By Jake Lamphier
Alaska is replete with rich natural resources, providing residents of the last frontier a menu of abundant wild food.
Our community is happily located in an environment where plentiful amounts of food can be grown at home. Growing seasons in southcentral Alaska may be short, but thanks to the brilliant midnight sun, a lot can be done in a few short months. By harvesting your own wild food through hunting, fishing, foraging, and gardening at home, you can take full advantage of Alaska’s renewable resources through the practice of modern subsistence living.
Connect to the Food You Eat
The subsistence culture is still alive in 21st century Alaska. Subsistence living is simply a lifestyle that commits significant time to the gathering and hunting of food. You can find villages all across Alaska that still predominantly live this way. With so much time committed to the job of acquiring daily food from the resources around them, the residents of these villages can be certain that the nourishment they’re providing for their families is clean and healthy.
However, those of us living in Southcentral Alaska among the hustle and bustle of modern family living doesn’t always have the ability to commit such great amounts of time to food gathering. As our schedules become more packed full of errands, meetings, and hockey practices, the act of eating and fueling our bodies with clean, nourishing food often gets bumped down a few rungs on our hierarchy of needs. Modern fridges and cupboards are stocked with food that was made by others, people in an obscure location, and countless hands usually have touch it all along the distribution line before we actually purchased it. We have accepted all of this as okay because of the ease of convenience. Simply preparing food at home is time-consuming and we’ve grown accustomed to the quickness of prepackaged food. With so many other things vying for our time, food can easily be seen as a mere detour in our daily lives rather than a well-worn path.
American society is vastly different than it was 100 years ago; we can’t simply drop everything and spend full days growing food, hunting for meat and preparing dinner. What we can do is take steps to become more intentional and find ways to reconnect with the food we eat.
Alaska, perhaps more than other states in the U.S., affords us the opportunity to live a modern subsistence lifestyle. Modern subsistence is about creating a physical connection to the food you eat by growing, catching, hunting and raising as much as possible.
The Modern Subsistence Mindset
Traditional subsistence carries the notion that life is sustained from the resources that can be gathered and taken from the wild. Today, few of us have the time or the skills to live a life that is 100% fueled by wild resources. We’re actually incredibly fortunate not to bear the burdens of that kind of lifestyle. The fear of going without food because of a failed hunt or a crop that did not flourish is virtually gone in our most populated communities. We can still do our best to utilize wild food, but with the comfort of knowing that purchased food is never far away.
Those that came before us and pioneered this great state had, without a doubt, many wild adventures, but their lives were also steeped in tragedy, illness, and hard living. Our world today may seem like a foreign and infinitely more complex time to live, but the simplicity, freedom, and adventures of providing food directly from nature as they did in yesteryear can still be had, all within the safety net of modern society.
The practice of modern subsistence is built upon finding ways to feed your family with food that has come in contact with the least amount of human hands as possible. Through hunting, fishing, foraging, and gardening we can control the quality of our food and in turn, create healthier lifestyles. When you seek to be personally connected to the harvesting of your food, you begin to combat another element leading to increased sickness across our culture— simply being sedentary.
The Effort is Worth It
In order to implement modern subsistence into your life, we have to be present and active, which requires good physical effort. Anyone that has successfully harvested a moose or tended to a garden understands how much effort and sweat it takes to get to that vacuum-sealed steak you pull out of the freezer or popping open the jar of vegetables you canned. These efforts have benefits that span beyond the provision of food. They also satisfy your soul and strengthen your body.
A foundational principle behind modern subsistence is having a physical connection to the food you eat. It’s one thing to buy free-range, organic eggs from the store, but to pluck those same eggs from nest boxes built by your own two hands, from chickens you raised from small cheeping fuzz balls, well that’s truly connecting with the food you eat.
The Home Field Advantage
Modern subsistence can be challenging to implement into our lives, but we are blessed to live in a resource-rich environment here in Alaska, making incremental progress a breeze. Most residents already practice the idea of modern subsistence on a small scale, whether it’s dipnetting the Kenai or harvesting a caribou from the closeby Nelchina herd. Wild food is far more accessible here than a lot of other places you might live. We’ve all heard the July to September buzz around town from folks sharing their stories of the hunting and fishing trips that filled their freezers that season. Hunting and fishing in Alaska serve as a strong foundation for building a modern subsistence lifestyle. Beyond these two classic Alaskan ventures, the southcentral region is brimming with small options that can help you implement gradual change towards moving closer to your food sources.
Whether picking wild berries or sowing a backyard garden and raising chickens, our hometowns are the best places to start. Simple exploration can help you piece together ways to provide better food for you and your family.
Gardening can be a daunting task, but thanks to greenhouses like P&M Gardens and the Mile 5.2 Greenhouse (both in Eagle River), and Perennial Gardens in my hometown of Chugiak, the learning curve can be approached with help from the local experts. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And if you aren’t ready to grow your own food, many farmers markets can be found throughout the summer, providing you with a bounty for a similar farm-to-table experience.
Further exploration beyond the Eagle River/Chugiak area brings the full bounty of our region into greater focus. Whether that is picking your own veggies at Pyrah’s Pioneer Peak Farm, or buying baby chicks through a craigslist ad, the ways to incorporate the principles of modern subsistence are plentiful, and many fall within a one-hour radius of where we live.
Time Well Spent
We all have many things vying for our time. I urge you to commit some amount of time, more than usual, to the pursuit of improved health. A small investment of your time and money into the implementation of the principles of modern subsistence has the ability to improve your life. For me, modern subsistence goes well beyond theory. My daily pursuits and hobbies all fall under the banner of providing clean, healthy, and real food for my family. Maybe starting to get closer to your food sources seems like a large and daunting task, but beginning to take small steps in that direction can quickly result in a well-worn path towards better living.