As noted in our previous post, the first Seedy Saturday of 2017 was definitely a success, with far more people attending than usually come to the first one each season. We received $42 in donations, almost as much as we did for the entire trio of seed swaps last year, and this time not only did we receive far more seeds (including the Community Seed Resources kit from Seed Savers Exchange), we also received a boxful of 2017 heirloom seed catalogs (available for anyone to take away), and we had an art show of beautiful photos by Monique Musick (prints still available for sale) and presented images of members of the represented plant families. The new botanical family signs she made brightened up the room and made it clear where the different types of seeds should go.
Many new people came to the event, people who had never been to a seed swap before, and several took seed-saving information and fliers from the Cooperative Extension Service and the JTEL on growing plants in the North. This is one important function of the Growing Ester’s Biodiversity Program: to spread the knowledge of how to save seeds, and, we hope, to increase people’s interest in gardening, healthy fresh food, food justice, and the local food movement. It seems to be working—one couple even brought Blue Hubbard squash seedlings (two still left!), and suggested that later in the season we have a seedling exchange. This idea was greeted with general enthusiasm all around. Kurt Wold of Pingo Farm/Zone 1 Grown attended again this year, and, as always, his expertise was very helpful. We learned from Wold that there appears to be a shortage this year of Alaska-grown seed potatoes, and he donated many packets of cucumber, tomato, and other vegetable seeds. Thank you again, Kurt, and thank you for your good humor and willingness to answer questions, too. (Note that the JTEL has extra copies of the Pingo Farm catalog as well. Zone 1 Grown is the only commercial organic seed grower in the Tanana Valley, and perhaps the state.)
Christine and Brad St. Pierre’s talk concentrated on the business of farming, learning small business skills, understanding management. It’s not the same as gardening, they commented. They grow 27 different kinds of vegetables (Brad started to tick them off on his fingers when someone asked what types, including different kinds of turnips, carrots, beets, peas, beans, etc.) and their leased five-acre field at Goosefoot Farm is surrounded by a 12-foot-tall electrified moose fence. They emphasized that you don’t get rich farming, but that it is possible to make money (and without somebody in the family having to work a day job). It is a lifestyle choice. Another member of the audience asked what the borough and university could do that would best benefit small farmers, and they replied that it was important for local government and research institutions to understand that small farmers are usually working with very small plots, one to ten acres, and that the larger farms in Alaska (Delta Junction and Palmer areas) are still considered small elsewhere.
For young farmers to get involved in agriculture, to make it easy for them, the expenses need to be very low. The prices for recommended amounts of biochar, for example, are more than $2/lb, and a ton per acre is the recommended amount, which immediately puts it out of the small farmer’s price range. (Fortunately, Goosefoot Farm is on land that was part of the Rosie Creek Fire, and so naturally has a high amount of biochar—carbon in soil, typically resulting from forest fires or with slash-and-burn farming—not recommended to maintain or build healthy soil.) Goosefoot Farm uses organic techniques, and the St. Pierres emphasized that they view their farm as part of an ecological cycle that will ultimately lead to forested land, perhaps in 50 years, perhaps longer, but that forest is the natural state of the land. They are trying to build the soil, not treat it as an extracted resource, which means using green manures (legumes) and animal-based fertilizers (feather- and bone-based meals, for example). Unfortunately, our phosphorus-poor soils here in Alaska mean that they have to import phosphorus from Outside. (The talk included a little discussion about the impending worldwide shortage and eventual exhaustion of phosphorus. Mined phosphorus is fossilized guano.) At the end of the talk, the audience was treated to a short slide show about the farm.