The Census Bureau has a question they ask about your occupation. If more than 1 percent of the population has a certain occupation, you will see it in the list of options to choose from.
Note: you will not see “farmer” on that list anymore.
As agriculture modernized, it also mechanized, centralized and specialized. Small family farms have dwindled and processed food dominates the grocery store. In this new food system, it is estimated that Alaskans import more than 95 percent of their food from Lower 48 distributors.
When I tell people that statistic, I often get push back. Oh, but I hunt and I fish. Alaskans know how to live off the land. Eat berries, grow potatoes.
And it’s true, some Alaskans are more self-sufficient, and some are very close to living a subsistence lifestyle. But the majority of us worship at Safeway and Costco on a weekly basis, filling our refrigerators with butter, milk, cheese, prewashed salad mix, dressing, chips and dips, beans, rice, pasta, meat, eggs, mustard, mayo, catsup, fruit, vegetables and all the rest.
I have to admit, what bothers me the most about this is not that individual Alaskans aren’t as independent as they would like to think, but that our state economy as a whole isn’t self-sufficient. All that food we buy sends money out of the state. According to the Director of Agriculture Arthur Keyes, if every Alaskan just spent $5 a week on local food for the five-month growing season, “it would put tens of millions of dollars back into the local economy.”
Tens of millions of dollars. This “Five for Five” challenge would not only put better food on the plates of Alaskans, it would support local farmers trying to make a living. Then farming is a more viable occupation. Then more people farm. Then there is more local food. Then more people buy, then more people grow.
And that cycle makes us stronger as a whole.
So head on down to the Homer Farmers Market out on Ocean Drive this Saturday from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. or Wednesday from 2-5 p.m. to see how you can spend your $5 this week.
Kyra Wagner is the coordinator of Sustainable Homer and the Homer Farmers Market’s biggest fan.