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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture

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Five Reasons Alaskans Are Winning the Sustainable Food Race

July 13, 2015 |

A high tunnel in Alaska’s Matanuska-Susitna Valley  USDA/Creative Commons

A high tunnel in Alaska’s Matanuska-Susitna Valley USDA/Creative Commons

The Lower 48 have come far in the battle for local food, but Alaska has much to share when it comes to creating sustainable economies. Despite dramatic seasonal changes, infrastructure gaps and transportation challenges, sustainability has always been a way of life in many of Alaska’s small communities.

Here are the top five ways Alaskans are role-modeling sustainable food economies.

Marine Life Conservation Programming. Abundant marine life has sustained Alaska’s native population for centuries. Increased commercial fishing in the Bering Sea and ocean acidification has created numerous issues for local Alaskans and their small fishing communities. With a growing fish to school program, community supported fisheries and the advocacy work of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council (AMCC), protecting the natural resources of America’s final frontier has never looked brighter. Actively engaged in reducing bycatch and advocating for a reduction in exports, the AMCC is the small fisherman’s champion ensuring Alaskan fish is always available for Alaskan natives.

Statewide Food Policy Planning. With a focus on creating local sustainable economies, the Alaska Food Policy Council is a core player in the nation’s largest state. The Council holds town hall meetings across the state to update regional food policy research and resources. Organizing food festivals, engaging the local population, fighting for local food plans, the Council is active and engaged. By working with state and federal partners, the folks at the Alaska Food Policy Council ensure that “local” stays at the forefront of Alaskan legislation.

High Tunnel Horticulture. With the Natural Resources Conservation Service providing technical and fiscal support to high tunnel farmers, Alaskans are extending their very short growing season and increasing the availability of year-round local produce. In Homer, AK alone, there are 10 established high tunnel farmers for a population of just over 5,000, and the number of participants continues to increase. In 2011, the USDA funded 100 high tunnels across the state so season extension is nothing new to the folks at the top of the map. High tunnels have well and truly made their mark in Kodiak and Homer, as well as along the Central and Kenai Peninsulas. Regional groups provide support for established and would-be growers.

Educational Programs at Local, State and Academic Level. The promotion of agriculture education and conservation exist at every level in Alaska and everyone seems to work together to reach regional goals. From the Alaskan Ag Department and the Alaskan Extension Service to the Alaskan Farmland Trust and the Alaska Native Science Commission, the preservation of native knowledge, subsistence agriculture and the latest sustainability innovations are widely available. The University of Alaska Fairbanks offers course on ocean science, fisheries, agriculture and high latitude range management. The University of Alaska Anchorage has a sustainability office and offers sustainability courses and certification programs.

Renewable Energy Projects Across the State. Because of its isolation and abundant natural resources, Alaska is well placed to capitalize on the potential of the renewal energy movement. Geothermal, biomass, hydroelectric, wind and solar projects abound. The Chena Hot Springs Resort in Fairbanks uses geothermal power and showcases geothermal energy to visitors. Chena Power produces fuel bricks from cardboard and paper at their factory in North Pole, AK. Renewable Energy Alaska Project (REAP) is a consortium of regional partners promoting renewable energy resources in Alaska. The Ocean Renewable Power Company is working to bring tidal power to the Cook Inlet as a tie-in to the Homer electric grid. Solar panels heat greenhouses and wind power provides energy to small villages across the state. Alaska has barely begun to tap into its massive renewable resource potential.

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