Friday, October 30, 2015

Northern Exposure.....Alaska Ag

There erupted on social media, a bit of a dust up....just a squall, really, concerning a few of the questions raised here recently.  In particular, the Mt. McKinley Meat & Sausage facility in Palmer was extensively discussed and argued and dissected in as much detail as "we, the public" are allowed to know. 

And it's damned little, no thanks in part to what passes for media bias here.  

The whole story is never told, and the public never knows how big the devil is, in those details.  A prime example is the labor costs, often cited as part of the reason the plant runs in the red every year. The clear implication is that the state workers are overpaid. What is not so carefully disseminated, is the real truth: The plant costs the State of Alaska nothing.  Not one dime from general funds are used to support operations there, not for many years. In actuality, the Agriculture Revolving Loan Fund (ARLF) makes up any shortfall, a loss carried by the loan recipients in the form of interest they pay back to the fund. Oh I am sure some bean counter would say that the Director's time should be included-but the Director of the Division of Ag has other responsibilities to oversee-MMMS is just one of those assigned duties. 

So why is it, that the "movers and shakers" in Alaska Ag, are telling only a select few: It's a done deal, the plant is closing?  And why is it, they are afraid to stand up and take ownership of that statement? And why is it, that this appears to happen behind closed doors, in private conversations, in hiding, away from the light of public scrutiny?  This is *our* asset, we do have the right to know what is being said, away from the farms and ranches and producers.  

The clear message is that whatever the actual community decides or thinks or plans, is not relevant. 

Some producers are fed up. They've given in, sold out, and left the state for more forgiving pastures elsewhere. Some are in the process because they can see the proverbial writing on the wall. Who can blame them? Some have invested much time and money, to meet the growing demands of "local food, locally grown" only to face financial ruin at the hands of the state itself-in the form of unknown policy makers.  Now, with previously secret information making it's way to the surface of community discussion and knowledge, the few remaining producers are faced with a catastrophe not of their own making.

Ag is low hanging, rotten fruit, ripe for cutting from state support. MMM&S is no exception here. It's history is packed with massive, costly boondoggles that failed mostly due to bureaucrats attempting to run businesses via regulation. It makes good press, and scores political points, and serves the residents not at all.  (Remember, you voted for these people)

A few people are determined to look past the failures of the past and present, and recognize that the future is limited only by imagination and effort. None of those people are in Juneau, or sit on the committees who hold the life line of the plant in their hands. They may as well be yelling to a crowd of the deaf, for all their ideas, suggestions, and solutions matter. They have no voice whatsoever, and a weak media whose nod to "investigative journalism" only includes a carefully crafted sound bite from elected and appointed officials, helps no one.  

The perfect storm is coming, friends....and all those whose livelihood, whose businesses, whose hopes and dreams and plans include using the plant as needed, will be left to suffer the consequences of foolish policy which looks only to a line item in a budget-and not the unintended result. It all ties back to our unique, and high risk position: How necessary will that plant be, and every single producer of livestock....when the supply lines are severed? Whether by earthquake, or economic collapse, or terror threat, or solar storm or any number of other scenarios-who in Juneau is going to feed your family?  Answer: None of them.

Necessary indeed, and those few smart folks who have been here longer than it takes to get a college degree know how to read the storm clouds on the horizon.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The bad seed(s)

In pondering just how it is that that state of Alaska agriculture has fallen into the condition it now faces, one has to pull together history, funding (including the boondoggles and busts), public perception, politics, and ego.

Once upon a time, Alaska did a pretty good job of feeding itself. It wasn't fancy, it wasn't a wide range of foods, but despite the usual setbacks of poor harvests and bad winters, people as a rule did not starve here before the modern computerized container ships of today.  There were cattle-dairy and beef, which were fed hay and silage, with some smaller fields of oats and barley grown. There were several egg producers, and most folks had a vegetable garden to augment their variety. Today, conditions are vastly different, with over 95% of the food consumed in this state, arriving by ship. truck, or air. Most residents are blithely unaware that there is about three days worth of food in the state.  Today, the state is incapable of feeding its own residents, and the movers and shakers that be in the "ag industry" up here, are equally incapable of of rising to the challenge in any meaningful way. 

The bad seed is the fruit: what passes for the "good old boy" network-or "Corrupt Bastards Club", of Alaska Ag.

Want to start a new farm here in Alaska? Well golly gee we're glad to have you(r money!). Pay residential price for raw land. Or worse, pay premium for established, productive farm land. Get lucky and pay a smidgen less on state land without access. Go big and risk everything on an Ag lease, we'll be happy to have you(r money!). But don't expect the freedoms for which Alaska is known for, to apply to Ag. Nope, no, not going to happen. The BAC decides what is acceptable for "Ag" here, and they won't let you forget it. Upset their personal apple cart with a new idea, then see how quickly every door shuts in your face. Have a past that includes a personal dust up with a member? Gee, too bad, no help for you!  And they can't be bothered with small requests, no way. They are *industry* in that haughty, down the nose, waving handkerchief sort of way, the way that drives a doer around the bend in frustration.

The absolutely astounding thing, is the number of people-professionals and families from the Lower 48, and Alaska born residents, who *still* want to farm here. They have no idea just how broad the quagmire, the cesspool of the Div of Ag really is, and how they have purposefully handicapped the growth of Ag. They don't know the family ties, the bitter rivalries, the "no you can't do that here" mentality. They don't know that there is no mechanism for financing anything that does not meet one or two people's idea of what is "agriculture". Instead of welcoming new ideas, methods, plans, and keeping Alaska ag at the forefront of northern horticulture, they're quite content close their ranks and books and accounts. And minds, because "you can't do that here, because we don't do that here". 

A logical person would conclude that two vocal politicians (Tuck and Weilechowski) are bad seeds too, since they want to cut the purse strings that prop open the division of Ag-and they've been public about it. Such an act would close Mt. McKinley Meats, the sole slaughterhouse in Southcentral Alaska (again, where are the visionaries for Ag? NOT on the boards and committees!) . That would have a huge ripple effect across the sector.....reaching 1000s of Alaska families and not in a good way. 

The bad seed germinates well in an atmosphere of "my way or the highway" and they're always ready to close ranks against newcomers and new thinkers and new ways of looking at agriculture.  A little discrimination, carefully applied, is never called into question either. Illegal or above board, the "ag industry" that long timers are desperate to protect, is about to be hacked out of the budget. 

Ironic, isn't it, that~
             as ye sow, so shall ye reap..........

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Alaska Ag....the land(slide)

With MMM set to close and only a "hush-hush" rumor about a private processing plant supposedly in the works......and the dismal state of Alaska livestock, particularly the dairies, and a complicated disarray of food story about Alaska Ag is complete without going back to its roots: The land.

Ah, Alaska. Home to amazingly huge vegetables grown under the midnight sun. The background photo of this blog proves this to be a blessing, and on a summer night-beautifully bucolic:

Those are potatoes, by the way, in the foreground.  A farmer will look upon the above photo, and smile.

That million dollar view, however, will give a developer a thrill up the leg...knowing that such a view commands a much higher price....and a higher profit in the end.

Here in Alaska we do not have centuries of slow, incremental expansion and growth. No, we have the remnants of a number of boom and bust cycles, with periods of slow growth between.  As a consequence, not only do we have a patchwork of colony-era farmland interspersed with commercial and residential development, we also now have a governing body whose primary focus has strayed from the pioneering, homesteading, farming roots from which it arose. Here in Alaska, only a slim fraction of the land is actually available to the private individual.  2.7 million acres, and that is it. (Not counting native held acreage) Here is a link to a 2000 report, authored by our own Institute of Social and Economic Research...the title page contains an easily understood graphic that is helpful.

Although almost half of the acreage within Alaska is considered wetlands, there is believed to be between 15 and 18 million acres of tillable land. Of that, almost a million are considered true "farmland". Current acreage in production is listed in this USDA report:   (Please note that this link shows a loss of roughly 48,000 acres in production....and that the number of "farms" has actually increased.  Some of these "farms" are on a single acre, by the way-or less, in urban areas)

So what the heck do all these statistics prove?  That we are losing our prime means to feed the people at a prodigious pace. In other states, this is not as crucial....there are centuries-long traditions of farming, where innovative new techniques are adopted with vigor, and an expanding movement into the organic label is helping to grow more food than ever before. Even while it is true that in the Midwest, there has been a migration away from the generational family farm....there is, instead, a migration towards small farms in Alaska....even if it means only a high tunnel or two on an acre in the Valley. And this explains the puzzling fact of less acreage in actual production, but a sizable growth in farms.

The good dirt, that luscious soil, that prime farm land is converted into subdivisions, complete with cookie cutter starter homes, while the demand for truly farm friendly land grows. The Mat Su Borough and the State of Alaska are asleep at the wheel, and the Division of Agriculture spends more effort on playing the "cya" game than genuinely pursuing its mandate:

"The mission of the Division of Agriculture is to promote and encourage development of an agriculture industry in the State."

It does no such thing.

Franci Havemeister is at the helm, and helps determine what qualifies as agriculture use, and what does not. In fact, if it does not include row crops, or manure creating creatures, or large greenhouse complexes, it's not "Ag".  The Valley (and state) Ag condition is directly a reflection of.....well, fill in the blank. This despite the fact that there are four people tasked with "marketing" Ag. No visionaries in those seats either, whatever their lofty state wage. No, the Div. of Ag, that step child of DNR, is succeeding all too well, in staying under the radar of true public scrutiny.

There is no affordable land either. The State of Alaska is required to develop its resources.....but Ag, after the fiascoes of the past, is incapable of surmounting its history and has its sights (seemingly) set on different outcomes. You have to wonder how it is, that the land set aside for government (whole sections, mind you) is not suitable for schools.....the curious example of a decision to purchase land at fair market value, to build a high school a few miles away from another parcel with two schools already built springs to mind-and plenty of space for another. (That would be the new Redington High School, and the Knik Goose Bay schools)

But where are the new farms?
The newly planted, broad pastures, the hay fields?
Where is the land rush to fill the dreams, of the next generation of Ag in Alaska?
Where are all the new faces at farmer's markets, where are the new farm stands?
Where is the 160 acre homestead of history?

Answer: That does not exist in Alaska.

The Boro controls the land use, and whoever the seller is (state, Boro, private) has both hands out for "fair market value" and the Boro, of course, for the resulting property taxes. Oh, there is the occasional land auction (offered at fair market value-whatever the appraiser thinks is acceptable for home building, that is) and few indeed would qualify as "farm friendly". Or lease holdings with conditions which preclude investment and innovation....because again, Alaska Ag is stuck in it's own rut.

There is no incentive from their perspective to promote the smaller homestead farming...whyever would a state need to feed itself? It's not flashy, it's not trendy, it's not how they do things, it's not "socially responsible", it's just really small potatoes, it's not.....well, sexy

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Alaska Ag.....a veritable alphabet stew

On the outside looking in, Alaska Ag seems such a simple topic. A logical person could and would, conclude that it generally covers what is grown here.  A little time researching will prove this idea is completely in error, and a large array alphabet agencies, organizations, and programs all have their hands in, or on, Alaska Ag.

We'll start with the Co-operative Extension Service, which lists these as loan sources for Alaska agriculture-

ARLF-Agriculture Revolving Loan Fund
ARRC-Alaska Rural Rehabilitation Corporation
NFCS-Northwest Farm Credit Services
FSA-Farm Service Agency
CFAB-Commercial Fishing & Agriculture Bank
AHFC-Alaska Housing Finance Corporation
USDA-RD-United States Department of Agriculture, Rural Development

There are a other sources of loans and grants, notably the USDA with an assortment of "one size fits all" programs, and the SBA-Small Business Administration, which offers a number of small business development sources, as well as larger loans for established concerns.  There remains, of course, private sources, such as equity and investment group funding...and all of these acronyms have one thing in common: They have strings.

And then there is the BAC.

Properly known as the Alaska Board of Agricultural Conservation, this panel of interested parties serves as a sort of rudder for the direction Alaska Ag takes.  This is the current roster of members:   The BAC folks basically control what happens on Ag leases. If it does not pass their specific smell test, the answer is "No soup for you!"   I am not so sure their decisions would pass public scrutiny. If you have any plans in mind to improve your Ag lease, these are the people to please.

Direct from the legislation establishing the Board, worth the copy and paste in its entirety:

d) While serving on the board, a board member, or an immediate family member of the board member who shares the same household and financial resources with that board member, may not obtain a lease, permit, installment contract, or loan or purchase land under AS 03.10 or under AS 38.05, or have an existing lease, permit, installment contract, or loan under AS 03.10 or under AS 38.05 modified or restructured. Notwithstanding AS 39.52.150 (a), an immediate family member who does not share the same household and financial resources with the board member may obtain a lease, permit, installment contract, or loan or purchase land under AS 03.10 or under AS 38.05 or have an existing lease, permit, installment contract, or loan under AS 03.10 or under AS 38.05 modified or restructured. Notwithstanding AS 39.52.150 (a), a person may be appointed to the board even though, at the time of appointment, that person, or an immediate family member, has a lease, permit, installment contract, or loan under AS 03.10 or AS 38.05. However, that person may not take or withhold any official action that affects the lease, permit, installment contract, or loan of that person or an immediate family member who shares the same household and financial resources with that person. If a person with a lease, permit, installment contract, or loan under AS 03.10 or AS 38.05 is appointed to the board, failure by that person to abide by all the terms and conditions of the lease, permit, installment contract, or loan may be the basis for removal under (b) of this section. For purposes of this subsection, "immediate family member" and "official action" have the meanings given in AS 39.52.960 .

Our Division of Agriculture has no similar's all buddy buddy, who you know, who you are related to over there. A fair percentage of our local farmers, have joined one or the other over the years. Some were one issue wonders, some hoped to create a better farming environment, and some hoped to make a name for themselves and saw the Ag as the means to get there. Others joined the Alaska Farm Bureau, and worked from the sidelines to improve whatever ailed them. In truth, there is a very long list of people who have either been involved in the agriculture bureaucracy, played a role in establishing it, took advantage of it, went broke, made money (a very few!), or otherwise impacted in some fashion.  (The Alaska Farm Bureau has engaged an Oregon firm to tell them whether or not MMM should be privatized. *cough cough cough* because it seems maybe the Div of Ag does not see the obvious?)

There are nearly 30 people on state payroll for the Div. of Agriculture, did you know? That roster is here:    Please note that there are no less than four people under the marketing category. Now think, aside from negative press, when was the last time you heard or read about MMM?  Ever see an advertisement with their hours?  Any specials or sales? You can find fancy posters at Fred Meyer's about the number of "Alaskan Grown" items on the shelf every day, but you will not find one pound of beef or pork. Not a one.

You won't find any ads encouraging Alaskans to plant a garden either. A home garden must not be Ag, right?  No no no....Ag is *big* farming. It's not about improving Alaska's self reliance, or encouraging people to help feed the, it's all about big crops and big farms and big money and as near as anyone can tell, big fails.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Alaska stinks in Palmer

It reeks over in Palmer. And no, I don't mean in the sense of "liquified manure spread over fields" stench, not one bit.  I'll leave the reader to conclude for themselves this time.

In revisiting the topic of the MMM processing plant (Mt. McKinley Meats, for new readers) I touched upon its poor performance history, financially and operationally, in a previous blog entry. To understand the true nature of how twisted the ties are between dairy and beef here in the Valley, a person must learn about "Dairygate" in depth. The players, the money, the years....nothing much changes except the hats. For those who prefer to have things laid out with more coherence, I offer these older blogs and articles, written by locals who watched the misdeeds and malfeasance from afar.

1. A timeline of the entire Dairygate fiasco, nicely laid out. H/T to the author:
2. Although aimed directly at former Gov. Sarah Palin, this blog fills out a few more details surrounding the debacle:

Do please note that is a lot of money. Vanished, poof, gone. Alaska money, spent by the Division of Agriculture, and plumped up by grants from the State itself.  Also, I encourage you to read the comments listed below the second link above. There, you will see just how extensive the questionable behavior is, between many well known Alaskan farmers.  

However, the greatest follower of Dairygate, remains Andrew Halcro. Love him or hate him, he is a persistent, epic blogger, whose entries about this subject are fine reading indeed. Here is a piece written by Mr. Halcro, regarding the creamery...forever intertwined with MMM:

In the end, it has mattered naught. Not the padded loans for buddies, the real estate deals, the mysterious disappearance of equipment (twice), the unpaid loans, the unqualified administrators, none of it. Even a story published by KTUU will make no difference whatsoever:

So from the above links a logical person can conclude, that the only people "making it" in agriculture up here, are either unqualified bureaucrats (or related to Franci Havemesiter, or both), or recipients of staggeringly large loans that are subsequently written off, without hope of pay off back to the loan fund, or those that feed upon one or the other. 

Alaska Ag is, as one local farmer put it: Last nail is in the coffin.  

If you are wondering whose hand is holding a hammer, look no further than Franci Havemesiter.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Alaska Ag......Is that cow bells?

No discussion about Alaska Ag is complete without broaching the subject of dairy.

Before statehood, and for several decades after, Alaska had quite a number of small dairy farms. They dotted the Valley landscape, some with only a handful of milkers, some with dozens, but they all served to provide local residents with fresh milk.....not canned or powdered. Matanuska Maid was the local co-op, and they eventually grew to ship enough to Anchorage for many years. They had a successful advertising campaign, and a great graphic:

Unfortunately, poor management and politics led to its eventual demise.  The ultimate issue continues to plague what passes for Alaska dairy today, and that is: The development of former pasture and hay acreage, coupled with a growing population who demands cheap, subsidized milk. Oh, you didn't know that the $3.89 gallon of milk you buy at WalMart was subsidized?  The FSA has a program aimed to support the difference between at the farm price, and the retail shelf. And so too, are Alaska dairies subsidized, as seen here in this report, generated from USDA and FOIA requests:

From 2006, here is a decent article that explains what the situation was then......since then, of course, Matanuska Creamary came and went, a project spearheaded by yet another failed farmer: Kyle Beus:     (Trytten's have left the state, Brost is no longer dairying commercially...and other farms have been sold)

Sprinkled throughout its patchy, up and down history, are grand standing politics, a Borough that hopes to increase revenues through property taxes,  co-ops of the old fashioned kind (that failed), privatization (that failed), a heavily subsidized creamery (that failed) and a consuming public that has no clue what it takes to put that $4 gallon jug on the shelf in the dairy section.

Not helping matters is our own ADEC. Yes, our own state has it's hands firmly around the neck of Alaska dairy, and has been squeezing for decades. There is one functioning commercial dairy left in Southcentral, in Palmer. Havemeisters. Draw your own conclusions there, but they can only produce a tiny fraction of the daily consumption here.  And even tinier fraction is supplied by milk share programs-the state's sole nod to private, small dairy activity. Prohibited from selling their milk, customers who chose wholesome, fresh milk for their family, must literally buy the cow (share) to have any.  Subsequently, 100s of productive dairy cows (those that cost upwards of $10,000 each, as quoted above) have been processed by MMM for burger and steaks for the inmates over the years following Mat Maid's spectacularly public collapse. It will take years and bucket loads of money to rebuild herds lost to the ineptitude of bureaucrats.

If a person poked around the records relating to the Point MacKenzie agricultural project, you would soon see a steady movement of productive hay lands, into various government entities: DOC for one. Or perhaps the Alaska Rail Road.  Just two farms, comprising of over 1200 acres of formerly very productive hay acreage, was taken away from the resources available to local farmers and producers. This has been occurring for years, and the slide into development will only accelerate when the rail line extends to the port-and very quickly should the fabled bridge materialize. The shrinking numbers of hay acres has also lead to a steady decline in livestock over all, not just dairy cows.

And what is the take away, from all of the above?

It's actually pretty simple: No hay, no livestock.

More to come..............

Monday, October 5, 2015

Mt. McKinley Meats and the Division of Ag......

Alaska Ag is dying.

It's a simple list of circumstance, coupled with policy and sprinkled with budget constraints, stirred together with modern culture and bureaucratic bumbling, completed with blindfold on.

On the federal level, the government influence extends into every facet of food production.  If you have the passion, the will and desire, and the fortitude to produce food, you can bet there is a three ring binder of regulations (created mostly by bureaucrats, mind you, but federal law nonetheless) covering the soils, the waters, the methods used to produce that food. You may need permits, have to submit extensive, complicated plans, record and report all activities-and be subject to visitation and confiscation and a whole host of other noxious intrusions to get your crop sold. If you chose to jump onto the organic wagon, that includes even more time, effort, and 

On the State of Alaska side, there are the budget cuts to come.  This will bring to an end, many years of crop research, for one. And that matters, a lot. They're going to shut down Mt McKinley Meats too, the sole USDA approved processing facility in Southcentral Alaska. Animals are hauled 100s of miles to this plant, so that farmers and livestock producers can then resell the resulting meat and meat products, legally. (See above note about federal regulations-can't sell the meat without that stamp) So, locally produced meats will vanish from farm markets, restaurants, local grocery stores and butcher shops. So too, the farmers-hobbyists, ranchers, producers-will vanish. And so will the expensive and hard to procure breeding stock. When they go, the baseline impetus to grow hay and grain will diminish as well. Funny how one little thing, turns out to be the domino, isn't it?  MMM has always operated in the red since operations were taken over by the State of Alaska. Primarily this is due, once again, to regulation(s) on both the state and federal side. No visionaries have ever been at the helm, to increase utility of waste product(s) for the local markets. Thus, for all the animals slaughtered there over the preceding decades, not one bag or box of local bone or blood meal can be found. 

The current director of the Division of Agriculture must have made an impression somehow, with prior Commissioner of Natural Resources, one Tom Irwin.  Irwin has since left for greener pastures, but his legacy shines on in Franci Havemeister, whose less than stellar resume' includes this entry (from :

Before becoming director, Havemeister worked as a real estate agent, a case processor for the state of Alaska, and served as children's education director at her local church.[3]

Really, is *that* the best the state could do, to manage a 2.5 million dollar budget? And to cough up over $120,000 for the position to boot?  Who hasn't been a realtor, or taught Sunday school? Prior state government works qualifies a person to run a for profit business, since when?  Why, since 2007, that's how long. In fact, it's ironic that her salary could nearly pay for MMM's long standing operating losses. If it wasn't so descriptive of how the state does anything, it would be laughable. Instead, it's a pathetic indictment.

The capacity of the plant is much greater than is currently utilized, which creates a backlog of animals awaiting processing. Kill days are just twice a week with a limited number allowed to be processed, and they're closed one day a week as well. We're told this is a cost saving measure-but it costs their customers (Alaskans) instead. When this occurs, farmers and ranchers and homesteaders must wait extra months for a slot on the schedule. This means that they must feed them much longer-as long as six months in some years...which translates into a much higher cost due to added feed consumption.

The argument that the plant is only needed to sell locally grown meats commercially is not entirely accurate. A great many hobby and small farmers, intent on raising their own food, rely upon the service provided by MMM. They do not have the skills, facility, or confidence to handle their livestock themselves, never mind knowledge or equipment. More and more people are attempting to grow their own wholesome meats, and this movement continues to grow every year.  In fact, there are two other USDA approved plants-and both are too far away from Southcentral for customers to reach. One of those (we've heard never used) is stranded in the Bush, another expensive boondoggle. Are there any plans to enable Alaskans to continue to have a local processing source? Well, no, actually. There is a committee looking into it (ahem) and the usual solution will be presented: Privatize. Whereupon it will go broke (as it has before) and we're right back where we started, three years down the road.

It goes broke because the state and feds, will not get out of the way of running a profitable business. It will continue to be buried in a mind numbing sea of red tape, regulations and "no you can't" policies and thus, destined for failure. Several very skilled folks have floated the idea of a "mobile slaughter" business, but the requirements remain the same for mobile, as they do stationary. And again, too expensive to be profitable for anyone to attempt to build one. Another irony: The state currently uses inmates from the correctional system, for their labor pool. In this way, they keep costs down, and provide the inmate with a new life skill....which they then cannot use because there are too many skilled butchers looking for work as it is. Just one of the unintended consequences of feel good policies, not practical ones. And any time a person dares to proffer any sort of solution, they are drowned out in a chorus of "You can't do that, it doesn't meet this (or that) regulation, we've always done it this way" and so on. A resounding, discouraging chorus, and the real drowning victims here are the residents of the state.........who aren't going to "got beef" for much longer.

This just in: Rumor has that a certain person on the committee supposedly working to find a solution to the perpetually plagued plant, has a back up plan. Indeed, his own plan, for another USDA plant. A private plant, not state owned. Methinks he is playing both ends against the middle here, and looking to come out on top. It's a win-win-win......better odds than the ill equipped director has going, for sure!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Alaska Ag: The bell tolls for thee

Not making any news recently, the demise of agriculture in Alaska continues its slide into obscurity.

Once an incentive to a small number of struggling farmers from the midwest, (circa 1935, the Matanuska Valley Colony project) the impetus for agriculture in the state is on life support 80 years later.  

In fact, it is flat lined. 

The state of the State's finances, ignorance at the legislative level, and the apathy of the residents have seen to that.  Oh, there are many passionate people, attempting to resuscitate agriculture, indeed there are. From the pedigreed and degree'd experts on the Alaska Food Policy Council, to select bureaucrats in state government, to the wary home gardener who sees the storm clouds-worry persists and pervades the farmlands, garden plots, and greenhouses across this land.  At the core, they all recognize one unavoidable fact: Alaska cannot feed itself.  It never has, and any serious disruption in that steady stream of containers from southern ports will spell doom on an epic scale. 

Generally, they are split into distinct factions:  Ag related businesses both small and large, the modern foodie type who is all about local and small carbon footprints, and the determined hobby gardener attempting to put at least something on their family plates.

The hobby gardener, of which there are thousands in all areas of the state, are the unsung heroes of Alaska agriculture. They'll try to grow anything at least once-and many will make repeated attempts to produce vegetables or fruits that are considered unsuitable for our gardening zone, or personal favorites from "back home in the Lower 48". Why? Because they want to, and they can, and no one told them they can't. Thus, surprising foods have been grown here, albeit in minuscule quantities. Citrus, egg plant, melons of all kinds, even a few sweet potatoes in specialized settings such as hydroponics/aquaponics.  They are forever pushing the envelope of what can be done, what can be grown, and what determination and attention and customized growing conditions prove possible. They experiment, they learn new methods, and they persevere even when presented with repeated failures. Would that our ignorant parade of legislators had done the same, even for one decade, in Juneau. 

The locavore and modern foodie movement, which is all about eating local, has had an impact on local agriculture to a small degree. Their demands, whether through CSAs, farm stands, or local restaurants, pressure the local farmers to produce a wider assortment, over a longer period of harvest than previously thought possible. The USDA has a high tunnel program which is helping these local entrepreneurs to satisfy this demand.  Those monies will dry up as the federal government reduces funding...but it is important to note that the State has no equivalent program to encourage actual food production in Alaska. 

And finally there is the loosely defined "agriculture business".  It covers everything from the amazing farm in Bethel (which produces a prodigious amount of fresh vegetables for the entire region every year) to the niche market grower who is providing mirco greens (for example) for one or two restaurants. There are still hay and grain farmers, slugging it out against poor weather, a lack of transportation from farm to market, and those who rely upon their crops:  Those handful of hardy folks trying to produce cattle, dairy animals for the hobby gardener, hogs for market and so forth. It also includes every person who must rely upon the service of Mt. McKinley Meat in Palmer to process their own home-raised livestock. 

It used to be said that farming in Alaska was tilting at windmills in vain. These days, there are no more windmills and most are left to either decamp for better climates down south, or simply, quietly, give up the fight. In fact, it's a bitter truth that ag is maligned, laughed at, and considered inconsequential by most...particularly in Juneau (which is ironic, since it was Juneau that handled-or manhandled, if you prefer- the two spectacular debacles known as "Delta" and "Point MacKenzie.")

Both of these projects were originally conceived with good intentions, but completely bungled by bureaucrats and red tape and stupidity.  It all boils down to a state that does not, and never has, shown confidence in agriculture-forgetting their own role in the large scale failures of the past. Ag does not even warrant its own department within state government. Instead, it limps along as a step child to the Dept of Environmental Conservation.....and will soon lose both the plant materials center (where ongoing research into crops takes place) and Mt. McKinley Meats. When those close their doors for good, it will be time to start digging a very large hole-because the State of Alaska gives no thought to what happens next.