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Alaska only grows 4 percent of its food

When it comes to fruits and vegetable, Alaska varies region by region. Areas like the Mat-Su and Tanana Valleys are great for growing, where as outside farming in Arctic communities just isn’t a possibility. Some communities have regularly occurring farmers markets, while others are lucky to have fresh produce stocked in the grocery store at all.

“When we became a state, we used to raise half the food that was consumed in Alaska,” Gov. Bill Walker said Thursday 8 September during the opening session of the National Association of Farmer’s Market Nutrition Programs conference in Juneau. Now, that figure is at 4 percent.

“That’s partly because we have grown since statehood in population, but also we’ve sort of lost our vision a bit. We got a little too wedded to one nonrenewable commodity — oil — and we sort of stopped doing what we should have been doing,” he continued.

With 96 percent of the state’s food imported, Alaska only has three to five days of food supply, said Kathleen Wayne, the state’s director for the Special Supplemental Nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children, and manager of the Family Nutrition Programs.

At the grocery store in the Aleutian community of Sand Point, she said, a cantaloupe costs around $8.29 and a pound of grapes costs $6.49.

Alaska faces many challenges when it comes to growing, including expense, microclimates, a short growing season, permafrost, soil low in natural fertility, cold soil or excessive rain.

At the same time, though, “We do have an abundance of Mother Nature’s fruits and vegetables that we all love,” Wayne said. She listed off foods like salmonberries, blueberries, beach asparagus and fiddlehead ferns.

Some people are getting around growing challenges through innovation. In Kotzebue, Arctic Greens, a subsidiary of the local Native association, is growing spinach, kale and other types of lettuce inside shipping containers. The plan is to supply local and nearby grocery stores.

Walker said he hopes to see ideas like that spur more Alaska-grown food.

He said he wants Alaska to raise the amount of locally grown food “significantly” from 4 percent, though he wouldn’t stipulate how much greater or by when.

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