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Rising food bills connected to gas prices

Matt Hawthorne

Haines shoppers are taking a double hit as the cost of food rises along with Alaska shipping charges because of higher fuel prices.

"When you buy a gallon of milk, $2 is freight just to get it here from Seattle," said local grocer Doug Olerud, who sells a gallon of milk at $5.85.

The fuel surcharge on goods shipped by Alaska Marine Lines has jumped from 16.5 percent in April 2007 to 30 percent in June. Added to that is the higher cost of groceries, estimated at 8.5 percent during the past year, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Those numbers are affecting families like the Hansens. Valina, who has seven children ranging in age from 18 months to 15 years, said her family has had to stop buying new clothing as their food bill rises. Hansen said her food bill has gone from $760 in June 2006 to $1,172 in June 2008.

Grocer and cafe owner Mary Jean Borcik said she's not only dealing with increased freight costs, but the additional costs of heating the store and fluctuations in the prices of commodities.

"Flour went from $24 per bag to $55 per bag ... and the fuel bill at the store is up 60 percent this last year. It's hard to pass on that bill. I mean where do you put that cost, on the muffins?"

Frankie Jones, who has four children, said she has cut back on purchasing organic produce.

Jones said her family is focusing more on subsistence activities.

Hansen, whose family raises goats and has kept bees in past years, said the family also places bulk orders for food and is making changes for the future.

"We have a plan," she said, explaining that the family would be using the energy rebate money from the state to install a hydroelectric plant and greenhouse on their property.

It was unclear whether the fuel surcharge would decrease as oil prices drop. Gail Knapp, president of Alaska Marine Lines, said via e-mail that the surcharge is based on the amount of fuel the company consumes.

Members of the Haines Borough's Peak Oil Task Force identified the spiraling cost of food as a major issue last year and made a host of recommendations to the local government about buffering its effects in February.

Nancy Berland, co-chair of the task force's food security committee, said the borough hasn't made much headway with the 10 suggestions, which include creating tax incentives to foster local food production, and making agriculture, crop production and animal husbandry permitted uses in all zones.

"Maybe timing-wise, we were a little ahead of the curve, but we could see that (price increases) would happen. The point of the recommendations is that there would be no quick fix to it. We need to be prepared," Berland said.

Chilkat Valley News