Monday, October 17, 2011

Why Farming In Bethel Make Sense

Saturday I was able to talk a bit to Tim Meyers at the Bioneers Conference.  He's the farmer in Bethel who is showing that it's possible to farm in rural Alaska.  In fact, it's a great place place to farm.

He showed me a National Geographic world soil map. (The inset came from

He pointed to the area that I've highlighted in red in the upper left.  The dark green is the most fertile soil, as I understood it.  You can see in Alaska that dark green goes along the Kuskokwim River through Bethel and it's also on the Aleutian Chain.  Coincidentally, the Kuskokwim drainage is colored green in the inset of Alaska.  [Unfortunately, I didn't pay attention to what issue of the National Geographic it was.  I couldn't find the map online, but I did find a soil article here from September 2008. ]

The key here, he said, is that while agriculture has been focused around the Matsu, it's Bethel that has the good soil.  In Matsu they soil's not great and they have to use a lot of fertilizer to grow crops whereas in Bethel the soil is already very rich.  [Will there be a comment on that from Matsu farmers?]

Photo of a photo
Tim also emphasized the difference between gardening and farming.  Farming is much easier than gardening because you can make good use of a tractor.  His five acres wasn't that hard to maintain. (I'd just been to a session where Matt and Saskia - I'll try to post on that soon - talked about how much work it was to keep up their urban garden where they are growing much of their food for the year.)  Tim said he hoped that Alaska's Cooperative Extension would add farming to their efforts rather than just focus on gardening advice.  Raising food in a home garden is nice, but, he said, it's not going to seriously increase the level of Alaska's food independence.

Tim had a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program where people paid in advance for a set amount and selection of vegetables.  It was too much food for most people, he said, so now he has a vegetable stand twice a week in Bethel.  People are lined up an hour before he opens and he sells out.  The prices are lower than in Bethel's super market and his food is fresh and organic. 

He pointed out that Bethel has a number of flights headed for Anchorage every day, and they go with empty cargo holds.  Setting up more farms like his could give Alaskans a steady supply of Alaskan grown vegetables, but it will take people with the skills and the determination to do all the work. 

Visit the farm's website here.

You can hear an APRN interview with Tim here.

1 comment:

  1. Steve, I thank you for sharing this.

    When I was a kid living on a farm in Northern Germany's coast of the North Sea (in the time of the dinosaurs mind you!), farmers stored potatoes, sugar beets and rutabagas in fairly shallow underground "ditches" lined with straw before being loaded up with the vegetables, covered with more straw and then a berm of dirt. In today's world, they still use basically the same storage methods, but add blue tarp over the top of it all, held down with old tires. Not pretty, but effective.

    These root vegetables are not only used for households, but the potatoes are cooked for pig feed, and the beets add forage to the dry hay for the milk cows stalled up during winter.

    Coastal areas of Northern Europe mitigate the Eastern continental weather. as does the Kuskokwim area, and it seems that these methods of providing fresh vegetables, milk and meats during long winter months would be worth pursuing.

    Another crop used in Northern Germany is kale.
    it grows rather rapidly, and over there it is only harvested after it has been "hit" by the first frost, because the cold temperatures break down the bitterness of the leaves. Broccoli is another crop that seems to do well in a short growing season, so there could be more than merely white and red cabbages.

    Anyway, this is great news. I fervently hope it will catch on, as it not only provides for a more varied diet, but also cuts cost as transportation is regional.



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