Saving Farmland: An Important Alaskan Resource
At Alaska Farm Tours, we are proud to support and promote the work of the Alaska Farmland Trust as they are working on saving farmland in Alaska. Established in 2005, the Alaska Farmland Trust works to protect Alaska’s farmland from the threats of commercial and residential development.
Now, I know you are thinking ‘Alaska is SO big, why do they need to protect farmland in such a big place?.’
There are two main things to understand about the Last Frontier: 1. There isn’t very much land that is viable for farmland and 2. accessing the majority of that potentially arable land and then being able to bring a product to market is challenging (or near impossible in many cases). When you look at the potential agricultural land in the state that allows a farmer to sell their products, you are looking at a much smaller pool of land. And that land, usually located in flat areas or near river flood plains are perfect for residential and commercial development. Competition is fierce and only increasing for this smaller pool of land.
Alaska Farmland Trust is one of a few organizations in the state working hard to help farmers keep their land in production for the next generation. We were excited to sit down with Amy Pettit, Executive Director of the Alaska Farmland Trust to learn what the Alaska Farmland Trust is up to and to learn a little more about the challenges and opportunities for agriculture in the state of Alaska.
Amy Pettit has a long history of working in agriculture here in Alaska. Her husband’s family owns a
beautiful 600 acre bison and elk ranch in the valley and Amy worked for the State of Alaska promoting Alaskan agriculture for many years. She became director of the Alaska Farmland Trust this past year and is excited by the opportunities for agriculture and the work of the Alaska Farmland Trust.
“From my background over at the Division of Agriculture, one of the greatest opportunities is for young and new farmers to come into the state,” said Amy Pettit. “In Alaska right now, we have such a small pool of farmers that are here already, it feels there are fewer new farmers coming in.”
Amy is confident that situation can change.
“I think we have a unique opportunity to protect the soil here in Alaska. AFTC does believe in the farmlink program to transition farmers between new farmers and old farmers,” said Pettit, referring to Alaska Farmland Trust’s newest program designed to help retiring farmers transition their operations to a new generation of farmers. If successful, this program offers the opportunity to keep land in production, saving it for another generation to care for and produce Alaska’s much needed local food supply.
Providing Opportunities to Young Professional Can Help Save Farmland
The challenges and opportunies don’t stop there. We need to keep promoting agriculture in Alaska and help encourage young people to go into the agriculture industry in the state, Amy Pettit said. There is a brain drain in agriculture in Alaska with young professionals going into mining and the fishing industry, according to her. Our young professionals aren’t thinking about going into supportive professions for agriculture.
For instance, folks aren’t going into accounting for farming, estate planning, or food processing. When a farmer retires, and a new farmer steps in the young farmers may not have that supportive infrastructure to make farming viable and we really need to look at how long it takes for a farmer to become successful said Pettit.
Using Conservation Easements for Saving Farmland in Alaska
Besides the FarmLink program, the Alaska Farmland Trust actively seeks to put conservation easements on agricultural land that restrict development on the properties, keeping the land open for agricultural production forever. Currently the Alaska Farmland Trust has saved 160 acres and hopes to protect another 160 acres in 2016. Protecting the land in this fashion can take a long time, according to Pettit, and be very costly. But the end goal, of keeping that land in production permanently, is well worth the cost.
To reach this end goal, Alaska Farmland Trust’s number one goal at the moment is to raise awareness about the organization among Alaskans. This is not only important to make sure landowners know about the programs available, but also to be prepared for the tough financial future facing the state. Pettit is determined to get Alaskan individuals and businesses to support the Alaska Farmland Trust’s efforts because we want to and need to save more soil. To save our soil, the organization needs the money to do it.
With a state as remote as Alaska, the importance of having a local food system cannot be more important. Added to this that agriculture is a stable base for small, local economies, and you can see very quickly why the work of the Alaska Farmland Trust is so crucial. Alaska Farm Tours is proud to support the Alaska Farmland Trust. If you want to learn more about the Alaska Farmland Trust, visit their website and Facebook page.0