Late December may seem like an odd time to be talking about agriculture in Alaska, but with the industry continuing to grow — particularly here on the Kenai Peninsula, it’s worth thinking about.
Farming on the peninsula isn’t necessarily the giant, wide-open fields or giant herds of livestock you might think of when you think about the agriculture industry. Instead, much of the agricultural activity on the peninsula is small-scale farming, with growers particularly aided by high tunnels, low tunnels, and other mechanisms by which they are able to extend the short but prolific growing season.
Indeed, between 2007 and 2012, the most recent data available, the number of farms on the Kenai Peninsula grew by 30 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And the number of those farms selling direct to consumers jumped 111 percent.
Those numbers indicate a couple of important trends. First, local farmers have a more and more sustainable business model. Whether it’s peonies or potatoes, farmers need to be able to cover the cost of their operations for them to grow and thrive.
Second, as seen by the jump in direct-to-consumer sales, there is strong demand for locally grown products. Consumers in general are beginning to realize that the closer to its source that food is obtained, the better, fresher and healthier it is — for people, the economy and the environment. Farmers markets have become regular features on the Kenai Peninsula throughout the growing season, and many peninsula residents have joined co-ops or other such arrangements.
This past summer, the Alaska Farm Bureau made a push to encourage Alaska residents to spend $5 a week on Alaska-grown products. With the average resident spending about $1 a week, that increase would mean a big boost for the state agriculture economy, helping it to grow even more.
We hope that Kenai Peninsula residents continue to look for Alaska-grown products, even now, with winter upon us. Maybe it’s time to knit a sweater with locally produced wool, or spread some jelly from locally grown berries on your toast. And you can still find potatoes, carrots, and other Alaska-grown vegetables on grocery store shelves.
After all, a strong local industry benefits us all.