Local Podcasters Take on State Food Security

By GARLAND KENNEDY

Sentinel Staff Writer

Food security in Alaska is the topic of a new podcast hosted by two Sitkans who have traveled across the state interviewing people from reindeer herders in Nome to farmers in Nenana to present a picture of the current status of food production in the state, highlighting challenges and possible futures along the way.

Recorded and produced by C.C. Clark and Noah Spickelmier, two Californians who moved to Sitka in June this year, “Feeding the Last Frontier” is a six-part series in their podcast, “Sun and Soil.”

 Podcasters C.C. Clark and Noah Spickelmier are pictured in an Instagram post. (Photo provided) 

They said the idea for the series started with Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s Food Security and Independence Task Force last year, which was underway before either moved north.

“There’s very little reporting on it, but it’s something that, in order for food security and independence to take place in this state, this is just really valuable information that shows the government putting a little more effort towards those goals,” Spickelmier told the Sentinel in an interview. “And so we kind of came up with a project based on that, that we felt as if it needed a little more reporting.”

Dunleavy’s task force published its recommendations in March, pointing out logistical and financial hurdles facing the production and transporting of Alaska-grown or harvested foods. The task force suggested forming “a program to assist communities and households impacted by fishery shortfalls and disasters,” and encouraged the formation of “disaster food caches” around the state as a means of ensuring food security in a crisis. (More on the task force can be found at https://alaska-food-systems-soa-dnr.hub.arcgis.com/)

Much of the “Feeding the Last Frontier” podcast is dedicated to the details of in-state food production. The problems of transporting food across vast areas largely devoid of roads is a common theme.

“One of the big things is logistically how do you keep transporting food, given all the issues of climate change?” Spickelmier said. “And it’s already hard to do it now, and then to further complicate things, that’s the big kind of fear that people had about climate change – logistically transporting food to these communities will be very tough... Just getting food to where it needs to be is the toughest thing.”

Spickelmier has a background in food science at the University of California, Davis, while Clark, the other co-host, has worked in journalism with an NPR affiliate in Los Angeles.

The podcast “investigates Alaska’s food system and food security and sovereignty in the state from all angles,” Clark said. “We try to talk to every single person to really get a comprehensive picture of what’s going on.”

In Sitka they interviewed Renee Trafton, a chef, and Lisa Sadleir-Hart, a gardener and nutritionist. Sadleir-Hart’s voice is the first heard in the opening seconds of the podcast’s first episode as she gives a tour of her family garden. That episode, which first aired about a month ago, focuses on the ways everyday foodstuffs are supplied to Alaska consumers while also touching on disaster preparedness and the role of home-grown resources on that issue. One question addressed in a later episode is how to ensure that expansion of agriculture doesn’t impinge on access to wild foods.

The fifth episode of the six-part series was released Nov. 30, with the sixth to be published this coming Friday. The show is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and other podcast hosting sites.

“On state prospects for large-scale agriculture, a lot of farmers were saying, based on what land they have available, it will be small-scale production and they need to be close to where markets are,” Spickelmier said. “They talked a lot about being localized, and not only does localized production allow for easier access to markets, to actual producers, but it also minimizes the vulnerability of the food system.”

Clark hopes the podcast will garner some attention in the state, particularly from policy makers.

“We really want to get this podcast out there,” she said. “We want people to hear it, especially people in the government, people who have the ability to make change, because we talked about some really important issues – I don’t know if everyone knew about these issues beforehand. So our goal right now is just to get it out to as many people as possible.”

The co-hosts have also produced shortened, five-minute versions of their show, which have run on NPR-affiliate radio in Fairbanks. They plan to reach out to KCAW in Sitka.

As this podcast project wraps up, Clark and Spickelmier are interested in recording another food-related show, this time centered on baking.

While their podcast research highlights the challenges of transportation in such a large state, the producers were also surprised by how close-knit Alaska food producers are.

“In certain ways, it feels like a small town – that a lot of people are connected, but especially in the world of food systems and agriculture, it feels like a small world,” Spickelmier said. “We were connected with so many different people, all through word of mouth primarily, and research online, but just how interconnected it is and how in different parts of Alaska they’re facing very different issues or different problems, but they’re kind of all under the same blanket.”

The topic is universal in scope, he said.

“Everybody in Alaska eats, and sometimes it’s kind of a pain to get the food where it needs to be,” Spickelmier said. “And there’s a lot of information in the podcast that is very, very relevant to everybody in the state. Whether or not they’re super aware about the issues surrounding food, I think there’s a lot to learn for anybody.”

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