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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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Breakfast Series

Organic Pancake Feed featuring local berries

Ken Kunkel CommunityCenter – 2645 Goldstream Road
Sunday, October 4
11 am
$10 for adults and
$7 for children under 12
Free for children under 5

The purpose of this breakfast series is to exchange information and ideas, as well as raise funds.

View our powerpoint presentation and visit with the board members.

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Here’s an excerpt from the article in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on the Harvest Fair that appeared August 30, written by Rebecca George:

Despite humble beginnings, a locally owned and operated cooperative grocery is becoming a reality in Fairbanks.

More than 500 people attended the Pioneer Park Civic Center for the Harvest Fair on Saturday to check out what will soon be a Fairbanks Community Cooperative Market in downtown Fairbanks.…“Our community has wildly diverse interests in wildly diverse things — and that could very well define Fairbanks,” Rep. David Guttenberg said as he introduced the market and read a proclamation about the co-op’s visionary, Dave Lacey, who died this year.

This story was picked up by the Anchorage Daily News, too. There was also a story in the News-Miner the day before the event.

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This story on the FCCM was published recently in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. “Fairbanks Community Cooperative Market looks to take over Foodland building,” by Rena Delbridge, was published Monday, July 13:

It’s dark and cool inside the old Foodland building at the end of Lacy Street.

And it’s a bit of a mess, scattered with the behind-the-scenes mechanisms that served grocery shoppers.

But on Sunday, organizers of a work day to bring a community market to life there saw potential.

“We need to think about how we’re going to reduce the whole transportation factor in food,” interim board chair Rob Leach said. “We need to be locally self-sufficient. If you’re going to wait for government to solve these problems, it’s going to be a long, long wait. We need to do it locally, and we need to do it for ourselves.”

By April, organizer Mary Christensen hopes for a bright, bustling business, with a stream of shoppers seeking locally produced meats and produce with a bend toward organics.

This article resulted in a huge increase in the number of visits to the website and the blog, as well as numerous comments and a letter to the editor which also garnered quite a few comments.

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Latitude 65, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
by Glenn Burnsilver
November 21, 2008

The fundraiser will feature performances from talented local musicians, and raise money for the local co-op to purchase and establish a natural foods grocery. Performing musicians include Robin Dale Ford, Pat Fitzgerald, Alex Clarke and Ron Veliz. Ford and Fitzgerald regularly perform together, as a duo, and with their band Dang! They also run 10th Planet Records. Their music ranges from folk and singer-songwriter to bluegrass and roots rock.

Read the full story here.

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KUAC interviewed Dave Lacey about the co-op, and aired the story Thursday, Nov. 21. To listen to it, go to KUAC’s website. It’s about 1:07 in Dan Bross’s newscast.

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