• Sitka represented at first meeting of new Alaska Food Policy Council

Kerry MacLane grills black cod for the Alaska Longline Fisherman's Association booth at an August 2009 Sitka Farmers Market

Kerry MacLane grills black cod for the Alaska Longline Fisherman's Association booth at an August 2009 Sitka Farmers Market

When the new Alaska Food Policy Council held its first meeting in Anchorage last month, Sitka Local Foods Network president Kerry MacLane was among the 80 or so people in attendance.

“There were nutritionists, politicians, state and federal government folks galore, Native groups, Alaska ranchers (of reindeer, musk ox, elk, goats and even cows), our one creamery, schools, WIC (Women, Infants, Children supplemental nutrition program), restaurants, truckers, a food wholesaler and even some people growing fruits and vegetables,” said Kerry, whose meeting notes are linked as a PDF file at the bottom of this story. “I was honored to represent Sitka at the first meeting of the Alaska Food Policy Council.”

The Alaska Food Policy Council is a new venture in Alaska, but food policy councils are becoming more common around the country at the state and regional level, especially as more people are becoming concerned about where their food comes from and what’s in it. The first meeting of the Alaska Food Policy Council featured guest speaker Mark Winne of the Community Food Security Coalition, who discussed what food policy councils do, and there was a panel of experts from around the state who gave brief presentations about different parts of Alaska’s food system. Many of the participants also took an online survey about Alaska’s food system, which helped provide guidance for the two-day meeting.

“This group will take a critical look at our current food system and start thinking about ideas for building a stronger regional system,” Daniel Consenstein, executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Alaska Farm Service Agency, wrote about the meeting. “Most of these stakeholders know that keeping more of our food dollars in Alaska will help create jobs and spur economic development. They know that if Alaska can produce more of its own food, we can build healthier communities and be less vulnerable to food disruptions in times of emergencies. The long-term goals of the Food Policy Council will be to identify barriers to building a viable Alaskan food system, create a strategic plan to address these barriers, and make the necessary recommendations to decision makers to implement this plan. Over the next year, this group will develop an action plan to make Alaska more food secure.”

Photo courtesy of USDA Agricultural Research Service Image Gallery / Photo by Scott Bauer -- The average American eats 142 pounds of potatoes a year, making the tubers the vegetable of choice in this country

Photo courtesy of USDA Agricultural Research Service Image Gallery / Photo by Scott Bauer -- The average American eats 142 pounds of potatoes a year, making the tubers the vegetable of choice in this country

Diane Peck of the Alaska Division of Public Health is coordinating the Alaska Food Policy Council, which is having its creation funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and from a two-year grant from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Obesity Prevention and Control Program (grant originally provided through the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention). Detailed meeting minutes and a purpose and next steps document are linked below as PDF files.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences posted a good, detailed wrap-up of the first meeting on its blog, and the University of Alaska’s “Statewide Voice” also had an article about the meeting.

The creation of the Alaska Food Policy Council has sparked regional interest in Southeast Alaska. The Health, Education and Social Services committee of the Southeast Conference will meet by teleconference at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, June 22, to discuss the Alaska Food Policy Council (click Calendar and Events on the link to get call-in numbers and codes). “We have opportunity to advance our local food production and utilize the bounty of our region to sustain our people and improve our health,” Southeast Conference executive director Shelly Wright wrote about the Alaska Food Policy Council.

“There are numerous benefits that food policy changes could mean for residents of Southeast Alaska,” Kerry MacLane said. “The bycatch regulations could be modified to encourage great recovery, processing and distribution. This would result in affordable fish in local markets, schools, health institutions and statewide. Federal, state and local government institutions would have more incentives and few restrictions to include local food in their purchases. More economic development funds could be made available to food system-related entrepreneurs. State and federal storage of (Alaska) emergency food supplies could be in our communities instead of in Portland, Ore. The Alaska Food Policy Council can help Alaskans increase our self-reliance and be more prepared for the coming rise in fuel costs.”

To learn more about the Alaska Food Policy Council, contact Diane Peck with the Alaska Division of Public Health at 1-907-269-8447 (Anchorage) or by e-mail at diane.peck@alaska.gov. Most of the council’s communication and meetings will be by e-mail and teleconference.

Minutes from the May 18-19, 2010, first meeting of the Alaska Food Policy Council

Purpose and next steps for Alaska Food Policy Council

Kerry MacLane’s notes on the first meeting of the Alaska Food Policy Council

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• Fast Food Nation author encourages Alaskans to grow their own local food

Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser, second from left, visits with University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences associate professor Joshua Greenberg, left, student Charles Caster, third from left, and professor Milan Shipka, right, during a May 27 visit to speak at UAF. (Photo courtesy of the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences blog)

Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser, second from left, visits with University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences associate professor Joshua Greenberg, left, student Charles Caster, third from left, and professor Milan Shipka, right, during a May 27 visit to speak at UAF. (Photo courtesy of the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences blog)

Eric Schlosser, the author of “Fast Food Nation” and “Chew On This,” encouraged Alaskans to grow their own local foods during a May 27 lunch of Alaska-grown food with University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences (SNRAS) students, faculty and staff involved with food security and food production.

Schlosser, who also co-produced the films “Food, Inc.” and “There Will Be Blood,” was in Fairbanks to give a lecture that night as part of UAF’s Summer Sessions. Stories about his lecture can be found on the SNRAS blog and in the UAF Sun Star student newspaper, and a preview story was in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

During his free lecture, Schlosser discussed the recent changes to how our food is grown and prepared, and about how we are losing contact with how our food gets to our plates. He focused on many of the industrial agriculture themes highlighted in his more popular book, “Fast Food Nation,” and some of the resulting problems, such as the low wages and vulnerable workforce in fast food production and the use of hormones in feedlot cattle and issues with antibiotics given feedlot animals.

He also delved into some of the resulting health issues from eating too much fast food, a topic he discussed in his book “Chew On This,” which was written for older children. (Editor’s note: “Chew On This” has a section about the Stop The Pop movement by schools in rural Alaska to eliminate soda pop from their school vending machines.) According to the SNRAS blog, Schlosser discussed the connections between our highly processed, industrial food and diseases such as diabetes.

The people most at risk are children and the elderly. Fast food, which is high in fat, sugar, starch, and salt, compromises the health of these vulnerable citizens. “These are ideal foods to make you unhealthy,” Schlosser said. “And they sell tons of soda because it is the most profitable thing they sell.”

While people in the US used to be some of the most fit people now they are terribly unfit. The obesity rate has nearly doubled for toddlers and tripled for children ages 6 to 11. “Alaska has one of the highest obesity rates in the US,” Schlosser said. “Alaska has more in common with Alabama and Mississippi than western states when it comes to obesity.”

Diabetes is another concern, with one in three children born in 2000 destined to develop diabetes. Among poor people the number is one in two.

“What is to be done?” Schlosser asked. “That all sounds really grim but an entirely different system is possible and necessary.” He stressed organic foods, buying local food, and reconnecting people with where food comes from. He said he is encouraged by the interest in sustainability found on college campuses.

“The fast food system exploits the weak and the poor and threatens our entire democratic system,” he said. “We need an agricultural system based on social policies and access to healthy, nutritional food for every member of society.”

Schlosser also noted how dependent Alaska has become on imported food, and how that impacts food security.

“Hey, you guys in Alaska gotta grow your own. You need to remember where food comes from. Alaska is the most food insecure state; that is not good.” He said Alaska has 15 million acres suitable for agriculture, yet only 30,000 acres are cultivated. (See addendum below.) “Rhode Island has twice as many farms as you and their value of agricultural products is twice as big. Now come on, you guys need to grow food in your back yards, have school gardens, and buy food grown in this state.”

(Addendum — From SNRAS Dean and AFES Director Carol Lewis, June 1, 2010: The 15 million acres is a wonderful quote, but if you look at Roeger (1958), you’ll see the rest of the story. Only 500,000 are accessible by road or rail. There are opportunities to use non-agricultural lands if we use controlled environments and composting, however. There are more than 30,000 acres actually cleared and in Delta alone there are about 100,000 acres.)

• Sitka gardeners extend growing seasons with government pilot study on high tunnels

Several Sitka gardeners will be extending their growing seasons this year thanks to a government soil conservation program designed to study the effectiveness of “high tunnels” or “hoop houses” when it comes to growing more local food in a conservation-minded way. To qualify you need to have grown $1,000 worth of produce for two of the past five years, even if just for your family and friends.

The Sitka participants will be constructing the greenhouse-like structures this year, which will enable them to grow more local food. For participating in the study, the government will reimburse them for the cost of the materials. This project is part of a nationwide effort to improve our community food security called “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.” As part of the project, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will conduct a three-year, 38-state study on high tunnels to see if they help reduce pesticide use, extend the growing season, keep vital nutrients in the soil, etc. This YouTube video has more information about the pilot study and shows several smaller family garden-sized high tunnels being placed in the White House garden.

“There is great potential for high tunnels to expand the availability of healthy, locally-grown crops — a win for producers and consumers,” U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said. “This pilot project is going to give us real-world information that farmers all over the country can use to decide if they want to add high tunnels to their operations. We know that these fixtures can help producers extend their growing season and hopefully add to their bottom line.”

If you meet the requirement, feel free to participate by contacting our local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) agent for Southeast Alaska, Samia Savell in Juneau at 586-7220, or go to http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/. NRCS will fund one high tunnel per qualifying farm, and a high tunnel can cover as much as 5 percent of one acre.

High tunnels have been used successfully in Alaska, including up in Fairbanks where temperatures drop to minus-50. Last September, the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences reported on a two-year project where 39 varieties of apples had been grown in high tunnels at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm. The UAF Cooperative Extension Service also reported on the project (with short videos), and the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner also reported on the story.

• Wanton waste of deer meat, a record high herring quota and other local foods stories in the news

Over the past couple of weeks, at least 10 Sitka black tail deer corpses have been found in Sitka with lots of edible meat still on the bone but the prime cuts missing. According to the Anchorage Daily News, state wildlife officials are searching for the hunters, and wanton waste charges may be coming for those involved. There were six deer found off Green Lake Road, then four deer were found near Harbor Mountain Road five days later.

The Sitka Local Foods Network encourages the responsible and sustainable harvesting of traditional subsistence foods, such as deer, but we must respect the resource and use the entire animal. Not only is leaving edible meat in the field wasteful, but the last couple of years have been down years for deer survival and the actions of these wasteful hunters may mean fewer hunting opportunities next year for hunters who need the deer to feed their families. Anyone with information about the cases is asked to call Alaska Wildlife Troopers at 747-3254 or, to remain anonymous, Wildlife Safeguard at 1-800-478-3377.

In other local foods news, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game established a record sac roe herring quota for the 2010 season, a quota of more than 18,000 tons (more than 4,000 tons higher than last year’s then-record quota). The commercial herring fleet is very happy with the higher quota, but KCAW-Raven Radio reports local subsistence gatherers worry that the record quota will harm their ability to gather herring eggs on hemlock branches, a popular subsistence and barter food for local Tlingít and Haida residents. They also worry two straight years of record quotas will hurt the resource, since herring also serves as a key forage food for salmon, halibut, whales, sea lions and other species in the region.

The Juneau Empire reported that the State of Alaska asked for an extension to reply to an inquiry on subsistence management from the federal government. The federal government took over some management of subsistence in Alaska more than a decade ago because state laws weren’t in compliance with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), which calls for a rural preference on subsistence in times of shortage, and the federal government may be expanding its role in subsistence management.

The Anchorage Daily News reported on Alaska pork being ready for the freezer at A.D. Farms, and that pork will be sold at the indoor farmers market at Anchorage’s Northway Mall. The story included a wrap-up of other local foods available at the market, and it had a recipe for crock-pot cod.

Laine Welch’s Alaska fishing column was about how more local fish is appearing in school lunch menus.

The Anchorage Daily News Alaska Newsreader feature reported on several Arctic travelers getting trichinosis from eating undercooked bear meat. The National Post of Canada also had a story on travelers eating undercooked bear meat, while the New York Times had an article about how trichinosis is common in bear meat that isn’t cooked properly.

The Anchorage Daily News had an article about how Alaska’s rhubarb probably first came from Russia.

Miller-McCune magazine had an article about how Alaska’s complex salmon politics can serve as a model for sustainable fisheries elsewhere in the world.

The Alaska Public Radio Network reported on a woman from Aniak, Dee Matter, who has taken freezing her food to a new level. The story also was on APRN’s Alaska News Nightly show.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner had a feature article about Kotzebue hunter and trapper Ross Schafer and the “Eskimo” way of life.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner had an article about a conflict between farmers and hunters over the future of the Delta bison herd.

The Juneau Empire ran a story about glaciers providing an important food source.

Anchorage Daily News garden columnist Jeff Lowenfels wrote about magazine gifts for gardeners.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran an Associated Press article about Monsanto’s role in the business of agriculture, especially the way it squeezes out competitors in the seed industry.

Finally, the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences blog featured an article about a new study about food security challenges in Alaska.