Homer Farmers Market: Alaska farming has grown in past 5 years

Every time I go to the Farmers Market I am excited to find what’s new. Last week was the first time this season that peas have been available. But I also got to hear that Theo Castellani is going to Dartmouth College this fall.

I remember when Mr. Castellani was just a little guy running around the Market making mischief with his big brother. I’m sure that his mom even remembers running the WillGrow Farms booth when she was pregnant. Since this is the 20th anniversary of the Homer Farmers Market, there are lots of memories. But there are still a lot of new tidbits when it comes to agriculture in Alaska and it’s not just about Hickmans bringing the first peas. Thanks to the state’s Census of Agriculture and some number crunching by the Alaska Farmland Trust and Soil and Water Conservation Districts, we can see all kinds of new trends just in the last five years:

• The number of Kenai Peninsula farms selling food direct to consumers increased from 56 to 74 (up from 27 in 2007).

• The number of farms producing flowers or nursery crops more than doubled, from 46 to 103 (up from 18 in 2007).

• Total farms increased 60% from 162 to 260 (up from 124 in 2007).

• Direct sales of food to consumers more than tripled,: from $312,000 to $981,000 (up from $155,000 in 2007).

• Sales of flowers, nursery and greenhouse products increased nearly 60%, from $1.052 million to $1.671 million.

Those are just the changes since Theo was middle school age. So much is changing, and it’s not just on the Kenai Peninsula. Statewide our numbers couldn’t look better.

• The number of Alaska farms grew 30% over the past five years (this goes against the national trend of a 3% decrease).

• 47% of Alaska farmers are women (national average: 27%).

• The number of small farms (1-9 acres) in Alaska is up 73%.

• Alaska isf irstin the nation for new farmers (46% of Alaska farmers have less than 10 years of farming experience).

So head on down to the Market on Ocean Drive this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. or Wednesday from 2-5 p.m. and see what these new trends look like.

Kyra Wagner is the coordinator of Sustainable Homer and the Homer Farmers Market’s biggest fan.