Copper River Record November 2017
By Robin Mayo
At my family Thanksgiving in Fairbanks, the table was filled with Alaskan harvest. A locally grown bird, sheep from the Wrangells, Tanana Valley Moose, a Hubbard Squash so big it needed to be butchered before it would fit in the oven. From homegrown mashed potatoes to pumpkin pie made from scratch and salads fresh from root cellars, nearly every dish was predominately homegrown.
But when I stopped by Fred Meyer the next day, it was clear from a cruise through the produce and meat departments that a storebought Thanksgiving meal in Fairbanks would be almost completely imported from the lower 48. Alaska grown spuds were the only typical Thanksgiving staple available that I could see.
When it comes to local food, Alaska is a paradox. I don’t know a family in the Copper Basin that doesn’t hunt, fish, garden, or gather to fill their freezers, but statewide 95% of our food travels thousands of miles before landing on our tables. And the long term trend is actually going down, in the 1950s a much larger share of our food was produced in-state. There were more local dairies and produce farms, and a much smaller population to feed.
I’ve toyed with the idea of being a “locavore,” one who eats only locally grown food, even for a short while. Aside from pure laziness, the biggest barrier is the 3 C’s, essential food groups including Caffeine, Chocolate, and Carbohydrates. The first two I’d have to give up cold turkey, and for carbs options would get very limited, potatoes and barley. It would be a great experience for a month or two in the summer or fall, and a severe challenge in the winter and spring.
One thing is clear, because Alaska does very little food processing aside from seafood, eating only Alaska-grown food would be incredibly healthy. Almost everything would need to be cooked fresh from scratch. One would have to pass on most poor choices, and eat lots of fish, wild meat, and vegetables. To satisfy a sweet tooth you’d have honey and birch syrup. And depending on how picky you were on every single ingredient being grown in state, you might have to give up beer and wine, and be forced to get by with vodka.
A friend suggested a way to eat locally without going to extremes. She made a personal resolution to include something local in every meal. It is a nice reminder to throw some frozen blueberries onto my morning cereal, or grab a carrot to go with lunch, once again making meals more nutritious as well as homegrown.
Here in the Copper Basin, we are incredibly lucky to have locally grown food available for purchase. Wengers Country Store in Kenny Lake almost always has their ground beef and sausage for sale, and sometimes other cuts of meat. They also carry barley products from Delta, Alaskan milk, and potatoes. VanWyhe Family Farms is one of the largest pork producers in the state, and Terry usually has meat for sale if you give him a call. The IGA carries Alaska Grown carrots and potatoes. Locally grown honey and other goods can be purchased this season at holiday bazaars. And of course in the summer, an abundance of produce is available at farmers markets in Glennallen and Kenny Lake.
Copper River Record publisher Matt Lorenz is working on getting his self-contained hydroponic grow unit running smoothly, and should have locally grown lettuce available starting in the new year, so watch these pages for news of that enterprise.
Whether a whole meal or a tiny taste treat, be sure to make local food another blessing to celebrate this holiday season.
Even the dessert table can be locally grown—local pumpkins, apples, and blueberries are included in this assortment of pies.
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.