Alaska Food Policy Council Unveils Action Plan
A community garden at the Mat-Su Experiment Farm.
Increasing Alaska’s in-state food production from the current level of 5 percent of everything consumed will take time, and it will take a plan. After a two-year process, the Alaska Food Policy Council (AFPC) has unveiled that plan.
A Better Food System
The three main objectives were to improve the connection and collaboration of local and regional food systems; to identify food system assets, barriers, and capacities to help with the connection and collaboration; and to create a ten-year statewide food security plan that is informed by the regional nodes representing a variety of locations and stakeholder groups.
“This two-year project has engaged communities from around the state, bringing together Alaskans who care deeply about building a better food system,” says Robbi Mixon, executive director of the Alaska Food Policy Council. “The resulting food security plan contains actionable ideas that can be implemented by communities in a way that makes sense for their own place-based needs and capacities.”
The statewide nonprofit has been working on the plan since 2020, when it received a federal grant from the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Regional Food System Partnership program, which had just started that year.
The process involved local food system leaders in thirteen regional nodes around the state. Node leaders looked at their local and regional food systems and how they connect with food systems in other parts of the state. The project also taught the node leaders how to develop and connect the people and companies within their local food systems to strengthen them.
The final product falls short of the original intent, which was to create a true action plan, with detailed, tangible steps towards meeting objectives. The council says the process found that every community is in different phases of food system development, with different assets, barriers, and needs, so the final plan is not overly prescriptive and allows place-based decision making.
The council notes that funding was a challenge. The USDA provided $106,710 for the planning phase, which AFPC matched with $27,278 for a total project amount of $133,988. According to the report, “While this is a significant amount of money to most Alaskans, it is a thin budget to meaningfully engage thirteen communities, contract necessary services, and adequately compensate contributors for their time and expertise.”
Plan of Action
A summary of recommendations from the Food Security Action Plan.
An estimated 90 to 95 percent of all food eaten in Alaska comes from somewhere else, making the state utterly dependent on slender supply lines. Prior to statehood, more than half of the food Alaskans ate came from within the territory.
However, the council points to some reasons for optimism. The 2017 USDA Agricultural Census found that Alaska leads the nation in new farmers, counting flower producers as well as more traditional food producers. Alaska also leads the nation in female farmers. Direct-to-market sales from Alaska farms more than doubled between 2012 and 2017, and the number of Alaska farms grew by 30 percent during that period, even as farms nationwide decreased by 3 percent.
With the plan in hand, the next step is to apply for a USDA Rural Food System Partnership Implementation grant. This will allow state food system leaders to build on the plan’s recommendations.