June 01, 2011

Long Distance Vegetables?

If you haven't caught on already, I am relocating to Alaska for a teaching job in just over two months (eeee!). What that means is I have about 65 days to pack up all of my things and make sure that I am Alaska-ready before hopping on a plane.

To say that life in bush Alaska seems different would be the understatement of my summer (and summer's barely started). But for a moment let's push aside the mind-numbing low temperatures, lack of roads and recreation, ice fishing, water-distilling parts of this move and focus on the change that can make my hands go clammy and make me break out in a nervous sweat in about 15 seconds: Grocery Shopping.

Scammon Bay does have a store, it's true, but that store isn't like the corner grocery store you and I think of. From what I've heard the stock is unreliable at best and the prices make a convenience store in Aspen look like a steal. Instead, the only way you can really know what you're going to get is to purchase six months' to a year's worth of food in Anchorage and ship it out to the bush. This means lots of canned foods, frozen and freezable items, and lots of bake-it-yourself ingredients. For the sake of this post, we will forget (temporarily) that I can barely shop for one week at a time without forgetting something major from my shopping list... like an entire food group... and focus on the big, pink, polka-dot elephant in the room: what the heck am I going to do about fruits and veggies?! Even if I do have an unnatural love for mandarin oranges, I don't think they're going to cut it!

Here at home when I want fresh fruit or veggies I have plenty of options. Local farmers markets, roadside produce stands, and even chain stores devoted to locally grown yummies are part of life and offer a huge variety of organic veggies at fairly reasonable prices. For the past two summers I've gone the 100% local agriculture route and purchased a CSA share. Don't worry, I'm not going to dust off my support-local-agriculture, save-the-earth, be-eco-friendly soapbox (so calm down).

What is a CSA you ask? CSA, or community supported agriculture, is a great and affordable way to get locally grown, organic produce delivered right to your neighborhood straight from the farm. At the beginning of every summer you purchase a CSA share for an up-front fee that averages out to less than you would spend weekly at the grocery store for the same amount of food. This money goes straight to the farm and farmer you picked and he spends the money to plant crops, hire help, and support himself and the family. You choose a designated pickup spot and day and magically a box of veggies appears there for you every week. Seriously, it's like having a fairy god mother who delivers vegetables, how great is that?

Awesome, but what about me? I am moving to ALAKSA! There is no Farmer Joe on my block anymore... just Polar Bear Steve and he is not a vegetable-sharing type person. In the early stages of my planning I had pretty much resigned myself to frozen or canned vegetables and figured I would just have to get used to it if I didn't want to end up with scurvy or some other vitamin deficiency.  Then one of the handy dandy full-of-information people at the ATP iCommunity posted something about a place called Full Circle Farm. I immediately checked it out.

Full Circle is kind of like a CSA, but multiple farms instead of just one. Orders are placed on a weekly (or in my case, because I am so far out there, every other week) basis. The best part is they ship to the bush! In my village, boxes are delivered straight to the school as our designated pickup point and if veggies are damaged or frozen in transit they will replace them in your next order. I may be living hundreds of miles away from a city, in a village with no roads or road access, but even I can have some fresh produce. Thank goodness for long distance veggies!!

If you are living in the Colorado/ Wyoming region and would like to try a CSA, I highly recommend Grant Family Farms. They are very reasonably priced and if the upfront cost is a problem for you go ahead and give them a call, they will work with you on a payment schedule. Their produce is absolutely fantastic and they have options to add meat, bread and cheese to your weekly order as well. In the fall I really recommend their canning shares... yum!

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