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Alaskan farmers and ranchers are the real thing

Danny Consenstein

Across Alaska, harvest time is well underway. As our dreary summer slips into a sunny fall, Alaskans are busy putting crops away for winter. In Palmer, mountains of potatoes are growing inside large potato barns. In Delta, huge combines are harvesting barley and other grains. Farmer's markets, from Kodiak to Fairbanks, are still busy selling the last of the zucchini, broccoli and lettuce. Families are filling their freezers and canning jars with local peas and berries.

Alaskan farmers and ranchers are the real thing. These hard-working Alaskans are deeply connected to the land. In the face of severe weather, the high costs of doing business here, and uncertain consumer demand, they are strong, independent and self-reliant entrepreneurs.

As hard as they work, they still can't put enough healthy, local food into the mouths of Alaskans. In 1955, 55 percent of Alaska's food came from Alaska producers. Today, less than 5 percent of the food we eat is produced here. Last May, Alaskans from across the state gathered to form the first Alaska Food Policy Council to work together to develop new ideas to produce more local foods, create jobs and build healthy communities. Their recommendations will be released early next year.

We have a long road ahead, but our farmers, ranchers and community gardeners have a bright future. Alaska is still the land of opportunity and Alaskans are full of ideas about how to increase our food production and build a new renewable energy economy to make our communities healthy, sustainable and secure for future generations.

The Alaska USDA team can help, too, with loan and grant programs for Alaskans interested in producing food or biomass from the land. One new program helps compensate for the high transportation costs of doing business here. Another new loan program provides loans for conservation efforts on farm and ranch land. And, just this week, the USDA committed almost $200,000 to promote Alaska Grown products to our consumers.

Alaskans and all Americans are fortunate to have such a strong agricultural economy. Agriculture is responsible for one out of every 12 jobs in America. Less than 10 percent of our family income is spent on food -- much less than even other western nations.

So, this week, as you visit the grocery store, restaurant or farmer's market, ask for Alaska Grown, and join with me and my colleagues at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in thanking farmers and ranchers in Alaska and across the country for putting high quality, safe and nutritious food on our tables.

Danny Consenstein is the state executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Alaska Farm Service Agency.

Alaska Dispatch features commentary by Alaskans from across the state. The views expressed are the writer's own and are not endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. We welcome a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail  editor(at)alaskadispatch.com.