Community Supported Gardening and Food Security in Rural Alaska

Project Overview

GW07-013
Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2007: $10,347.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Grant Recipient: University of Alaska Fairbanks
Region: Western
State: Alaska
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:
S. Craig Gerlach
University of Alaska Fairbanks

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Agronomic: potatoes
  • Fruits: berries (blueberries), berries (brambles)
  • Vegetables: broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, greens (leafy), peas (culinary), turnips

Practices

  • Education and Training: mentoring, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: feasibility study
  • Soil Management: soil analysis
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, community development, new business opportunities, partnerships, social networks, sustainability measures, urban/rural integration

    Abstract:

    Tradition and Innovation together solving issues of food security

    Multiple climatic and socioeconomic drivers have come in recent years to interfere with the ability of Alaska’s ‘bush’ communities to achieve food security with locally available food resources. Livelihoods traditionally centered on the harvest of wild, country foods,
    are transitioning to a cash economy, with increasing reliance on industrially produced,
    store-bought foods. While commercially available foods provide one measure of food security, availability and quality of these foods is subject to the vagaries and vulnerabilities of a global food system: access is dependent on one’s ability to pay; most importantly, perhaps these foods often do not fulfill many of the roles that country foods have played in these communities and cultures. This transition is having severe consequences for the health of people and viability of rural communities, yet in ways not always tracked by conventional food security methodologies and frameworks. This project investigated community-gardening programs that have emerged in some rural Alaska communities in response to these food insecurities. What we found was that communities are mixing a widely unknown tradition of small-scale gardening with innovative new community-based designs to develop solutions to these food security problems. However, some communities remain constrained from fully developing these programs by institutionalized definitions of 'Alaska Native' culture.

    Introduction

    Global environmental change is already having dramatic effects on the people and
    places of the north. New environmental trends such as the retreat of seasonal sea ice,
    landscape drying, and unprecedented shifts in the changing of the seasons and the timing
    of animal migrations, are just a few examples of the problematic environmental changes
    being experienced. In rural Alaska, for example, where household livelihoods and community food systems are tightly connected to climate,
    weather, and the landscape, these new environmental conditions are interacting with
    other contemporary drivers of environmental and socioeconomic change such as
    industrial lands development and oil, gas, and minerals mining, to significantly constrain
    the use of locally available wild fish and game resources. To maintain some measure of food security, many households are transitioning
    away from reliance on the seasonal harvests of wild foods to the consumption of
    imported, store-bought foods. But in a global
    context of rising food and fuel prices, the costs and challenges of living in rural Alaska
    are on the rise and the loss of wild food options has ramifications not just for the
    pocketbook, but for individual health and community viability.

    Many Native communities are beginning new community gardens, or other community-supported agriculture projects, as one innovative response to these food security problems. This project set out to learn more about the projects, their history in the state, and the challenges that they face given Alaska's unique agricultural history and character.

    Project objectives:

    The objectives of this project were as follows. First, we wanted to gain an ethnographic understanding of these new gardening initiatives. This includes understanding where the idea for gardening originated, how well the projects are accepted by the community (buy-in and involvement), and what factors, both social and ecological, influence project success.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.