School Preps Next Generation of Rural Alaska Farmers
Food is expensive to ship into Alaska, resulting in high prices. This is especially true for food sent to remote villages, where it must be delivered by aircraft.
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
FAIRBANKS — Food is expensive to ship into Alaska, resulting in high prices. This is especially true for food sent to remote villages, where it must be delivered by aircraft.
Fresh produce is almost unheard of in some villages. If fruit or vegetables do make it in, the prices are just as unbelievable as the arrival of the items themselves.
In Bush Alaska a 5-pound bag of potatoes can cost about $15.
A stalk of celery, $9.
The Advanced Alaskan Growers School is doing something about the price of produce in Alaska. Free gardening classes are offered in two parts, sponsored by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service. The first class is for beginners who want to learn to garden. The second class is for advanced students who already know how to garden and want to pursue farming or starting a small business selling Alaska-grown products. The classes are open to everyone; however, Alaska Natives or people living in the Tanana Chiefs Conference region have priority if there are more people than space available. The classes are taught through several means, including self-paced methods. People can take the class over the phone, online through the website “Blackboard,” or through the mail. All reading materials for the course will be provided.
“This class was designed because farmers are retiring and there hasn’t been a new group of farmers,” said Heidi Rader, the project director for the program. “They will fill the void of farmers and also it will compliment a subsistence lifestyle.”
The first part of the course teaches about gardening in remote villages. Participants receive tips on how to maintain a garden in extreme temperatures, and will be taught how to grow enough food for themselves and 10 other families.
Alaska’s climate is generally cold, so the class teaches methods for growing produce in harsh conditions. An example would be to use raised garden beds to conquer cold soil conditions or inadequate rainfall. Students learn about the soil in their area and how to make the best of it. They also learn about plant diseases, deficiencies, pests and how to deal with them.
Participants are able to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables depending on what the climate is like in their area. Produce that is easily grown in Alaska includes cabbage, celery, potatoes, carrots, in warmer temperatures a variety of berries, and more.
The second part is the advanced course, for master gardeners and others with at least two years of gardening or farming experience. The course introduces students to sustainable farming practices, such as raising bees, chicken, livestock and it teaches participants how to pursue farming, ranching or starting a small business to sell Alaska-grown products.
The beginners class started in March and the advanced course already has begun for 2011. The next classes will start in 2012 and will be offered twice during the year. Both classes have about 22 lessons that are self-paced.
The goal of this course is to inform people about the benefits of gardening and farming.
“There is a need out in the smaller communities for people to obtain fresh produce,” instructor Donavan Kienenberger said.