Alaska Food, Farms, and Jobs Act
Interested in local food legislation? So are we..
“Alaska Food, Farms, and Jobs Act”
In Alaska it's the norm for our groceries to come from 3,000 (or more) miles away. We live in a remote state with a short growing season so our appetite for imported food is no surprise. However, according to the Alaska Farm Bureau if for any reason food imports were suddenly cut off Alaskans would have only 3-5 days worth of groceries in the store before everything was gone. Alaskans have experienced short term food shortages due to natural phenomenon such as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions before, and many have raised questions about our preparedness in addressing similar situations in the future should they occur. We’ve asked, how much food are we eating? How much of it comes from Alaska?
The data shows that our local food systems are not up to the challenge of supplementing a lapse in imported food. According to the Alaska Division of Agriculture, in 2007 Alaskans spent 2.6 billion on food, of which only 1.3% was spent on agricultural products from Alaska. In order to increase our food security and decrease our reliance on imported food, we need to identify specific ways to strengthen food systems in Alaska.
In addition to enhancing our food security, increasing local agricultural production to replace food products coming from Outside will be beneficial for Alaska’s economy. Currently, we spend money to import food with an extremely high price tag not just for the product itself, but for its processing, packaging, and the energy cost to ship it here. Nowhere is this as evident as in rural Alaskan communities, where a gallon of milk might cost as much as $10. We need to increase local food production and sales to keep our dollars in-state and create jobs in Alaskan agriculture, and associated industries such as processing and marketing.
Despite the very low percentage of Alaska grown food in our consumption overall, there are many engaged Alaskans working hard to reduce the distance from farm to plate. Farmers, educators, chefs, business owners, state and local institutions and non-profit organizations, have implemented innovative approaches to encouraging local food consumption. Alaskan consumers are excited about Alaskan food, which explains the popularity of farmer’s markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, as well as the ‘Alaska Grown’ brand. However, despite widespread support for local food these approaches are mostly individual or community driven, which is weak in terms of a viable local food system. We need commitment, coordination, and authority from the state level to establish a long-term Alaskan local food system comprised of existing components, with recommendations for more.
Alaska Center for the Environment supports the introduction of the Alaska Food, Farms, and Jobs Act to create the Alaska Local Food and Farm Task Force. Our proposed legislation would set out the composition of the Task Force, comprised of highly skilled, knowledgeable and motivated individual Alaskan agricultural supporters and representatives with diverse interest statewide. This Task Force would be responsible for developing a plan for expanding and supporting an Alaskan local food system and for assessing and overcoming obstacles to increasing locally grown food production.
The potential for supporting a viable, long term Alaskan local food system via this legislation is enormous because the Act would authorize creation of a plan, including a comprehensive assessment of current agricultural conditions and capacity, with potential for expansion and recommended next steps. There are obvious next steps the State needs to take, such as establishing an enforcement mechanism for Alaska Statute 36.15.050 (which requires institutions receiving state money to purchase local agricultural products when the price is within 7% of comparable products from Outside). However, there will be less obvious recommendations the Task Force may report as well – there may be a need for more agriculture-and-processing related infrastructure, customer access, public education, agronomic training for new and transitioning farmers, business planning, land, labor, financing, etc.
Finally, a critical outcome from the Task Force’s plan and recommendation will be the identification of a realistic long term goal that fits with Alaska’s local food production capacity as determined by the Task Force, (for example, a goal could be “20% of Alaska’s food expenditures will be grown, processed and distributed in-state by 2020”). A measurable goal will be necessary to clearly define where we’re headed, and establish interim achievable benchmarks along the way.
- Enhances Alaska’s food security by reducing our reliance on Outside imports;
- Strengthens our economy by keeping our dollars in Alaska;
- Creates jobs via agriculture and related industries;
- Promotes general Alaskan health and well being.
For more information, contact Alli.