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Harvesting Alaska: The growing need for young farmers

By Lauren Maxwell 6:29 AM July 18, 2016

The manager of a Palmer Farm says Alaska needs to attract a younger generation to farming, a field that is rapidly aging, especially as the demand for local food continues to grow.

Megan Talley says the typical Alaskan farmer is someone in their late 50s.

“I think it’s 58, 59? That’s the average age,” said Talley. “There’s just not a lot of young people coming in.”

Talley manages Spring Creek Farm, a farm operated by Alaska Pacific University. One of their missions is to get young people interested in learning the basics of modern farming.

“We have to be business people, we have to know how to market, we’ve got to know the specifics of how to grow,” said Talley. “Which you could spend a lifetime learning how to do.”

In this case, students and interns spend a season at the farm. They learn to grow and harvest vegetables and get them ready to sell at market. But it’s more than that. Mackenzie Stamey is spending her second summer at the farm. First as an intern, now as a paid staff member. For her, food security is a major issue.

“We are highly dependent on bringing food from the Lower 48 and around the world. And I think we would be more resilient as a state if we had more farmers, especially young farmers,” Stamey said.

After a stint in the Peace Corps, she plans to come back to Alaska and make agriculture a career.

But while getting young people like Stamey excited about farming is definitely an important goal, Talley said it’s not the only one.

“Not everyone who comes through here is going to want to go away and be a farmer,” she said. “And that’s OK, because they’ll be better consumers. They’ll know more about food policy, they’ll understand the bigger system.”

And hopefully, according to Talley, have a deeper appreciation of what’s involved in filling Alaska’s growing appetite for eating local.

Spring Creek Farm is still offering CSA subscriptions. You can also find their produce at the APU farmers market every Thursday from noon to 6 p.m.

Lauren Maxwell can be reached at lmaxwell@ktva.com.

Harvesting Alaska is an ongoing series exploring all the ways Alaskans live off the land. 

Read more

Smoked salmon, versatile and better than candy

Garden to bowl, a soup kitchen nourishes the hungry

CSAs offer fresh, healthy produce and convenience

High tunnels protect environment, spur sustainability in the Last Frontier

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