Alaska: The Last Frontier of Farming

UNITED STATES

As cheaper technology and a changing climate make growing food easier, more Alaskans are turning to farming. (High Country News)

When is Alaska’s growing season?

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit Text Set.

Hay fields line the road traveling from Palmer, Alaska, to Anchorage. Rich volcanic soil, abundant water and land, and climate change have led to a 62% increase in Alaska farms selling directly to consumers (between 2007 and 2014).
Photograph by Don Galligan, courtesy Wikimedia. Public domain

Discussion Ideas

 

 

  • Why are Alaskans hungry for local produce?
    • affordability. “Wild game, fish and shellfish are staples of the Alaskan diet, but vegetables, perishables and store-bought meat are usually imported from far away, at tremendous cost.” The HCN article reports that a half-gallon of milk can cost $10. Locally grown food is less expensive, as it does not have transportation costs, such as upkeep of long-distance infrastructure (roads and bridges), labor (drivers), or gasoline (which can cost $7 a gallon).
    • food security. Alaska’s isolation puts it at risk if a natural disaster reduces residents’ access to healthy foods. “After Hurricane Katrina, it took two weeks to get food into parts of New Orleans,” says Arthur Keyes, director of the Alaska Division of Agriculture. “And they’re connected to the rest of the country. We’re over 2,000 driving miles from Washington state. If we have a major crisis like an earthquake or fire or we lose a port, can you imagine how long it’ll take food to get here?”

 

  • How is the business of agriculture different in Alaska than it is in California or the Midwest, the “salad bowl” and “bread basket” of the nation?
    • Alaska agriculture overwhelmingly consists of family- or community-owned farms. “Alaskans have tried commercial-scale agriculture in the past, and learned that growing food to export makes little sense in a state where transportation costs are high and shipping routes limited.” (In California, on the other hand, commercial-scale agriculture—agribusiness—makes billions of dollars of financial sense.)

 

Agriculture has always been BIG in the biggest state. Due to the growing season’s 24-hour-sunlight, produce can grow to huge proportions, like the cabbage pictured above.
Photograph by Thomas J. Abercrombie, National Geographic

 

TEACHERS TOOLKIT TEXT SET

High Country News: Farming in Alaska is increasingly possible

Nat Geo: What is a growing season?

Nat Geo: What is a crop?

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