Alaska Grown: Interest in farming, local foods grows.

Author:Orr, Vanessa
Position:AGRICULTURE
 
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Only 5 percent of the food that is consumed in Alaska is grown in Alaska. This means that the rest of what Alaskans eat needs to be flown or barged in from other areas, making the state food insecure.

With open land as far as the eye can see, how can this be possible? And what can be done to increase the amount of local fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meat reaching Alaska tables?

The good news is that more Alaskans are interested in farming than ever before, and Alaska consumers are driving the market to provide fresh foods that are grown and harvested locally. But to truly meet the needs of the 49th State, it's going to take more investment in infrastructure--such as flash freezing facilities for fruits and vegetables--to take the state's food system to the next level.

Preserving the Land

Farms require farmable land, and despite the fact that Alaska is the largest state in the nation, there's actually not that much useable farm space.

"Alaska is a huge state, but there's very little land that is privately held. Most of the land is owned by the state and federal governments and Native corporations," explains Amy Pettit, executive director, Alaska Farmland Trust (AFT), "There is also very little land that is ideal for farming. When you look at soil classifications--with Class 1 being the best in the country--we have no Class 1 due to soil temperature. We start with Class 2, and we have very little of that. And what we do have is being eaten by developers."

As the Last Frontier attracts more people, more homes are being built, with developers seeking out all of the prime flat land that is available. "We're losing farmland daily to construction and housing developments, but the average person looking around sees so much land," says Pettit. "While most people see wide open space and thousands of acres, I'm watching real soil be destroyed."

One of AFT's goals is to establish conservation easements that protect at-risk soil. The organization also links landowners who own farmable soil with people who want to farm through its FarmLink program.

To date, we have purchased development rights on six parcels, the majority of which are active farms," says Pettit. "Usually the landowner is at a transition stage and wants to pass the farm on to the next generation or sell it to another farmer."

While these farmers are being aggressively pursued by developers, AFT offers an alternative option.

"Most farmers' assets are all tied to the land; they have no retirement if they aren't bought out," says Pettit. "We buy the development rights. We're not asking them to give up the value of their land...

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