Building a Local Economy

It’s not really a good idea to leave Alaska during the summer, especially with a garden-full of veggies that need to be harvested and cared for, but a very special wedding and an old family home in Vermont lured us away for ten days earlier this month.  The wedding was amazing (congrats Scott and Amy!), and spending time in rural Vermont gave me a glimpse into a wonderful local economy heavily based on local foods.  There were no chain stores, but a farm-stand on every corner.  Every restaurant featured local produce, meats, and dairy products, the independent grocery stores were chock-full of local goods, and even the gift-shops sold local products, handicrafts, and art.  There seemed to be a great many people whose families had lived there for generations, some who came specifically for the rural lifestyle, and a few wealthy people from the city who had vacation homes there.  We were told that jobs were scarce and wages were generally low, and yet these people seemed to be living so close to the land and their history, that they didn’t need much money.

One evening we visited the Hill Farmstead Brewery, opened just over a year ago by the Hill brothers on their family’s farm way back on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere (at least it seemed to me!) We arrived just before 5 o’clock closing on a Saturday, and to our surprise, they were packed.  The tiny tasting room was overflowing with beer connoisseurs enjoying award-winning beers while enjoying the view of rolling Vermont hillsides.  I was impressed by the Hill brothers’ nerve to open a brewery off the beaten track, and for the Vermonters who made the effort to seek out quality craft products.  Are Alaskans that dedicated?  Are we willing to take the risk of starting our own small businesses based on our talents and resources?  Are we even just willing to go the distance to support our local rockstars who are taking those risks?

There were also many smaller, less-risky businesses like produce stands and even just signs hanging up offering maple syrup for sale.  Why don’t we have more people selling excess produce from their gardens?  Why is it that we only have one Birch syrup producer in Alaska?

Vermont has over 200 years of rural history on which to build their local economy, and it is amazing to see a living example of what I have imagined in my head could exist in Alaska.  We have the power to create this local economy, and this is one of the major reasons why Matt and I are doing the Alaska Food Challenge.  If we can show how good we can live off local foods, and encourage others to seek them out, we can create a culture where people are willing to search out and pay for fantastic local products.  Maybe someday there will even be produce stands in Anchorage, people selling locally produced herbal teas, kids selling rhubarb juice instead of lemon-aid.

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