Mat-Su farmers are teaming up with Alaska universities and other agencies as part of a new program to get fresh local produce onto the tables of residents who need it most.
Joshua Faller, 37, and Megan Talley, 33, are the caretakers of Alaska Pacific University's Spring Creek Farm in Palmer and co-founders of the program, called Alaska Tilth.
The idea is a variation on the community-supported agriculture programs that have grown popular in recent years. Community-supported agriculture is basically a weekly vegetable subscription; customers pay a set price at the beginning of the season to purchase a "share" of the farm's harvest. In return, they receive a box of vegetables every week throughout the growing season.
But Alaska Tilth, with the help of APU and partners that include the University of Alaska Fairbanks Matanuska Experiment Farm, UAF Cooperative Extension and the state Division of Agriculture's Alaska Plant Materials Center, takes it a step further.
Instead of buying for themselves, donors can purchase a community-supported agriculture share from Spring Creek Farm that is then provided to local senior centers, youth and women's shelters and food pantries.
"We wanted to get fresh local food onto the tables of children and families who otherwise would not have access to healthy foods," Talley said.
During 2015, the program donated 3,000 pounds of local food to approximately 700 people and a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program educator hosted 220 nutrition education classes (the Mat-Su Health Foundation is providing funding for a full-time program coordinator this year).
Ten of the Spring Creek Farm's CSA shares were purchased as donations through Alaska Tilth last year.
This year, Faller and Talley hope to triple that.
"The food pantries don't get a lot of fresh food, so our 10 shares went very quickly," Talley says. "They could take more, if we could do more for them, but we need community support to make that happen."
This week, I posted a crowdfunding challenge to Facebook and asked for help. Within two hours, we had raised enough from 13 individuals to purchase a veggie share.
MyHouse is a homeless youth shelter in Wasilla. Last year Alaska Tilth nutrition educator Winona Benson incorporated the produce donations into cooking demonstrations and the shelter's community dinners, open to anyone who was hungry. This year, the shelter is hoping to bring youths out to the farm to learn where that food is coming from and about farming as a career opportunity.
For farmers Talley and Faller, at the end of the day, everything they do is grounded in food system education and social justice.
"We are training new growers and for us, part of that is to ground their education in service learning so that they can really have an experience in food justice and what food insecurity looks like," Faller said.
"Lots of people in our community are hungry and don't have enough to eat on a daily basis. Working with Alaska Tilth helps light a fire to help me continue what I'm doing," Talley added.
"I got into farming to create change, not to disappear."
To donate a whole share for $600, or a partial share of any amount, you can address checks to Alaska Pacific University with Alaska Tilth in the memo line and mail it to 4101 University Drive, Anchorage, AK 99508. You can also donate online at alaskapacific.edu/donate. Be sure to check the box for Kellogg Farm and add Alaska Tilth in the comments. The deadline to sign up or donate to the program is June 1.
Shannon Kuhn lives in Anchorage, where she writes about food and culture. Reach her at email@example.com.