Saturday, July 30, 2011

Second entry, Alaska's Food Security Risks

Today I am going to attempt to explain some of the risks Alaska residents face every day, and how they relate to our food security here.

First, it helps to know that the amount of food produced is generally accepted to be less than 5% of what is consumed annually. In other words, 95% of the foods you eat here, are barged, trucked, or flown many thousands of miles. Yes, I know you all know that....but I don't think most think through the risks.

As a kid growing up here in the 60s, we lived at Usibelli Coal Mine. Amazing place to be a kid, and then some. We weren't exactly Bush living (we had power and running water and were on the road system-but close to it) but we were literally at "the end of the road". At that time, the Parks Highway ended at Hurricane Gulch with a stub of concrete and steel hanging over the cliff face there. It was usually about five hours to drive to Fairbanks, depending on the condition of the gravel road, and my folks did this about every three or four months for groceries. There was pavement at College and Mom used to treat the first of the kids to call it. I have no firm memories of the Good Friday Quake in 1964, but do remember being dumbfounded at the water marks in downtown Fairbanks after the '67 flood. My point in bringing us bit of recollection forward, is that disasters happened in the past (and will happen in the future) and while the '67 flood might have been awful for Fairbanks area residents, we weathered it with ease. Why? Because my family (and indeed, everyone at the mine) generally had four to six months' worth of groceries on hand. It was prudent and all the grocery stores held large amounts of inventory as normal business. During those years, it was not uncommon to visit a grocery store and see many feet of empty shelves....the reason? Barges lost at sea.

Fast forward 50 years, and we have an entirely different business model. Today, to shave costs, most grocery retailers employ a version of "just in time" supply. This model was made famous and used to astonishing success with WalMart, for example. That is, there is typically scant inventory beyond what you see on the shelves. Ever notice the containers on trailers around the back of these stores? They come and go constantly, year round. This makes for a very shaky, very long supply chain to Alaska.

Our foods mostly originate on the West Coast, where consolidators of various types arrange the container loads which are then loaded onto the barge and thence shipped into the Port of Anchorage. There, it is offloaded, and then trucked to the store. At any time, a link in this chain could break....and maybe in a big way. It has been stated to me by a local official, that Alaska is five days away from anarchy at any given time. Because Alaska has just five days worth of food on hand. Imagine another Good Friday Earthquake....and what it would mean in terms of feeding the population. Today we have a huge amount of infrastructure which would be damaged by a quake of that magnitude. We could lose the port entirely, the airport, and the highways when bridges suffer catastrophic failure. That will mean loss of transportation networks, utilities, and of course.....a busted supply chain.

Imagine no natural gas for heat or power generation. No gasoline or diesel fuel for the same reason. And most importantly, no inventory arriving to replenish the grocery and bulk stores. Now, many "old time" Alaskans are an independent bunch and most will have some food stashed away, because, well.....disasters happen. I'd venture to guess that the urban resident is not so well supplied, but it's likely better in outlying areas where "trips to town" are a bit of a drive. We'll leave the hair raising implications of a lack of medical supplies completely out of this scenario because it's too alarming.

So, one big earthquake up here, and we could lose all transportation methods in a matter of a minute or two. This is a true risk, and one that local, state and the federal government is, of course, planning to handle. There exists a myriad of agencies, bureaus, commissions, and private interests who are working on developing plans to deal with such an event. But a truly effective plan is only as workable as the circumstances allow, and those plans will only function if enough infrastructure, communications, supplies and equipment, and people remain. For all their planning and exercises, I would not expect a cohesive and speedy response to a major earthquake.

Another likely scenario is also seismic. There exists off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and northern California, a geological feature called the Cascadia Subduction Zone. It too, is due for a large event and could happen at any time. Located off shore, you can think of it as a small piece of the Pacific plate that is being pushed under the continent, if that helps. Prior events from this fault have caused massive tsunami and landslides, obliterating the coastlines in some areas. Of course, it goes without saying that the entire western coast line of the United States is at risk at every moment. Since the majority of goods are shipped from the Pacific Northwest (Seattle, Portland) we are again reminded of the fragile supply chain.

Naturally, the risks presented by earthquake activity do not end there. One super sized event anywhere around the Pacific Rim, and we could (and will at some point) experience tsunami. We've all seen the videos of the destruction left by the 2004 tsunami that took over 200,000 lives in Indonesia, and more recently the Japan event earlier this year. It's an unnerving thought, to imagine something of that magnitude striking a US city. And in the scale of tsunami's, neither of those were very large-even more unsettling. Whether the eventual tsunami hits San Diego, or Portland, or the coast of Washington, or even here in Southcentral, the end results could be catastrophic for Alaska's people.

Snap one link in our very shaky, very long supply chain, and it'll be ugly.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Alaska's Food Security Problem

This entry has been a long time forming, and coming. Feel free to grab a libation, and (hopefully) learn a little something about agriculture and it's possible future in Alaska :)

Alaska is both blessed, and cursed. Situated so far from the rest of the union, we hold a unique place in future agricultural developments on several fronts. I'll list the curses first, of course, and they include a number of elements that combine to hamper our state's ability to feed its residents.....

Location, location, location. Yes, we have about 20 hours of sunlight during the growing season, but we also have 7 months of winter. This cannot be changed of course, but it could be lessened to a great degree.

State policy. The state has an absolutely dismal history of agriculture-aside from the original colonists in the 30s. The Delta barley and Pt MacKenzie projects were boondoggles that cost the state millions of dollars in the end-with little crop production to show for it. On paper, it looked pretty good: Grow the feed in Delta, ship down to the Valley where there would be dairy farms and so forth, sell the excess to Asia. Naturally none of this came to fruition because bureaucrats are NOT farmers or business people, and placed impossible terms and conditions on those courageous enough to try "farming in the last frontier". At this point, the state does not have a cohesive agricultural policy at all, and is awash in programs and agencies, partly federally funded and poorly managed or funded by the state itself.

High energy and production costs. While the state is required by its constitution to extract resources for the benefit of all the residents, it has never positively affected agriculture here to any lasting degree. In fact, current tax structure on the oil industry, combined with the looming Depression in the Lesser48, has caused fuel to sky rocket here. Because of declining supply in Cook Inlet, the Agrium plant on the Kenai Peninsula closed-it produced fertilizers for in state use, for example. Now, this must be barged up from the west coast.

Those are the three main contributors to the sorry state of Alaska ag in my opinion. There are many facets that effect the current conditions, and I will touch on them briefly later on.

The major blessings we have here are:

Location, location, location. Our lengthy summers allow local growers to produce an astonishing amount of food, compared to many places in the Lesser48 states. Years back, some farmers made a decent living providing produce to the military bases-until someone decided that there had to be x number of heads of lettuce in a case-never mind our Alaska giant vegetables. So pfft, no more selling to the bases. (No I am not kidding, this happened) Our location would also lend itself to entering the export market. Think of all the cargo containers that leave this state empty-and air cargo as well.

One of the most important things that Alaska could do, is to ban GMO seed stock. Thankfully, the current GMO commercially available seeds are corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and alfalfa. None of these crops do well here, but eventually the opportunity to let this monster loose within our state will occur-if the door is not shut right now. In other states, the modified plants have infected other farms, and this has caused much hardship (not to mention lawsuits the farmers face from the patent holders of those seeds) and it has been discovered that such seeds are a health risk.

Another important thing that Alaska could do, is take some of that hydrocarbon extraction for it's own use. Don't fall over in shock, it could actually be done if there were visionaries in Juneau. The state (us!) own a percentage of everything that comes up-and at this time we are tied into selling it at the market rate. As it stands now, all the revenue is stuffed into a nice fat purse that the legislature positively slobbers over to spend, spend, spend. I'd prefer they had a little less to get their mitts on, so that Alaska could feed Alaska. With a little creative accounting, a small portion (or maybe a lot, depending on what industries would provide the most jobs here) could literally be given to food producers. When you stop rolling your eyeballs at this idea, just think about how much food could be grown if energy costs were a fraction of what they are today.

Here are some ideas about growing more food:

We have millions of acres of unoccupied lands. I know most people think it is all muskeg and swamp and it's true there is a lot of that. But peaty soils can be worked successfully on a small scale (NOT monoculture farming, mind you) for example. Greenhouses using natural gas or even better-hydrothermal for heat and power generation, could be much more abundant.

We also have a growing population, many of which are adamant about eating locally, buying AlaskaGrown, and so forth. We have also seen an explosion in "alternate" growing methods over the past twenty years. Today, it is mainstream for aquaculture production to be employed. Older ideas of crop rotation, soil replenishment and augmentation without the use of chemicals is gaining acceptance rapidly...and there are a whole host of ways to enhance production, expand variety, and extend seasons. Some of these include simple solar greenhouses which tap the energy of the sun year round, all the way to the Chena Hot Springs Resort projects which include using the heat of the springs themselves to provide much of the produce the resort uses. There are growing numbers of cold frames and hoop houses all over-and many of them are used in CSA efforts. Someday, someone will design a vertical greenhouse that will be energy efficient here in Alaska....and new systems are tried, improved, and employed every couple of years.

In short, the future could be bright indeed. The question is, are there any visionaries that can help guide Alaska into an independent future?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


As all this goat world stuff does not get resolved, the world continues it's journey around the sun, Alaska Mini Goat Cache proclaimed President Rayna Fritcher has done.........

......exactly nothing. If called on it, she is sure to say that any communication must be submitted in writing at the specified address, blah blah blah. I think I will file small claims tomorrow, just because no one else has the balls to do anything. Sometimes you just gotta make a point, you know? And if you can't figure out what that is, I can't help you because you are too far on the left side of the Bell curve, or a happy tool of Heather Fair, whichever.

Meanwhile, things are happening around the place. The garden has taken off, and I am pretty happy with how things look despite the late plant. I have zucchini all over, cabbages are trying to set heads, the brussel sprouts have tiny peas on them, and the broccoli is heading. It's time to tie up the sweet peas and hill the spuds. I have an embarrassing amount of swiss chard that looks gorgeous, plus many baby cucumbers in the greenhouse-and yes, we've snarfed up the big ones already, lol The salad bowls have been wonderful to have at hand and I will definitely repeat that next year. The corn is shorter than I would like but that's my own fault. I didn't think to get them off the cold ground until about a week ago. I have many green tomatoes, and hundreds of flowers so I am sure to end up with quite a haul over the next six or eight weeks.

We got the apple trees planted and while I was concerned about one of them for a while, it now seems that they will survive transplanting. All three have tiny itty bitty baby apples on them! I still haven't figured out where to plant the honey berries, or the thornless raspberry starts, or the strawberries.....but I'll come up with something I am sure. The three rhubarb have settled in happily and have many baby leaves too....although truthfully they are darned hard to kill anyway.

This week I am getting a new Orpington rooster, selling my Yokohamas, and getting in a dozen meat chicks. I may also be picking up some colored Orpingtons-they are in short supply so I can't be positive on being able to snag onto those chicks at the coming swap meet. I have to keep in mind the turkey chicks coming next month also, so I am about to be up to eyeballs in little cheepers :)

All in all, it's been a very productive few weeks!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

180 calendar days....and counting

Yes, has been 180 days since January 8th.

That's the day I submitted my application and money to the Alaska Mini Goat Cache club. The day I was accepted as a new member by the sitting President.

Does anyone think that this is a reasonable time frame for any organization to respond? Would you accept this from a company you tried to do business with? Of course not! You'd already have them in small claims court, right? Or at least reported them to the BBB. Or something. Right?

In light of this, a communication was shared with me. Please note the day that it was sent:

From: Meredith Wolpert
Sent: Fri, July 1, 2011 7:39:11 AM
Subject: AkMGC

July 1, 2011

Alaska Mini Goat Cache

C/O Rayna Fritcher

3060 N. Lazy Eight Ct. STE 2 PMB 103

Wasilla, Alaska 99654

Dear Rayna,

As you are aware, a group of AkMGC members passed a number of actions at the January 8, 2011 membership meeting which we continue to believe was within its membership rights and compliant with our club bylaws. These actions include rescinding an action by former Board officers to expel no less than five club members in late December 2010 without any appropriate due process or compliance with meeting requirements, and re-opening nominations for 2011 officer positions (an action that occurred before any prior election process had been concluded). As members, we have yet to receive a copy of the minutes from this meeting that your own website acknowledges as the last official club membership meeting, and your actions since the January meeting are in stark contrast with the actions taken at this meeting, solely for the purpose of choosing to accept the actions which are those to your own liking, not the will of the vast majority of members.

The Small Claims Court action brought by a collective group of 18 members was unsuccessful in obtaining a judgment against former Treasurer Heather Fair to turn over the club funds in her possession to what we believe to be the legitimate officers of the AkMGC based on due process and majority of member input. The basis of this decision was the Judge’s express statement to ignore State of Alaska statutory requirements related to non-profit clubs, and provisions of our own bylaws requiring Roberts Rule of Order be utilized in matters of parliamentary procedure. We believe strongly that were the collective group of 18 members to appeal the Small Claims Court’s judgment to Superior Court that the merits of our arguments would prevail given that the rule of law would actually be germane in Superior Court.

However, in an effort to move beyond this apparent impasse that our two groups have regarding the club’s practices, our group of 18 members is willing to turn over to you, as your group’s President, the club tent (which former President Laura Manary placed at the end of her driveway and told our membership group to come pick up), the key to the Club’s P.O. Box which was established after former President Manary resigned and after the February membership meeting ( a prudent step to establish a permanent mailing address for the club given the possibility of officers resigning and using their own personal mailing address for club business), the website domain name which was established due to the former Treasurer’s failure to turn it over to the officer’s that were elected at the February meeting, and the account number(s) at MVFCU where club funds which were taken into possession by the new officers elected at the February meeting now exist. It should be noted that the current account(s), plus the old account which is still active, contain a total of $1,042.08. The difference between this balance and the balance in the account at the time of signatory modification to the new officers is $195.92, which has been spent on appropriate and legitimate expenses (P.O. Box, Website Domain, Recorded Club Agent update with the State of Alaska, and election processes that were approved at the January membership meeting which you, Heather Fair, and Laura Manary fully participated in and acknowledged. Again, in our opinion, a full vetting of the facts at a Superior Court appeal will bear this out. Yet, for purposes of moving beyond our current dispute, we are willing to attempt to resolve our differences in an amicable manner as possible.

Regarding the club funds in accounts which now contain our officer’s signatory authority, with this letter, account numbers which we propose to give you, and the Small Claims Court written judgment (assuming it supports your group’s claim of officer legitimacy), you should be able to take control of the funds by having MVFCU accept changes to the authorized signatories.

In exchange for our group of 18 member’s transfer to you of the above stated club “assets”, we require the following:

Written statement, signed by you, as President of the AkMGC, which concludes the status of the 18 memberships which were presented to, and accepted by, former President Manary and turned over to former Treasurer Heather Fair at the January 8, 2011 membership meeting. Specifically, we demand that the club acknowledge each membership which was accepted at this meeting or provide specific reason and supporting documentation why the membership is not being accepted in accordance with club bylaws, and a pledge to return that member’s dues within 10 calendar days for those that you do not accept.

A commitment to appropriately notify all club members of all club meetings authorized by, and in accordance with, the club’s bylaws.

Return of complaint fees to the complainant filed at the January 8, 2011 meeting given that the current officers have failed to complete any complaint process – the reason cited by Ms. Fair being that you are not in possession of the actual complaint documentation filed.

A hold harmless acknowledgment and agreement not to take any further action, severally and/or individually, against all members which make up our group of 18 members and whose names were stated within the Small Claims Court documents.

For ease of moving this resolution process forward, your signature and date below, shall acknowledge your acceptance of these terms. Following receipt of your signature below, we will immediately give you the MVFCU club account numbers, and make arrangement with you to immediately turn over the above noted remaining club assets to you.

We believe these terms to be reasonable in light of our collective disagreements, and necessary and beneficial to move beyond our current impasse. If not acceptable to you then perhaps we’re left with continuing our dispute through a formal Superior Court appeal which would be both expensive to both our groups, and with an unknown outcome, arguably, for both.


Dr. Meredith Wolpert, PD

President (“Group of 18 Members”)


Rayna did indeed get this communication. She cannot deny getting it, and the signature is a legally valid one in whatever media it is contained. (Hey, just one of the perks of being a doctor, who knew?) So she had been properly noticed, although sure to deny that suits their suddenly painstaking processes.

I have no idea how long anyone plans to wait before they go forward, one way or the other.

However, this is my truth: They have had my money since January 8th. I could successfully argue that I have never been a member, thus could not be expelled. Therefore, they have stolen my money.


Stolen it. Along with everyone else who has been a victim.

Oh and in case you are wondering...there are NO meetings scheduled on the club's official website either. Which means that any "meeting" that Rayna needs to conduct ANY club business, is not happening any time soon.

Tsk tsk tsk. That black eye is getting bigger by the day :)

Friday, July 1, 2011

It's confusing!

So, I have been thinking about the court ruling for a couple weeks now. And I am still not sure what it means in practise, considering everything that has happened.

The court ruled:

Neither party recover from the other

Um....what? What does that mean, exactly? I don't think anyone truly knows, but evidently Heather Fair and crew feel that they are the legitimate club. Thus, Rayna Fritcher is now President, based upon the election results that the rest of the members and public never witnessed nor participated in.

I suppose I could spend the money and get the transcripts, or buy a copy of any explanation the judge included. But in truth, the issue is very muddy. If it is accepted as written-neither side gets any money from the other. Remember that this was a small claims suit-not civil court.

If the majority keeps the money, then it forces Heather Fair and crew to sue everyone individually for recovery. Very expensive proposition for a tiny club, suing over a dozen people. Otherwise they basically have to file suit on itself-which would obviously mean that the majority are all members.........

I am not in control of any funds and I am only one voice. But in my opinion there are a number of ways to handle this:

1. The Alaska Mini Goat Cache (minority) could welcome all the new members into the club. Yes, even including the non-members they expelled so judiciously on Dec. 27th of last year. Heck, they could even have a public notice of a meeting-woohoo!

2. The minority club could sue to get their money back. Big stinky problem with that is that there are more people involved than just the folks who were elected into office of the majority club. Lots of bucks at 40 bucks a pop!

3. The majority club could offer to return everything, no doubt under specific conditions.

4. The majority club could move forward, perhaps by voting to rename itself-allowing the minority club to die out on its own.

5. The individuals who don't want anything to do with this mess, could sue the minority club to get their money back. After all, they did perpetrate a fraud on the public by accepting membership dues under false pretences.

6. The majority club could return all fund minus the membership dues that the minority club has kept for almost seven months.

Or.......well who knows? I am sure there are other possible outcomes I have not mentioned here-I just listed the obvious ones.

Whatever happens, the Alaska Mini Goat Cache will never be the same. If the minority continue on as I expect, they have forever besmirched their club's reputation. The manipulation and misdeeds of the board and officers are now out in public-not hidden behind "secret meetings" that did not take place and voting that did not happen at publicly noticed meetings. If the minority club is not willing to allow public scrutiny, then they should accept the condemnation they deserve.