"The fix is in, Ag is done"
And I thought....surely that cannot be?
No, not when there are literally hundreds of people just getting started with growing food here, not when there are many thousands of back yard gardens, greenhouses, and plant stands with lights in Alaska homes, right?
Alas, yes, it is true.
Follow along, and you will sadly agree:
Everyone has their own version of what Alaska agricultural history is, so I won't re-plow spent soils there....other than to note that the ARLF (which predates Statehood) is overseen by the Board of Agriculture and Conservation. "Agriculture and Conservation" has such a lovely ring, doesn't it? An image of a tidy field of row crops springs to mind, or perhaps crates full of produce, or maybe just a farmer on a tractor-coupled that warm feeling of saving something. It's a great marketing and sales tactic, selecting just the right words. Any political campaigner will tell you the same. Their motto is:
"Promote and encourage development of an agriculture industry."
Among the seats on that board, sits not one small producer. No, they represent, to a man, the commercial side of agriculture. Small "ag", as I like to think of it....is absent. Small ag is the homestead producer, the smaller operations who might send a handful of critters to MMM&S perhaps, or whose back breaking labor gifts them with a few weekends of produce at a farmers market.
The same holds true for the ARLF board, sadly enough. The big guys with the big tractors only. It's an exclusive club, and membership depends a great deal on the whims of the board. Their motto is: "Financing the Future"
Then there is the Alaska Farm Bureau, who paid for an industry report on MMM&S, and it's great. They also formed what they call a "Steering Committee" to explore privatization of the plant. Here again, you will not find one small producer, nary a one. Although several of the committee members were on the FB group, no homesteaders, backyarders, or small business are welcome at the table for the farm bureau steering committee. Their motto is: Farm Gate to the World
Of course, there are all the federal programs, many of them with ample public monies for projects. However, they do come with a number of conditions, and many Alaskans find those to be intrusive and onerous and they'd rather "go local" than not. So instead of a recap of the feds, suffice to say: It's there if you qualify.
Now you may be wondering where that cronyism might fit into the pieces listed above. Cronyism runs through Alaska ag, from it's founding with the Colony project, through the boondoggles of the mightily mismanaged projects of the 80s, the bankruptcies (and how did a $12 an hour employee of the failed creamery manage to acquire all those lovely cows, whose transport alone was in the many thousands?) and on through today.
If a person were to check through the available records, a person would note that several names recur frequently. It is a complex tapestry of friendships, family, marriages, animosity and enemies. These days, if you don't have skin in the game, you're....well, nothing. You have to attend the meetings, schmooze the mighty, befriend the suspicious, and acquiesce to the anointed. And if you can't figure out who that is, well then...no money for you! The seats of power in Alaska Ag are those occupied by the boards listed above, with a complicit slate of Directors of the Division of Agriculture, coupled with essentially zero oversight from the legislature. In short, they do as they please, loan to who they please, and include who they please. Period. It does not change because they do not allow change, because it has always been done this way. This is why outsiders are not welcome, newcomers are not welcome, small producers are not welcome. Cronyism at its finest, right here in the Valley.
A quote attributed to the La Famiglia, the Mafia sums this up nicely:
You can be rich without knowing how to be powerful, but you cannot be powerful without being rich
And lest you think I am blowing smoke....how is it that a bankrupt farmer or two, got new loans for new ventures? And managed to go broke again? How is it, that the "ag lease" lands, are bought, chopped up, and resold for speculation so easily? Why is it that so many long time farmers, have given up and abandoned the state? Why is it that even a veterinary clinic, whose primary focus would be cattle, cannot get approved because it isn't "agriculture" enough? Why is it that the former Director was ineffective and served as rubber stamp for the local El Capo? Why is that the only names forwarded for consideration for the new Director of the Division of Agriculture, either related to El Capo, or had strong Democratic political ties?
And finally....why is that small ag, is not allowed a voice anywhere?
Answer: Because El Capo does not choose to accept them, their existence, and especially, their concerns, ideas, and new ways of doing things.