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Community Perspective

Support for farmers markets is support for each other

The beginning of August marks the start of a week celebrating crisp vegetables, fresh fruits, unique art, local goods and the places where they’re all brought together in communities across the country. National Farmers Market Week has been recognized throughout the country since 1999 and is meant to highlight the positive impacts that the markets bring.

Lucky for us living in Interior Alaska, we have a lot to celebrate this week. In Fairbanks we have two in-town markets and there are another four markets spread throughout the Interior. So whether you live in Fairbanks, Ester, Salcha, Delta, Healy or somewhere in between, there’s a market full of fresh food close by.

The markets in the Interior are Southside Community Farmers Market in Fairbanks, Tanana Valley Farmers Market in Fairbanks, Ester Market, Outdoor Market in Salcha, Highways End Farmers Market in Delta Junction, and Healy Farmers Market. At least one is open nearly every day of the week and they are all typically open until September. If you can’t make it to all six of the markets during this week, make August a Farmers Market Month.

More information on each of these markets can be found on their Facebook pages or on Fairbanks Economic Development’s Agriculture webpage at www.investfairbanks.com/agriculture.

With more than 90% of what we consume being imported here in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, and a common belief being that Fairbanks regularly has only about three days worth of food on hand, food security is an important issue. A huge way to help address this is to support local agriculture. The more demand there is for local produce, the more will be grown locally and the more food-secure we will be — as if you needed another reason to visit your local markets.

The benefits that come with supporting local agriculture (and local in general) go on ... knowing where your food comes from, fresh food is more nutritious, having a community connection, more economic opportunity, a greater percentage of dollars being recycled in the local economy, etc. It’s because of this that there are an abundance of programs, like National Farmers Market Week, that encourage locals to shop in their communities and to support their local growers. In Fairbanks, FEDC has industry-supporting programs like Golden Heart Grown, Chef at the Market and the Interior Agriculture Directory.

Golden Heart Grown is a program that helps food producers and sellers market their products as grown in Interior Alaska. The program and its $5 challenge began with a study that showed that if every person in the Fairbanks North Star Borough spent an additional $5 per week on FNSB-grown produce, it would result in an additional $23 million being recycled into the local economy every year. The logo, a blue Alaska surrounded by the outline of a sun with a golden heart in the middle, can be found in marketplaces throughout the Interior leading customers to their locally grown goods.

With a similar goal of highlighting locally produced food in the marketplace, Chef at the Market (CATM) shows marketgoers the delicious possibilities that can be cooked up with food grown right in their backyard. The live cooking displays are not occurring this year due to early-market Covid-19 limitations, but you can still find a CATM display at the Tanana Valley Farmers Market with recipes using locally available produce each week. The display also has links to videos of CATM presentations, downloadable recipes from past years, and free Interior Agriculture Directory brochures.

The Interior Agriculture Directory is a 27-page booklet containing information on local food producers and what they produce, a list of Interior grown products, detailed information on each of the markets, and a collection of resources and organizations. The directory is recreated annually to show the variety of products grown here in the Interior, the resources available, and how to access them. Hard copies are available around Fairbanks, but it can be downloaded from the FEDC website as well.

These are just a few of the many programs that take place each year to encourage supporting our local growers by purchasing locally grown products. Information on these programs and more can, again, be found on FEDC’s Agriculture webpage at the link given above.

To support agriculture in the Interior, you don’t have to start your own farm or go on a local-only diet. You can have an impact just by making small efforts where you can. So, during National Farmers Market Week and the rest of the season, visit a market (or six), look for the Golden Heart Grown logo, cook with some local produce, and try to tell which is better: supporting a key piece of your community or the local food. Probably the food — but it’s close.

 

Evan Wilken is a project manager with the Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation.

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