Members of the Alaska Food Policy Council hosted a town hall meeting in Bethel last week to gather information they’ll use to guide statewide food policy.
Bethel community members gathered around tables at a local café to brainstorm ideas about how the food system in the Y-K Delta could be better. Subsistence hunting and fishing along with gardening and farming were noted as strengths in the Y-K Delta, while high prices at grocery stores and problems finding places to process and store food were among the problems discussed.
The Alaska Food Policy Council is an independent, statewide advocacy group with a vision for a food secure, healthy Alaska. Partners include the state of Alaska and non-profits, among others.
AFPC Board Member, Gary Ferguson says one of the Council’s main goals is to make healthy food more available and affordable.
“Alaska is very dependent upon outside food. Over 95 percent of our food comes from outside of the state of Alaska, so less than 5 percent is locally grown. And we spend a lot of money on food. We need to look at having more of that food sourced locally. And also it provides an economic base. It provides jobs. It provides more nutrient dense food as well,” says Ferguson.
Food Bank of Alaska officials say that 14 percent of people are food insecure in the state. In rural Alaska, those numbers are higher. Studies show that in the Bethel Census Area nearly 30 percent of children don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Food insecurity is defined as not having enough access to food in socially acceptable ways.
Bethel Cooperative Extension Director, Leif Alberston, participated in the town hall. He says lack of local, community processing facilities was a major barrier to food security discussed in his group.
“It’s hard to have local food because there’s so many barriers to processing, sort of hoops you have to jump through – things like commercial kitchens or standards of practice for processing local food that really are cost prohibitive for small producers in rural areas,” says Albertson.
Bethel farmer, Tim Meyers says many people in his group discussed expanding farming in Bethel as an opportunity.
“A local solution would be growing a lot of food. I think we have the ability to grow a tremendous amount of food. In fact I think we could grow enough food to feed the majority of the state. We just need to try some different techniques about getting that type of a system going,” says Meyers.
Town Hall meetings were already held in Nome, Juneau and Fairbanks. Additional meetings are planned for Anchorage, Palmer and Homer in the fall.
The information gathered at the town hall meetings will be used by the Council to inform institutions, organizations and policy makers.