Grit Blogs > Close to the Earth in Alaska

Commitment to Eat Locally Produced Foods

A photo of Susan B. SommerAlaska’s agricultural hub of Palmer is a 40-minute drive from my house in the fertile Matanuska Valley. I was born in Palmer, but have never paid much attention to its farming activities other than visiting a u-pick business, biking or walking on the area’s scenic roads a few times each summer, or going to the state fair.

All that, though, is about to change.

The more I read about eating locally produced foods, and the more I think about self-sufficiency, the more I want to support farmers in my region. For years my husband tried to convince me to buy local milk from the now defunct Matanuska Maid dairy, but toward the end of the company’s 70-plus-year run, they were selling a gallon of milk for $6. Six dollars! I doubt it cost that much in previous years, but being the bargain shopper that I am, I always went for the cheaper store brand, never considering how much the real cost was when you added in shipping to Alaska and unhealthy additives (thank you, Barbara Kingsolver, and GRIT, for helping open my eyes). Unfortunately for Matanuska Maid, efforts to keep it afloat were too little too late.

An Alaska Farm

But yesterday I was picking up a few groceries at Fred Meyer, and at first grabbed two gallons of the cheaper milk and placed them in my cart. The bright yellow jugs next to them in the cooler caught my eye, though, and I saw that their labels said Matanuska Creamery. Hmm, a new, local dairy source, and though it sported a higher price ($4.69 vs. $2.00 on sale for the Fred Meyer brand, which is distributed by a firm in Ohio and comes from who knows where), I surrendered, sort of, and exchanged one of the mystery gallons for a local one. It was a small, first step.

When I got home, my husband, who’d been out running his own errands, said, “I bought eggs!”

He gets them occasionally at a nearby hardware store. The two dozen eggs were, like the local milk, from Palmer.

“They were four-something each,” he confessed about the price, “but I really want to buy from the local guys. When you think about it, that’s only, let’s see…” He began figuring in his head how much extra we’d spend if we purchased local milk and eggs all year.

Local dairy and eggs

The numbers made it crystal clear to me: We drink about 1½ gallons of milk a week, so at an average of $3/gallon, that’s $234 per year for store brand vs. about $366 for Matanuska Creamery milk, a difference of $132. And if we bought local eggs instead of those shipped from the Lower 48, most likely laid by stressed hens living their entire lives in putrid cramped cages and fed antibiotics, the difference would be about $90 per year. Combined “extra” expenditures on local dairy would be $222. Big whoop! We’ve dropped that much on treating friends to one dinner out! Oh yeah, and there are also those pesky health risks that figure into the equation from mass produced foods. And transportation costs. And living conditions for the animals. Who knows what the final tally is?

My family already eats meat that we harvest ourselves – salmon, moose, caribou, wild sheep. I grow vegetables every year, and pick berries. From this day forward, I’m making the commitment to switch to locally produced dairy products. I’m not sure if Alaska produces its own grains for human consumption, but discovering that is next on my list.

nebraska dave
3/1/2010 4:21:33 PM

Susan, there has been much discussion on Grit blogs about eating local. My goal for this year is to eat as much as I can out of my back yard. Can’t get much more local than that. I’m glad that you are in the mind set to support your local growers and producers. I personally believe that paying a little more will benefit us in more ways than just better food. It will sustain our ability to live a better life without 1500 miles of transportation to visit our table. It also has taught me to live a simpler life style. My passion this year is to expand gardening, preserving, and eating less processed foods. Don’t get me wrong, I still like a double cheese burger from Burger King on occasion, but those times are way less than they used to be. I’ve found that taking small steps toward a goal promotes the accomplishment of the goal much better than trying one giant leap. Is that a irrigation system in your picture? We have many different types of irrigation systems in Nebraska but the most popular these days is the center pivot system. I can still remember the days when irrigation was 4 inch pipes that had to be moved every couple days. The pipes had to be taken apart and moved to the new location re-assembled. It was a pains taking ordeal but much improved crop production. Today there is so much water pumped out of the aquifer under Nebraska that it could be in jeopardy. I'm not against irrigation if it's done in moderation.


anotherkindofdrew
2/22/2010 12:32:06 PM

On behalf of chicken farmers everywhere, thank you for supporting us. Although we have to charge a bit more you can guarantee our eggs are fresh and are from healthy, happy hens! -Drew anotherkindofdrew.com


susan_7
2/21/2010 1:09:04 PM

Hello from Alaska all! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. As Cindy mentioned, it's nice to support non-food-producing locals too, and just a couple of days ago my hubby arrived home from a "guy trip" to the cabin with a gift for me--an alpaca scarf that a gal at one of the lodges along the way home had just finished knitting that day. So cool! It's almost always more expensive to buy locally made stuff, but I guess if I pick and choose then it's affordable. I'm to the point now where quality counts more to me than quantity, and the urge to buy new stuff all the time is fading. Just one more nice aspect of being middle-aged. Alaska Susan


oz girl
2/20/2010 3:44:09 PM

Welcome to Grit Susan! Such a wonderful and informative post... this is something I really need to do and have been wanting to do. I'm sure there must be some local farms where I could buy eggs, milk, etc. I'm going to bump this up on my list of priorities, esp since I am a huge milk drinker. I love my milk and could never be without it! :-)


lori
2/20/2010 9:56:01 AM

Susan, Great post, and I agree 100 percent! I am on a mission right now to find a local farm that sells milk. I would love to buy it right from the farm without being homogenized! I hope more and more people decide to purchase locally grown foods, and I think they are. It really is better for everyone involved!


mountain woman
2/20/2010 6:07:49 AM

Susan, I enjoyed your article. We always purchase local products to support the dwindling supply of farmers in Vermont. So much beautiful farm land is being lost to development as farm after farm goes under so we try to do our part. On another note, one of the things we do on our farm is logging but we've made a commitment to build with our lumber or produce firewood for locals. The reason why is that the logged boards here get sent to Canada where they are worked and then sent back to the US to be purchased. Think of all the fuel that involves and unnecessary cost to the consumer. Didn't know that until I moved here and it's why so many local mills have gone out of business and people in our area struggle to find jobs. Purchasing local, eating local and giving back to the community where we reside is so important and has a ripple effect as you've shown us through this most important article. P.S. - Gorgeous pictures!!


cindy murphy
2/19/2010 5:58:12 PM

Hi, Susan, and welcome to Grit. Yay, for you. I too have been focusing on buying local for the last couple of years, (not only foods, but other products made in this area as well). I'm always looking for additional sources to try, which this past fall led me to a really cool orchard/cider mill/winery (we took a wrong turn and ended up here instead of the orchard we usually pick from). We left not only with a mess of apples, a wine, and locally made cheese, but returned to buy locally made products to give as Christmas gifts. One of the neatest things about buying local, I think, is meeting the people who produce what you feed your family. This weekend, I'm taking a break from Olympics viewing (I admit it - I'm an Olympic junkie), and plan on attending a film and lecture at the local college titled "What Will We Eat: Search for Healthy Local Food". Who knows what I'll discover? Anything interesting and I'll probably post it in an upcoming blog. And it's free - can't beat that. Good luck on your quest. Cindy ~ A Lakeside View