Alaska, Goosefoot Farm & The New Frontier

Either before or after reading the article below, please click on the image to the right. If it is early morning where you are, it will get you started on the right foot. If it is the middle of the day, the website will refresh you. And if it is night time, sweet dreams will almost certainly follow.

Our coffee CSA, combined with our regenerative activities, are only a  couple of reasons why this article is of personal interest to me. Work in Yakutia increased my wanting to visit Alaska, which started with the fact that my wife Amie was born there. Most of all, it is Alaska! The reasons are compounding, but time is not. Many thanks to Yasmin Tayag for this article in the New Yorker:

The Surreal Abundance of Alaska’s Permafrost Farms

Illustration by Nicholas Konrad / The New Yorker

In a place where the summer sun shines for twenty-one hours a day, climate change is helping to turn frozen ground into farmland.

In 2010, Brad St. Pierre and his wife, Christine, moved from California to Fairbanks, Alaska, to work as farmers. “People thought we were crazy,” Brad said. “They were, like, ‘You can grow things in Alaska?’ ” Their new home, not far from where Christine grew up, was as far north as Reykjavík, Iceland, and receives about sixty inches of snow each year. It routinely experiences winter temperatures below minus ten degrees Fahrenheit. In the summer, however, the sun shines for twenty-one hours a day and the weather resembles San Francisco’s. Sturdy cabbages and carrots thrive in the ground, while fussier tomatoes and cucumbers flourish in greenhouses.

The main challenge with farming in this part of Alaska, Brad told me recently, is that craters often open up in fields, and some are the size of Volkswagen Beetles. The holes form when patches of frozen water, known as ice lenses, melt and gulp down the surrounding earth in a process known as subsidence. They tend to expand each year and sometimes fuse with other nearby pits; they can be filled, but farmers often run out of soil, so the pits become ponds. Sometimes holes hide under ruffles of kale or the shade of tart-cherry trees, or threaten to swallow Brad’s tractor. “All of a sudden, you have to stop,” he said. “There’s no grass. There’s just a hole.”

The St. Pierres ultimately leased seventy-five acres and named them Goosefoot Farm. It now grows everything “from arugula to zucchini,” Brad told me, which keeps the farm nimble in hard times and replenishes nutrients in the soil. He also manages the twice-weekly Tanana Valley Farmers’ Market, which runs from May to September and teems with produce, flowers, and honey from a region of Alaska that is as large as Indiana. The farm is thriving, though the holes have started to form more frequently and three acres are now a “minefield” too pockmarked to plant. “At that point, you just write it off,” he said.

Alaska’s interior, a mountain-ringed expanse of forests and wetlands that includes the Tanana Valley and is larger than the state of Montana, is part of the “climate-driven agricultural frontier,” a term coined by scientists, in 2020, to describe places that will become suitable for commodity crops in the next forty to sixty years. Fifty to ninety per cent of Alaska’s interior contains permafrost underneath, meaning that the soil has been frozen for at least two consecutive years. But the permafrost is patchy enough that the region is called a “discontinuous” zone, and it is in flux: the polar regions are warming faster than the rest of the planet, and Alaskan land contains many microclimates. North-facing slopes are colder, for example, while hollows retain more heat. When farmers and developers clear-cut vegetation on the surface, permafrost thaws even faster. Some farms are encircled with “drunken forests,” or trees that slouch as the ground gives way.

Read the whole article here.

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