A view of Mat-Su farmland.

The Alaska Food Strategy Task Force (AFSTF) released the first of two reports with its recommendations on three of its seven assigned focus areas centered on improving food security and independence in Alaska.

AFSTF Chair, Senator Shelley Hughes, applauded the members’ efforts to pinpoint actionable and achievable steps to overcome the challenges Alaska faces.

“We are currently vulnerable, and it is time we begin to implement tangible solutions,” she said in an Aug. 1 statement. “Our overdependence on the Lower-48 puts us at one crisis away from a food shortage. An earthquake, a labor strike at a major port, a pandemic – and we would see our store shelves empty out in short order.”

The new report includes specific strategies that list responsible entities, any required statutory or regulatory changes, proposed timelines, action steps and metrics to be used to measure progress and success.

“We are not promoting boondoggles or interested in theories on paper,” Hughes claimed. “We are focused on actually increasing food production and access to locally grown foods over the coming years.”

The 86-page report examines Alaska’s growing agriculture industry, expanding markets for local products, and ways to improve transportation and infrastructure.

The 36-seat AFSTF divided its members into three committees in late spring according to their expertise and corresponding to the three focus areas. Each committee began working in late spring, picking up where the 2022 task force on the same topic of food security left off.

Specific recommendations include the following suggestions:

— Create an Alaska Department of Agriculture

— Expand leases on state-owned land

— Increase research capacity and programs

— Improve access to capital for producers, processors and manufacturers through agricultural loans.

— Encourage tax exemptions for farmland

— Create an Alaska Grown marketing institute

— Re-establish an Alaska meat inspection service

— Request that grocery stores track and sell more Alaska Grown products

— Improve transportation and infrastructure

— Decrease rural hub food loss via climate-controlled storage infrastructure

— Improve bypass mail operations

— Enhance data collection and analysis

— Increase food storage for community food banks

— Extend the northern rail

Kodiak farmer, Kelli Foreman, who serves as an executive board member, as well as the vice president of the Alaska Farm Bureau’s Kodiak Chapter, shared her hopes regarding the AFSTF report, process, and future implementation of the recommendations.

“As a farmer, it has been great to actively engage in the process of forming actionable recommendations,” she said. “As Task Force members, we are working to help empower farmers to not just survive but thrive in Alaska through enhancing support programs, boosting production, unlocking new avenues to reach and expand markets, and ensuring success in an ever-evolving agricultural landscape.”

Fellow executive board member Michael Jones, from the Institute of Economic Research, noted that food security is a complex issue that requires sound management of both wild food sources as well as robust supply chains that can provide high-quality and affordable food to populations across a vast state.

“This task force has identified many actionable and data-driven proposals across three initial focus areas that can support local production, reduce waste, and foster economic growth,” he said. “We hope these intervention options foster high-level discussion and will be strongly considered as our team begins work on the remaining four focus areas.”

The AFSTF’s next report is due in August of 2024 and will focus on the remaining four focus areas as well as make any necessary updates to the recommendations in its 2023 report, including reporting on the status and progress of action items incorporated in each recommendation.

Click here to read the full report.

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Report urges specific actions to fix Alaska’s food security challenges

Joel Davidson
Joel is Editor-in-Chief of the Alaska Watchman. Joel is an award winning journalist and has been reporting for over 24 years, He is a proud father of 8 children, and lives in Palmer, Alaska.