Rachel Lord: Expanding options for new families

If elected to the Homer City Council, candidate Rachel Lord would be the youngest member of a council that has commonly tilted toward people in their 50s and 60s. Along with fellow candidate Sarah Vance, 38, she represents a generation of Homer residents often lost in political discussions — 30-something people struggling to raise families and build careers in a town with a high cost of living and limited job opportunities.

Like a lot of ambitious Homer young people, she’s doing that through her own small business, Alaska Stems, where she’s carved out a niche growing numerous varieties of flowers in the growing Homer horticulture industry. Lord raises 40 varieties of flowers, including 9,000 tulips, and sells through a booth at the Homer Farmers Market and at Save-U-More.

A Homer transplant, through marriage she’s part of Generation X, Homer style — the children of parents who came here in the 1960s and 1970s during the Baby Boomer migration to Alaska. Her husband, Ben, works with his father, Steve, at the Small Potatoes Lumber Yard. Born in York, Maine, Lord said that Gibson family connection reminds her of her own roots to a Maine family whose history goes back to the settling of Maine in the 1600s.

“One of the things I loved when I met Ben, he reminded me of being back home. Many of our friends are from here and grew up here,” she said. “To hear all that history and to be able to appreciate that history through those eyes is really nice.”

Lord came to Alaska in 2005 after graduating in 2003 with a bachelor of science in biology from Mount Holyoke College, Hadley, Mass. She came west while in college to do field work in Washington, particularly the Columbia River drainage. Lord also has worked on projects in Argentina and New Zealand. The desire to do her own research and a longing for winters led her to pursue a master of science in wildlife biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Lord did research in the Alaska Interior like studying post-fire winter habitat of moose.

“I spent a lot of time snowmachining and measuring twigs,” she said.

In 2008, Lord moved to Homer. For her first job here, she worked with the International Pacific Halibut Commission scanning halibut coming in at the docks for halibut with fish tags. Lord stayed in Homer for another reason: she fell in love.

“I decided to stay mostly because I met Ben,” she said.

Together since 2009, they married in 2013 and have two children ages 4 and 2. She started Alaska Stems in 2011 after getting a NRCS grant for a high tunnel. She and Ben live on 13 acres above Homer High School in the Mountain View area. The Alaska Stems farm is built on several terraces in the hilly area.

“We work on the slope,” Lord said she likes to joke.

Until 2016 Lord also worked for Cook Inletkeeper, the Kenai Peninsula environmental watch-dog program, where she ran the citizen water monitoring program. Through the citizen-volunteer program she helped put together information on stream ecology.

Since January Lord has been a member of the Homer Economic Development and Advisory Commission, frequently testifying before the Homer City Council. Lord also works as executive secretary for the Alaska Association of Harbormasters, a group with about 220 members representing 40 ports and harbors.

“I love our harbormasters and port directors around the state,” she said. “I really love and appreciate our working waterfronts.”

Through that work she’s participated on several committees, including the Cook Inlet Harbor Safety Committee. She also worked with the city on its clean harbors program and on an ad-hoc task force on derelict vessels.

“That’s part of my interest in sitting on the city council,” she said. “I want to be sure we’re supporting our maritime industry, supporting our port and harbor.”

Lord said she has been thinking about running for city council for several years.

“I really respect and appreciate local government. I appreciate that it is our neighbors. It’s people taking time out of their lives to make our city better for the long term,” she said.

Her science background and civic work gives her the experience to be on the council, she said.

“I come with a lot of experience listening and understanding complex issues,” Lord said. “I want to take that knowledge and apply it, hopefully for good decision making.”

With the divisiveness Homer experienced during the recall election, Lord said she sees a way forward for Homer to heal. She voted against the recall, but at the same time said that if she had been on the council she would not have supported Resolution 17-019, the controversial resolution some saw as nothing more than promoting inclusivity and that others saw as making Homer a sanctuary city.

“Everyone interested in moving this community forward has to build trust and answer questions, and treat everyone as community members and neighbors,” Lord said.

Homer is a diverse community, Lord said — not necessarily in terms of ethnicity, though, but in terms of political opinions and economic conditions.

“I think that’s easily forgotten. Look at how we bridge those divides,” she said. “…This is not like a cosmic hamlet by the sea. It’s a diverse working community with a lot of people working in it. I really appreciate that.”