Community Supported Gardening and Food Security in Rural Alaska

Project Overview

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:
Principal Investigator:
S. Craig Gerlach
University of Alaska Fairbanks

Annual Reports


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


  • 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

    Proposal abstract:

    Problem StatementGlobal change (i.e. global warming, globalization, urban sprawl, fishery collapse, etc.,) happens fast, and ecosystems of the Arctic have proved to be extremely sensitive to these forces (Krupnik and Jolly 2002). As a result, Alaskans are faced with serious resource issues that have far-reaching implications for the continuance of traditional lifestyles. Many of Alaska’s rural communities are beginning to explore small-scale, sustainable farming as a solution to their decreasing ability to rely on traditional subsistence methods and their wariness of an increased reliance on outside food sources. Because so much attention is currently being paid to the dynamics of global change, especially in the Arctic, these contemporary examples present rare opportunities to witness these transitions as they unfold. The problem of interest is whether sustainable farming can be realized in rural Alaska, not just technically, but in ways that are not disruptive to the communities’ traditional subsistence systems and cultural identities. This research explores the socio-cultural, economic, and environmental implications of this largely unstudied indigenous movement; specifically, the researcher will address how indigenous Alaskan communities envision sustainable farming as a means to the following five goals, as established in Kruse et al. (2004): 1. The use of, and respect for, the land and animals in their homelands 2. A cash economy that is compatible with and supports local use of the land and of animals 3. Local control and responsibility for what is done in village homelands 4. Education of younger people in both traditional and western knowledges 5. A thriving culture that has a clear identity, that is rooted in time spent on the land If small-scale, sustainable agriculture is to provide a solution for native Alaskan communities whose sustainability is imperiled by issues that emerge from westernization and globalization, it must be structured in a way that is culturally, economically and ecologically relevant (c.f. Berkes and Folke 2000; Holling and others 2002). This research project serves all 5 of WSARE’s goals by examining the interplay between cultural, economic, and ecological forces, as it exists in rural Alaskan communities. Further, this research serves SARE’s national goal to “enhance the quality of life for farmers and ranchers and society as a whole” by emphasizing the importance of understanding and respecting this intricate interplay.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    • Document the history of farming by indigenous communities in Alaska. This is important background information that will provide context for the entire research project. Confirm of the relevance of small-scale farming in Alaska via a multiyear analysis of soil nutrients. Currently, the efficacy of small-scale agriculture in Alaska is largely debated. Such data, if it exists, validate the importance of this research by validating the system itself. Research the recent history of subsistence-use patterns of Alaskan communities currently experimenting with farming. These data are important for understanding current trends and the niche native Alaskans are hoping to fill with small-scale, sustainable agriculture. Explore community/cultural concerns. What economic exchange models are compatible with the traditional socio-cultural organization of these rural communities? Do dissenting opinions of farming exist amongst community members?
    • This research combines methods from the social and physical sciences. Fieldwork will involve the Alaska native villages of Minto, Nenana, Fort Yukon, and Noatak. To meet objective 1, extensive library research will be undertaken, including the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF)’s Alaska Collection, document archives, and Project Jukebox (an interactive archive of native oral histories). After review and approval by UAF IRB, new oral histories will be recorded from surviving elders who participated in mission gardens. For objective 2, a multidimensional nutritional analysis of 5 years of soil samples, as provided by the UAF Cooperative Extension Service (CES), will be undertaken to establish the viability of these small, “sustainable” ventures. Trend analysis will be performed on data regarding community subsistence use (objective 3), as provided by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G). Objective 4 will be satisfied via a combination of interviews, surveys, and participant observation with residents of all four communities (an emphasis will be placed on Minto).
    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.