Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ha, I'm not the only one!

At work this morning, I found this article on the front page of the UAF website. I know there are lots of other people thinking about Alaska's food issues, but it's nice to see large institutions like the University get involved. (The two largest employers in the Fairbanks area are the University and the military, followed by the Borough itself.) If food became scarce here, I can't even imagine what it would do to the villages. Most people who live in the bush are subsistence hunters/gatherers/farmers, but as the article points out, in lean years they have no choice but to rely on the local store. Milk can cost upwards of $10 per gallon.
On my flight to Anchorage I was seated next to a young woman from Kotzebue and her 14 month old son. I asked her what her family did and she stared at me blankly. I thought it would be rude to come right out and say, "What is there to do, for entertainment or work, in a town like that?" (Alcoholism and drug abuse are rampant problems in the villages.) So I fumbled over trying to explain myself and she finally, hesitantly, said that her boyfriend hunted sometimes, and went ice fishing, and she trailed off there. I got the feeling that she mostly spent her days at home with her son or hanging out with family. In some ways, an ideal life. In others, mindlessly boring.
But the fact that people live in such small, isolated communities is at the heart of what Alaskans tend to think of as our state constitution--that of being self-sufficient, hardy, and independent. You don't know how to do something? You're no more than 2 degrees of separation away from someone who does know how to do that. The barter system is, in some ways, alive and well up here because it's been a way of life for so long that help from outside would come slowly or not at all. (Remember how my dad is still amazed that it takes less than six weeks to get mail?) And always, always, there's a distrust of anything that's seen as Outside. (If you don't believe me, try knocking on someone's door and say, "Hi, I'm from the government." You'll be lucky to merely get a shotgun in the face and be asked to leave. Even if you do leave, there's a strong possibility that they'll sic their dogs on you.) This spirit and attitude, though, is why you'll see the most diverse people shopping at local stores, or at the farmer's market. Rednecks with NRA tattoos and handlebar mustaches will be brushing shoulders with dreadlocked, cabin-dwelling hippies. It's an interesting, and heartening, sight. In a lot of ways, if people got beyond their politics and their love of labels (see above, "redneck" and "hippie"), I think this country would be a lot better place because there are so many things which everyone can agree on. The need for good quality, safe, secure food is one of them.
In another quick note, I had to move my squashes. Our parents and Shane's grandfather are coming into town this weekend. Shane said, "I really don't think Grandpa wants to eat dinner sitting on the edge of our bed, watching me play video games. We need the dining table." And they do seem to be doing better now that they're less crowded. But it actually looks like way more plants when they're spread out like this! Well, all right. It is more plants because I bought some lettuce and catnip plants at the farmer's market over the weekend....
I'll try to get a good picture of the pumpkin flowers that have been popping out recently. They're gorgeous. And edible, if I had the heart to pick them. Nothing is fruiting yet, but they also haven't been exposed to pollination yet. I suppose I could do that myself, but I'm unsure of how. And since my plants are unlabeled, I'm not sure if I'd pick the right flowers, either! About three more weeks before it will be safe to put them outside.

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