Harvesting Alaska: Eating like we want to
It’s challenging to eat well in rural Alaska. Villagers in Anaktuvuk Pass have said they paid $12 for a mediocre cabbage — a prepackaged salad is $8.
Despite the challenges, one family has figured out a way to eat well and to nourish their community. Jennifer Romo and her family own the Wood River Market in the Bristol Bay community of Aleknagik, a village about 35 miles north of Dillingham. The Romos opened the market in 2014 and sell food customers otherwise couldn’t buy in the area.
“I have a passion for eating whole foods and natural foods, then it’s my way to share it with other people and to eat it myself,” Romo said.
The family maintains a large garden and sells fresh vegetables at their store. By the time Wood River Market opens for the season, they’ll have plenty of radishes, kale and spinach to sell. As the summer goes on, they’ll offer other organics such as strawberries, broccoli, peas, cucumbers and cabbages. Romo said they also import organic goods from outside of Alaska — things like saltines, kombucha and chicken broth.
“The more you can tell people you know, ‘Organic peach tastes way better than the one you’ll buy at the store’ and they say, ‘Yeah! You know, this is way better!’ And it’s just a way to get people to realize there’s for one, different foods in Dillingham, but also just to try different things that don’t grow here,” she said.
Romo says the Wood River bridge that opened last fall, which connects the communities of Aleknagik to Dillingham, has spurred more interest in her store. Each year, they are adding something new to expand what the market offers, she said. This year’s additions are an espresso machine and an outdoor patio with seating to provide a space for the community.
“It’s become more of a social gathering than just you know, needing to buy apples, so that’s fun,” says Romo.
Other parts of farming are not as fun, she said. Even so, Romo said there’s a deeper reason she grows and sells food.
“Just mainly to be able to eat like we want to, is why we do the store. And then I’d much rather pull weeds than scrub toilets so here I am,” she laughed.
Wood River Market will be open on Saturdays, beginning June 11.
Harvesting Alaska is a new featured series exploring all the ways Alaskans live off the land — from growing and foraging to fishing and crafting. We hope you’ll join us on our journey and share how you harvest Alaska.