Representative Geran Tarr

JUNE 27, 2014  

Our Short, but Strong, Growing Season

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

First, a reminder:  The Mountain View Street Fair is tomorrow from 12-4 pm at Clark Middle School.  Senator Ellis and I will have a booth, with Otter pops for the kids.  See the flyer below for more information!

Growing food in Alaska is like no other place in the US and I love gardening here.  I love walking our neighborhoods and seeing all of the great gardens.  And, the new gardening project spearheaded by ACLT, to install raised gardening beds and teach citizens how to use them, is giving many families in our area a new way to grow food for their family.  Too cool!

With a short growing season and long, intense sunlight hours, urban, rural, and commercial farmers in Alaska face challenges and have opportunities different from the rest of our nation. 


Farmers Market

We're famous for our enormous cabbages and zucchinis which grow exponentially bigger than their southern counterparts, while other popular food crops struggle to thrive in our cooler temperatures.  When we do get our tomatoes to grow, we celebrate our success!

And, for our farmers, Alaska also has a different soil composition than southern farmland, largely due to the fact that this area was once covered in glaciers.

Topsoil can be several feet deep in the Mat-Su Valley; something that is unheard of in the Lower 48.  

The question is: are we food secure?  Do we grow enough food in Alaska to support ourselves, especially in a time of crisis? The answer is NO and this must change.

Alaska is the largest state in the Union, but fewer than one million of its 365 million acres are farmed and 82% of farmers farm on less than 500 acres. Only 5% of Alaska’s food is grown in Alaska, compared to 55% in 1955.  Also, should something disrupt our supply chain it is estimated that we only have a 3-5 day supply of food in grocery stores.  

Increasing Alaska Grown Purchasing

Currently, municipalities, the state, and school districts are required to purchase Alaska Grown agricultural and fisheries products instead of out-of-state products under certain conditions.  These conditions are that 1) there is a quality Alaskan product available and 2) it does not cost more than 7% above the cost of the out-of-state product.

House Bill 238, which I proposed this past session, increases the Alaska Grown purchase price percentage from its current 7% to        12%.  Increasing the in-state purchasing by, for example, the Anchorage School District and the Department of Corrections, would encourage farmers to invest in and enlarge farms.   Larger farms are how you build a stronger food system and a strong food system is how we achieve food security.

Alaskans spend $2.5 billion annually on food, and if Alaskan grown products were 30% of that market, local economies would grow by $750 million a year

Cow photobomb

Improving the local farming economies would also help overcome the hurdle of increasing fuel costs, which leads to higher fertilizer costs and less competitive pricing. Furthermore, increasing opportunities would encourage more young farmers to stay in the market, considering that the median age of farmers is now hovering around 57 years old and rising.

Alaska grown foods are fresher, travel fewer miles, and put money back into local economies. There are fewer diseases and crop pests in Alaska, meaning that local foods have fewer chemical contaminants, and other countries favor Alaska grown food because of this.  I am going to continue fighting to ensure that we increase our use of Alaska Grown products.

GMO Labeling

Last year, we were able to successfully move through the legislature House Joint Resolution 5, stating that Alaskans are opposed to genetically modified salmon and require that the Food and Drug Administration fully examine the consequences of this technology. 

We are now moving the fight forward with House Bill 215, GMO labeling legislation, so that Alaskans can make informed choices about the food that they buy for their families.

Rep. Tarr and U.S. Senator Mark Begich display cards signed by hundreds of Alaskans in support of banning GMOs.

Rep. Tarr and U.S. Senator Mark Begich display cards signed by hundreds of Alaskans in support of banning GMOs.

Recently, I attended the third Anchorage March Against Monsanto.

I have heard from hundreds of Alaskans, of every political persuasion and from all corners of the state, in support of this legislation for varied reasons.  First, Alaskans hold a fundamental belief that they have a right to know what is in their food. Second, many residents have environmental concerns about GM crops, such as increased pesticide use and pesticide resistant weeds. Third, Alaskans recognize the risks of losing genetic diversity in food crops. Finally, Alaskans recognize potential health concerns associated with consumption of GMO food products.

Recently, I attended the third Anchorage March Against Monsanto.  This local protest to take back our food was held in conjunction with events in countries around the world, where millions of people protested GMOs and harmful agro-chemicals.  This year’s Anchorage event was  named the "Munch Against Monsanto"  and was a peaceful protest and GMO free picnic.

The United States and Canada are the only industrialized nations that do not require labeling and the Food and Drug Administration does not require any safety studies.  It is time we catch up to the rest of the world and endorse people’s right to know.

While more research needs to be done on health issues, the loss of crop diversity and increased pesticide usage are well documented and cause for concern. Yet, almost all U.S. grown corn, soy, sugar beets, and canola are genetically modified and included as ingredients in our everyday foods without our knowledge or consent.

Check out my page on the Alaska Democrats website to learn more:

Gardens at Bragaw

Gardens at Bragaw growing

One of these days, while you’re out enjoying the sunshine, stop by the beautiful Gardens at Bragaw, located on Bragaw, between 4th Avenue and the Glenn Highway.

For the past few years, the Anchorage Community Land Trust has been beautifying Mountain View by renovating the Gardens at Bragaw and ensuring that the area was healthy for planting.  This year, for the first time, the ACLT rented out 20 gardening plots to community members.  ACLT is providing these gardeners with volunteer-driven trainings and organizing community partners to provide resources.

I encourage you to take a look at the amazing job that they’ve done and consider having your own plot next year!   If you are interested in starting some of your own urban gardens, be it fruits, veggies, or flowers, I encourage you to take a look at the University of Alaska – Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service gardening site, here.

If you’re more interested in finding Alaska Grown products to bring home, check out the Division of Agriculture’s page here to find out where you need to shop.

You can also pull up the agency’s calendar and find out about classes, workshops, or meetings in your area that you would like to attend, this past month there were classes on On-Farm Food Safety Workshop in Palmer and a free webinar on Dry Curing.


signed: Geran Tarr
Representative Geran Tarr

Mtn. View Street Fair


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