Renowned agrarian comes to Kenai

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Thursday, September 17, 2015 9:36pm
  • News

A nationally renowned agrarian, Severine Von Tscharner Fleming, is entering the conversation on food security in Alaska.

Fleming is making two stops on the Kenai Peninsula during a 9-day speaking tour around the state, starting at 7 p.m. today, at the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association in Kenai for a discussion she has titled “Growing Local Food Systems: Tales from the Frontlines.”

Fleming said “anyone who cares about land or anyone who cares about food,” more specifically fishermen and farmers, should attend the talk, which will be “part pep, part system theory.”

The Alaska Food Policy Council and the Alaska Marine Conservation Council collaborated to bring Fleming to Alaska. She is the founder of The Greenhorns, a nonprofit whose mission is to address the nationwide need for a generation of younger farmers to take over the industry, currently dominated by an aging demographic.

“The reason they brought me to Alaska is the work that I have — I have always wanted to go Alaska by the way — the work that I have been involved in, which is building cultural infrastructure for farmers in the form of networking and celebratory events,” Fleming said.

The Greenhorns puts an emphasis on designing local food systems through the mutual aid and organization of producers, Fleming said.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, there are roughly 2.10 million farms operating on 914 million total acres of farmland on which produce is grown and livestock raised in the country.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the average age of producers in the U.S. is 58 and above.

“In Alaska, more than 95 percent of our food is imported and the vast majority of our food dollars are leaving the state,” said District Manager for the Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District, Heidi Chay. “If we are going to turn this situation around, we need more Alaskan farmers producing more food. The average age of American farmers is approaching 60. Severine has travelled the country raising awareness about the 400 million acres of farmland that will change hands in the next 20 years, as well as the importance of helping young farmers get into the business of taking care of the land while producing good food.”

With a changing climate, revising the current structure of the industry into sustainable, diverse farm sizes and practices is essential for a stable, viable economy, Fleming said. That means “building a new farm economy inside the old one,” she said.

Regardless of region, all agricultural operations face similar hurdles including “extending seasons, gaining capital, business development, coordinating distribution,” among others, Fleming said.

It will be her first trip to Alaska, and Fleming said she is also looking forward to an opportunity to learn. Part of her talk will be engaging listeners to discuss possible interventions to production barriers, including degraded land and poisoned or polluted soils.

Fleming will also speak at Homer’s Halibut Festival Sunday in her presentation titled “Greenhorns — Lessons of Young Farmers for Young Fishermen,” Sunday. Both lectures are free and open to the public.

“What we are learning about young fishermen in Alaska seemed to parallel what Severine talks about with young farmers: they face high costs of entering this career path tempered by a love for the lifestyle those jobs create and a real care and stewardship for the sustainable resources these young people are using,” said Executive Director of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council (AMCC) and board member of the Alaska Food Policy Council, Kelly Harrell, in a press release.

According to the press release, the conservation council is working in conjunction with the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Alaska Sea Grant on a project called ‘The Graying of the Fleet,’ to further explore all the various challenges young fishermen are up against.

Fleming herself likened the U.S.’s aging agrarians to Alaska’s ‘Graying Fleet.’ However, she said farmers and producers of any age should attend her talks because community collaboration is essential for any kind of sustainable future.

“Severine is not only an author, film-maker and activist, she’s a farmer herself,” Chay said. “Her talk will be inspiring to those who eat food, grow food, and those who care about making Alaska more food secure for the long-term.”

Reach Kelly Sullivan at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com.

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