Sustainability on the Kenai: Now more than ever farming in Alaska needs to be supported

Voices of the Peninsula

Posted: Monday, May 01, 2006

After eight months of public outcry, testimony, phone calls and letters to congressional delegates and to the USDA and its Farm Services Agency asking for a transparent public process to examine the “Restructure Plan” that will close three of the four County Offices in Alaska, “the Kenai Peninsula Chapter of the Alaska Farm Bureau is circulating a petition to recall the FSA Executive Director and the Chair of the FSA State Committee.” (see the Alaska Farm Bureau “Update” March 2006 newsletter.)

I ask: Why stop there? We are pawns in politics. Where is our representation?

In September 2005, Senators Talent (R-MO) and Pryor (D-AR) co-authored an amendment to halt the Fiscal Year 2006 Agriculture Appropriations Bill until studies could be done to guarantee that its content, specifically that of cutting FSA offices nationwide, truly was cost-effective and in the best interest of farmers.

Even in the divisive national political climate, both parties joined to defeat the FSA plan to close select FSA offices nationwide without considering additional input. These two senators felt compelled to defend the interests of their constituents, and to protect the nation’s ability to sustain itself.

In these times, especially, it would seem, that what is in the best interest of farmers would be in the best interest of the citizenry of the United States: farmers feed us.

Pretty basic. With our current trade imbalance and dangerously ballooning national debt, our personal and national security is at great risk. “Foreign central bank leaders fear that the U.S.’s enormous deficit — which ballooned to a record $804.9 billion in 2005 — may pose a threat to the rest of the world,” (American Century Investments March 20, 2006 newsletter). I shake my head. What would it take to open Americans’ eyes? The unspoken given is that the threat to the rest of the world would follow our own deterioration or collapse. Our own personal and national security is at great risk.

With our Peninsula revealing more tillable land daily, as well as “view” property that is furiously being bought up and subdivided, we need to intercede now, actively cultivating a concept of rural sufficiency before the moment is lost. A visible and active local Farm Services Agency would continue to help shape the character and sustainability of our Peninsula, and help promote and aid new farmers to become established.

Is closing our Kenai Peninsula office going to balance the budget? The stabilizing benefit of promoting farming in local communities would more than repay the U.S. government through a greater level of national security and less dependence on others.

Due to the U.S. current level of dependency on oil, and considering that Alaska supplies a significant percentage of U.S. oil, Alaska’s ability to survive is a key element in U.S. economic stability.

Using the pitiful disaster response to the Gulf Coast hurricanes as a comparison, with Alaska’s geographic isolation to the rest of the U.S. and between Alaskan communities, and given its inherent likelihood for earthquakes, floods, volcanoes and incapacitating cold, if disaster struck here, it is certain, we would be on our own. The clear and oppressive deduction is of U.S. instability following the event of another major Alaskan natural disaster.

Additionally, Alaska and Hawaii have the distinction of being geographically isolated from the contiguous U.S., and have each also already been invaded by other countries during acts of war. A fiscal and perceptual attitude of congressional support that facilitates a growing self-sufficiency for Alaska and Hawaii is particularly important.

As buffer states, the first line of defensible space integral to the defense of the contiguous states, Alaska and Hawaii must endure even while in isolation. The importance of U.S. strategic satellite military bases that maintain a degree of self-sustainability is common sense.

Just as Alaska and Hawaii provide lateral support for the trunk of the U.S., rural communities offer a degree of self-sustaining protection. We’ve got your back.

Alaska is 150 years behind the rest of the U.S. timeline in agricultural development. Is it prudent to send the message that farming is unimportant here by closing accessible local offices to today’s and tomorrow’s potential producers?

Last summer for the first time, the USDA sent officials to Alaska to hear our comments. The FSA State Office has held meeting after meeting to “hear public opinion,” and has repeatedly blatantly disregarded our clearly- and loudly-voiced request to keep our local FSA field offices open.

Hence, what was their real motive in holding the meetings? Did they want to take in Alaska’ s panoramic vistas, fish for world-class salmon and halibut, feign a commitment to “service” their customers, to evaluate our personal and congressional oppositional strength? Will FSA leaders be held accountable for the enormous waste of taxpayers’ dollars spent while pretending to solicit and care about public input?

Per AFB Kenai Director Jan Flora, “So far, outcry from producers and legislators has resulted in Resolutions by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, the District 35 Republican Caucus, and the Alaska Farm Bureau and a Letter of Protest from the National Association of Farmer Elected Committees, supporting the continued presence of FSA in Homer and Wasilla. Kodiak, Mat-Su and Kenny Lake producers have also voiced strong support of our efforts to keep these offices open. It’s not often that you can get a bunch of farmers and stock growers to agree on much of anything, but we are united in this effort to maintain FSA presence in our core production areas.”

So why are representatives allowing the Homer position to be singled out nationwide to be moved more than 200 miles from the bulk of its customers? Why here, why on the Kenai Peninsula which now swells with the possibility of abundant fruit of the land?

Linda Marie Davis is a Homer member of the Kenai Peninsula Chapter of the Alaska Farm Bureau.

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