Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Walking to work today, I was suddenly very conscious of some of the state of unemployment in Fairbanks. Usually Alaska, being so far away, has a bit of a buffer when it comes to economic crises that affect the rest of the country. After all, we have oil, tourism, and distance to help us out.
However, the boom time is definitely summer. Employment around here ebbs and flows with the seasons, picking up a lot in the summer and fading back again when the snow falls. One of our big industries is actually construction. Roads are constantly breaking down in our harsh conditions and needing to be re-paved every few years. This summer there's been the boon of construction on campus: the life sciences building that's currently underway across the street from my office, the new offices they're putting in the former courtyard of my building, and several new greenhouses. (These are just the projects I know of--I'm sure there are others on campus. These just happen to all be ones I see daily.) And while the pace of construction has moved rapidly, these won't be finished before snow falls. Some are scheduled to be finished by the end of October, likely after the first snowfall. But it's pretty much impossible to do construction over the winter unless it's all indoors. With tourism winding down (mostly in winter we just get a small number of people hoping to see the Northern Lights--mostly Japanese, so it will probably be an even smaller number this winter) and construction season almost over, unemployment in Fairbanks, and Alaska more broadly, is going to shoot up. It's reminding me once again to be thankful for everything that Shane and I have, and kicking me to donate a little bit more to the food bank.
The end of these jobs comes every year at the worst possible time, because it's when people need money the most: to pay for oil to heat their homes, to cover sky-high electricity bills (between the high cost of electricity and how much we need to use it, $200 a month in the depths of winter is not uncommon here), and to pay higher food costs. For an example, the "great price" I've been getting cherries for, in season, is about $5/pound. That's in season. A tiny plastic container of blueberries is often over $10 in the winter, non-organic. Can you understand why I put away as much as I can? (And will probably go berry picking again this weekend.) I know there will be people in my community who will be hurting, and I wish I could do more to help them.
On a happier note, I found a website (and blog) by the authors of one book that I loved about self-sufficiency: "The Urban Homestead". (Even better than buying: I found it for free through an e-book library program called Listen Alaska.) I'd say that building an urban homestead is probably what I'm ultimately working towards. (Here are the 10 Elements of an Urban Homestead, if you're curious.) I like the idea of being more self-sufficient, not having to rely on other people and corporations that probably don't share my beliefs of how the world should be run. And with these people, anything I've thought of they've already done. Of course, they have some advantages which I don't. Like being able to grow fruit trees. But I have advantages they don't, like access to moose, salmon and halibut, wild blueberries and cranberries. (Shane found a bunch growing, and he's going to show me where so I can pick them this weekend.) Besides which, self-sufficiency is what draws a lot of people to Alaska. If you're living off the road system (and a surprising number of people do) you can't rely on others. Being dependent on yourself is a mindset up here, more than any other place I've been. It's why urban gardening (as more than decoration) has never gone out of style here. Instead of blazing my own trail, I'm just proudly joining in this tradition. Can a few actual trailblazers help me out, here? I could use some help and advice....
I also apologize for not having any pictures of the fun stuff I've been doing/observing lately. Both of our cameras chose this very inopportune moment to die. Lovely.

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