Why Arctic Farming is Innovating Alaska’s Food Supply

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arctic farming
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Freshly grown produce is reaching grocery store shelves in Alaska’s Arctic Circle, and that’s not normal. An extremely short growing season makes growing anything difficult. A local, Native corporation is growing produce hydroponically in shipping containers, allowing them to offer new kinds of produce even in the dead of winter.

A Fresh new Alternative for Arctic Produce

Arctic conditions are historically bad for farming communities, yet humans have been able to thrive in frozen places by subsisting on alternative methods of getting food. This is even true in the modern day, as access to produce requires significant transportation and energy investment. Native Kikiktagruk Inupiat Corp. is aiming to change those dynamics. By collaborating with Vertical Harvest Hydroponics, they are combining existing technologies to create arctic farming by way of hydroponic growing systems.

Native Kikiktagruk Inupiat Corp. is aiming to change those dynamics. By collaborating with Vertical Harvest Hydroponics, they are combining existing technologies to create arctic farming by way of hydroponic growing systems.Click To Tweet

Their method uses an insulated shipping container equipped with magenta LED grow lights. This requires no soil, and so far the practice has produced enough produce to stock supermarkets for a community of around 3,300 people called the Kotzebue.

Kotzebue markets are only the beginning. The company plans to make partnerships that will provide other rural communities with their own hydroponic growing containers. This could be a godsend to places that are far separated from Alaska’s road system. Here, produce doesn’t always arrive fresh.

The local produce has gathered positive reviews, but getting it in the hands of consumers is no easy process.

An Arctic Greens sign leads customers to a display of freshly harvested produce at the Kotzebue AC store. Arctic Greens planted its first crop in May 2016 and introduced its first harvest of fresh vegetables to the residents of Kotzebue on June 22, 2016. | Kikiktagruk.com
An Arctic Greens sign leads customers to a display of freshly harvested produce at the Kotzebue AC store. Arctic Greens planted its first crop in May 2016 and introduced its first harvest of fresh vegetables to the residents of Kotzebue on June 22, 2016. | Kikiktagruk.com

Can Arctic Farming Find a way to Flourish?

One problem facing the new method is cost. Simply put, the starting costs in Kotzebue were in the neighborhood of $200,000 USD. The continued operation of the farm requires a lot of energy typically provided by diesel power. On top of that, farming is new to the Native communities. Education and development will require significant investment.

Because of these issues, state officials have been optimistic yet critical of the operation. According to Johanna Herron, who is the Alaska State Market Access and Food Safety manager, “It’s not the only solution. Hydroponics is just a piece of it, but certainly an excellent thing for communities to look into.”

With new efforts like those of the Kotzebue, Alaskan citizens should be inspired to continue providing their own leafy greens.

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