Lawmakers Push for More Local Food Production

Chugiak Republican Bill Stoltze is a big fan of Alaska produce. Where other legislators offer cookies or chocolates to their guests, Rep. Stoltze stocks his office with carrots.

“Alaskan carrots have an incredible flavor profile. You can tell the difference when you buy one from the local store and you buy one that’s produced in the Mat Valley or the Tanana Valley or anywhere else in Alaska,” says Stoltze. “The flavor profile is leaps and bounds better.”

Stoltze would like more Alaskans to eat local carrots, and potatoes, and fish for that matter. Less than 5 percent of food consumed in Alaska is harvested in the state, according to a 2007 study by the United States Department of Agriculture.

To that end, Stoltze wants the governor to create a new working group focused on increasing food production in Alaska, for consumption in Alaska. His resolution laying out objectives for the group unanimously passed the House on Monday.

The idea is that the commission would bring together representatives from different state agencies and have them work local food production into their missions. For example, the Division of Homeland Security could be directed to include more Alaska products in their emergency management plans. The Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development could be encouraged to do more promotional work for the state’s fish and produce.

Stoltze also sees a role for the Department of Corrections.

“We have some big dormitories being built in the Valley,” says Stoltze. “It’d be nice if they’re buying seasonally more lettuce, instead of buying it out of Salinas, California, or Washington, especially with freight costs and energy costs.”

The resolution doesn’t provide many details for what the working group would look like, leaving that up to the governor’s discretion. The only real directive is that the working group collaborate with the Alaska Food Policy Council, a panel with a similar mission that has a mix of private and public members.

But one thing that it’s not is a new Department of Agriculture. Stoltze says he doesn’t want the commission to act like a new state bureaucracy. He also says that he wants food production in the state to grow by using already existing infrastructure, instead of putting money behind something like a new state creamery.

“[Alaska food production] is going to increase incrementally. And it’s a lot stronger if it grows that way,” says Stoltze. “It’s not going to be through these government mega-projects, which I’ll run as fast as I can the other way from folks that propose those types of ideas about a big commune or a coop.”

The resolution doesn’t allocate money for a working group or set a timeline for its creation, but Stoltze says he’s been in communication with the governor’s office and that the legislation falls in line with Sean Parnell’s goal of increasing food security in the state. A companion measure is currently working its way through the Senate.

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