Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Harvest Week from Alaska

 Welcome back to Harvest Week!

Day 3 of our Eat Local Tour takes us to Alaska. 

Please welcome today's guest writer Jenn, who proves that anyone can eat local.


Snow on the ground from late September thru mid-May; temperatures ranging from -20*F to -50*F at least four months out of the year; four months of very little daylight where the sun just barely slips above the horizon before slipping back below…not exactly an environment conducive to growing a bounty of fruits and vegetables to sustain your family through the year.  Or is it?

I live in a region of Alaska called the Interior.  Winters are long; summers are short and sweet!  Summers are packed with hunting, fishing, picking berries, and harvesting gardens.  Eating local is very much a way of life up here. Grocery stores charge CRAZY prices and the food, especially fruits and veggies, are anything but fresh.  So, we roll up our sleeves and get busy!

Most people I talk with wonder if we can grow a garden at all up here and they’re surprised when I tell them we can!  The reason we can grow gardens in such a short time, about 3 ½ months, is that the cold, dark days of winter quickly give way to warm days and 24 hours of sunshine!  I have watched green beans sprout and grow to be 2” tall in a matter of 8 hours!  Gardens don’t go in until quite late, often the beginning of June, but they’re ready to harvest in July and early August.
So, what kind of veggies can we grow in such a short period of time?  Lots!  Most are things you would expect to see in a “typical” garden…carrots, potatoes, radishes, onions, lettuce, pumpkins, squash, and cucumbers, green beans, and sweet corn, just to name a few.  For those of us who are not able to grow our own produce, there is a local Farmer’s Market every Wednesday and Saturday through the summer months.  You can find all of the produce listed above plus a wide variety of jams, jellies, and other homemade products.  

Wild blueberries, strawberries, and salmonberries, highbush and lowbush cranberries are plentiful and many people freeze them or make them into jams and jellies.  Driving down the highway you always know where there’s a good patch because you’ll see people scattered out on the hillside or tundra.  If you’re up for a bit of a hike, the best patches are found away from the road where not many people visit.  The only “visitor” you’re likely to have is a grizzly bear trying to fatten himself up for winter!
Freezers are filled with caribou, moose, salmon, halibut, and other fish.  When the salmon begin running, fishing is at its best!  There are all sorts of government imposed regulations but you are still able to catch a good number of fish.  With our family of 5 we are able to harvest 6 salmon each person, per day, when they run…that’s 30 fish per day for our family and the last time we went out we were able to bring our limit in about an hour!  As fast as you can cast your line, you’ll have a fish. The kids are so proud to be able to help supply food for our family.  Whenever we eat salmon through the winter they always ask “Who’s fish are we eating?  Is it mine?”
Not everyone wants to hunt or is physically capable of hunting, yet they need meat for their families. Alaska has a program that allows non-profit organizations to harvest a moose that has been injured or killed in a collision with a vehicle on the local roadways and pass it along to local families in need of meat.  The first winter we lived here we were blessed with a small moose and I use the term “small” lightly! The organization dropped the moose in our yard and it took us 3 days to process all of the meat, package and freeze it!  We had moose burgers and moose roast all through the winter.  
While we live in a small community with grocery stores like you would find in any small city, many Alaskans live in villages that are off the road system. This means there are no roads that connect them with the outside.  For many of these people, subsistence fishing and hunting is a way of life.  Grocery stores do not exist in some of these villages, so the people are on their own.  Eating local isn’t a choice, it’s a way of life necessary for their survival.  The people of these villages spend the summers picking berries and fishing to get enough to last through the winter.  The meat is either frozen, smoked, dried, or turned into jerky.  I spoke with one Native Alaskan who told me that many of them store the berries in seal or whale oil and it keeps them from spoiling.  They take the berries and some of the oil, freeze it, and turn it into some type of frozen dessert similar to ice cream in the winter.  I have not been brave enough to try that yet!
Busy summers give way to winter and before we know it the snow arrives again.  As we settle in for the long winter it’s a great feeling to know that we have a freezer full of healthy, locally grown and harvested foods to see our family through the long winter ahead.


Jenn is a homeschooling mom to her three children, and proud wife to an Alaskan police officer. She loves to cook and bake as can be attested by the officers she feeds regularly. 

One of Jenn's favourite quotes is "Live  your life in such a way that when your feet hit the floor in the morning Satan shudders and says, "Oh no! She's awake!!"

When she isn't busy keeping him on his toes, she enjoys crocheting, reading, playing the piano and hiking, camping and fishing with her family in the beautiful Alaskan countryside she calls home.

Don't forget to share your local food experience with us on Friday!



MarieElizabeth said...

What wonderful information. I guess I never thought about the long days as being such a bonus for gardening. Glad to hear you can stock up on all kinds of things for the longer months. I'm trying to do that myself this year. Mostly because having that great stuff in December makes the whole day better.

TexWisGirl said...

what a great guest post! so interesting and different! i like this woman! :)

Barbara@BabyBloggingBoomer said...

Thanks for posting your story Jenn. I loved hearing about your life in Alaska and learning about your self-sufficiency.

Buttons Thoughts said...

Oh Jenn is inspiring. I can so relate to a woman that can take care of herself and her family.
I love your writing Jenn you made me feel as if I was there and helping you. You are a true pioneer woman and I am so happy you told us your story.It was filled with so many facts about Alaska I did not know. B

Jenn said...

I'm so happy you all enjoyed a glimpse into my "Eating Local" world! I had so much fun writing about it!

TexWisGirl...I was a WI girl before moving to AK 3 years ago!

Anonymous said...


~from my front porch in the mountains~ said...

I have a friend who lived in Alaska for 2 years and yes, the prices are so crazy in groceries!
This post was beautiful...I loved every bit :)
Learning something new is the awesomeness of blogging!
xo, misha

Harvest Kitchen Sisters said...

Great pics!

Love the post..