Letter: Another View of Alaska as a Survival Location

My family and I arrived in Alaska in 1974 while I was in the U.S. Army. I was stationed at Ft. Richardson (now part of Joint Base Elmendorf/Richardson. JBER). I spent five years at Ft. Rich. A 3-year tour, with two one year extensions. In 1980 I left the Army and moved my family back to Anchorage, where I currently reside.

I grew up in mid-eastern Pennsylvania and spent two summers working on dairy farms in that area.

I agree with some of what S.J. had to say in regards to whites not welcome in native villages as well as that drugs and alcohol are a problem in these villages. Also the population in the “Bush” is so small someone new in the area will quickly be the major topic of discussion in that area. In short, you cannot hide.

If you want to live a “survivalist” lifestyle here you must realize that 94% of the food consumed in Alaska is shipped in with most of it coming through the Port of Anchorage by two ships each week, Sunday and Wednesday. This past January one of the ships went in for two days of maintenance that stretched into three weeks.

As you can see the paper products (Toilet Paper and Paper Towels) were the first to disappear. The canned goods also started to get “thin”. If the ship had been delayed for two or three weeks more things would have gotten real interesting. It was reported that the single ship that was still operating was restricted to critical loads only for two weeks but that just barely kept the food shelves in Anchorage stocked and it was reported the outlying towns and Fairbanks things were even thinner.

While yes you can garden almost anywhere in Alaska given enough serious effort (did I mention SERIOUS EFFORT?) I will restrict my gardening/farming comments for the Matanuska – Susitna River drainage and the Kenai Peninsula.

This area goes from Talkeetna to the north Palmer to the east and down through Los Anchorage to Homer on the Kenai peninsula to the South and West. There is some Barley farming north east in the Delta Junction/ Fort Greeley area but the majority of farming is along the Parks Highway (Talkeetna, Willow, Wasilla and a few other towns that are on this highway), the Glenn Highway (Palmer is on this road and leads into Anchorage). This area is often referred to at the Mat-Sue. In 1984 the state of Alaska tried to establish dairy farming in this area. They hooked an anchor chain between two D-8 Caterpillar tractors and cleared thousands of acres of woodland for Dairy, hay and grain farms. The experiment failed. Yes, there are one or two dairies just hanging on but there is no viable dairy business in Alaska. What we do have is what is called “Truck Farms” where I came from. They got that name because they trucked the produce to the distributor and then to the grocery stores. Remember I said we produce only 6% of the food consumed in Alaska Why is this? Well, because our growing season is short, the ground is cold and the summers can be cold and rainy but this past summer we had a great growing season. It goes like that but you cannot count on every summer to be a good summer. I have a 4ft by 10 foot raised bed garden, a 30 by 60 flatbed garden and a large container garden of Rubbermaid totes. I canned 32 pints of string beans, 7 pints of green tomato ketchup, 5 quarts of fermented pickles, a bunch of zucchinis, Cabbage, Brussel sprouts and almost 400 pounds of potatoes plus a few other things like carrots, turnips, red beets.

What I’m getting at is: Yes you can grow veggies here but some things like sweet corn takes a lot of effort like “high tunnels”, green houses, cold frames and such.

It’s said that to feed a family of four for a solid year here it would take at least an acre or more and if you raise animals you would need much more land to grow their feed. Then you have the Moose to contend with, they love everything you will grow in your garden and in a day or two they can clean out all of your hard work and no. you cannot shoot them for eating your garden.

The Seward Highway leaves Anchorage going south to Seward and splits off to the Sterling highway which goes to Soldotna, Kenai and Homer. Here the growing season is just a little better but you will still have the long dark winters to contend with. While I grow food in my garden my larder is WIDE & DEEP it has to be because if we have another 1964 type earthquake the Port of Anchorage could be down for months.

You notice all of our roads have names if you have so few roads you can name them.

S. J. mentioned the high crime rate in Anchorage. While we have had a big spike of all crimes in Anchorage this year most of it can be placed on the drug trade and the various gangs and the large “Homeless community”. Just don’t go into these areas. The other areas in Alaska have also seen a rise in crime, much of this is property theft. I have a Concealed Carry Permit although I don’t need one here–anyone who is legal to own a firearm can open or conceal carry–but mine says “NICS EXEMPT”.

Before you come trotting up here to live visit Alaska in the winter, January would be nice as would February. It has hit 20 below here in Anchorage plus the wind chill and has lasted for two or more weeks. I have seen winters with over 100 inches of snow in Anchorage and winters with virtually no snow. Scraping frost and snow off of your windows in winter will become just another chore you do without thinking in the morning.

As for the Permanent Fund Dividend it could soon be a thing of the past and we could get an income tax and a sales tax. Also they just legalized pot here in the state and I am waiting to see what problems this will bring.

Our jobs are mostly based on oil, then government jobs, and lastly the private sector. You can make do on a $30,000 a year income but $50K to $60K for the family would be better. That necessitates having two incomes. Houses in Anchorage for a three bedroom 1,700 Sq. Ft. range around $380,000 but you can get some less expensively.

I have driven a 2-wheel drive vehicle here for the past 18 years (although all 4 wheels have studded tires on them) with no problem. My wife drives a 4X4 pickup. I would like a 4 wheeler but see no need for one the money you put in one you can buy a lot of meat. Hunting isn’t what it used to be in the 1970s and 1980s. You must now get off of the road system for moose or caribou and moose aren’t as plentiful as many people would think.

Life up here is hard but can be great. However, if you think you can go into the boonies and live off grid then you had better have a large sum of money or a side income. There will be no doctors, no electricity, you will have to carry water from a lake or stream and then purify it. Giardiasis is nothing to fool with and a trip to the outhouse at 20-40 below zero is a thrill. All this said there are some people who live like this and when I was young I did use an outhouse but I have become somewhat domesticated and enjoy indoor plumbing.

Some Facebook pages to read would be: Alaska Home Gardeners, Kenai Peninsula Farm Animals, Mat-Sue Valley Gardening, Alaska Farm & Food, Alaska Flock Talk & Swap and Craigslist “farm & garden’ for Anchorage/Mat-Sue and Kenai. These will give you some insight on gardening and small farming in Alaska. You might want to get the Alaska Dispatch News AKA The Alaska Democrat News. In my opinion this paper is so far leftward leaning that they should only print on the left side of the page. They will mail you a daily copy if you want, or get it on the Internet. You also have The Frontiersman and Miner News. Or just do a search for Alaska papers.

Politically, Alaska is slowly turning from a red state to purple and soon to be blue.

In 1980 when I moved my family back to Anchorage I told my wife it would only be for 10 years. But I didn’t tell her which years I would count. After a trip back east this spring we have decided for now to stay here although I would like to look at Idaho. – Mr. X. in Alaska