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.
By Robin Mayo
WISE is a nonprofit, but that doesn’t mean we don’t use money, or need to balance the books. This time of year I’ve got my eye on the bottom line as we wrap up the fiscal year, write annual reports, and prepare for our annual giving campaign. So with apologies, this week I’m not going to share inspiration on outdoor fun. Instead, I’d like to give you a glimpse into how WISE maintains healthy finances.
As a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, WISE is dedicated to public service, and is essentially owned by the community which we serve. The nine good people who make up the Board of Directors are responsible for managing the organization in a way that is fiscally responsible, and fulfills our mission. They hire me to do the day-to-day stuff, but they have the final say on the big stuff.
WISE has an operating budget of about $100,000 per year. This covers a myriad of expenses, the largest of which is payroll and associated taxes. We also pay electric and utility bills, vehicle expenses for our two vans, supplies for programs (wow, kids outdoors need a LOT of good food) equipment, training for staff, professional services like accounting, and the list goes on. We are incredibly lucky to not have to pay anything for office space, as generous board members donate the use of a house for office, storage, and staff quarters.
Our income comes from many diverse sources. About a third is earned income from our two tours, program fees, merchandise, and rent. We are proud of this income, and work hard to earn it. One of the biggest advantages of earned income is that it is unrestricted, so we can use it wherever it is needed. When unexpected expenses arise, or stellar opportunities present themselves, unrestricted income makes it possible to make a quick move.
Approximately another third of our income comes from our cooperative agreements with the US Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service. This funding helps make our youth programs possible, but of course varies year to year based on a wide variety of factors. Largely in part to generous help from the BLM, we’ve been able to offer our summer youth programs free or with a very small charge for longer programs. As the federal funding climate changes, so that may change as well.
About twenty percent of our yearly income comes from grants (although sometimes we call them by alternative names,) mostly from foundations, sometimes from businesses or other nonprofits. Grant income is often recommended as the fix-all for nonprofit funding, but in fact it is time-consuming to apply for, super competitive, very restrictive in how it can be used, and often comes with a heavy burden of paperwork and reporting.
The final ten percent of our income comes from individual donors, everything from very modest Pick.Click.Give donations to big items such as the piece of land in Chitina we were gifted several years ago. Most donations are unrestricted, although they sometimes come with strings attached.
As well as a bank account where we keep our working funds, WISE has a separate account earmarked for large capital expenditures such as vehicle replacement. We also have an account for the Bruce James Memorial Scholarship Fund, which helps youth pay for programs if needed. Over the years we’ve worked hard to build up these accounts so they give a bit of a cushion in case of a tough year or sudden change in funding sources. For example, when the piece of land in Chitina sold, most of the proceeds went into the capital reserve fund.
It is often said that nonprofit organizations have a double bottom line, as we need to keep our accounts in the black, and also show a real benefit to our community. It’s a balancing act, and neither aspect can be sustained without the other.
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.