Featured Organization: Alaska Food Hub

This month we hear about the work that the Alaska Food Hub is doing in Homer, Alaska from fellow FSLN member Robbi Mixon, Local Foods Director at Cook Inletkeeper, a community-based nonprofit that helps run the Hub. Robbi shares how being part of a regional watershed protection organization impacts the Hub’s approach to local food, the impact of COVID on its operations, and words of advice for staying motivated in this work. 

Robbi lives in Homer, Alaska, a small coastal town located at the end of the road system with a population of about 5,000, with her chef/baker husband. Together, they raise pigs and a variety of birds, as well as a small mixed vegetable and flower garden on their micro-farm, Monkey Hollow.

Let’s get started!

First up, Alaska Food Hub’s mission: 
The goal of the Food Hub is to provide opportunities for Cook Inlet Watershed producers and consumers to connect in a way that will create benefit for both, as well as strengthen the local economies, increase food security, and reduce the carbon footprint created from importing food.  

In so doing so, the Food Hub will:  

  • Provide locally produced food and products direct from our producers, connecting producers to consumers  
  • Serve local consumers of all income levels  
  • Support sustainable, local, high quality agricultural practices  
  • Provide a network for the production and distribution of locally prepared foods and locally made non-food products  
  • Support an Alaska food system that in turn preserves the landscape, water, soil and air vital to a sustainable community 

Give us your elevator pitch! 

  • Why was your organization formed? To provide additional outlets for the sale of local food products 
  • Who do you serve? Farmers, fishers, and makers! Consumers of local foods – individuals, families, businesses, and everyone in between. 
  • What specific needs are you addressing? Expanded markets for the selling and buying of local food

What is one thing that makes your organization unique? 
We are a part of a regional watershed protection organization, so we approach local foods projects with an environmental conservation lens.  We also support a “just transition” (Moving away from extraction, towards regenerative economic opportunities) and think local foods are a part of that transition plan.

Systems Leadership Approach

How does Alaska Food Hub partner with others to catalyze systems change? 
An Advisory Council was convened in November 2015 to help guide the development of the food hub. Throughout the development and operation of the food hub, Inletkeeper and the Advisory Council have hosted a series of public meetings, to gauge the needs and concerns of both vendor and buyer participants. We assess each season through open public meetings, confidential surveys, and verbal feed back. The Advisory Council continues to steer the direction of the Food Hub and helps make organizational decisions. Members of the advisory council included farmers, fishers, shellfish growers, customers, and partner organizations, like the Seldovia Village Tribe and Water and Soil Conservation Districts. 

How has COVID-19 impacted your community and how has Alaska Food Hub responded?
We moved to 100% contactless aggregation and pickup.  We’ve added many more vendors and have grown our sales almost 300% from 2019 to 2020.  People are wanting to support local in safe ways.  We’ve also moved our location to the same site where the Food Pantry distributes.  This has provided a great juxtaposition between the pantry and hub, illuminating the food insecurity in our town, and has also provided opportunities for shared infrastructure and increased donations.

The pandemic has caused many regulations to be loosened and new partnerships to be formed. Of the changes you have seen and made, which would you like to maintain moving forward? Are you seeing steps that food systems leaders can take to ensure lasting change?
I would like to see small scale meat processing become a reality.  Alaska has two USDA slaughterhouses in a state 2.5 times the state of Texas.  I would like to see additional investment in food system infrastructure as well – like more processing and storage hubs in every borough. 

Over the past few months, the country has seen ongoing protests around systemic anti-Black racism. Systemic racism is not new, but there are currently more conversations happening around dismantling racism at the local, regional and national levels. How does Alaska Food Hub work to create a more equitable and explicitly anti-racist food system?
Communities Unlimited has a commitment to work with small-scale This is a great question…  We’ve been working with two different tribal entities to bring fresh food to their areas (Seldovia and Ninilchik).  We implemented a sliding scale membership fee, starting at just $1, so folks could choose whatever they were comfortable with. We have been exploring accepting SNAP, but only huge retailers are eligible currently.  We’re going to keep pushing the issue. 

Alaska Food Hub Learnings

Given what you know now, what is one thing you wish you’d done differently as the organization developed? 
I think we are still pretty new and everything is a learning experience.  Having more than one person that knows the ins and outs would be really helpful, but due to budgetary concerns, that’s not feasible.  I think we may have started with more ownership and responsibility lying with the farmers (our intention was to spin out the foodhub out of the incubator organization, but that has not happened yet) 

What is one of Alaska Food Hub’s proudest achievements?
Operating during a pandemic and seeing the tremendous growth! We’ve been able to meaningfully support farmers and local food businesses.

What is one challenge you’re facing right now? Anything your fellow FSLN members might be able to help with? 
One of the challenges that we are currently facing right now is that we Funding, capacity to write new grants. 

Have you created any useful processes/resources that you’re particularly excited about? If so, please share!
We have a great policy and procedure manual! The second Alaskan food hub actually copied and made it their own (we also took ideas from other food hubs) 

Any quotes or words of wisdom that you’d like to share with fellow FSLN members? 

As cheesy as it sounds, this is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s easy to get down and feel like you aren’t making an impact. But change is often slow, and comes with persistence, coalition building, honesty, and authentic caring. I’m reminding myself of this too. 

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