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Food Security for Alaska: A Letter to Governor Palin

Hey Everyone, just wanted to pass on the letter I wrote to Governor Palin in case any of you were interested.  If not please delete it and sorry for the mail traffic....
 
It's not too late to comment and I would encourage each of you to write her even if you only write a short note sharing your thoughts on what Alaskan Agriculture means to you.  If enough of us ask for the issue to take center stage maybe, just maybe, it will. I found her e-mail notice on the state web page.  maybe this link will work....   http://gov.state.ak.us/govmailSP.php
 
Take care and I hope you all are well.
Kim
 
Dear Governor Palin,
 
I would like to thank you for inviting Alaskans to comment and give feedback on issues they feel important to our State and communities.   To me and to every Alaskan who eats, the issues of food security in Alaska is of great concern.   As you may know, 90% of the foods Alaskans consume is shipped in from outside, most items having traveled over 3000 miles to get here€¦ In the event of a break in transportation, like during 9-11, or a natural disaster, like the 1964 earthquake, the latest statistics show that Alaska has 4 days worth of food stocked on the store shelves.
 
Being from the Valley, I'm sure you're aware that we have some of the most productive agriculture lands in the State.   So productive, Palmer was founded as an agriculture colony in the 1940's.  Fortunately, this rich agriculture heritage is still alive today. However, many of our farmers struggle to stay in business.   With the Valleys growth, pressure on limited farmlands has increased. As you can imagine, the best place to create a new development is on flat, cleared, farmland.  
The issue of Food Security for Alaska should become a top priority for State Government and the Alaska Division of Agriculture.  Many other states like Montana, California, Nebraska, Iowa, Washington, Minnesota, and Vermont to name a few, have taken notice of global food security issues and have created active sustainable agricultural networks, working groups, and task forces to grapple with their States food system.   Given Alaska's geographic challenges it is imperative that we organize and begin working on this issue as well.
I would like to offer some suggestions of how the State Government could support Alaska's Agriculture Industry.
·         Shaking up the Division of Ag.
For starters, the division of Agriculture needs new leadership with vision.   Alaska's farmers need support from the State to increase food production and to ensure that Alaska becomes food secure. In my opinion, division needs a new director able to design and implement a food security plan for the State and to provide leadership so the division can launch a new interactive educational campaign detailing how farmers and consumers can work together to secure a vibrant and sustainable foods system for the State. The division also needs a mechanism to gather input from all stakeholders involved in the agriculture sector.   One way to do this would be to initiating the creation of an elected board of farmers, consumers and businesses that would make regular recommendations to the Division of Ag. on how to develop programs and initiatives that would best support Alaska's food system. 
  • On the ground research and support 
 
The University of Alaska and the Cooperative Extension should be tasked with the challenge of designing and assisting with the implementation of a food security plan for the State.  Currently, we have some of the States best and brightest researching challenges such as the best turf grasses for golf courses, rather than working on food security planning for the State.   With world wide oil shortages looming, food shortages will not be so far behind.  Alaska needs to prepare for this enviable future and the University system has the resources to be a valuable participant. One activity the University and the Cooperative Extension are capable spearheading is the implementation of a food security assessment of the entire State.  Data collected from the assessment would be invaluable in identifying gaps and barriers in local foods production, distribution and consumption. 
 
·         Protecting the only USDA Certified Meat Processing Facility for Southcentral.
This facility, though in financial turmoil, must not go away. The State should enter into a long term 5 to10-year agreement with the Department of Corrections to Keep McKinley Meat and Sausage plant open in Palmer.   Doing this would help stabilize the dairy and red meat sector for the southcentral region.  To ensure economic viability for the facility, I would suggest hiring a plant manager with marketing experience to create new products and venues for local meats.   A new management with vision committed to increasing consumer knowledge and access to local meats would increase the revenue for the facility, increase demand for local meats and become key link in securing access to local foods.  If the demand and supply of local meat increased new markets would open.  Just imagine how great it would be to walk into Fred Myers and be able to purchase Valley raised, grass fed, hormone free, beef, pork and lamb, not to mention the knowledge that your purchase is supporting an Alaskan Farm family.
·         Building infrastructure so Alaska can sustain its food industry
Alaska is severely lacking in infrastructure to support a local food system.   This infrastructure needs to be developed to support the preservation of the summer harvest.  The Mat-Su Borough is in involved in an effort to build an Agricultural Processing, Storage and Product Development Center near the school district's new Central Kitchen.   Assisting the Borough with the development of this project would be a giant step in the right direction to supporting food security for the region.  A facility such as this would help get Alaska-grown produce such as carrots and potatoes into the school lunch programs statewide and open up new markets for crops, such as peas and broccoli, and new products such as "Matanuska Red" rhubarb juice.   Currently, farmers and entrepreneurs have no facility to create value added products from the produce being produced in the State.  Depending on the size of this new facility, the potential for growth is only limited by farmer's ability to keep up with the demand.   As we know with the supply and demand cycle they support each others growth.  This facility would be another key link in ensuring that Alaskan's have access to locally produced foods. 
  • Farmlands Conservation investing for the future
Farmers need State support to protect their farmlands for current and future generations of Alaskans.  Without productive Farmlands Alaskans are forced to be dependant on a global food system.  We know from the latest research that the global food system is not sustainable.  This means it will break down.  When this happens, what will Alaskans eat when the trucks stop running?  Immediate farmland preservation could occur if State funding were offered to match the Natural Resources Conservation Services, federal Farmland Protection Program funding.   This program would allow farmers to put their farmlands into conservation easements protecting it from future non-agriculture development.  Many other states already take advantage of this federal program by providing the matching funds
 
I hope they these suggestion spark a few stimulating conversations within your administration, though I do not think my ideas original.  I want to thank you again for the opportunity to share my thoughts and for your time in reading them.  I truly believe food security in Alaska is an issue that cannot wait and that the State can play a vital role in helping stabilize this valuable industry.   Supporting needed facilities, creating new markets and protecting family farms from further growth in the Valley is exactly they type of initiatives Alaskans would like to see the State Government take up.   I would be very interested in discussing Alaska's food security challenges with you in more detail if you or your administration are interested.  Thank you again for your time.
 
 
Sincerely,
 
Kim Sollien
PO Box 4965
Palmer, Alaska
907-745-7379


Alaska Trust Foods Network
Kim Sollien, Co-founder 
Jeremiah Millen, Co-founder
PO Box 4965 Palmer, Alaska 99645
Phone: 907-745-7379