Chad Nordlum completed the Beginning Alaskan Growers School in 2011, the Advanced Alaskan Growers School in 2012 by distance using teleconference and printed materials. Chad plans to attend the 5-day Alaskan Growers School Experiential Learning Course at Calypso Farm and Ecology Center near Fairbanks, Alaska in July of 2012.
"I am not a farmer. I grew up in Kotzebue, Alaska. Farmers do not come from Kotzebue. Snow mobile racers, dog mushers and fishermen come from Kotzebue, but not farmers. Hunting and gathering are the traditional ways of the Inupiaq people but the Inupiaq have always been adaptable. Kotzebue does have a small gardening community, as do other villages in our region. In fact my great-grandfather, who came from Michigan, was well known for his garden on Front Street in the early nineteen hundreds. He grew cold weather crops like turnips. My grandfather also had a garden every summer as he got older, using a retired boat as a raised bed.
Still, I did not begin gardening until I returned to Kotzebue nearly four years ago. I started mostly because I enjoyed the idea of growing food above the Arctic Circle in a challenging environment. But I also worried about our food security, all fresh produce comes from outside of Alaska by the most inefficient and costly means (in terms of both environment and money). I began with a small garden, added two raised beds and now I am experimenting with greenhouses. What I have realized is that it is possible to grow a variety of things in our challenging environment, it requires a lot of work, but it can be done.
Now that I realize that growing is possible, it only makes sense to produce as much produce as we can locally. That means starting a farm. The ideal would be that the cost of food could go down and food quality rise at least seasonally. There are many challenges to starting a farming operation including acquiring suitable land, finding tools and equipment where none exists and lack of infrastructure to support a farming operation despite these challenges I believe that there is a huge opportunity in farming in this region. Besides being profitable farming would help the economy by keeping more money local, not to mention having better produce available will improve the health and wellness of the people of the region.
What I hope to get from going to Calypso Farm is to gain knowledge of a working farm. Being in Fairbanks, I believe that the climate is similar to some of our upriver villages, the operation might translate closely to what could be done in villages like Kiana, Ambler or Kobuk. I have never been on a working farm so there is a huge knowledge gap that needs to be filled. In the near future I hope to identify land near an upriver village suitable and available for farming. Most likely it will require negotiation with the regional corporation or other entity. I do have land available and there are areas that are suitable for growing, but it is hard to get to with no roads and being about 30 miles from any village. Logistically I don’t know if I can develop that area and keep my job. While I am trying to solve this puzzle I plan to continue and expand my subsistence gardening here in Kotzebue. I also will continue to be in contact with some of the local gardeners and sharing ideas and learning.
My goals are to learn about a working, sustainable farm and to use that learning to continue to plan a sustainable for-profit farm in the Northwest Arctic. I also plan to continue to advocate for growing food in region through community greenhouses and by any other means necessary. Although I am not a farmer now, I do hope to be someday."
This project was supported by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant # 2010-49400-21719. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author (s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
By Chad Nordlum of Kotzebue, Alaska