Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What it's like to live in Alaska--part 4

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Things people always ask about
Part 3: To love, or not to love
Part 4: Local Foods

"I would love to know about the gardening in Alaska, local food production, any farmers markets type things going that you have experienced."

I admit that after living 25 years in the lower 48, my first thought was "my gosh they won't have anything up here except fish," but actually that is not true at all.

Yes, we have fish. We have LOTS of fish. Halibut, salmon (all types), cod, sablefish, herring, etc etc. We also have lots of other seafood: multiple types of crab, multiple types of clam, mussels, scallops, and shrimp. Plus some folks like to eat the salmon roe (eggs) and milt (sperm--yes, they eat the fish sperm, apparently traditionally it's a delicacy. Eww!). I eat fish, I don't eat the other sea stuff. I think it's vile. But it's popular.

We also have moose, deer, elk, caribou, bighorned sheep, mountain goats, black bear, buffalo, and assorted birds, all of which are good eating. (It's also legal to hunt grizzley bears, wolves, and wolverines, but that's more about fur than meat...and in spite of it being pretty sustainable up here, I don't believe in wasting parts of the animal, so we only hunt for meat.)

So there is that whole side of local food...but I think Aimee was curious more about the plants and things.

On the wild side, we have berries everywhere. Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, lowbush cranberries (not the bog type), thimbleberries, salmonberries, huckleberries, elderberries, and crowberries all grow wild, and most can be found without too much effort. There are also some edible flowers--fireweed jelly (which is made with a combination of fireweed and clover) is a popular Alaskan product--something tourists buy alongside their antler jewelry and smoked salmon. I confess I really want to make it at least once, but I hear it's a royal hassle, so I suspect I won't do it regularly.

In regard to cultivated foods, it's easy to think that we can't grow much because we have a short growing season. This is true, we usually can't plant outside until May or June, and start having frosts in September, BUT in those few short months, we do have more than 20 hours of sunlight per it really depends on the plant. Some plants need a certain number of days to grow, others only need a certain amount of light...obviously the latter sort do great here.
Many people have berry patches, since those grow so well here naturally. Rhubarb is also very very common--it grows easily and quickly and everybody who has a patch always seems to be willing to give it away.
All the root vegetables--potatoes, onions, garlic, rutabegas, carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips, and radishes thrive, and since most of them can take the frost (and some can even keep through snow and hard freezes), it's safe to keep them in the ground into the autumn.
Broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, lettuce, cabbage, and swiss chard all do well here too. Most gardeners will start the plants indoors, or plant them as seedlings rather than seeds, so they can get a head start on the short season.
If you want tomatoes or peppers, you'd better build a greenhouse or fit them inside your house (I have tomatoes in pots taking over my kitchen, but they are producing well!)

(this logo is available on clothing;
I want to get matching shirts for all the boys)

I have actually been working on adapting our eating habits to reflect the foods that are available locally. Yes, at least at present, we are still buying some avacados and bananas, but I'm learning to use more rhubarb and berries and fewer peaches. There are lots of things that are grown here in greenhouses, so we buy alaska grown as often as possible.


PaTcHwOrK jEnN said...

I have a yummy rhubard cake recipe if you are interested!

Jennie said...

Is there much of a price difference between Alaska grown, and those imported in? Just wondering, because I think being in Utah, I get a lot things locally, but they would be cheaper if I got the shipped in version. But thinking maybe with all the cost to shipping in Alaska, there might less of a price difference to buy Alaska grown.

Mommy Bee said...

Of COURSE I am interested in a rhubarb cake recipe.
Rhubarb = good
Cake = GOOD
what's not to want?! ☺

Mommy Bee said...

Jennie--some things are definitely expensive because of the shipping cost (bell peppers come to mind...they tend to run about $3 EACH). Perishables either have to be local or they have to be shipped fast, so if it's shipped, yeah we pay for that. But there is a lot more produced in-state than people might think. We can do most vegetables (we're good with greenhouses LOL) it's mostly some of the fruit and the really hot-weather stuff that has to be shipped in. So that's the stuff I'm trying to learn to not use so much.

Things that keep well--shelf stable stuff--isn't that much more expensive because even though it has to be shipped a long distance, it doesn't have to be shipped too flour and sugar and beans and such probably cost a little more here, but not a lot (my mom says a lot of my prices here are similar to what she pays in Seattle).

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