Patrice Kunesh, Under Secretary of the USDA Rural Development, visited the Bethel region Tuesday to see some of the department’s projects in action.
Kunesh and an entourage from D.C. and Anchorage toured the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation, met with the Association of Village Council Presidents and stopped into Meyers Farm.
Farmer Tim Meyers has grown so much local produce on the tundra in Bethel that he is exporting to Anchorage and Bristol Bay.
Kunesh says the USDA is committed to making sure locally grown foods support the community both economically and nutritionally.
“One of the things we’ve seen in some of the harshest conditions is folks just not getting good fresh food,” Kunesh says. “It compromises health, it compromises vitality.”
Jim Norlund is the USDA Rural Development Alaska State Director and was acting as tour guide.
“As Alaskans, we’re pretty good at providing protein as we have wild fish and game in our freezers but what’s really missing from a lot of rural Alaska is the access to fresh fruits and vegetables,” Norlund says.
Kunesh also visited two villages: housing projects in Quinihagak and conservation projects in Kwethluk.
While in Bethel, Kunesh announced a $718,656 grant to Bethel Broadcasting, Inc. which runs KYUK. The money will expand two digital channels into eight free TV channels.
Long-time KYUK Engineer, Joe Seibert, says the grant will also buy digital production equipment to help archive 40 years of video, some of which is still on reel to reel.
“One of our main missions is to document and preserve information about the local culture and area and we have over 3,000 hours of video tape that’s slowly going bad because video has a shelf life to it. It will break down over time,” Seibert says.
The Bethel visit is part of a three-day Alaska tour. Kunesh will be in Anchorage Wednesday and Juneau Thursday.