Alaska’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.
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.
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.