Tag Archives: Tanana Valley Farmer’s Market

Making a Better World: Shortening the Food Chain, Part 1

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We Alaskans like to believe in the image Outsiders have of us as self-reliant hunters and gathers, living off the frozen fat of our outdoor icebox.  Don’t get me wrong, there are many Alaskans who live a subsistence lifestyle, and even more who depend on hunting, fishing and berrying for a part of their yearly food supply.  Plenty of us, though, do most of our hunting in the aisles of the local Safeway or Fred Meyer store, where “local” usually means from Washington state or Oregon.
Both Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver (deep bow to the high priest and priestess of locavoria!) cite the statistic that most food products eaten in the US have traveled an average of 1500 miles from place of origin to place of consumption.  I wonder if that average includes (and is therefore skewed by) the many, many miles almost everything in our grocery stores has come.  It is nearly 2000 miles just from Seattle to Fairbanks – and if it’s Iowa corn or California strawberries, it’s coming a whole lot farther than that.
In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan describes the tortuously complicated length of the industrial food chain, and how and why shortening that chain is in our best interests, as individuals and as a society.  Though The Omnivore’s Dilemma traces the chains leading to four specific meals, there are two general types of food chains:  1. food going from point A to point B;  2. food A being processed into food products B, C, D, etc.  Shortening the first type means:  less fuel spent in transportation and refrigeration; more biological diversity, since varieties don’t need to be selected for ease of shipment; better taste and nutrition – foods are picked when ripe, not ripened chemically or on the road (Kingsolver calls shipped produce “vagabonds who wasted their youth in a boxcar”); and more peace of mind, since any disruptions in the food distribution system become less problematic when you can walk between points A and B.  Shortening the second type means, again:  less fuel for transportation, refrigeration and processing; more biological diversity (because processed foods contain so much corn and soy, US farms are producing more and more of these two crops and less and less of everything else); better nutrition, because eating whole foods equals consuming all the nutrients those foods contain, not just those that Science has identified as important or beneficial this month; and more peace of mind.  If you are eating un- or minimally processed foods, you know what you’re eating. (For the most part, anyway.  Did you know that the wax that makes apples and cucumbers shiny is a corn product?)
So, how do we, as non-subsistence-living Alaskans, shorten those food chains?  There are certain things we are stuck with (or stuck without, I guess), for instance staples like wheat flour, COFFEE, sugar, COFFEE, tea, COFFEE and CHOCOLATE.  Those things just aren’t produced here. (I guess, wheat flour and tea could be dropped from our shopping list.) Much as I’d love to follow Kingsolver’s example of consuming only locally produced food (with a few exceptions – each member of her family got one special food during their year of locavory), I don’t think that’s realistic for Fairbanks. I don’t think it is, but I don’t know for certain, so this year, I’m investigating local food sources. Next year, maybe, will be our as-complete-as-possible Animal, Vegetable, Miracle year.  So far I’ve found:

There are also options like buying a whole hog or cow from a 4-H member, a barley flour processor in the Delta area, and friends who hunt or fish :). And of course, there’s the “grow your own” option – which has its own challenges in the Land of the Midnight Sun (aka the Land of the Extremely Short Growing Season).

That’s actually a longer list than I’d expected (Yea!) and this post is getting long, too, so I’ll finish next week.

What do you get locally? If you’re in Alaska – what’s your favorite local food source?

Why?

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Why are we making a farmlet (really big garden, or really tiny farm) in suburban Fairbanks, Alaska? It would be much easier and possibly cheaper (in the short run) to continue as we have been, buying food from the supermarket, with the occasional purchase at the farmer’s market, and raising a small, usually less-than-spectacular garden. The property we’ll be farming is probably the last acre of undeveloped land in our neighborhood. That certainly doesn’t mean it is untouched. The previous owners stored a junk car collection among the birches, spruces and cottonwoods. Judging by the bits and pieces of rusted cans, empty bottles and campfire remains, the property has hosted humans at least a few times over the years. We have also recovered quite a bit of random junk: electrical wire, fencing material (sadly deteriorated beyond use), even a piece of railroad. Not a railroad tie, mind you. An 8’ length of track, bent into a curve no engine could navigate.
Preventing this piece of land from falling into the hands of our local junk-yard owner was our impetus for buying it in the first place. Making it productive enough to help us pay for it was our next goal. But as we’ve worked on it, and done a bit of research into what our climate can support, it has become, for me, a chance to make the world better, in several teeny, tiny ways.
1. Prevent another suburban junkyard/eyesore.
2. Rehabilitate the hidden junkyard we bought.
3. Reduce our reliance on shipped food (which has traveled even farther to us than the national average of 1500 miles.)
4. Provide another local food option to our neighbors.
5. Produce food which we know to be organic and genetically unmodified.
6. Provide a pesticide-free area for local honey bees to do their thing.
7. Help our children understand, in a very hands-on way, where food truly comes from, and help them develop a respect for (if not love of) the hard work involved in feeding people.

Next Post: Making this piece of world better. The Nature of a Garden

Spring is … well … not here yet.

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Here’s my Girl’s pretty new Easter dress, made by ME on my lovely NEW MACHINE.

Yes, it is displayed on snow.  Yes, I did take that picture March 24th.

The pattern is from the book Absolutely A-Line, by Wendi Gratz.  It’s great.  She gives a basic pattern in several sizes, then show how to modify it to make 28 variations.  Some of her variations are not my taste, though most are adorable.  The dress is simple, sweet, and a really fabulous canvas for all sorts of embellishment.

I found the main fabric for next to nothing at Value Village, one of the resale shops in town.  Then I went to Joann’s and bought the ruffle fabric and the ribbon trim at full price with no coupon.  So much for frugality.  Here’s a close up:

Pink with silver trim. My Pretty Princess will be pleased.

Here are a few other things I’ve been working on lately:

Baby Magnets (No not for attracting babies; for putting on your fridge!):

and a misplaced gecko on a mirror:

The babies and mirror are for sale in my Art Fire shop.  I’m trying to stock up my online and simultaneously get ready for this year’s Tanana Valley Farmers Market, which will be opening for the season on May 8th.  Drop by if you’re in town!

Back into the Studio – with hammers and crowbars

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Ok, so I know I said I’d post regular updates about my studio organization project. Sometimes unexpected things happen…like me not understanding quite what my husband needed to do with the space, and when. Anyway, it sure is a lot emptier now…

Window Wall

The ceiling had to be ripped out so we could see why the upstairs floor was so bouncy, and possibly do something about it. LOTS o’ dust. So, here’s my clay table:

Clay table

and my fabric stash (at least some of it), as well as the contents of the “play room”:

Fabric Shelves 8-12-09

Sigh.

New Kitty

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Here’s my latest creation – and it’s all mine!  I love how she came out…and the little vest just cracks me up.  Tell me what you think!

Goofy CatGoofy Cat with Vest

I’m having so much fun making dolls and toys for sale at our local farmers’ market, but I’d been nervous about selling some of my work, because they were based on other people’s patterns (modified by me, but still…). I made the pattern for this little kitty entirely myself.  It’s pretty simple – just a pancake doll (front and back pattern pieces are the same) – but it’s a start.  And its simplicity lets me play with fabric choices.

The vest is knit from one strand Red Heart TLC Essentials and one strand Lion Brand Fun Fur.  Isn’t it cute? :-)

Tanana Valley Farmer’s Market

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I’m selling stuff at the market this year!  And I’m actually selling stuff!  Like this lovable green dino.  I was actually working on him  when a lady came by with her little boy and girl, bought one of my big dolls for her girl and asked when she could buy the dino for her boy.  Gotta love that!  So, now he’s all set to be reunited with his new owner.  I asked if they’d like a bag for the doll, but the little girl wanted to hold her – her eyes just lit up when I handed her over.  So sweet.

Green Dino among the ferns

Green Dino among the ferns

Freehand chain stitch embroidery spiffs up the basic pattern.

Freehand chain stitch embroidery spiffs up the basic pattern.

Dining on iris leaves.

Dining on iris leaves.

This dino is the same pattern as the fuzzy blue one I made for my son’s birthday.  No teddy bear joints in this guy, though.  He is just leaning on his tail and the iris leaves.