Agriculture Education Day highlights efforts to improve food security in Alaska

As the State of Alaska works to improve food security, an issue that was realized during the Covid-19 pandemic, agricultural projects have become a priority.
Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 6:03 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Agricultural projects have become a priority as the State of Alaska works to improve food security, an issue that was realized during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A majority of food found in Alaska’s grocery stores is shipped from other locations, but during the pandemic, the state saw a lack of food being imported to Alaska. After seeing the vulnerability Alaskans face, the state increased efforts to provide in state produce. As a part of the initiative to increase food production in the last frontier, the Nenana-Tochaket Agricultural Project was developed.

The project began over a year ago with the first parcels of land being sold in 2022. Those first buyers had to submit plans for developing the land they purchased into some sort of farm that will aid in Alaska’s need to produce food in-state. A year later, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) invited the public to come learn more about the project.

“Last year we had an offering for the Nenana-Tochaket area and we sold 26 parcels,” said Rachel Longacre, the chief operations officer for the Division of Mining, Land and Water. Highlighting the efforts of those early purchasers, the DNR hosted the third annual Agriculture Education Day in Nenana, where the public could learn more about the land that’s been designated for agricultural use and the farms already in development. “Agriculture is on our state seal for a reason,” said Longacre. “It’s a small group of people within the state that are driving a very large initiative and it comes together in a lot of different ways including community and other entities.”

Developing the agricultural area has involved the DNR and the Department of Transportation, but also the community of Nenana, tribal groups and other stakeholders. Together, these groups are working to develop what the DNR hopes will one day be a community of farmers.

For the time being, most of the farms are still in the early stages of development and each farm has very different development plans. “The development plans that I’ve read through, they’re as far one way as they are the other way,” said Bryan Scoresby, the director of the Division of Agriculture. These plans include farms that plan to grow plants known to work well in Alaska, but also some that are less common such as corn. All of the farmers however will face trial and error as they work to discover and innovate methods of farming that work well in the harsh Alaskan environment.

Many attended the event, from current farmers to prospective parcel purchasers, even politicians. “They’re getting a lot going, much sooner than I expected and I got to tour some of Nenana, some projects that are going on down here and that’s good, that’s exciting,” said Mike Prax, R-House District 33. Click Bishop, R-Senate District R, was also in attendance and spoke positively about the project as well.

While all the parcels currently in use are allocated for agriculture, one has been set aside for community services such as a fire department or other necessities. Currently, that parcel is being used for research and education purposes related to agriculture.

The only operational farms are part of phase 1A of the project with phase 1B expected to go up for sale in 2024. There are other DNR projects underway aimed at aiding the efforts, with parcels near the Kobe AG subdivision, south of Nenana and the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage.