What is the biggest issue facing Alaska? Many instinctively say the budget, our long-term fiscal outlook, or the size of the PFD.
While those issues are certainly important, there is another greater issue, fundamental to life itself, that we need to address: food sovereignty. Alaska imports a vast majority of its food from the Lower 48, either by barge from Seattle or by truck driving the AlCan. This is a problem. We have seen due to the Covid pandemic, the associated supply chain issues and shortages, inclement weather and earthquakes that Alaska can easily be cut off from the states. If that were to happen, Alaskans need to know that we literally would only have a couple-day supply of food in stores, then things would become dire very quickly.
It does not have to be this way. Alaska used to grow much more of its own food than it currently does. Historical accounts of Indigenous practices tell us that food production and preservation has long been a part of the Alaska way of life. In 1917, the University of Alaska began in Fairbanks as the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines in part to encourage the proliferation of agriculture. During the Great Depression, the Mat-Su Valley, with funding from New Deal programs, was home to a farming “colony” which helped the area grow into the agricultural center it is today. The issue is that as time has progressed and Alaska’s population has grown, our farming and food production capacity has not grown at the same rate. In fact, it has diminished.
How can we alleviate our dependence on food imports and increase our food sovereignty? We can grow or produce more of our own food as we have done in the past.
The Alaska Constitution requires that the Legislature provide for the public health and welfare of Alaskans (Article 7 Sections 4-5). Ensuring Alaskans are not malnourished falls within that purview as well as promoting grown-in-Alaska food production. This legislative duty, along with the potential for new cash crops like peonies and hemp, spurred the creation of the Alaska Food and Farm Caucus in the Legislature.
As the founding members and Co-Chairs of the Alaska Food and Farm Caucus, we invited every legislator of the 32nd Alaska State Legislature to join us. We are so pleased that half of the members have signed up! Some of the issues this caucus will be tackling include but are not limited to food security, market access for farmers, agricultural education, sustainably managed fisheries, support for nutrition programs especially for vulnerable populations, availability to agricultural lands, farmers’ markets, financing for food related businesses, forestry products, value-added products, export opportunities and infrastructure investments to support grown-in-Alaska products.
This bipartisan and bicameral caucus is meeting biweekly during this legislative session. At these meetings we are hearing from stake holders, producers, and innovators. In listening and collaborating with these folks we are better understanding the issues at hand and more effectively and efficiently craft solutions, and set legislative priorities to spur the production of more grown-in-Alaska products.
If you have any questions or you would like an issue brought before the caucus, please feel free to reach out to any of the Co-Chairs’ offices. We will facilitate a time to hear from you.