The Dunleavy administration’s proposed budget includes significant cuts to the Alaska Division of Agriculture (DOA) and the elimination of the Alaska Grown marketing program. We all love our Alaska Grown T-shirts, hats and hoodies, but beyond a great logo, the Alaska Grown program is absolutely essential to supporting many of the small farms taking root in our communities.
At Juneau Greens hydroponic farm, Alaska Grown staff provides key introductions to regional produce managers at Safeway and Fred Meyer corporate offices, and marketing support, which have been essential in our efforts to expand our produce sales. The director of the DOA personally visited our farm with a member of Safeway corporate in an effort to help us grow our business.
Without key staff at the DOA who perform our annual Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) food safety certification that is required to be a vendor with Safeway and Fred Meyer, we would not have the necessary certification to sell our produce in those stores and other retailers. We would have to hire a United States Department of Agriculture auditor or private consulting firm from the Lower 48 at a much greater cost.
The DOA also administers the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, a federally funded research project to support agricultural innovation. The money comes from the federal government but the DOA decides which projects are awarded the grant and then manages and monitors them to completion. It’s a great deal for the state.
For a small amount of Alaska Department of Natural Resources effort, the state’s farmers are given the support necessary to pursue innovative industry changing agricultural research. The grant has had a big impact on farming in Southeast Alaska and throughout the state. The program encourages farmers to team up and cooperatively develop and actuate projects to test new crops, develop new tools and techniques, and otherwise contribute to the growth of commercial agriculture statewide.
Many Southeast farms, including Farragut Farm, have taken on this challenge and had their projects supported. It’s an invaluable program that would not be possible without the DOA. It’s just another example of the numerous things DOA does for Alaska’s farmers that really make a difference and cost very little money.
In February, over 120 people from 19 different communities in Southeast attended the farmer’s summit in Sitka where ideas and information were shared on growing more food in Southeast to feed our communities and keep more dollars in the local economy. The energy and excitement for producing local food is growing every year, and more farmers are finding innovative ways to produce food despite our challenging climate and remote location.
In an area of the country where almost everyone is new to farming, we need allies in the DOA and Alaska Grown program with the institutional knowledge, expertise and connections to help us succeed. If we can grow more food in Alaska and replace products that are shipped in from out of state, we should.
• John Krapek established Juneau Greens in 2017. He wrote this on behalf of Bo Varsano and Marja Smets of Farragut Farm.