JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska imports 96 percent of its food, and the governor says that should change.
Gov. Bill Walker spoke during a conference for the National Association of Farmer’s Market Nutrition Programs, the Juneau Empire reported (http://bit.ly/2c050ic ).
“When we became a state, we used to raise half the food that was consumed in Alaska,” Walker said.
The state now produces 4 percent of the food its residents consume.
“That’s partly because we have grown since statehood in population, but also we’ve sort of lost our vision a bit,” Walker said. “We got a little too wedded to one nonrenewable commodity — oil — and we sort of stopped doing what we should have been doing.”
He said he would like to see a significant increase in locally grown food.
“We spend $2 billion a year on food,” he said. “We don’t have to go out and look to a market; we are the market. We just have to do what we do differently.”
The state’s farmers face challenges like permafrost and a short growing season.
Growing methods using hydroponics, shipping containers and other innovative techniques are being used.
Kathleen Wayne directs and manages two nutrition programs and says Alaska’s food supply would last three to four days.
“I certainly know when I go to the local grocery store here and the barge hasn’t come in, there’s nothing on the shelves, and that’s Juneau,” she said. “How about all those other remote areas around the state that we know don’t have roads that are reliant on planes or boats getting food to those areas?”
Walker noted there are now 42 farmer’s markets statewide compared to 11 in 2004.
“We are sort of awakening in an area that’s been so prolific in other states,” Walker said.
A flier at one farmer’s market in Fairbanks estimated that every Alaska resident spending $5 weekly on local produce would bring $188 million, Walker said.
“Our whole capital budget for building roads and infrastructure this year is $95 million, so that would be twice what we have in our capital budget,” the governor said.
Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, http://www.juneauempire.com