Tuesday, March 10, 2015

11th annual Alaska Sustainable Ag Conference helps farmers define goals

Over 200 long time farmers, aspiring green thumbs and other interested parties convened at the 11th annual Alaska Sustainable Agriculture Conference March 3-5 in Fairbanks.

Brad St. Pierre of Goosefoot Farm (left) and William Wilkins, natural resources management graduate student, talk about agriculture during a break.
Topics from holistic farming to budgeting to grafting to overwintering bees were addressed in 40 sessions. Phil Metzger of Holistic Management International taught a full-day preconference workshop on farm planning and improved decision making to 45 people who left impressed with the planning methods presented.

Another keynote speaker who grabbed the attendees' interest was Gina Greenway of the College of Idaho. The ag economist spoke on developing niche markets for Alaska and developing enterprise budgets for profitable farm management.

The theme of the conference was "defining our goals."

During breaks, attendees shared their goals for Alaska agriculture.

Emily Reiter, president of the Master Gardeners of the Tanana Valley, said, "I would love to see us rely more on local growers. There are so many people talented at growing but most of us get our food at the grocery store."

 Dorothy Shockley, technical assistance specialist for the Intertribal Agriculture Council, encouraged people to think about food security when voting for elected officials. "They are focused on oil and gas and we need to think about food security," she said.

Darren Snyder, Extension agent in Juneau and a representative on the Alaska Food Policy Council, said, "Produce more food and connect with buyers. We need to increase the amount people are willing to pay for food. Our food is worth more than we're paying for it. Spending more is justified for Alaska products."

Amy Pettit of the Division of Agriculture said she hopes to maintain the momentum. "There's a lot of positivity and momentum in the industry right now and I hope we can maintain that."

Lynn Mayo of Spinach Creek Farm said her goal is to get more local food out to the public.

Amy Seitz, executive director of the Alaska Farm Bureau, said, "Working together would be a good goal. People should get involved and be more vocal in agriculture groups."

At the conference, 19 exhibits, including two tractors, were on display in the Westmark's Gold Room. Conference organizers said the event would not have been possible without the 10 organizations and businesses that provided sponsorships.

Extension's Tanana District Agent Steven Seefeldt, Program Assistant Darcy Etcheverry and Administrative Assistant Ronda Boswell organize the event each year and are planning on hosting it in Anchorage in 2016 to reach producers in southcentral Alaska.

Extension Agent Steve Brown of Palmer said, "I want to reiterate that this has been the absolute best sustainable ag conference we've ever had. Steven, Darcy and Ronda didn't kick it out of the park, but out of the state!"

Conference organizers Ronda Boswell (left) and Darcy Etcheverry learn to troubleshoot the light controls at the Westmark.
Two countries (U.S. and Canada), seven states and territories (Alaska, Idaho, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Yukon Territory), and 27 cities (Anchorage, Anderson, Bethel, Big Lake, Chugiak, Clear, Dawson City, Delta Junction, Ester, Fairbanks, Glenallen, Haines, Healy, Homer, Juneau, Kenai, Nenana, North Pole, Nuiqsut, Palmer, Ruby, Soldotna, Stevens Village, Talkeetna, Two Rivers, Wasilla, Whitehorse) were represented at the conference.

No comments: