Nov. 20, 2012
To the editor:
For many, Alaska is a place where libertarian values thrive, where, within reason, a person can do whatever they want with their land. In this respect, one would expect Alaska to stand out from the rest of the U.S. as a place where small-scale agriculture thrives. Growers here don’t face overly complicated zoning or irrationally restrictive homeowners associations. Yet, many agriculturalists across the state still contend with resistance of another kind — bullying from neighbors unhappy with the idea of changes to the land.
We have heard stories of bullying by neighbors from producers around the state, most recently here in Fairbanks, where a friend was taken to court because a neighbor was unhappy with how she was using her own land.
Turning Light Farm was started by Cat Whitney, an educator and veterinary technician with a dream to provide a place in the community where at-risk students might find an alternative means of connecting with and learning from the world. The farm had yaks for wool, sheep for wool and meat, bees for honey and pollination, poultry for eggs and had recently been awarded a VISTA volunteer. A patch of her land supported a small garden, and was beginning to be used for educational purposes.
She elicited neighbor support and was successful but for a couple of neighbors who felt her farm interfered with their use of a small trail that runs across her property and connects to a mushing trail. She tried to work with them to develop an alternate path, one that didn’t run through her sheep and yak pen, but these bullies would not relent. Ultimately, these “neighbors” took her to court, and won.
Alaska is tremendously food insecure. If we want to change that, we need more people like Cat to innovate and experiment with development of local agriculture. That means, however, that we also need more neighbors and court officials who will stand up to the bullies who care more about their personal status quo than they do about our community’s well-being.