvest.  There is little talk about sustainable agriculture, but there should be.  Although one’s vision of Alaska might be one of a hunter alone on the tundra, we get most of our food like the rest of America – from large supermarkets run by huge corporations.  If the average piece of food travels approximately 1500 miles from producer to consumer in the rest of the country, it travels much farther to us in Alaska.  For this reason, and many others, we should be concerned about sustainability on a local and community scale.

If our state seems extreme, it is but a microcosm of the country as a whole.  We need to look within our own communities for inputs to agriculture and other resources.  Our model for farming does follow a community approach.  Eating locally is not just a buzzword for marketing – although that is very effective – but it also should be the way we do business.  “Thinking globally and acting locally” is not only the right thing to do for the earth, it is the only economical thing to do.  With the cost of fuel rising ever higher coupled with high shipping costs, we have to think very carefully what it is we import.  Looking at ways to improve the soil, create energy, and market crops must be local in order for us to make a living and feel as though we’re living our lives for the betterment of our community.

Small-scale and locally marketed agriculture should not be just a fringe or niche economy. By showing that we can make a living while growing healthy crops by ecologically sound methods we will make ourselves assets in our local economies by encouraging both new farmers and intelligent agriculture.   It will continue to cost more for food, but we cannot keep going down the path of large scale commodity agriculture transported huge distances or we will be paying a higher and higher price for the wrong reasons.

I can now fix a screen door, sometimes fix my tractor and plant seeds right side up.  If the son of a long line of Jewish tailors can carve out a niche in small scale agriculture, then I’m optimistic that this growing movement of community-centered agriculture can keep gaining momentum.  We need to invest in community agriculture – it is at the core of sustainability.

Mike Emers
Rosie Creek Farm
Ester, Alaska

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With a lofty goal of opening Fairbanks Community Cooperative Market (Co-op Market) by 2011 there are many tasks at hand. Committees have been formed and many need volunteers. Won’t you help it fly? You can volunteer a little of your time or a lot.

There are many small tasks to do so if you can sign up for even one small task it will be a blessing and you will enjoy the fruits of your labor as you shop our own little grocery store next summer.

To find out how you can best serve the Co-op Market e-mail info@fairbankscoop.org or call 457-1023. Or contact one of the committee chairs and let them know you want to participate in that committee.

Business Plan Committee – Board of Directors

This committee is central to the organization as it is organizing all the pieces that go into creating a good business plan. HOWEVER, the work of the other committees is absolutely necessary to putting together a good business plan. Tasks involved include:
1.    Putting together the estimates that come from the other committees into a formal business plan..
2.    Determining a final estimate of the funds necessary for the project before seeking funding

Finance Committee – Committee chair – Hans Geier  – Email: ffhtg@uaf.edu

This committee is responsible for developing sources of funding including:

  • Bank Loans
  • Grants
  • Member loan Program – The committee must research and form a legal structure for member loans.

Store Design – Committee Chair – Robert Leach – Email robertleach@alaska.net

Local Producers and Product Selection Committee – Chair –Cora Kelley – Email bearhug@gci.net

  • Identify potential vendors from the Tanana Valley and around Alaska
  • Create a member survey to be utilized in the blueprint of the Co-op Market
  • Determine criteria for product selection with a priority on local products when available

Health and Wellness Education – Chair – Sharon Alden – Email fwxsca@yahoo.com

Operations Committee – Chair –  Mary Christensen E-mail fccm2010@gmail.

The work of this committee is almost complete.

Communications/Outreach Committee – Chair – Mary Christensen Email themagiccarpet@gci.net or call 347-4463

  • Organize membership equity drive
  • Hold fundraising events
  • Advertisement and promotion
  • Communicate with membership on a regular basis
  • Website and blog updates
  • Responsible for annual meeting

The numerous activities involved with outreach require a lot of help. Many people already participate but we can always use more creative minds!

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FCCM Minutes for May 28, 2009 (as approved June 4)

Present were Mary Christensen, Hans Geier, Rob Leach, Lela Ryterski, Tom Bradley, Sharon Alden, and Will Findley.

The minutes from the previous meeting were read and accepted.


COMMUNICATIONS/OUTREACH: Dru Heskin is going to continue to work on our Web site. The ad for volunteers is in progress with Meadow. The upcoming E-newsletter will carry the ad and the one-question survey. Rob will do a “Letter from the Board” and mention that we’re not intending to compete with Farmers’ Market. Sharon is working on our Facebook. Lela is working on the ads for the Annual Meeting.

Lela spoke to Sandy at Pioneer Park who said it was OK for other booths to sell at the Annual Meeting.

LOCAL PRODUCERS: Mary asked if anyone processed frozen vegetables in the area. Hans said there were people looking for a place to process. We discussed having a DEC approved kitchen.

BUSINESS PLAN/PRODUCT SELECTION: Rob suggested we begin to define criteria for selecting products. What are our values? (ie: bulk, organic, etc. and how much can we sell?).

FINANCE: Sharon proposed the possibility of a Business Credit Card at Sam’s Club. Rob thought we could use them when we start using credit cards. Sharon suggested we get insurance first and investigate credit cards further. Will brought up liability insurance. Hans will look into it. Mary proposed applying for an Alaska Airlines credit card to get mileage.


BYLAWS: We decided on a Single Membership with secondary persons listed on the cards. The Bylaws were corrected and the current draft approved for legal review. Mary called her friend, Craig Partika, who is a lawyer. He agreed to review the Bylaws. Rob will e-mail them to him.


REVISED COMMITTEE STRUCTURE/NEW RECRUITS: Rob suggested we define the needs of each committee and put “help wanted” section in our newsletters outlining specific needs. Lela suggested putting an ad in the local newspaper, as well. Sharon moved to have the meeting after next be geared toward new recruits. Lela seconded.

The Communications Committee will meet at Mary’s house on Tuesday, June 2nd at 6 p.m.

NEXT BOARD MEETING will be at the Foodland site on Thursday, June 4th at 6 p.m.

The meeting was adjourned at 8:30.

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