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Greenhouse project on remote Alaska island gets a boost

Jim PaulinDutch Harbor Fisherman

While the Pribilof Island community of St. Paul is well known for seafood, a new project aims to broaden local food production to include tomatoes and cucumbers and other veggies. Equipped with a federal grant, the tribal government plans to grow food locally in a greenhouse, according to tribal government official Pamela Lestenkof.

The Aleut Community of St. Paul Island Tribal Government received a total of $437,524 in federal grant funding from the Administration for Native Americans under its Social and Economic Development Strategies program for the next three years. With these funds, the Tribal Government intends to create, develop, and implement a local agricultural enterprise incorporating sustainable farming practices to grow produce year round on St. Paul Island, Alaska.

The major objective in the first year is to acquire and assemble a greenhouse, investigate optimal crops and the most productive use of the greenhouse capacity, recruit and train volunteers, prepare for cultivation activities, and begin phasing in of plant cultivation.

The second year's focus will be the cultivation of base plants, tomatoes, lettuce, and cucumbers, relatively problem-free crops that can be grown successfully in a greenhouse. A trial assortment of vegetables and fruits will also be grown to determine which varieties are likely to provide the best production under our greenhouse conditions. Fresh produce will be sold to the community at the community store. Staff will also attend two courses on greenhouse management and cultivation techniques and knowledge gained will be transferred to project volunteers through regular training and education. We will market strongly to the community throughout Year 2, providing regular education, cooking demonstrations, and "tasting tours". Produce will be priced with the goal of project sustainability rather than making a high profit. Program income from produce sales will be reserved for post grant operating costs.

The third year's focus is expanding and rotating the types of crops, based on Year 2 trial plantings, working with a renewable energy company to incorporate the wind turbine into the greenhouse system to further reduce energy costs, and working to ensure complete project sustainability by the end of the grant.

Other community organizations committed to the project are the Central Bering Sea Fishermen's Association, Tanadgusix Corporation, Pribilof School District, and the City of Saint Paul. The Tribal Government will contribute all grant funds received to provide salaries for project staff and to hire a greenhouse coordinator, travel costs, equipment, supplies, other costs, and indirect costs. The greenhouse coordinator will be responsible for the day-to-day activities of the greenhouse. Other project costs such as greenhouse assembly costs will be funded through community contributions and in-kind volunteer labor.

This story first appeared in The Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman.