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>>SPORTSMAN: WILD COAST KINGS >>OUT THERE: THE NULATO HILLS

The

FOOD Issue

Farmers on the Half-shell Oyster cultivation in Kachemak Bay

Fruit Growing Challenges and rewards

Harvest of Riches

A family garden thrives with hard work

Cheers!

Spirits and Beers in the Last Frontier

ON THE EDGE Nick Jans and That Paleo Thing

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09.19 V OLUME 85, NUMBER 7

FEATURES

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Harvest of Riches

A family garden thrives with hard work Text by Charlie Ess Images by Cheryl Ess

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Farmers on the Half-shell Oyster cultivation in Kachemak Bay and beyond By Eric M. Beeman

In Alaska, kids often help their families with the fall harvest. Here, Ila Stotts holds a long red beet and a golden beet, two varieties grown in the photographer’s vegetable crop. CHERYL ESS/ snowshoemedia.com

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Chasing Sweet Cherry Rumors

The challenges of growing fruit in the far north By Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan

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09.19

QUOTED

“Half a dozen women in matching blue ‘Fairbanks Roller Girls’ hoodies sip cocktails in the sun. Behind them, snow-covered fields of wheat, barley, and rye stretch to the horizon.”

DEPARTMENTS 6

My View North: Apples to Oysters

10 Feast: Keep on Truckin’ 12 Alaska Exposed

~HIGH SPIRITS IN THE INTERIOR MOLLY RETTIG P. 32

20 On the Edge: That Paleo Thing

The Cache 23 Young farmers, accessible farming, remote chef, purified glacier water, musicians, beluga count, Anchorage Museum food exhibit, nutrition for hunting, pollock noodles, Alaska Grown app

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Discover

NULATO HILLS

32 Sense of Place

High Spirits in the Interior

34 Rambles

The Road to Nowhere

36 Try This

Come and Get It! A Guide to Self-pick Farms

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40 Out There

NATURAL ALASKA

The Nulato Hills by Bike and Raft

42 Sportsman

King Fishing the Wild Coast

44 Gear

Editor’s Choice; Erin Anais Heist is Armed for the Kitchen

46 Itinerary

Playing Tourist at Sheep Mountain Lodge

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48 History:

54 79 80

44 GEAR

On the Cover: Alaskan oysters with cheese and herbs cook over a charcoal grill. Oyster farming in the state is a thriving, growing industry. ~James Greeley/Tommaso Shellfish

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TOP: LUC MEHL; MIDDLE: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS; BOTTOM: JEFF LUND

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KETCHIKAN

Hurrah for Five and Forty More! Community: Craft Brewery Brings Locals Together Natural Alaska: Toy Soldiers and Tundra Spaghetti Interview: Micah Hahn and Ben Tietge This Alaskan Life: Yet Another Alaskan Dilemma

A L A S K A M A G A Z I N E . C O M SEPTEMBER 2019

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AT RIGHT: Local vegetables for sale at the Alaska State Fair.

Apples to Oysters

INSET: I usually try a local beer wherever it’s available. This was at Jack Sprat in Girdwood.

Alaska’s incomparable food renaissance As like as an apple to an oyster. ~old English proverb

for this food-themed issue—one on fruit growing, the other on oyster farming—I didn’t know that the modern saying “it’s like comparing apples and oranges,” meaning two things so dissimilar they can’t logically be compared, is a distortion of the original quote above. And indeed, Alaska is experiencing a food renaissance like no other in its history. Indigenous people still eat whatever is available in the region—seafood, marine mammals, wild game, foraged plants, berries—and supplement from the local store. Russian settlement in the 18th century introduced foods like grain and flour, and once Alaska became a U.S. holding in 1867, items such as beans, sugar, oranges, and canned goods entered the mix. Agriculture arrived on-scene in earnest with the Matanuska Colony farmers escaping the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression to begin anew. Then followed a period of steady population growth, the oil boom of the 1970s, and regular shipments of typical American food to Alaska’s ports. But 50-some years ago? Not a farmers’ market in sight. No hip breweries. Nobody talked about food hubs. The seed of food security had yet to be planted. Farm- and fish-to-school programs weren’t even a glimmer in anyone’s eye. Sure, you could eat a nice steak and seafood dinner out in Anchorage, but menus wouldn’t include anything like you’ll find these days: dol sot bibimbap (Jack Sprat in Girdwood), prosciutto bleu fig crepe (The Crepery in Fairbanks), or even blackened Alaska rockfish tacos (Bear Tooth Grill in Anchorage). Plain old parsley or orange slices garnished restaurant plates in those days, and nobody had heard of encrusted this or infused that. Ordering a dish dusted with fennel pollen would’ve gotten you laughed out of town. My, how times have changed. Now, especially in Anchorage, a host of exotic delicacies can be found, along with local ingredients on many menus, in stores, at markets, and via community supported collectives. Alaskans will continue to hunt, fish, and pick berries, but it’s nice to have the cornucopia of additional foods to accompany our locally stocked larders. The world’s flavors—everything from Hawaiian to Thai to German to Ethiopian—bubble up across Anchorage’s dining scene. Even far-flung places like Utqiagvik serve up Korean galbi and japchae (Osaka Restaurant); Kotzebue has reindeer stew (Nullagvik

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Restaurant); Kodiak offers sushi (Kodiak Hana Restaurant), borscht (Monk’s Rock Coffeehouse & Bookstore), and Tijuana street fries (Aquamarine Café); and Hoonah celebrates its Bloody Mary with crab (The Crab Station). Hungry yet? Food from all sources has taken on epic status here in The Last Frontier as evidenced by the profusion of organizations involved: Alaska Pioneer Fruit Growers Association, Juneau Community Garden, Sitka Local Foods Network, Alaska Food Hub, Alaska Food Truck and Mobile Vendors Association, Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, Alaska Food Policy Council, Alaska Grown, Kachemak Shellfish Growers Co-op, Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Brewers Guild of Alaska, and many more. When I was a youngster working in Alaska’s tourism industry, I remember hearing of a couple visiting from the East Coast who’d brought canned food in their suitcases because they weren’t sure what they’d find here. I think it’s safe to say that, when visiting these days, there’s no need to pack the pantry. Susan Sommer, Editor editor@alaskamagazine.com

COURTESY SUSAN SOMMER

W

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A L A S K A M A G A Z I N E . C O M SEPTEMBER 2019

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STAFF Q&A The Magazine of Life on the Last Frontier

If you had to eat one Alaskan food every day for the rest of your life (no matter what else you ate), what would it be?

GROUP PUBLISHER EDITOR

Susan Sommer

SENIOR EDITOR

Michelle Theall

ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE

Melissa Bradley

ART DIRECTOR ASSISTANT EDITOR PHOTO EDITOR

Susan

Michelle THEALL

Halibut.

King crab. Or SOMMER blueberries. Or smoked salmon. Oh wait, that’s three. Impossible to decide! Nick JANS

Melissa BRADLEY

Spot prawns!

Alexander DEEDY

Easy call: Panitaq— dried caribou meat. Or king crab. Or heck, why not both, and some prawns on the side. Who said it had to be one?

John Lunn

GEAR EDITOR CONTRIBUTING EDITOR HUMOR COLUMNIST DIGITAL CONTENT MANAGER DIRECTOR OF PUBLISHING SERVICES SPECIAL PROJECTS PRODUCT MANAGER DIRECTOR OF MANUFACTURING

Steven Merritt Alexander Deedy Serine Reeves Bjorn Dihle Nick Jans Susan Dunsmore Seth Fields Karen Fralick David L. Ranta Mickey Kibler Donald Horton

ALASKA ADVERTISING SALES

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A publication of Morris Communications Company, LLC 735 Broad St., Augusta, GA 30901

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PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT DIRECTOR OF CIRCULATION

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Morris Communications Company, LLC CHAIRMAN William S. Morris III PRESIDENT AND CEO William S. Morris IV Alaska, ISSN 0002-4562, is published monthly except for combined July/August and December/January issues by MCC Magazines, LLC, a division of Morris Communications Company, LLC. Editorial and Advertising Offices: 301 Arctic Slope Ave., Suite 300, Anchorage, Alaska 99518. Not responsible for the return of unsolicited submissions. Known office of publication: 735 Broad St., Augusta, Ga. 30901. U.S. subscription rates: $24 for one year; $46 for two years. Canada and Mexico add $20 per year (U.S. Funds only). Outside North America add $40 per year (U.S. Funds only). Our trademarks registered in the U.S. Patent Office and in Canada: “Alaska,” “Alaska Sportsman,” “Life on the Last Frontier,” “From Ketchikan to Barrow,” “End of the Trail,” “The Guide Post,” “Main Trails & Bypaths,” “Alaska-Yukon Magazine.” Periodicals postage paid at Augusta, Ga., and additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Alaska, PO Box 433237, Palm Coast, FL 32143-9616. In Canada, periodicals postage paid at Winnipeg, Manitoba; second-class registration number 9771, GST No. 125701896. Canadian Publications Mail Sales Product Agreement No. 279730. © 2019 Alaska magazine. All rights reserved. Printed in the U.S.A. Volume 85, Number 7.

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A L A S K A M A G A Z I N E . C O M SEPTEMBER 2019

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This month at

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Vendors at the Spenard Food Truck Carnival gather each Thursday in the heart of Anchorage to satisfy hearty appetites.

Keep on Truckin’ Food trucks are here to stay BY JULIA O’MALLEY

in Anchorage’s Spenard neighborhood, food trucks circle up on the parking lot outside Chilkoot Charlie’s bar. Since 2013, the Spenard Food Truck Carnival has been a weekly tradition from the spring until about the time the snow flies. It started with six trucks; now there are 10, plus a waitlist of willing vendors, said Darrin Huycke, who organizes it and another food truck round-up called K Street Eats in downtown Anchorage on Fridays. Anchorage diners love food trucks, Huycke said. It fills a niche for fast dining with lots of choices, and the number of people starting them keeps growing. “It’s not fast food, it’s not sitting down in a restaurant, it’s the best of both worlds really.” On a recent sunny Thursday, a long line of diners stood in front of Mochileros, a food cart that sells Guatemalan street food like spiced corn on a stick, savory corn cakes called pupusas, and the sweet rice drink horchata. Owner Whitney Parker used to sell security systems. His girlfriend and co-owner, Ana Pleitez, worked at McLaughlin Youth Center. They wanted something they could do together, Parker said. Pleitez is from Guatemala. The recipes are hers, said Parker. “That’s what she grew up with and a lot of home recipes she had concocted,” he said. “With the two of us, it’s ‘Guate-merican’ cuisine.” That day the carnival offered a wide selection, including Filipino food, poke, African American soul food, hot dogs, salmon tacos, and cupcakes. Anchorage diners tend to be adventurous, Parker said, which makes truck gatherings appealing. “People are always willing to try new things, especially with food,” he

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Alaskans love to eat good food, and the plethora of food trucks makes it easy to find interesting flavors.

Horchata

Courtesy Ana Pleitez

Ingredients ½ cup uncooked long grain white rice 1 cup blanched or peeled almonds 1 cinnamon stick or ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon 4 cups water, divided ¼ cup sugar, honey, or agave nectar, to taste ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions Soak the rice in half the water for a minimum of 3 hours or overnight with 2 cinnamon sticks. Remove cinnamon sticks and blend the soaked rice and water until creamy. Add the remaining ingredients, blend again, and chill. Serve over ice. The horchata separates and the “rice flour” settles to the bottom. It can be either stirred in again or not. It’s up to you!

said. “I think there is a lot of diversity and a lot of room for growth.” For Huycke, one of the biggest challenges, aside from navigating a complicated web of city regulations for mobile food vendors, is the forecast. That’s one of the most Alaskan variables in the food truck business. “Weather is key,” he said. When the sun is out, the carnival fills up. When there is precipitation, seeing faces in the food truck window means the most to the vendors, he said. The carnival

has only closed down a handful of times for out-of-season snow, torrential rain, and, once, volcanic ashfall. The carnival has grown in the number of vendors, and the vendors do more business, taking in roughly 30 percent more than they did seven seasons ago. “You can take 50 people to the carnival,” Huycke said. “Everybody is getting different things, and they share it and that makes them want to come back.”

SERINE REEVES

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EFORE NOON EVERY THURSDAY

A L A S K A M A G A Z I N E . C O M SEPTEMBER 2019

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Where do you read Alaska?

This February our family had the pleasure of visiting Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile during their summer season. Leaving warm weather behind, we traveled south along Argentina’s southern coastline. We loved this day trip to Punta Tombo to observe and mix with around 700,000 Magellanic penguins. Rounding Cape Horn, visiting Ushuaia, South America’s most southern town, enjoying stops along Chile’s beautiful coastline, and hiking in the Andes mountains made for an amazing trip. With the help of Alaska magazine, our thoughts turned to the approaching summer season in Alaska and our June travel plans to visit Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. Charles and Gaye Stevens Cumming, Georgia

In February of 2019 I took a vacation to Hudson, Florida. Here I am reading my Alaska magazine. After posting on Facebook, I got 84 likes and laughs because I went to enjoy the warmth of Florida, to get away from the cold up in New England, to reading about the cold Alaska weather. Lauri Burke Gloucester, Massachusetts

Well, we finally made good on about 10 years of talking about Antarctica on our bucket list. I carried these two magazines for almost the last 14 days of the trip and was glad I did, and the scientists and penguins were glad to see them. Our guide at Palmer Station was overjoyed to receive new data to post in the lounge at this remote scientific outpost just south of the South Shetland Islands in northwest Antarctica. Gerry & Mary Posanka

Here is a picture of my third graders and me with the Alaska magazine. I teach third grade in Arcanum, Ohio, and love sharing the beauty of the state with my students. We celebrate “Alaska Day” in October and follow the Iditarod every year after we read the book Stone Fox. I share my souvenirs, videos, and memories of this beautiful state. My students have promised that when they race in the Iditarod, they will let me be their Iditarider.

SERINE REEVES

I have visited Alaska twice and loved it! We visited Anchorage, Seward, Talkeetna, Fairbanks, the Ice Museum, and rode on the Hurricane Turn Train. I am anxious to visit again soon! My husband surprised me with a subscription to the magazine after our first visit in 2011. Thank you for the amazing photography and this magical magazine. Cindy Sink Arcanum, Ohio Connect with us! Send us pictures of where you read Alaska and submit letters to the editor at editor@alaskamagazine.com. SEPTEMBER 2019 A L A S K A

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ALASKA EXPOSED Seasoned Salmon

This sockeye salmon, caught from the Kenai River, is seasoned with sea salt and lemon thyme. Focal length: 22 mm Shutter speed: 1/40 sec Aperture: f/5.0 ISO: 640  COLIN TYLER BOGUCKI/

colintyler.com

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A L A S K A M A G A Z I N E . C O M SEPTEMBER 2019

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SEPTEMBER 2019 A L A S K A

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ALASKA EXPOSED Farm Central

Red and green leaf lettuce grow on a farm near Palmer in Alaska’s agricultural heart. Focal length: 105 mm Shutter speed: 1/250 sec Aperture: f/9.0 ISO: 400  DONNA DEWHURST/

akpix.smugmug.com

SEPTEMBER 2019 A L A S K A

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ALASKA EXPOSED Local Fare

An Iñupiaq elder in Point Hope displays murre eggs gathered on nearby cliffs by young men from the village. Focal length: 55 mm Shutter speed: 1/320 sec Aperture: f/2.8 ISO: 800  WAYDE CARROLL/

waydecarroll.com

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SEPTEMBER 2019 A L A S K A

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A L A S K A M A G A Z I N E . C O M SEPTEMBER 2019 FEBRUARY 2018

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ALASKA EXPOSED Autumn in Anchorage

O’Malley Peak in the Chugach Mountains towers behind Anchorage homes on a crisp fall day. Focal length: 200 mm Shutter speed: 1/160 sec Aperture: f/5.6 ISO: 160  KEN GRAHAM/

accentalaska.com

SEPTEMBER MARCH 2018 2019 A L A S K A

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That Paleo Thing

I

BY NICK JANS

BENT OVER MY PLATE—BIG HUNKS OF FAT CARIBOU MEAT

with a few lonely potato and onion pieces around the edges. I shoveled it down, trying to remember to chew; but that meat, from a prime fall bull, perfectly aged, was so damn good I could hardly restrain myself. On the stove sprawled an enormous roast, 10 more pounds at least. Two helpings later, it was down to eight. I tried to save the few veggies for another time. At least I knew what I’d be eating over the next few days, and for much of the next few months. In the chest freezer, snugly bagged, lay another hundred pounds of that same bull, one of a blur of wild creatures, or parts of them, that have nourished me over the course of four decades. Take away the tons of caribou, salmon, bear, and so on that have fed me, and there wouldn’t be a whole lot left. In bush Alaska, most folks’ diets have been deep-rooted in that paleo thing, way before it went trendy. Simply put, the land offers way more protein than anything else, so that’s what you eat. Down in Southeast, deer and seafood are the stars; people over much of the Interior lean heavily on moose; wherever they roam, caribou are the main deal. Marine mammals are vital in Native coastal communities, and pretty much everyone eats loads of fish, and at least a few geese, ducks, or ptarmigan. Dozens of

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other species, from marmots to musk ox, decorate tables across the state. Wild berries, certain roots, and greens are of course important; but gathering seasons are short. Some folks tend summer vegetable gardens, but most remote villagers and off-gridders don’t. The focus on hunting, fishing, and gathering is a matter of tradition and common sense, and for many, a font of cultural identity. The balance of the bush diet comes from shipped-in “store food.” Heck, you can eat fresh tomatoes, tofu, or pork chops if you can afford them; think at least a buck a pound, just for freight. Those crazy prices lend an incentive to shop the country as much as possible. A good part of what drew me north way back when was a hankering to embrace that lifestyle, and all that went with it. Never mind that my upbringing as a career diplomat’s son had led me to such distinctly un-wild places as Bangkok, Thailand, and the Washington, D.C., suburbs. Fresh out of college, I showed up in northwest Arctic Alaska in 1979 with a lever-action carbine I’d cadged from my older brother and a couple of fishing rods. I was a hell of a lot better angler than hunter (I’d shot exactly once at a deer in Maine), but I plunged straight into the mix. I couldn’t have picked a better—which is to say, more carnivorous—place, an Inupiaq village on the upper Kobuk River, a community of

NICK JANS

Reflections of a carnivore

Nick in a moment from his more carnivorous past.

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Inupiaq hunter-gatherers whose traditions had shifted from full paleolithic just several generations ago. I started off as a packer for a European hunting guide, a gig that wasn’t for me but that offered a crash course in necessary skills. I also pestered my new neighbors into letting me tag along, and ventured out on my own, feeling my way ever farther out into the land, and into the business of hunting for what I ate. As a bush bum, I scraped by—rice, noodles, spices, and canned vegetables bought on the cheap by the mail-order case; a can of generic peaches or a candy bar counted as luxuries. But I usually got more wild food than I could possibly eat: not just moose, fish, and caribou in season, but sometimes more exotic fare—beaver, seal oil, and grizzly heart, for example. Neighbors passed around food when they had extra, and I followed their example. When I became a teacher with a steady paycheck, I indulged in more mail-order food; but also invested in better equipment—outboard jet skiffs, snowmobiles, sleds, rifles, and so on—that extended my range, and made me a more effective hunter. To be honest, my choice of going out so much was more a matter of choice than necessity. I wasn’t a great shot, nor could I summon the mystical tracking ability of my old friend Clarence Wood; but I had good eyes, a strong back, persistence, and often, it seemed to me, incredible luck. There was something deeply satisfying about traveling a hundred miles or more in search of caribou, or perhaps Dall sheep, or bear, and coming home with fine, well-cared-for meat. Of course, it beat the hell out of driving to a supermarket and selecting anonymous, nearly bloodless packages from a store. I knew exactly what I had and where it had come from, and the meat was, of course, the definition of natural, free-ranging organic, and had been wandering free up to

the second it died. I sometimes felt a cartoonish sense of testosterone-addled triumph as I traveled homeward with a full sled, akin to Tom Hanks in Castaway as he pranced around that first fire he’d made. That part of the paleo deal was fine. But something deeper and more complex was going on. Whenever I took aim, shot, and watched an animal fall, then skinned and dismembered it, I couldn’t help but own its death. And with time, dozens became hundreds. Trouble was, I’d always had an incredible affinity for wild creatures, and knowing them more and more intimately only heightened that bond. Here I was, killing and eating what I loved: one hell of a paradox. My Inupiaq friends embraced it through small rituals and acts of propitiation, like nigiluk—slitting the trachea to let the soul escape and be reborn—and murmuring taiku (thank you) as they worked on a carcass. Clarence would sometime pause in his always-meticulous skinning, and gesture in quiet benediction. As the years went by, I pointed a rifle less and less. These days, I ask friends to do the shooting, and help with the rest. Yeah, I’m still a carnivore, but not like I once was. I binge a bit in autumn, when I’m back home in Ambler, and relive the old days. There’s always a pan of fry meat, a pot of stew, or a roast hanging around, either at my place, or wherever I visit. It’s part of being here, and probably always will be. And though it doesn’t seem enough, each time I sit down to a meal from the land, I breathe taiku, and remember. Nick Jans is a longtime contributing editor to Alaska and author of the award-winning collection of essays The Giant’s Hand: A Life in Arctic Alaska, available from nickjans.com.

NICK JANS

The late Clarence Wood pauses in skinning beaver to offer thanks.

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“The Cache” is written and compiled by Assistant Editor Alexander Deedy.

Blue Dew

Dew collects on ripe blueberries in Denali National Park and Preserve. PATRICK J. ENDRES/ alaskaphotographics.com

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NEW FARMERS

Alaska leads the nation A REPORT WITH THE LATEST numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that Alaska has the highest percentage of new farmers in the nation with 46 percent of farmers having less than 10 years of experience. Alaska was significantly higher than the second state, Georgia, where 33 percent of farmers were classified as beginning producers.

A farm at the base of Pioneer Peak in the Matanuska Valley.

GROWING SPACE

Paul Vass, of Karluk Acres on the Kenai Peninsula, walks among fresh corn, squash, beans, tomatoes, and eggplants.

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INCREASED ACCESS TO FRESH, local food on the Kenai Peninsula has stoked a desire for even more agriculture in the region, but land in the area is often forested, and may be far away from water, power, and other farming essentials. To foster growth, the borough is launching an agriculture initiative that aims to connect prospective farmers with promising agricultural land. The Land Management Division has so far identified about 4,000 acres that show potential. “There’s a lot that can happen on four thousand acres,” says Marcus Mueller, the borough’s land management officer. Mueller says he’s heard interest in farming crops like peonies and rhodiola rosea and raising livestock and hay. If successful, Mueller thinks the program could create an entry point for a new generation of farmers and help foster a community that values how they use the land. Farmland can take generations to establish, and much of the suitable land on the Kenai is now covered in boreal forest. “We’re definitely starting from square one,” Mueller says.

(THIS PAGE) TOP: COURTESY NIOSH; BOTTOM: COURTESY KARLUK ACRES (OPPOSITE PAGE) TOP: COURTESY GLACIER BAY COUNTRY INN; BOTTOM: COURTESY TRIDENT SEAFOODS

Initiative aims to make farming more accessible

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Chef Jon Hounsell.

COOKING WITHOUT CONVENIENCE

Life for a remote chef is a challenging adventure CHEF JON HOUNSELL HAS BEEN PAID to cook on seven continents. He’s made food under the ocean in fast attack submarines and at a science outpost in Antarctica. He’s cooked for thousands of people during the Pan-American games in China and made private meals on request for wealthy club members at the Key Largo Anglers Club. For the last 12 seasons, he’s been executive chef at Glacier Bay Country Inn in Gustavus, where he serves guests who may have been waiting their entire lives to make a dream trip to Alaska. “So in my kitchen I feel responsible to make it extra important that everything is

Surf and turf at Glacier Bay Country Inn's restaurant.

perfect,” he says. “Anything less than one hundred percent satisfaction is unacceptable.” Easier said than done, especially when food is ordered two weeks in advance and menu planning means constant balancing between what is available and what must last until the next shipment. It’s not uncommon for Hounsell’s days to begin at 3:30 in the morning and finish at eight o’clock in the evening. “It’s a ridiculous adventure, but I absolutely love it,” he says. Bread, donuts, and pastries are made fresh each day at the lodge. Nearby blueberry, raspberry, and currant patches make for good breakfast fare. Popular dinners at the lodge include alder-smoked duck breast

SOMETHING FISHY

Noodles made from Alaskan pollock

served over saffron risotto and halibut southwestern with roasted red pepper sauce. Hounsell first visited Alaska during a family vacation in 1999, and soon after applied to work in the state as a remote chef. The vast tracts of roadless land and many communities off the road system may mean remote chefs are more common in the Last Frontier than any other state. It’s a life that appeals to many, but is only a good fit for those hardy individuals capable of delivering under pressure and composing with what’s available. It may not be a simple career, but for those who make it, the job results in an adventurous life. “I’ve got a million stories,” Hounsell says. Trident’s protein noodles used in a dish of Sichuan pepper pasta.

ALASKAN POLLOCK IS USED EXTENSIVELY IN AMERICAN fare like fast food fish sandwiches, breaded fish sticks, imitation crab meat, and now noodles. Last year, Trident Seafoods debuted refrigerated noodles made from Alaskan pollock. The noodles, which are touted as a high-protein alternative to flour-based noodles, won grand prize and people’s choice award at the 2018-2019 Symphony of Seafood. They come fully cooked and have 10 grams of protein, 7 grams of carbs, and 70mg of Omega-3 per serving.

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Gina Shively enjoys a homemade dehydrated meal in the backcountry.

>> Visitors will face important truths, like how fast Anchorage would run out of food if something disrupted shipping.

FOOD CONNECTS

Museum exhibit explores food ON A WHITEBOARD IN THE ANCHORAGE MUSEUM is a list of foods people are craving: fresh peaches, a good bagel, Trader

One Alaskan hunter gets serious about nutrition

GINA SHIVELY GREW UP IN WYOMING CAMPING, whitewater

How We Eat exhibit, which runs through January 12 and explores the many facets of food in the Last Frontier. Francesca DuBrock, who curated the exhibition, knew food is both an extremely broad topic, and something that’s deeply personal to many people. So, she wanted to create an exhibit that was accessible and able to connect with a wide array of visitors.

rafting, and skiing, but it wasn’t until she moved to Alaska nine years

The result is six rooms with themes like the Future of Food,

ago that she began to really get interested in hunting. “Once I was up

Land and Interdependence, and Alaskan Food Culture. Visitors

here I kind of realized how epic it could be,” she says.

will face important truths, like how fast Anchorage would run

Shively started experimenting with ways to increase her perfor-

out of food if something disrupted shipping. They’ll also get to

mance in the backcountry by making her backpack lighter and giving

explore the nostalgic side of food, see how different Alaskans

her body an extra boost. As someone who was long interested in

use their kitchens, and follow people on hunts through the

nutrition, she started focusing on food. For the last couple of years,

state’s seven distinct biomes.

she’s been sharing what she learned on her blog, Wild and Well Fed. “I’m constantly surprised that people care, and they want to talk to me about it,” Shively says. “I think there’s definitely a big movement. Hunters are starting to realize that it’s a really athletic endeavor and hunters are becoming more interested in nutrition and performance.” Shively shared five basic tips with Alaska. 1. She often hears people say it doesn’t matter what they eat in the

Alaskans, DuBrock says, tend to be adventurous eaters, which is good in a place like Anchorage, where there’s access to such a broad range of cuisine. “I do think there’s a lot of growing awareness about how rich and diverse our community is and a curiosity about exploring that. I think food is such a great way in. It’s such a great connector,” she says.

backcountry because they’re burning so many calories. But Shively argues the opposite, because hunting requires putting your body under stress. “My thing is you should probably care more,” she says. 2. Ingredients are important. 3. Test things out. Don’t try new meals when you’re already in the backcountry. 4. With a little preparation, eating healthy in the backcountry is easier than most people realize. Shively says that’s especially true now that there are more companies making heathy backcountry food options. 5. Plan ahead and ensure you’re getting enough protein throughout the day. Shively creates spreadsheets to map out her calorie consumption, and always plans on needing more than she’s anticipating.

>> Find Gina on Instagram @wildwellfed or get recipes on her blog, wildandwellfed.com.

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The What Why How We Eat exhibition is on display through January 12.

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WILD AND WELL FED

Joe’s snacks. The board is a part of the museum’s What Why

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EATING FRESH Alaska Grown app identifies local food Nellie Clay showcases in The Alaska Room at Folk Alliance International.

STAYING IN STATE (THIS PAGE) TOP: COURTESY GINA SHIVELY; BOTTOM: BRIAN KIMMEL, COURTESY ANCHORAGE MUSEUM (OPPOSITE PAGE) TOP LEFT: MEREDITH BLESS/COURTESY AKIMI; LOGO COURTESY ALASKA DIVISION OF AGRICULTURE

Alaskan musicians seek market for their music MUSICIANS LOOKING TO GROW THEIR CAREER OFTEN HIT A CEILING in Alaska and have to move outside the state to continue increasing their reach, but a new coalition is hoping to change that. If musicians can live in places like Iceland and Canada and still have a career making music, why not in Alaska, asks Michael Howard of the Alaska Independent Musicians Initiative. AKIMI, which has about 80 paying members, has chapters in cities like Fairbanks, Juneau, Palmer, and Talkeetna. Musicians in all those cities are facing similar struggles. “People are looking. They’re looking for a way to sell their music and they’re looking for opportunities,” Howard says. The most common way for an Alaskan musician to earn money is by playing in a bar, but that limits the types of music that people can afford to create. So AKIMI is working to diversify where and how music is played. Howard says the music industry is changing so fast it’s been helpful for Alaskan musicians just to be on the scene. A few AKIMI members traveled to the Arts Northwest Conference last year, where the Super Saturated Sugar Strings showcased. Their performance generated a line of booking agents and numerous gigs around the region. “We say that’s a big success,” Howard says. “That’s Alaska showing up on the scene and they were really well received.” Through conference connections, AKIMI also received funds to promote one of their three Spotify channels that run Alaskan music, which gives businesses, coffee shops, and the like a source to stream Alaskan content. Hopefully, Howard says, changes and connections like that create a brighter future for the next generation of musicians in Alaska.

HUNGRY ALASKANS CAN NOW FIND restaurants that serve dishes incorporating local ingredients with the Alaska Grown app. Alaska Grown is a program that was launched by the state in 1986 to promote locally grown agriculture, and the app is the latest way to connect people to those goods. The app has a farmer and producer directory in addition to a restaurant directory that uses your location to find nearby establishments.

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BELUGAS COUNT

Volunteers gathered at Kincaid Park in Anchorage last year with cameras and binoculars hoping to spot the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales.

Learn More

Citizen scientists assist in beluga conservation

FOR THE THIRD YEAR IN A ROW, NOAA is inviting members of the public to gather in the Anchorage area and help count the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale. Belugas are small, white whales that are often called the canary of the sea because of their whistles, chirps, and squeaks, and Alaska is the only place in the United States where these whales can be seen. There are five stocks of Belugas across the state, but each is unique and isolated. The Cook Inlet population plummeted from about 1,300 whales in 1979 to an estimated 328 in 2016,

Cook Inlet Belugas People worldwide can join in on the Belugas Count Facebook page, where there will be live broadcasts.

which led NOAA Fisheries to list the animals at high risk for extinction. On September 21, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., members of the public are invited to gather and help spot beluga whales at numerous

staffed stations throughout Cook Inlet. Then from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., a beluga festival with live presentations, booths, family activities, and beluga-themed scientific talks will be held at the Alaska Zoo. Both events are free and no registration is required.

GIVING HYDRATION

Alaskan water company does right by its neighbors WHEN STACIA GILLAM AND HER Alaska Glacier Products in 2016, the company was losing money and they needed to find a way to turn the finances around. So, in order to build relationships and local pride, they started giving away water. “That’s really a cornerstone of our business, is doing right by Alaska,” Gillam says. In 2018, the company gave away over 90,000 bottles of water. Most of that water was at health and fitness events or uniquely Alaskan gatherings like Fur Rendezvous and the Native Youth Olympics. Sourced from glacial melt in Eklutna Lake

Alaska Glacier Products ambassadors gave out water to Anchorage youth participating in the United Nations Day 5k and 2k runs in 2018.

and purified without removing minerals or adding supplements, AGP’s water is naturally alkaline, Gillam says. Looking ahead, Gillam says the company

is exploring alternatives to plastic bottles and is experimenting with flavored water and carbonation. “It’s a really exciting time to be in the water business,” she says.

>> In 2018 the company gave away over 90,000 bottles of water. Most of that water was at health and fitness events or uniquely Alaskan gatherings like Fur Rendezvous and the Native Youth Olympics.

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husband bought the bottled-water company

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09.19 E XPE RIE NC E T HE L A ST F RO N T IE R

Alaska Grown

Pepper plants that looked so spindly in April survived aphids and other challenges that threatened a good crop; here they are, ready to spice up salads, casseroles, and other recipes through the winter ahead. CHERYL ESS/ snowshoemedia.com

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SENSE OF PLACE

High Spirits in the Interior

Arctic Harvest’s products are completely Alaskabased. They grow the grains—barley, rye, and wheat—and then malt, mash, ferment, distill, age, and bottle right in North Pole.

Arctic Harvest distillery is on the map—sort of BY MOLLY RETTIG

west of Fairbanks on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Leaving home, we take the Richardson Highway southeast, pass North Pole, and turn down a long gravel road that weaves through a spruce forest. We drive over Piledriver Slough, pass a goat farm, then cross the Old Valdez Trail that brought miners to Fairbanks during the gold rush days. Finally, when Google maps is insisting that we turn around—and we’re pretty sure we missed it—a gray warehouse appears on the edge of a 300-acre farm. It looks like a barn for tractors or a combine but it’s actually the home of Alaska’s newest distillery. “Yep, we’ve got a farm-to-bottle distillery in the coldest place in Alaska,” says Kelly Eggleston, laughing. Eggleston, who is a bartender, former teacher, and mother-of-three, owns Arctic Harvest along with her husband, parents, and sister. They live off Eielson Farm Road in the heart of interior Alaska. “Farm to bottle” means they grow everything themselves, from the grains that go into the whiskey to the honey that flavors the moonshine. While the building is full of distilling equipment, it feels less like a production facility than a family science project. Eggleston’s whole family lives at the farm, and they all help with the business. Her dad plants and fertilizes the grain, her husband ferments and

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distills it, her sister raises bees, the kids collect spruce tips and rose petals for infusions, and Kelly runs the bar—which is pretty busy on an unseasonably warm day in late March. The tasting room beckons with a gleaming spruce bar, bright colors, and plenty of oak barrels scattered about. Bottles of spirits line wooden shelves above a counter packed with fresh pineapples, lemons, and limes, fixings for drinks like the Spicy Farmer (jalapeno-infused Moonshine whiskey and homemade lemonade) and the Peony (vodka and cream with a swirl of raspberry syrup). But most of the crowd mills outside on a gravel patio filled with lawn chairs and tables made from old cable spools. Half a dozen women in matching blue “Fair-

banks Roller Girls” hoodies sip cocktails in the sun. Behind them, snow-covered fields of wheat, barley, and rye stretch to the horizon. A couple walks along the groomed trails, and a man pulls a young child on a sled. Unlike the rugged mountain scenes that often depict Alaska, it feels more like central Pennsylvania, where I grew up–endless fields and a big sky just starting to honk with geese. The sense of being on a farm is so strong, you can almost taste it in the drinks. One team member, Lauren Hingler, sips a cocktail the color of honey. “This is honeyshine and winter malt whiskey,” she says. “I’m a big fan of their darker whiskey.” Hingler lives at Eielson Air Force Base with her family, just down the road. She comes not just for the whiskey, but

COURTESY ARCTIC HARVEST

T

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North Pole isn’t the easiest place in the world to start a distillery. They make whiskey and vodka 15 gallons at a time, and Google maps still doesn’t recognize their address. But interior Alaskans rarely take the easy road. Molly Rettig works at a research center in Fairbanks that studies sustainable housing. In her free time, she likes to study the trails and local libations with her husband and young daughter (who sticks to milk).

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also for the atmosphere. “When we first drove up, we were like, ‘Wow. This is rural.’” She brought her two kids back last year for the corn maze, a popular fall tradition down south but much less common at this latitude. Corn doesn’t do well with cold, wet soils, or extremely short growing seasons—which are pretty much the trademarks of North Pole. But when they managed to pull it off, complete with a pumpkin patch, Eggleston was overwhelmed by the response. “Oh my word, the people came out. We had two thousand people here in four hours.” As is customary with Alaskans (and farmers), they do everything themselves. Inside the distillery, a load of barley is drying on the concrete floor. As natural enzymes are teased out in the grain, it smells earthy and a little sweet. The straw-colored seeds lying at our feet are the main reason they started the distillery. Eggleston’s dad, Stuart Davies, grew up on a farm in Idaho but he quickly learned things were different up here—not just the soil, but the market as well. He managed to sell the grass seed, but barley was harder. There was a big supply in Alaska, but not much demand, and soon he had a few Connexes full of it. That’s why he went to Ursa Major Distilling in Ester a few years ago, hoping to unload some barley. But when he tasted the delicious vodka and gin coming out of their homemade stills, he got a different idea: Why can’t we do this ourselves? They had the product, the space, and plenty of salvage pipe for building stills and mash tuns. On top of that, they had a whole farm they could incorporate in the form of ski trails, pumpkin carving, and even yoga. “It’s really about agrotourism,” Eggleston says. “It’s about getting people out here to enjoy the farm.”

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RAMBLES

The Road to Nowhere

The rainforest along Rio Roberts on Prince of Wales Island.

The Future of the Roadless Rule and the Tongass National Forest BY BJORN DIHLE

G

Prince of Wales Island

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I knelt over the kill as flocks of Canada geese, alternating with a flock of croaking sandhill cranes, flew overhead. The 30-mile corridor of streams, lakes, and rivers I was traveling is called the Honker Divide, and it couldn’t have been better named. A few days before leaving for the trip, in Juneau, I’d met with naturalist and author Richard Carstensen. He warned me that my first impression of POW would likely be negative. If I gave it time, though, he told me I’d learn to love the place. Fifteen hundred miles of roads and expansive logging clear-cuts cover much of the island. The Forest Service had recently announced a 67-square-

mile timber sale that would axe most of the island’s remaining economically viable old growth forest. The announcement contradicted the Tongass Management Plan, released by the Forest Service in 2017, which stated the agency’s plan to phase out old growth logging. In addition to the controversial sale, in the fall of 2018 the Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service announced they were working to amend, and potentially abolish, the Roadless Rule in the Tongass. Passed by Congress in 2001, the Roadless Rule was established to protect the remaining “wild lands” in our national forests. Amending or axing the Rule could mean much of the last of the

BJORN DIHLE

iant spruce trees, some of the biggest in the Tongass National Forest, rose above the remains of a deer recently killed by a wolf. It was spring of 2019 and I was spending the week exploring Prince of Wales Island (POW) in southern southeast Alaska.

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Tongass old growth forest would be opened to exploitation. My trip partner, Chris Miller, and I paddled packrafts through a series of lakes, smelling cedars as trees danced in the breeze. A lone trumpeter swan swam ahead. In the 1950s, due to loss of habitat and overhunting, the trumpeter swan nearly went extinct. I’d talked with a number of older conservationists about the Honker Divide and each told me the same thing: they’d fought tooth and nail for years to preserve the 30-mile corridor from being logged. Even in this supposed wilderness, mountains in the distance bore the scars of clear-cuts and roads. That night, as Chris and I sat at the edge of a campfire, we watched waves of geese and cranes fly overhead. The mountains turned purple with the setting sun, and I thought about how when we alter the land, we alter ourselves. Sometimes for better, but just as often for the worse. The majority of southeast Alaskans are against changing the Roadless Rule. Our way of life, the subsistence lifestyle, and our region’s economy, which is based mostly on tourism and commercial fishing, depend upon intact habitat. Most proponents for changing or abolishing the Rule say it hinders economic development for timber, mining, hydro projects, and the construction of new roads. There are already thousands of miles of roads in the Tongass—all built and maintained by millions of our tax dollars for a timber industry that accounts for less than one percent of the region’s economy—and there will likely be a booming second-growth timber industry in the next decade or so, even without the rescinding of the Rule. We need logging and mining, but these industries have to be conducted in a way that doesn’t hurt or destroy the region’s bigger economies and—even more important to me—way of life. I glanced over my shoulder and watched a black bear plodding along the shore. I walked through the woods, hoping to get in position to take a photograph, and found a fawn lying beneath a giant red cedar. Most of the island’s deer population, outside of protected places like the Honker, has tanked, largely due to loss of habitat. Where POW was once a deer hunter’s mecca, now even local hunters are having difficulty filling their freezers with venison. I knelt and touched the fawn, trying to convince myself it was asleep. In the morning we bushwhacked down to the Thorne River. Sandhill cranes flew in circles and a black bear grazed on grass above the river.

Chris Miller at the beginning of the Honker Divide on Prince of Wales Island.

We stopped at an old trapper’s cabin, adorned with wolf traps, that a man named Crist Kolby used as a base for his trapping operations in 1930. That winter, he disappeared. The following fall, a search party found Kolby’s remains, scattered and gnawed on, near the shore of Thorne Lake. They concluded that wolves had gotten him. We paddled on, past deer and wading birds, to where the Rio Roberts flowed into the Thorne. We’d been told by Carstensen that some of the stands of the biggest spruce trees left on the island were in this watershed. We spent the next several hours wandering the giant, ancient forest, staring up in awe at trees rising more than 220 feet into the slate-gray sky. The following afternoon we paddled into Thorne Bay, a tiny community that in the 1970s and 1980s was the world’s biggest logging camp. A few hours later, I sat on a floatplane bound for Ketchikan. Through the fogged window, I studied clear-cut after clear-cut, entire mountains denuded of their forest, and wondered about the future of my rainforest home.

Bjorn Dihle is a Juneau writer. You can contact or follow him at facebook. com/BjornDihleauthor or instagram.com/bjorndihle.

Learn More The Tongass The Forest Service is scheduled to release the Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the changes to the Roadless Rule in the summer of 2019, which will be followed by a public comment period. The Final Environmental Impact Statement is estimated to be released the spring of 2020. For more information visit fs.usda.gov/roadmain/ roadless/alaskaroadlessrule.

BJORN DIHLE

Logging, including clear-cutting, has taken place on Prince of Wales Island in southeast Alaska for decades. Here is a recent clear-cut near the community of Hollis.

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TRY THIS

A short guide to Alaska’s self-pick farms

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HE ROMANTICISM OF FARMING AND GARDENING

practices has long been a late-summer ritual for many people. Take a day, drive into the country, pick fruit or vegetables until your fingertips are stained with juice and your back hurts from bending over acres of plants. Be it for strawberries or cucumbers, apples or carrots, the self-fulfilling actions of harvesting one’s own food is rooted, if you will, deep in our humanity. It feels good, productive, and resourceful—even if we didn’t actually grow the plants ourselves. The self-pick movement is for many people a reflection of the family farm, says Margaret Adsit, owner of Alaska Farm Tours. “People connect to farms because it’s a reminder of a life that was simple, and more honest in its work,” she says. “I think a lot of people are seeking that connection with the land and the food they choose to eat.” In a way, self-pick farming is an opportunity to re-engage with the labor of love in securing food for one’s family, even if it’s only

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BY ERIN KIRKLAND

for a few hours. Thanks to rugged topography and a short growing season, Alaska doesn’t have the wealth of fertile land of Lower 48 states. However, Alaska’s farming community has increased 30 percent since 2012, mostly among small family farms of less than 10 acres. Germinating and cultivating food is a movement gaining traction every year, Adsit says, and a great way to learn more about it is to visit a farm offering self-pick options. Whether apples or berries, broccoli or chard, Alaska’s self-pick options are few, but those that exist stay busy. The MatanuskaSusitna Valley offers locations, as does interior Alaska and the Kenai Peninsula, all of which have farms open to customers who’d rather gather produce themselves than choose from a box inside a store. And the rewards are all the sweeter. Erin Kirkland is an Alaska freelance writer, wanna-be farmer, and sometimes gardener. She lives in Anchorage.

ERIN KIRKLAND

Come and Get It!

Pyrah’s Pioneer Peak Farm near Palmer offers huge self-pick fields of cabbage, broccoli, kale, scallions, carrots, potatoes, and more.

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Self-Pick Alaska Farms Most farmers ask customers to call ahead to check conditions and 1.577 pt Bring containers, appropriate footwear, and be updates on produce. ready to haul your fruits and veggies to the car after picking.

Cabbages and other leafy greens grow well in Alaska.

Matanuska-Susitna Valley Pyrah’s Pioneer Peak Farm, 4350 Bodenburg Loop, Palmer, pppfarm. net, 907-745-451. Wide variety of vegetables and fruits. Birch Creek Ranch, Talkeetna, Mile 6.5 Mastodon Road, Talkeetna, talkeetnafarm.com, 907-841-7885. Call before heading out. Currants, raspberries, rhubarb.

Interior

Clair’s Cultivations, 1364 Esro Road, Fairbanks, facebook.com/ ClairsCultivations. Self-pick apple orchard. Ann’s Greenhouse, 780 Sheep Creek Road, Fairbanks, 907-479-6921. Flowers, fruits, above-ground vegetables.

Kenai Peninsula Alaska Berries, 48660 W. Poppy Lane, Soldotna, alaskaberries.com, 907-252-8511. Currants, raspberries, blueberries, rhubarb, and a selection of wines, jams, and vinegars. Jackson Garden Nursery, 48195 Johns Road, Soldotna, jacksongardensak.com, 907-252-9459. Fruits and vegetables grown outdoors and in greenhouses, ranging from garlic to squash and cucumbers. Lots of berries.

O’Brien Garden & Trees, 49240 Freda Drive, Nikiski, facebook.com/ obriengardenandtrees, 907-598-1339. A variety of fruits and vegetables on this longtime family farm specializing in fruit trees.

Amanda smoked while she was pregnant. Her baby was born 2 months early and weighed only 3 pounds. She was put in an

Some of the reasons to quit smoking are very small. Amanda, age 30, Wisconsin

incubator and fed through a tube. Amanda could only hold her twice a day. If you’re pregnant or thinking about having a baby and you smoke, please call

#CDCTips

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ERIN KIRKLAND

1-800-QUIT-NOW.

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OUT THERE

Try and Try Again

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Nulato Hills

BY LUC MEHL

HE NULATO HILLS ARE ONE OF

Alaska’s hidden gems, with few visitors besides bears, moose, and the locals hunting them. I first heard about the Nulato Hills at a wedding. In an effort to avoid the dance floor, Andy Angstman pulled me aside to describe an isolated range of mountains along the Yukon River. Andy’s portrayal of alpine ridges and clear rivers was compelling. There is a trick to life in Alaska, a method of managing expectations. If you anticipate conditions to be hard, it comes as a pleasant surprise if they turn out to be easy. If you anticipate that conditions will be easy, it can be exhausting, physically and mentally, to grit through the hard parts. Based on Andy’s recommendation, I made two trips to the Nulato Hills, each with different expectations.

It Looks Bikeable from Outer Space (September, 2017) When I finally located the Nulato Hills on a map, the feature that caught my eye was a nearly continuous ridge extending between Nulato on the Yukon River and Unalakleet on

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the coast, a distance of 130 miles. The ridge looked bald, so smooth that I suspected it could be biked. At 6’2” and an accomplished wilderness athlete, Eric Parsons’ preferred mode of travel is by bike. In the mid 2000s, Eric started sewing bike cargo bags in his Anchorage basement. Since then, his company, Revelate Designs, has grown to dominate the market. I emailed Eric the route, and he enthusiastically signed on. We expected conditions to be hard, and they were. We swam our fat-tire bikes across the Nulato River and followed bear tracks into the aftermath of a 2015 forest fire. The fire had left an eerie landscape of fallen black spruce mixed with sections of thick stands of new aspen. After pushing and carrying our bikes eight miles, we reached the ridge, exhausted. We spent the next days in a thick fog. Because we expected the worst, the sections that were bikeable felt like a huge treat. Eric giggled like a child as his bike carved lines through the soft tundra. Despite putting in long days, we traveled at half the expected pace, which meant we would run out of food halfway through the trip. It was

LUC MEHL

The Nulato Hills by Bike and Raft

Eric Parsons bikes through the Nulato Hills.

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disappointing to turn around, but we were rewarded with a break in the weather—views of autumn’s birch and spruce forests below the red tundra ridge. Andy Angstman was right, these hills were something special.

“The Sound of Music” with Muskox (June, 2018)

Sarah Histand catches a view of the Nulato Hills during her backpacking and rafting trip with the author.

Packrafts allow backcountry adventurers to traverse many more miles than on foot.

I convinced my girlfriend, Sarah Histand, to join me for a second trip to the Nulato Hills. I explained that the ridges featured muskox trails, some of the best wilderness travel possible. Instead of bikes, we would bring packrafts, eight-pound boats that would allow us to float the second half of the route. It would be a relaxing vacation—think The Sound of Music, but with muskox. Sarah was sold. We received a warm welcome in Nulato. Martha Turner brought us to the Tribal Council, where the locals shared stories and advice about the hills. We were offered mosquito repellent, bear spray, and guns. We took the bear spray but left the guns. We waded the river and hiked through the burn. The mosquitos were thick. We only had one head-net, so I stretched a pair of Sarah’s long underwear over my head as a makeshift net. This was not The Sound of Music. On the ridge, we hid from a howling wind to watch muskox grazing with their yearlings. We shouldered our packs and headed toward the heart of the hills, where the ridges grew steep and rocky. Since we had expected easy travel, these difficult conditions were hard on morale. The weather worsened to match the difficult terrain. On day six, we hiked late into the evening to reach the North River. The river was just a stream, boat wide and ankle deep, but it was a huge relief. Soon we would be floating, gaining easy miles and resting our sore legs. The North River exceeded expectations. The clear water sliced through short canyon walls packed with nesting birds. We watched a grizzly swim across the river, and goslings tumble down the bank. We spotted the remains of a trapping cabin, the first sign of people since an abandoned ATV transfer case 100 miles behind us. A great gray owl pivoted its head 180 degrees, tracking us as we silently floated by. In many aspects of Alaskan living, reward is proportional to challenge. Timm Nelson met us at the Unalakleet dock and brought us to his in-law’s house for an anniversary and solstice celebration. The solstice feast—fresh bread, caribou sausage, and the season’s first king salmon—felt like an appropriate reward for the challenging trek from Nulato. The Nulato Hills will never draw the attention that Alaska’s prouder mountains receive. Their voice is too subtle, their rivers too tranquil. The hills quietly protect their prize with difficult access, and the reward is well worth the challenge, even if there isn’t a feast waiting at the finish.

LUC MEHL

Author and native Alaskan Luc Mehl eats adventure for lunch—he’s won the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Ski Classic five times and the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic twice. See his reports, photos, and videos at thingstolucat.com. SEPTEMBER 2019 A L A S K A

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King salmon don’t get much brighter than this fish, which was landed close to tidewater on the very tip of the Alaska Peninsula.

SPORTSMAN

King Fishing the Wild Coast

T

Nelson Lagoon

Online Extra To learn more about this topic, visit our website at alaskamagazine.com

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HE GREATEST DAY I’VE EVER HAD AS A

fisherman was not while standing in a river with a fly rod in hand. Instead, it took place years ago, back in 1987, when I was 21 and commercial fishing on a boat named the Elding. This boat was just 32 feet long, had sunk twice in the harbor before I started fishing on it, and was the smallest in a fleet of trollers working the south end of Baranof Island. On that day my boss and I landed more than a hundred king salmon that averaged 20 pounds each, including a behemoth that weighed 65 pounds—dressed. I’d never heard a sweeter sound than my gaff coming down flush on that king’s head, just before I swung the quivering fish aboard. A day later, when we pointed our bow towards a buying scow in Gedney Harbor, we were low in the water and carrying more than 200 shiny kings in the hold. I never forgot that experience, and my appreciation for kings never waned. Kings, also called chinooks, are the largest of five Pacific salmon species and can grow to a hundred pounds or more. They are serious game

BY GREG THOMAS

on a fly rod and can destroy an angler’s tackle as well as their soul. When I first fished kings with a fly rod—a six-weight of all things—I ran out of leaders, flies, and finally my fly line before I called it quits. I’d landed exactly one fish in a few days of effort. Fortunately, that king was a 40-pounder, something I’ve yet to match in an additional 30 years of fishing. I tried to beat that record a few years ago when I traveled from my home in Montana to Anchorage and then on to Cold Bay before catching another flight to Nelson Lagoon, which is nestled along the Bering Sea, way out on the tip of the Alaska Peninsula. A friend and I had permission to fish 40 miles of a remote, weather-beaten and brown bear infested coast. We had our sights set on the Steelhead River, but would also fish Black Sand Creek and a couple other streams along the way. We accessed those waters in a Jeep and slept at night in Weatherport-style tents, all surrounded by some heavy-duty electric fencing. During the course of the week we saw a couple dozen brown bears, some wandering just

GREG THOMAS

Casting creeks on the Alaska Peninsula

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GREG THOMAS

outside the fence. This was a little unnerving for my friend and me, and our guide, and it was perfectly terrifying for our camp cook, who quit on the second day and drove a Jeep back to her village. I never knew that hash browns and scrambled eggs could taste so good for breakfast, lunch…and dinner. During our trip we found kings, but not in the numbers we’d hoped. Water conditions were marginal at best—low and clear, which made the fish spooky. Slap a cast down on the surface and the whole pod would blast back to the ocean. The fish might hold in the lower ends of these rivers for only short periods before shooting upstream, into narrower slots that weren’t ideal for fishing. Besides, that’s where the bears hung out and I wasn’t willing to trek into their territory whether a 60-pounder might be found or not. Between incoming tides, which we hoped would bring in fresh fish, we scoured the beaches, digging with trowels wherever we found exposed string and rope sticking out of the storm-pounded banks. We pulled more than a hundred Japanese glass balls from the sand and clay and discovered whale vertebrae, bear and walrus skulls, and other interesting debris. Once, when I looked toward the glass-calm ocean, I discovered a gray whale scratching itself in shallow water, just yards away. I walked to the edge of the ocean and looked directly into the whale’s eye and it into mine, before it tilted on a side, raised a fin, and seemingly waved goodbye before gliding away. On the third day, a storm came in and the ocean turned violent. And on the fourth day, with wind gusting to 70 miles an hour, and the tops being blown right off of the waves, the fish streamed in. Kings stacked up in the Steelhead. We chased those kings up and down the lower river, losing some, landing and releasing others—perhaps 30 fish total—before a coastal grizzly sent us back to camp. Once it wandered away, we hit those fish again. We hooked 30-pounders that leaped three feet high, and followed fish, with fly rods bent over, from the top run back into the Bering Sea, where seals nearly chased them onto the beach. We may have landed a dozen fish ranging between 15 and 20 pounds and several more that nudged 30. Kings are an ultimate angling goal and to catch them in such a remote setting, on the edge of the Bering Sea and under one of the most active stratocone volcanoes on the planet, Pavlof, is as wild as it gets.

King salmon grow large, bend fly rods to the breaking point, and burn out reels. If you’re up for that test, the tip of the Alaska Peninsula, along the edge of the Bering Sea, is the perfect place to be.

King salmon are a true test for fly fishers no matter where they are found. When hooked close to tidewater, as seen here on the edge of the Bering Sea, they are extremely difficult to land.

Greg Thomas is the editor-in-chief of American Angler magazine and owns the website anglerstonic.com. He lives in Montana with his two daughters and visits Alaska as often as possible. SEPTEMBER 2019 A L A S K A

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EDITOR’S CHOICE

GEAR Stay Cool Field to freezer or just for a picnic BY BJORN DIHLE For many Alaskans there are few activities more rewarding than hunting, fishing, and gathering wild foods. I grew up in a subsistence-oriented family where salmon and Sitka blacktail deer were our main fare. Not much has changed in my diet, but my appreciation for having a direct relationship with my food has deepened. An important aspect of eating wild is taking the utmost care in transporting fish and game from field to the freezer. A high-quality cooler can make the difference between a winter of good eats and gamey or fishy meat.

Yeti Tundra Cooler

Whether you’re a hunter, fisherman, camper, or road warrior, the Yeti Tundra Cooler is the superhero of the cooler world. Built tough and as well-insulated as a fat polar bear, the Yeti Tundra is a game changer when it comes to keeping food, whether it was harvested from the field or bought at a store, in optimal condition for long periods of time. There’s a lot of hype surrounding the Tundra, and it lives up to it. I tested the Tundra 250, using it primarily to keep salmon, halibut, and deer in primo condition during multi-day skiff adventures with my family. The 250 can hold big catches of salmon or numerous deer or almost an entire cut-up moose. Yeti advertises it can hold 221 pounds of ice or 181 cans of beer. It fits perfectly in the back of a full-sized truck bed, making it ideal for road trips. My older brother will be using it this fall when he takes his daughters into interior Alaska to hunt Fortymile caribou. Tundra coolers come in a wide range of sizes, perfect for outings ranging from evening picnics to long wilderness expeditions. My family plans to be using our Tundra for decades to come. There are few things worse than taking an animal’s life and transporting the meat home to find it in less than perfect condition. With the Yeti Tundra, you’ll be in for good eats for the long haul. $200-$1,300; yeti.com

What I Pack

Food-a-be Erin Anais Heist is armed for the kitchen BY BJORN DIHLE Erin Anais Heist thinks she’s got the best of all worlds. With the Tongass National Forest as her backyard, she’s within a 15-minute drive of good fishing, good foraging, and hunting access, and as a Juneau-ite, she’s got access to the steady influx of tastes and cultures that comes from living in a major tourism port. While she was raised on Sitka blacktail deer and all the varieties of seafood local waters have to offer, it wasn’t until she moved back from college that Heist started foraging. Heist has turned her passion for experimenting in the kitchen with

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southeast Alaska’s bountiful wild game, fish, and vegetables into a successful wild foods blog (foodabe.com) and “Eating Wild,” a biweekly column for the Juneau Empire. As a petite woman who is hard on the gear that she uses, Heist looks for mid-priced, lightweight, simple gear that can survive heavy use in the temperate rainforest of southeast Alaska. Website: foodabe.com Instagram: @erinanais

A L A S K A M A G A Z I N E . C O M SEPTEMBER 2019

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Carhartt Force Utility Knit Legging

I don’t understand why these aren’t yet part of every Alaskan woman’s uniform. Leggings with five pockets, reinforced knees, and made out of a tough wicking material that also does a fair job at shedding water. I wear them foraging, hiking, to the office, for house projects, out on the town, literally everywhere. $60; carhartt.com

Baladeo Mushroom Knife

A workhorse of a mushroom knife, with a curved blade, tweezers, and stiff brush for in-field cleaning. My favorite mushrooms are hedgehogs, and picking them would be much more annoying without this knife to get under their low-lying cap and clean their delicate teeth. $17; store.baladeo.com

Patagonia Stormfront Rolltop Pack 45L

A well-made dry bag with comfy backpack straps, rod-holder, and webbing loops. Typically when I forage, I dump my backpack and use it as a marker to work out from; the bright orange makes it easy to spot, and the basic construction of the bag means I can just dump what I’m gathering straight into the bag and then rinse it out when I’m done at the end of the day. I love having a fully waterproof backpack for fly-fishing, making it easy to keep all my gear with me while moving up and down stream. $150; patagonia.com

Echo Salt Boost 8 Weight

I won this rod at a Trout Unlimited film night, and since I already had a great 8 weight, considered it a back-up. I finally took it out on a steelhead trip on Prince of Wales Island last spring, and once I started fishing with it, I couldn’t put it down. For the price, this is a great fast and light rod for fishing salmon and steelhead in Southeast. $230; echoflyfishing.com

Ruger 77 “Mark II” .308

Man, I love this gun. It’s a simple, straightforward bolt-action rifle that’s easy to clean and maintain. And with the composite stock and stainless-steel barrel, I’ve never had issues hunting in southeast Alaska with it. As a .308 it’s a little lighter than the more popular .30-06, which suits me, and the stock length means that it sits just right. $950; ruger.com SEPTEMBER 2019 A L A S K A

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ITINERARY

Just Up the Road

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BY SUSAN SOMMER

Y PARENTS, NOW 82 AND 88,

moved to Alaska before statehood and still live here. Every so often, the three of us get out of town for an easy mini vacation. Our most recent was to Sheep Mountain Lodge along the Glenn Highway 113 miles northeast of Anchorage.

>> Monday, 11 am

Fireweed blooms in July around Alaska.

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The folks pick me up at my house in Palmer. Smoke that had blown north from a large wildfire on the Kenai Peninsula and that has been lingering oppressively over Anchorage and the Mat-Su is lifting. The sun blazes, and the temperature inches into the 80s—it’s going to be another scorcher, perhaps breaking more records. I’m eager to get going. The Glenn gets less traffic than Southcentral’s other highways so it’s easy driving, but as we round corners, cross creeks, and bounce over patched pavement, the smoke becomes thicker and my outlook dims. One of the best reasons to visit the Sheep Mountain area is for the views of mineral slopes directly behind the lodge and crags of the Chugach Range marching away on

the opposite side of the valley. We stop at the pull out for Matanuska Glacier and eat our picnic lunch. Smoke hangs over the ice, all but obscuring it.

>> 1:30 pm We soon reach our target, originally the site of a roadhouse in the early 1940s. My dad had trapped in the area in the 50s and knew the couple, Trudy and Duke Jurgeleit, who ran the lodge then. Trudy was the only registered nurse for many miles; she once delivered a baby there when a snowstorm waylaid an expectant mother. Check-in isn’t until 3 o’clock, so we stroll the grounds and sit in the gazebo. I remember how eager I am to try the restaurant’s famous strawberry-rhubarb pie.

>> 2:30 pm We get to check in early to our rental cabin #5, which is equipped with two beds, bathroom and shower, couch, table, mini-fridge, microwave, and Keurig coffee maker. The best part, though, is the covered deck: Dad sets up his spotting scope and I scan the mountainside with binoculars for

SUSAN SOMMER

Playing tourist at Sheep Mountain Lodge

A variety of rental cabins accommodate visitors to Sheep Mountain Lodge.

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Dall sheep. As if on cue, we see two, munching greens below rocky outcrops. While Mom naps, Dad and I walk trails behind the lodge—skiable in winter, great for biking and hiking in summer. I snap photos of larkspur, geraniums, wild roses, and the towering peaks.

>> 5:30 pm

SUSAN SOMMER

We beat the dinner crowd and, knowing we’ll want dessert, skip appetizers. Mom and I order chicken with mushrooms and garlic rice pilaf, generously drizzled with a delicious sauce. Dad’s giant burger is enough for two. We all get to-go boxes. The thick pie with flaky crust and vanilla ice cream is as good as I’d heard—I add it to my “best” list. No to-go box needed for that! After dinner, I walk the rough dirt airstrip with Dad. The only plane parked is a Super Cub that belongs to Mark and Ruthann Fleenor, one of six couples over the decades who’ve operated this historical stopover (the most famous being Iditarod mushers Zack and Anjanette Steer). The Fleenors bought the lodge in 2015 and welcome travelers daily for accommodations and food during summer. Once the snow flies, they rent out only the larger cabins with kitchens, and the restaurant scales back to simple fare served buffet-style just on weekends. I tell Mark I hope to return with skis and friends on the flip side of the year. Later, Mom and I play word games, and we all read before dropping off into peaceful slumber for the night.

The author’s parents, Bunny and Red Beeman, enjoying the deck at the cabin.

>> Tuesday, 7:30 am Up with the birds (who barely slept because it’s summer in Alaska), we drink coffee and snack on breakfast bits in our room. The forest fire smoke has cleared. Dad and I stretch our legs with a foray down the 3,000-foot airstrip. Halfway, we glance back and see a large cow moose watching us.

>> 10 am I’d secretly been hankering for one of the lodge’s notorious sourdough cinnamon rolls, so before check-out, I twist Mom and Dad’s arms into one more trip to the dining room. Buttery cream cheese

frosting slides slowly off the top of the warm, soft dessert/breakfast treat (it is, in fact, listed under both headings on the menu). Inside oozes gooey, sweet cinnamon. I cut my piece into smaller and smaller bites to make it last longer, but soon it disappears and it’s time to pack and leave.

>> Days later, daydreaming Sheep Mountain Lodge is just up the road. Hmmm, not too far for a day trip… Susan Sommer is the chief editor of Alaska magazine. She saves the decadent sweets for special occasions.

A view of the mountains from the end of the airstrip.

SEPTEMBER 2019 A L A S K A

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47 7/11/19 9:47 AM


A whaleman’s watercolor showing the New Bedford ship Niger “cutting-in” a bowhead in the Bering Sea, 1852-1856.

Hurrah for Five and Forty More!

O

BY MICHAEL ENGELHARD

N AUGUST 29, 1871, A SHIFT IN WINDS DRIVING PACK ICE

toward northern Alaska’s coast near present-day Wainwright trapped 33 of the North Pacific whaling fleet’s 40 ships. Many had come from New England, around Cape Horn, with their captains’ children and wives; others had sailed up the West Coast or crossed from Hawaii. On September 12, the skippers abandoned their ships for lack of safe anchorages, game, fuel, and provisions to feed 1,200 mouths in the months ahead. The refugees traveled 70 miles in the ships’ whaleboats to reach the few vessels outside the glacial front lucky enough to have dodged its vise-grip. Dreadful seas threatened the boats while freezing brine drenched the bailing men. Of their former homes, only the bark Minerva later was salvaged—the rest got crushed or stranded. This was the second big blow to Yankee whaling within a decade. In 1865, a month after the Civil War’s official end, the Confederate raider Shenandoah had seized and torched 20 Union whaling ships in the Bering Strait and Sea. As Shenandoah’s “last act of expiring insolence” in the ice, she harried Jireh Swift, prey clearly not swift enough. Other factors doomed the enterprise. The Kodiak and Bristol Bay right whale grounds were quickly depleted; the more

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Detail of Benjamin Russell print of Bering Strait “Greenland whale” (bowhead) hunt, 1871.

dangerous Southern Beaufort Sea’s ice pack sheltered holdout pockets of bowheads. Captains had already resorted to shooting walrus, which yielded less blubber but were easier killed, on floes, with buffalo rifles. Between 1840 and 1850, the North Pacific fleet dismantled 11,000 right whales, and in the next decade, only 3,000. Quaker whalemen lumped closely

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Yankee whalers in Alaska

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Baleen from the jaws of whales dries in San Francisco’s Arctic Oil Works yard in 1890.

Flensing a blue whale or “sulphur bottom” in Alaska, ca. 1900.

chanteys, and minstrel tunes rang out from the hulls encased in the cove. With pay to spend and goods to barter, officers boosted souvenir manufacturing. In 1892, Mary D. Hume’s first mate Hartson Hartlett Bodfish invited “Happy Jack” Angokwazhuk to winter aboard at Little Diomede Island. There, the future master carver learned to make cribbage boards, speak rudimentary English, and to play the accordion. Angokwazhuk crafted walrus-ivory parasol and umbrella handles, “Mutt & Jeff ” figurines, and a pocket-watch effigy whose hands never moved. Yankee-inspired scrimshaw—pictorial scenes on tusks and bones—flourished along the coast between Herschel and Nome. You don’t really know a whale until

you’ve had your face right in the warm, salty breath of a surfacing one, a modern Native artist told a friend. By that standard, New Bedford, Hawaiian, and San Francisco whalemen knew Leviathan. If not for the sea change in commerce, however, they would have extinguished him. In 2007, Inupiaq hunters chain-sawed a Victorian bomb lance fragment from a legally landed bowhead, a species still endangered, which meant it was at least 130 years old. This proved the giants’ longevity, their resilience, and that of a culture as well. While not a fan of industrial-style whaling, Michael Engelhard would have loved to take a “Nantucket sleigh ride” in the days of Pequod.

TOP: BANCROFT LIBRARY, BERKELEY; BOTTOM: COURTESY LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

related “polar” or “Greenland” whales together with “right” whales, the right ones to chase, because they were rich in oil. They measured a bowhead’s size in barrels of oil—up to 350—and pounds of “whalebone” (baleen). The customary, post-mortem Hurrah for five and forty more acknowledged the number of barrels gained from a typical sperm whale. By 1914, hoop skirts and corsets stiffened with baleen strips called “busks” had become unfashionable. Coal-gas and Kerosene replaced whale oil for lighting homes, streets, and factories. In southeast Alaska, where maintaining whaling stations was cheaper, dozens operated into the 1930s. Whalemen, ironically, discovered the seeps that started another boom, at Prudhoe Bay’s oil fields. Western Arctic industrial whaling, a world set apart by its jargon and specialized gear, was crucial to the U.S. economy. In a single voyage, the brigantine Mary D. Hume rendered 37 whales worth $400,000. “Nantucket sleigh rides” thrilled boatsteerers and oarsmen in open whaleboats that, bucking waves and lashed by spray, tired targets the size of 50 bison. Cetaceans remained a force to be reckoned with past the 1880s, well into the steam era. Sail-assisted steamers could pursue whales more closely and stay longer on the hunting grounds. An Akutan station log describes a blue whale towing a chaser boat for 16 hours—the boat’s engine ran in reverse at half speed the entire time. The toil made underground mining look like fun. Imagine a slaughterhouse, smoke-cloaked or slick as a skating rink, its greasy floor pitching. “We have to work like horses and live like pigs,” one “green hand” wrote in his diary. On one six-year whaling voyage, the longest on record, crewmembers succumbed to madness, scurvy, and cold. Their bodies were stored frozen until spring, when they could be buried. Besides depleting the Natives’ marinemammal larders, the southerners brought guns, rum, diseases, strife, and trading for sexual favors. Their proximity held brighter moments too. Inupiat scavenged wood and iron from wrecks. They sold furs, baleen, and ivory and worked shore-based hunts or on ships. At Herschel Island, they mixed with old salts at baseball matches near vessels snowbanked for warmth, at 40 below or in blizzards, when outfielders became invisible from the home plate. Reels, AALLAASSKKAAM MAAGGAAZZIIN NEE..CCOOM M SEPTEMBER SEPTEMBER 2019 2019

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On Tap in Ketchikan Craft brewery brings locals together BY JEFF LUND

nodded his head as other members of our book club sampled his latest beer experiment. It was an Imperial Stout—somewhat of a prototype for the current one on tap at his place, the Bawden Street Brewing Company—and it was good. He asked questions and mentioned flavors I hadn’t noticed, desiring honest feedback from his new friends. I tend to articulate beer the way many do, with oversimplified, unhelpful ambiguities such as: good, smooth, bad, or awful. I retreated to the smoked salmon chowder while the experts discussed. Flash forward 10 months. Class is in session, I’m tasting chocolate.

Brewmaster and owner of Bawden Street Brewing Company Sean Heismann pours tastes of one of his beers.

Beginnings The microbrew scene in Alaska has exploded in recent years. For Heismann, his beer career started after a deployment to Afghanistan (Army) and a home brew kit. He dove in. After years of brewing, tasting, and tweaking, more changing, tasting, asking, listening, and brewing, he brought his brand to the locals (and tourists) of Ketchikan. Much of a brewery experience is tied to food and it’s hard to separate brewery from burger in many cases. However, Heismann has started small, a simple tasting room with no seats or food, and a pour limit. Just a bar with four taps, a table, merchandise, and a desire to pay homage to Ketchikan. The t-shirts are designed by seventhgeneration Ketchikan resident and artist Matt Hamilton. The wood is local. The table in the middle sits on top of a rusty fishing boat rudder. It’s just off the main drag in Ketchikan but easily within a whiff

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of spawning pink salmon in Ketchikan Creek in August. The beer names themselves are derived from historical Ketchikan, from the Hook Tender saison (logging) to the Extra Innings Biere blanche, which honors the baseball games played on the tidal flats before Thomas Basin was dredged in the 1930s.

Bawden Street Brewery in Ketchikan is the only microbrewery in town and is open daily.

At Home in Ketchikan Heismann’s wife, Nicole Morin, is an obstetrician-gynecologist and was the first to see Ketchikan as she was looking for a place to continue her career after finishing her residency. She sent photos from Deer Mountain to Sean back in Philadelphia and he fell in love. They moved here in November of 2016. The impressive outdoors was just a prelude to the strong and welcoming sense of community the two experienced

JEFF LUND

S

EAN HEISMANN SMILED AND

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upon arriving, Heismann says. “I got here because of my wife, and I’m staying here because of the people.” The plan for him was to be retired military, but the obsession with brewing grew. Still, a brewery in Ketchikan? An island in southeast Alaska doesn’t scream sophistication, but Ketchikan is far from simple-minded. Visit here and you get a taste of it. Live here year-round, and you see just how invested the community is in arts and how much it appreciates craftsmanship. “What I found about the population of Ketchikan, and, so far what I’ve found in Alaska,” says Heismann, “is that most people come here by choice. The notion that just because we live on an island off the southeast coast of Alaska and we don’t have folks who like complicated things, would absolutely be the wrong picture. There are so many smart folks who don’t get the chance to get the kind of funky stuff I want to develop.”

style beer. He just hopes the community and visitors take something from the experience. “If somebody walks into my brewery and walks out with one thing that they like, or one new thing that they haven’t tasted before, or one new inspiration to go try something else that’s similar, mission accomplished.”

What’s Next? Anyone can come up when it’s beautiful and claim to love this place. Any Alaskan will tell you that what makes an Alaskan is getting through the winters together. That sense of community is why Heismann and his wife love Ketchikan and the

Alaskan attitude in general. A successful first tourist season and local winter has the brewer eying expansion, maybe ahead of his schedule. For now things are simple, which is allowing him to do things right and at the right speed. It’s never been just about money and expansion; however, two new fermenters are on the way. After this education by a knowledgeable, yet humble, brewer, I can’t wait to taste what Heismann brings to book club this Friday. Jeff Lund is an English teacher and freelance writer from Ketchikan. His podcast The Mediocre Alaskan is available on iTunes and Soundcloud.

Beer as a Living Thing People taste wine. People drink beer. People talk about visiting wineries, learning about grapes, then go home with a case. People head to the brew house, complain about their team’s defense, and leave with a notion to burn their jersey. It shouldn’t be that way says Heismann. Beer is every bit as complex as wine and the stereotype is unfair. “There should be no difference. In some respects, I think beer is far more complicated than wine.” He talks about yeast and sugars and fat and protein and water. “What I envision my role being is more of an educator. You’re going to have to teach people, ‘Look, here’s what I put into the beer, here’s kinda what I think is going to come out,’ and just leave it up to them to complete the sentence, ‘What do you think is going on here?’” That’s not just about taste, it’s context. While people might not know that his saison has its roots in Europe, they can note the refreshing citrus flavors that make total sense as a summer, workingclass beer of the 18th century that totally works today. Heismann says he understands there will be a natural distribution of people who won’t care or won’t need to know about the history of a particular

Bawden Street Brewery offers tastings and several beers on tap.

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Toy Soldiers and Tundra Spaghetti The life of lichen BY MICHAEL ENGELHARD

of plants, though combining hardy fungi and algae, they partake of other kingdoms, forming miniature ecosystems. The fungus provides a solid structure and cultivates a green alga or cyanobacterium to photosynthesize nutrients for both “symbionts” involved. Slow growing and long-lived, lichens thrive where no plants can survive: in extreme climates and at extreme elevations or latitudes. As rootless pioneer species, they attach to bare rock, dead wood, bone, humus or moss mounds, buildings, or rusty metal, lying dormant metabolically for long periods when conditions turn too inhospitable for them. Unlike vascular plants, the brittle survivors remain active under snow even in a frozen state. They contribute to rock weathering, which releases inorganic nutrients, and they prepare the field for plant succession by catching soil particles on which mosses germinate. Over 500 biochemical compounds they produce mitigate UV-light exposure and deter microbes, browsers, and plant competitors. In Arctic Alaska or on high mountain peaks, they often are the only living things visible. Their biomass and diversity surpass the vegetation’s in such places—300 species were recorded at Anaktuvuk Pass. They look exactly like naturalists’ descriptive terms suggest: crustose, leprose umbillicate, fan-shaped, filamentous, gelatinous. Or, more specifically, like red-capped, straight Toy Soldiers; mint-green Fairy Barf with fleshy, mushroomy bits; Pixie Cups; Sunbursts; Devil’s Matchsticks; or Dead Man’s Fingers poking palely from the ground. Some names allude to internal organs, to lung, kidney, belly, the gut, or the heart. Many species have found their own niche. Crinkled Snow Lichen prefers melting snow banks. Goldtwist or Limestone

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Sunshine Lichen brightens calcium-rich soils. Wind-driven, branchy Arctic Tumbleweed balls into thickets of tiny caribou antlers that pile into depressions on the tundra. Benefits from lichens are as diverse as their shapes, preferences, and colors. Arctic species yield brilliant purple or ruddy dyes and, in a pinch, have been alchemized into beer, vodka, or molasses. Boiled in consecutive batches of water to leach out its bitterness, Rock Tripe served explorers and Native peoples as emergency rations. The flavor is earthy, “not entirely unappetizing.” Witch’s Hair made great tinder on the soggy North Slope and Snow Lichen’s lacy strips, fish and duck soup condiment. Eskimo hunters used Jewel Lichen’s stunning rosettes to locate prey; it encrusts outcrops fertilized with nitrogen from perching raptors’ and ground squirrels’ urine. “Caribou Moss,” the ungulate’s partially digested stomach content, is still sometimes removed for a version of “Eskimo ice cream” in which the fermented lichens are mixed with raw, mashed fish eggs and then frozen as a treat. Hundreds of thousands of equally dedicated eaters subsist exclusively on the carbohydrate-rich growth. Caribous’ winter intake, about 10 pounds per head per day, is up to 90 percent reindeer lichens—a few closely related species—and half of their summer

Elegant Sunburst Lichen (Xanthoria elegans).

COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Y

OU COULD CALL LICHENS THE POORER COUSINS

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COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

diet as well. (The “cauliflower-headed” kind is sculpted into wreaths and toy railroad-trees, and the genus, in Europe, yields an acid ingredient for antibacterial ointments.) Special enzymes in the ruminants’ guts break down the fibrous fare. Considering herd sizes and lichen growth rates, corridors scoured down to the land’s bones are unsurprising. Their recovery can take 200 years. Caribou avoid lichen turfs younger than 50 years, which in part might explain shifting migration routes, or why they linger where they do. Moose, muskox, and mountain goats substitute groundlevel lichens for favorite foods, while tree varieties stock northern flying squirrels’ winter larder. Golden plovers nest in patches of White Worm Lichen, further camouflaging their speckled eggs. Because lichens don’t have an outer, epidermal layer, they can’t differentiate nutrients from pollutants, and absorb both. The 1986 Chernobyl disaster’s fallout poisoned Norwegian landscapes on which Sami herders’ reindeer forage. Thousands of animals had to be killed and their meat destroyed. As recently as 2014, hundreds marked for consumption were released from corrals, too sick from cancer caused by radioactive residue. As indicators of environmental health, lichens

help monitor dust-borne heavy metals near Northwest Alaska’s Red Dog Mine, and their diversity has decreased along the unpaved Haul Road. Equally handy in scientific research, black-fringed, yellow Map Lichen dates rockslides and glacial retreats—it expands 0.02 inches per year, the first life claiming a foothold on moraines as ice recedes. Samples endured 10 days in outer space without damage. Colonies of this stone rash exceed 8,000 years in age, which makes them the veteran living organisms on Alaska’s North Slope, older by far than Sierra Nevada bristlecone pines. At Atigun Pass, lichen-circle diameters show that the most recent cirque glaciers disappeared there four to five millennia ago. Outpacing glaciers, even quickly shrinking ones, humans miss much. On your next Arctic adventure, bust out a loupe or a camera and on your belly explore the wild microcosm underfoot. Just beware of the undead reaching for you from the permafrost.

Map Lichen (Rhizocarpon geographicum).

Changing his residence frequently, Michael Engelhard lives the life of a rolling stone. He wonders if those also do not gather lichens. SEPTEMBER 2019 A L A S K A

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When vacations or other obligations take you away from starting seeds in time to catch the outdoor growing season, never fear: Local nurseries can set you up with healthy plant starts, ready for hardening off and planting in your garden.

Harvest of Riches A family garden thrives with hard work

Water. Nutrients. Sun. You’d think it would be so easy to stuff young plants into the ground, let the long Alaskan summer work its magic, and then haul in the veggies come fall.

It’s never that easy. It begins with sweat equity clear back in March, with the precise plopping of tiny seeds into empty egg cartons, repurposed yogurt containers, and paper cups that have been filled with moist potting soil. The seed trays dominate every inch of space in south-facing windowsills, and each spindly plant to emerge becomes an icon of hope, of possibility. To grow and harvest your own food dates back to times biblical, of feast and famine, preparing for blight, aphids, slugs, bugs, and other ailments that threaten plants outdoors. The process of nurturing the seedlings of spring to the plump peppers of late summer becomes a test in patience, perseverance, and science. The calendar suddenly flips to the golden month of September, and with it worries shift to hard frost. The potatoes can take it, and they’ll sweeten up for sure, but the rest of the produce that thrives above ground will turn black and shrivel if you push the days too far. Go ahead, stare again at the thermometer, as if you can will its mercury to rise in the thin glass tube. It read 36 degrees when the sun set, but now there’s a full moon emerging from behind the clouds. Tomorrow then. Tomorrow is the day of harvest.

Brussel Sprouts grew plentiful enough that they demanded a large tub of their own.

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Text by Charlie Ess

Images by Cheryl Ess

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Susan Ess inspects a healthy head of cabbage. The autumn harvest of vegetables is but a portion of the garden goods grown in the ground near Butte, Alaska. The Esses harvested gallons of rhubarb and raspberries earlier in the year, some of which went into freezers, while other batches made it all the way to glass carboys where they will bubble away, turn clear, and become autumn’s wine.   SEPTEMBER 2019 A L A S K A

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The peppers come first, more than three bushels. The peas hang hidden within their vines and average seven buckshot-sized peas to the pod. The summer proved favorable for artichokes, which have been hit-or-miss in recent years. A few of the squash approximate the size of a football.

Those seeds nurtured to young plants in the protective warmth of the house in March eventually have to face hardening off in the direct sunlight, wind, and other elements of the world outside.

Even after a summer of raiding the patch of peas for snacks and salads, there were plenty left hiding within the vines.

ABOVE & OPPOSITE PAGE: Autumn’s bounty begins piling up on the porch at Chris and Susan Ess’s place near Butte. Much of the vegetable crop will be stored for consumption with meals in the coming winter, but the Esses also make an array of fermented foods from cabbage and other vegetables.

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Inside the greenhouse, the tomatoes hang heavy and red on their vines. Siblings and other family members have driven for miles to partake in the ritual, and the goods of the garden have grown to an appreciable mass as they are sorted and piled on the porch.

Master gardener Chris Ess (the author’s brother) and Ava Stotts pull bunches of carrots, which will be stored in a cool, dry room where they’ll stay crisp for months. ABOVE: Julie Pollard, proprietor of Aurora Gardens in Palmer, readies for an onslaught of gardeners and flower growers in the summer months ahead.

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Chris Ess digs a bountiful row of potatoes. Potatoes can survive mild frosts, as the ambient soil temperatures stay above freezing and keep them safe—but only for a while. Eventually the soil succumbs to the cold air temperatures, and it’s time to get them out of the ground and into the root cellar.

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Matt, Julie, and Ila Stotts were among the friends and family who drove for miles to celebrate at an outdoor dinner in the warmth of the afternoon. They pitched in with the harvest before nightfall, despite a hard frost in the mid-20s that evening.  

But the real kicker comes when you haul out the fork and start at the first row of potatoes. The plant stalks and leaves appear small and withered, but you can make out the bulbous treasures just below the dirt. Halfway through the patch, you realize the need for another wheelbarrow. Keep digging. There are kohlrabis, carrots, and beets. Everything must be put up, for the sky is clear, and there’s a bite in the air at sunset. Surely it will freeze tonight. A tub of Swiss chard goes a long way toward savory soups and salads in the months ahead.

But for now, the moment is lost in celebration. You push the fork into the ground just one last time, a search for straggling potatoes. There it is: a single baseball-sized red russet. Pick it up; wipe off the dirt. Smell the fertile soil on your fingertips. Envision the meals ahead. SEPTEMBER 2019 A L A S K A

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An oyster from Simpson Bay, in Prince William Sound, sports an apple-shallot mignonette, and a granita made from Denali Brewing Company's Louisville Sour Ale. It was served as a special at the Rustic Goat in Anchorage for Beer Week 2018.

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FARMERS ON THE HALF-SHELL

(OPPOSITE PGAE) LINDSAY KUCERA; (THIS PAGE) COURTESY SIRPA MERZ WEHRLI

Kids help at Sirpa Merz Wehrli’s oyster farm in Kachemak Bay.

The ebb and flow of oyster cultivation in Kachemak Bay and beyond By Eric M. Beeman

Two kinds of people reside on our spinning cosmic orb: those who love oysters, and those who lie. By love, I refer not to the cuddly kind of love bestowed upon puppies and newborn infants, but rather to a more gastric adoration. Encased in a hard external shell, their rough hide and sharp edges would normally engender little admiration, but oysters have a little secret. These bivalves may lack an exterior charisma, but under the hood lurks a whole new persona. Like many of us, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

IN THE BEGINNING Larry Smith stood on the beach at Yukon Island and watched the floatplane taxi toward shore. Its mid-1960s cargo consisted of oyster spat (larvae permanently attach to a surface) handed from a Monterey Bay producer directly to an airline pilot, flown to Alaska, and transferred to the aircraft now approaching. The seed was originally contained in a small aquarium. Needing sustenance for the microscopic SEPTEMBER 2019 A L A S K A

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horde, Smith spent time “seining invisible food for invisible creatures.” He and 14-year-old Otto Kilcher strapped a platform between two canoes and headed out planting spat in various places around Yukon Island, Sadie Cove, and Tutka Bay. Smith continued to monitor the oysters’ growth, but after five years, the oysters had reached only fingernail size. In the end, it was a total flop. “They grew to visibility, but not to edibility,” he said. When Smith was applying for his permit, he’d uncovered an oyster farming license granted for a site in Bear Cove, at the head of Kachemak Bay. It was dated from the 1940s. Alaskans have attempted to grow oysters here for a long time. In 1988, the Alaska Legislature passed the Aquatic Farm Act, creating a pathway for mariculture opportunities in Alaska’s waterways. The permitting process involved 12 agencies and took approximately three years to complete. Not all species were involved. Clams were considered too much of a “public” resource, and concerns over beaches becoming privatized led to their exclusion from the program. Pacific oysters, however, do not grow wild in this area and were looked on with favor as a cultivatable crop. By 1993, roughly 10 oyster farms were operating in Kachemak Bay.

TO BOLDLY GO WHERE NONE HAVE GONE BEFORE Unlike many existing fisheries in Alaska, aquatic farming was a relatively new enterprise. Early permittees were as much inventors as entrepreneurs. Many a reef lay perpendicular to the course of shellfish sustainability. New problems

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often required ingenious fixes. In hindsight, some of the solutions were ironic. For instance, a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service rule required a 600-foot minimum distance from any viewable eagles’ nest. After reluctantly siting their farm out of view of a local nest, one farming couple continued to struggle for several seasons in their less-than-optimal location, all the while seeking permission to relocate nearby to the spot of their original choice. Three days after finally receiving the long-sought waiver, an arriving tempest blew down the nest and the subsequent waves uprooted the tree. Once the site was permitted, owners had to then figure out the farm’s layout. Picture a rectangle with each of the

corners anchored with several anchors, spread in different directions to counteract the current and wave action. Running lengthwise are longer lines which are attached to the shorter “ends” of the rectangle, creating in effect a series of lines paralleling (and including) the long edges (or “sides”) of the rectangle. These longer lines are held roughly three feet from the surface by Polyform buoys on three-foot tethers attached at intervals along the lines. And suspended below the long lines are the lantern nets, also hanging on three-foot tethers. The lanterns are a mesh net covering a series of hoops. Each hoop is a mesh shelf to grow oysters on. Imagine a tube, hung vertically with perhaps eight circular

COURTESY HUMP ISLAND OYSTER COMPANY

Our oysters are grown suspended in clean, cold Alaskan water. Because they cannot spawn, the oysters store up glycogen, which makes for a sweeter meat.

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COURTESY HUMP ISLAND OYSTER COMPANY

shelves, a kind of Kachemak Bay oyster apartment. Whew! That was hard to explain, and probably harder to understand. Just imagine what it was like to build. To further complicate matters, the tides in Kachemak Bay have a maximum rise and fall of 28 feet and a stiff current in some areas. Suffice it to say that lots of thought went into crafting these original farms. An adorable example was recently shared by the wife-half of an original farm couple. Arriving one afternoon to her Anchorage home, she heard her husband commenting from an upstairs bathroom that is was “now high tide,” something not often noticed in the big city. Next, she heard the swirling of water in the drain,

followed by the comment that it was “now low tide.” Curious, she ascended the stairs to where her husband was intently contemplating an assortment of corks attached to each other and anchored at different points of the tub by suction cups. “Now the tide’s coming in again,” he proclaimed, opening the faucet once more. “And it’s windy, this time,” he said, wielding a blow dryer. Our future icon of oyster opulence had created a mock shellfish farm, complete with the tides and waves of Kachemak Bay in his own upstairs bathtub. The full-scale version erected later worked as planned, with Mother Nature fully in control of the taps this time. Farming methods began to evolve, but

Southcentral Alaska isn't the only region fostering oyster farms in the state. The Hump Island Oyster Company in Ketchikan has been steadily growing since it began farming oysters in 2010.

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challenge continually raised its problematic head. Anchors drug, reliable seed sources had to be located, stocking rates determined, markets created; starfish eat the crop, otters rip open the nets to get at the mussels inside, and the questions of 12 different agencies repeatedly answered. But above all, two facts emerged: Planted oysters thrive and grow in the lantern nets in Kachemak Bay. So does everything else.

LANTERN LIFE AQUATIC Pacific oysters were originally imported from Japan to the West Coast in the 1920s. Oysters are hermaphroditic, with enough boys becoming girls as necessary to spawn. Wild oysters spawn on clean shells, but in the cold waters of Kachemak Bay they don’t spawn at all. Originally, seed oysters—spat— were imported from Friday Harbor, but ocean acidification has caused subpar shell growth on the West Coast and has made survival to early adulthood problematic. The Kachemak Shellfish Growers Co-op now imports larvae from a hatchery on Hawaii’s Big Island, started by a West Coast grower whose production was failing from the acidic conditions. Shipping costs are not excessive—one million larvae can fit in a golf-ball-sized space. The Co-op annually incubates three batches in their facility on the Homer Spit. Immersed in sea water, the larvae are fed algae and kept warm. They eventually migrate down and attach to ground-up oyster shells and are fed even more algae. Each

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million feeds happily for six weeks, before being relocated to the Co-op’s facility in Halibut Cove. The youngsters—no thicker than a nickel—are loaded in tubs suspended under the surface, and covered with a porous material. Below is the FLUPSY ( floating upweller system), who’s paddles create an upwelling water flow that carries nutrients into the mouths of the hungry young oysters. After two months in this watery home, the seed has grown to fingernail size, and a further 60 days of nutrient absorption doubles the size again. While life below the surface is dedicated to food consumption, life above is a voracious cycle of cleaning and maintenance. Tubs must be washed weekly to facilitate water flow, and seed sorted to like-sizes to prevent the larger seed from eating the majority of the food and creating runts of the rest. In late fall, the young oysters are purchased and transported at 20,000 in a cooler to the individual farms where they’re deposited in small mesh lantern nets. By waiting until late fall, farmers avoid the summer wild mussel and barnacle sets. While the large farms are year-round enterprises, most Kachemak Bay oyster farmers pursue other options during the winter and return with the hummingbirds and sunshine in late spring. Their flocks, however, have been shepherded through the darker months by hardier denizens. Mussels attach to the nets, choking nutrient flow to the hungry mouths inside. The mussels themselves are nutrition for the 6,000 sea otters who now reside in the bay. A single otter consumes roughly 25 percent

(THIS PAGE) COURTESY SIRPA MERZ WEHRLI; (OPPOSITE PAGE) ERIC M. BEEMAN

Rinsing the oysters as they’re lifted from the sea.

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A DAY IN THE LIFE Gazing east from my front window, I see three oyster farms. Many of us romanticize about spending the summer on the water, out in a boat surrounded by all that spectacular scenery. The growers live this life, but often with a hydraulic pressure washer in one hand and a scrub brush in the other. Remember that while oysters grow and thrive in the lantern nets, likewise does everything else. Farmers expend enormous efforts detaching those “everything elses” from the target species that we like to eat. Our nearest neighbors own one of these farms. Like most, it is operated solely by the family. Purchased from one of the original permittees, the farm took several seasons to get back to its former state, but they worked doggedly at it and eventually prevailed. It’s still lots of work—last year alone they cleaned 50,000 oysters—but the farm is improving and slowly so are the balance sheets. They also get to live in a beautiful cove with a great beach, have wonderful neighbors (us), often take time to motor nearby to halibut fish, or to kayak over to the head of

Oyster shells from Kachemak Bay.

(THIS PAGE) COURTESY SIRPA MERZ WEHRLI; (OPPOSITE PAGE) ERIC M. BEEMAN

of its body weight per day, so imagine the impact of a raft of hungry otters tearing into your lantern nets to get at the tasty blue morsels. Recently, a friend returned to his farm only to find his nets shredded and 90 percent of his oyster crop keeping Davy Jones company in the briny depths. One of the first springtime tasks is to have a look at those baby oysters put down late last fall. The nets are pulled out on the dock and let dry. This kills much of the winter accumulation of algae. (Surprisingly, oysters can live out of water for longer than two weeks if the conditions are favorable.) After two or three days, the oysters are again submerged to feed. Next, nets with the largest, usually the threeyear-olds, are emptied out and repaired to make room for the next batch. The former inhabitants are treated to a skiff ride across the bay and quickly find new homes in the bellies of eager customers. The second-years are up next, to be cleaned and sorted by size and submerged again for another year’s growth. This is further repeated with the firstyears—those springtime babies now grown larger. Finally, a new crop of spat is once more put down in the late fall.

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China Poot and waylay a salmon for dinner. When the juggle of work and recreation balances, happiness is the byproduct. Reasons for getting into the business in the first place vary greatly. One of the first farmers in our bay mentioned that the site in front of their house had all the necessary ingredients for a successful farm: sheltered, good water flow for nutrients, and close to town for supplies and marketing. They figured someone would put a farm there and they didn’t want to look at someone else’s farm in front of their house. Another entrant had an easy choice—his wife bought it while he was out of town. He knew nothing about an oyster farm, but it came with a boat and that sounded good. When he first arrived on his new aquatic rangeland, he had a difficult time understanding why his buoys were so low in the water. The place had been let go for quite a while. He finally realized that he’d “bought a sunken oyster farm!” My favorite comment, though, came from a friend who, when asked why he had gotten into the oyster business, just shrugged and said it was “really bad luck.”

(LEFT) JAMES GREELEY/TOMMASO SHELLFISH; (TOP) SUSAN SOMMER

James Greeley of Tommaso Shellfish sorts oysters at his farm on Prince of Wales Island.

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(LEFT) JAMES GREELEY/TOMMASO SHELLFISH; (TOP) SUSAN SOMMER

DOWN THE HATCH On one end are the farmers who’ve gotten the permits, invested their dollars, built the farms, imported the larvae, and raised the seed to the harvest stage. On the other is the salivating consumer, eagerly awaiting a taste of the aquatic crop. Since oysters don’t just fall off the dock and into someone’s mouth (unless you live near an oyster farm and have really nice neighbors), one step remains in the process—you’ve got to connect the two parties. On occasion, tour boats will motor up to the oyster float and you can purchase directly from the farmer—a boost for tourism, cash to the grower, and a genuine experience for the buyer. Sans boat, the mere landlubber can tootle up to the Kachemak Shellfish Growers Co-op on the Homer Spit. Pick your dozen and enjoy fresh at a nearby picnic beach of your choosing. The Co-op will also ship to your address. Contact alaskaoyster.com if you want to top up during the off-season. Those desiring a more relaxed atmosphere should stroll next door to the

Homer Spit Oyster Bar, which serves fresh Co-op oysters and local craft brews. Our oysters are grown suspended in clean, cold, Alaskan water. Because they cannot spawn, the oysters store up glycogen, which makes for a sweeter meat. Most are consumed on the half-shell often with a mignonette of lemon, shallots, white wine vinegar, and various herbs or spices. Another recipe comes from up the bay: make an aioli of mayonnaise, garlic, parmesan, black pepper, and basil. Drizzle on the half-shell and throw in the broiler for a couple of minutes. The maestra in my house whips up a gastric gourmet by first shucking, then dusting with flour, dipping in beaten egg, and rolling in cornflake crumbs. She pan-fries them in avocado oil. Leftovers are only an abstract concept. Hard to go wrong with Kachemak Bay oysters— whatever you do, it’s all good.

Blue buoys denote oyster farms in Kachemak Bay.

When not chasing salmon in western Alaska, Eric M. Beeman watches oysters grow from his home in Peterson Bay—and occasionally eats them.

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Chasing Sweet

Cherry Rumors

The challenges of growing fruit in the far north

By Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan 70

(THIS PAGE) KAYLENE JOHNSON-SULLIVAN (OPPOSITE PAGE) COURTESY DAN ELLIOT

Arctic kiwi fruit are fuzz-less and can be eaten like grapes.

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Dan Elliot’s apple orchard on Knik Arm.

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n an early morning in late April, a pair of sandhill cranes circled overhead before gliding to a landing in Dan Elliott’s orchard. His fruit garden is planted on a bluff that overlooks the Knik Arm of Cook Inlet. Across Knik Arm, the snow-laden Chugach Mountains rose into a clear blue sky. As loons called from a nearby pond, the cranes walked among Elliott’s 140 apple, plum, and pear trees and a collection of currants, honey berries, and raspberries. In three weeks, the orchard will be a riot of blossom and fragrance. By early September, Elliott will be hurrying to harvest fruit before the first hard frost. The quest to grow fruit in Alaska is a challenging endeavor. Ten days ago, a random spring storm buried Elliott’s orchard under eight inches of snow. “In other places, growers are concerned with fruit that will ship well, store well, and have a controlled size for processing,” Elliott said. “But here in Alaska, we just want something that is going to live.” Like their harvest, fruit growers in Alaska are a hardy bunch and among these self-professed plant nerds are adventurers, renegades, and travelers

who span the globe looking for perfect fruit varieties to grow in the Last Frontier. Members of the Alaska Pioneer Fruit Growers Association (APFGA) have traveled to Russia and eastern Europe looking for fruit stock that grows well in northern climates. Erik Johnson, whose garden and orchard grow in Peters Creek, considers sweet cherries the holy grail of fruit growers here. He is tracking down rumors of northern cherries and attempting to source sweet cherry varieties that originate in Latvia and Estonia. He enjoys experimenting with exotic SEPTEMBER 2019 A L A S K A

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Online Extra To learn more about this topic, visit our website at alaskamagazine.com

Apple grower Dan Elliot shows the author around his orchard along Knik Arm north of Anchorage.

Alaska’s apple trees withstand prolonged winter conditions.

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varieties and has successfully grown Arctic kiwis, which are berry-sized, fuzz-less kiwis that can be eaten like grapes. “Arctic kiwi thrive on Alaska’s long hours of sunlight and will grow up to nine feet every season,” Johnson said. In reading and digitizing 30 years of APFGA newsletters, Johnson was able to trace the growth of fruit-growing in Alaska from a few eccentrics to a well-established community. He was snooping around an old orchard on a friend’s property when he came across a tree with a weathered tag that identified it as a Drew Brook variety of apple tree. He helped himself to a couple of cuttings but when he researched the Drew Brook, he couldn’t find the variety anywhere. He eventually discovered information in an archived issue of an old APFGA newsletter. In the early ‘90s, Dwight Bradley took cuttings from a wild apple tree on a roadside in Maine and brought them back to his home orchard in Chugiak. Johnson found the orchard but learned that the Bradleys had since left the state. Only one of the Drew Brook apple trees was left standing. Dwight Bradley, it turns out, is alive and well in New Hampshire, and he remembered that tree in Maine. The grafted tree in Alaska didn’t quite yield the sweetness of the fruit on the original tree. “But that’s how fruit exploring goes,” Bradley said. “The lesson from the Drew Brook is to keep an eye out for wild apple trees that might be a good fit for Alaska.” Every apple seed has different genetics from every other apple seed. The only way to duplicate an apple is to graft it, which is essentially cloning. As Johnson explained, “The characteristics of the tree above ground are entirely different from the tree underground.” According to Bradley, the only wild apple tree grown from seed in Alaska is near the road on Turnagain Arm at mile

(THIS PAGE) KAYLENE JOHNSON-SULLIVAN (OPPOSITE PAGE) COURTESY DAN ELLIOT

Like their harvest, fruit growers in Alaska are a hardy bunch and among these self-professed plant nerds are adventurers, renegades, and travelers who span the globe looking for perfect fruit varieties to grow in the Last Frontier.

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Autumn sunshine ripens apples in Dan Elliot’s Knik Arm orchard.

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108 of the Seward Highway. The “Mile-108” tree likely sprouted via an apple core tossed from a passing vehicle and with conditions that oddly favored germination. Unlike grafted trees, it has multiple trunks. The apples look a bit like Granny Smith but are smaller and not very palatable. Other legendary trees include the 8th and M variety that was planted at the crossroads of 8th Avenue and M Street in Anchorage during the 1920s. Bradley surmised the tree was brought up from the Lower 48 and planted by settlers in the new city of Anchorage. In Alaska, mature apple trees have born witness to a large part of the young state’s history. In the 1990s, the tree was cut down to make room for new construction. Because APFGA members harvested cuttings from the tree over the years, a handful of 8th and M trees are still growing in private orchards. A tour of Dan Elliott’s orchard overlooking Knik Arm revealed that he is brilliant at grafting. He teaches courses on the various ways to take the upper part (scion) of one tree and splice it onto the root system (rootstock) of another. Apple trees that grow in Alaska are invariably grafted onto Siberian root stock since the cool soil won’t support other varieties. “The criteria is that it has to be hardy enough to live, early enough to fruit, and good enough to bother with,” Bradley said. He remembered pioneer grower Claire Lammers’ far-north orchard near Fairbanks. Although Lammers passed away in 2012,

his family continues to care for the orchard, which is now open to the public for U-pick (self-pick) harvest. “Claire’s rule of thumb was, you don’t coddle it. If the variety requires a lot of babying, it isn’t hardy enough. It was a tough love approach.” New varieties of fruit are often patented. It can take 20 to 30 years for the patent to pass into the public domain so that backyard growers can propagate the tree. Transporting plant products across international borders also requires a lot of paperwork. So it turns out, Alaska has a wide variety of fruit trees whose parent stock have been quietly smuggled into the state in suitcases. Fruit varieties that weather Alaska’s climate must also survive its pests. “By definition, most of Alaska’s fruit is organic because we don’t have the pests that, in other places, require weekly spraying to control,” Elliott said. “Our pests are moose, mice, and mowers.” His garden is surrounded by a tall fence, all gateways are barred in winter, and he has planted sacrificial fruit trees outside the sanctum of his orchard to keep marauding moose at bay. Even so, he shook his head as he pointed at tell-tale moose nuggets on the wrong side of the fence. Birds can also be a problem. The shrubs of honey berries must be netted against robins. Honey berries look like elongated blueberries and grow well here, but the robins bring their friends and progeny. As tough as it is to grow fruit in Alaska, the climate is changing. Since Elliott began his orchard

(THIS PAGE) KAYLENE JOHNSON-SULLIVAN (OPPOSITE PAGE) SUSAN SOMMER

Harvested apples can be eaten fresh, jarred or canned, or frozen.

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25 years ago, he said the growing season is longer by three weeks. “It used to be the rule of thumb was not to put anything into the ground before Memorial Day. Now it’s much sooner,” he said. The market for Alaska-grown agriculture, including fruit, is growing. Beverage companies like the Double Shovel Cider Company and Denali Brewing have an increasing demand for Alaskagrown juice. Fruit is also sold at farmers markets and to restaurants who serve fresh, local fare. Budget cuts over the years have all but eliminated government research into fruit growing in Alaska, which puts backyard growers and private orchards at the forefront of innovation and exploration in the field. Steve Brown, University of Alaska extension agent in Palmer, said, “Ideally it would be the university that would be doing the research and disseminating the information, but our capacity of research is embarrassingly small.” He recently contacted an APFGA member to answer a grower’s question about an ailing apple tree. Alaska fruit farmers are generous in sharing their knowledge and aspirations. Ira Edwards, who lives in Anchorage, took advantage of an Alaska Community Forestry Program grant to establish an orchard at Trailside Elementary School in Anchorage. Thousands of pounds of apples were donated to local food banks and the community gathered for an apple pressing event. The pilot project was so successful, Edwards is planning to establish similar orchards at two other elementary schools. Johnson described fruit growers in Alaska as a weird bunch of enthusiasts and included himself in the mix. “At one of the Alaska Pioneer Fruit Growers meetings, someone mentioned seeing a previously undocumented Alaska-hardy pear tree in Spenard. Everyone’s eyes just lit up,” he said. He could practically hear spades turning in people’s minds as they considered the prospect of a new variety for their own orchards. They are fruit hunters, botanical explorers, and mad scientists all rolled into one. Marian Elliott, Dan’s wife, invites people into their home saying, “Welcome to our potting shed.” The scent of ripening apples wafts from the garage. Sunlight shines through various jars of fruits and jams that sit on the kitchen windowsill. With their ample harvest, they press apples for cider, make apple sauce, fruit leather, and old-fashioned apple pie filling. In the cold winter months when the orchard is buried in snow, Marian said it is easy to whip up a warm apple pie and once again enjoy the sweet taste of summer.

These backyard apples came from branches grafted onto a crabapple tree.

Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan is a frequent contributor to Alaska magazine and is nurturing two small apple trees where she lives in Palmer. www.kaylene.us SEPTEMBER 2019 A L A S K A

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Micah Hahn and Ben Tietge Founders of a community supported fishery

After Micah Hahn and Ben Tietge moved to Alaska in summer 2017, Tietge bought a boat and started commercial fishing in the Copper River Delta and Prince William Sound. 2019 was their second season operating the Copper Valley Fish Collective, which allows consumers to cut out the middle man and purchase their fish directly from Hahn and Tietge. Buyers can select at the beginning of the season how many pounds of salmon they want, essentially reserving a portion of the catch, which is then shipped at the end of the season. ~as told to and edited by Alexander Deedy Alaska: What is a community supported fishery? MH: I think probably more people are familiar with the term community supported agriculture, or a CSA. A community supported fishery is a very similar model. Like farmers, fishermen have a lot of upfront costs for the season. You have to buy permits and nets and get your boat ready to fish. Also, CSFs in Alaska have the additional challenge of the logistics in getting the fish from Alaska down to the Lower 48 where our customers are. Having those orders ahead of time allows us to get funding up front, get our stuff ready, and do the planning we need to ensure we have everything in place for shipping fish to people.

COURTESY MICAH HAHN AND BEN TIETGE

Alaska: Why did you decide to found the fish collective? MH: The majority of Ben’s fish gets purchased by canneries, who then process the fish and sell it to big super markets and are really doing it on a mass scale. With a community supported fishery like Copper Valley Fish Collective, we cut out all of those middle men. It’s literally the fishermen and then we sell it to the consumer. So they know exactly what fish they’re getting. What’s really fun about it is interacting with the people who are excited about buying fish. Alaska: What’s been the response so far among fishermen in Cordova, and how many boats are part of the collective? BT: So far, it’s just our vessel. Micah is a permitted buyer, so she can buy from any fisherman. It’s expandable if needed, but right now it’s far from needed. There are not many people who do this, and there aren’t many people who know about other people doing it. MH: It’s crazy to think about how much fish is leaving the state and the percentage that goes directly to consumers is very, very small. There’s only one other direct marketer that I know in Cordova who does a similar share model. It’s a growing and nascent way to sell fish.

ABOVE: Ben Tietge and Micah Hahn share a moment’s rest from fishing to interact with their dogs. AT LEFT: Micah Hahn

Online Extra To learn more about Micah and Ben, visit our website at alaskamagazine.com

Alaska: What do you guys do for fun in the winter? BT: I was going to say something about the value of any kind of direct marketing is a form of season extension for fishermen, both before and after the season because fishing has highs and lows. There’s not a whole lot for a fisherman to do all winter unless you get caught up with things like crabbing or other dangerous pastimes like substitute teaching, which is what I do for most of the winter. But, for fun? I like to drink coffee and read. SEPTEMBER 2019 A L A S K A

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This Alaskan Life

How Alaskans see the world.

Yet Another Alaskan Dilemma

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BY SUSAN DUNSMORE

H GEEZ. REALLY? THERE’S A NEW CRACK IN THE SUBARU’S

windshield. If you don’t live here, you don’t understand the perilous life of an Alaskan car’s windshield, so allow me to fill you in. The first problem is that in winter, which takes forever, we don’t “sand” the roads, or “salt” the roads, we “gravel” the roads. Yeah, a big truck drives around flinging rocks onto the highway. There’s a spinning contraption mounted on the back of the truck for maximum velocity and randomness of rocks in the air. You don’t want to get within 17 miles of one of these things when it’s running, except they kind of lumber along like sleepy, snow-encrusted elephants. You just have to hold your breath, gun it, and hope to escape with just a couple of small chips on the passenger side. If the distribution period of these rocks was your only problem that might be okay, but there will be rocks scattered all over the road for another 11 months and any car with actual tread on their tires (admittedly, not a huge proportion of our vehicles, but enough) will pick up the rocks again and lob them at yours. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to think that a single rock can spend most of its time airborne, scouting for that unblemished spot on someone’s new ride. The second problem is that Alaskans are cheap. All cars have cracks in their windshields, and it’s kind of a game to determine when it’s worth replacing. Nothing on the passenger side is worth considering. And that long crack along the bottom that formed when you turned the defroster on at 40 below and stressed the glass beyond its capacity to remain in one piece is also a given. No one in the history of Alaska has ever replaced a windshield for that one. Timing. Timing is also a consideration. You don’t want to

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replace it going into winter because it’s just going to get cracked again and maybe if you wait until summer you might get a few weeks out of it before that happens. But summer’s busy, there are fish to catch and mountains to hike and rivers to paddle and who wants to spend money on fixing something you’ve been living with just fine for years. That money could go toward that new outboard you’ve been wanting. So summer’s out. Spring and fall each last about 25 minutes so there’s never time then. Then it’s winter again and why bother? You can run through this cycle for years. I’ve heard you can bend a new crack toward the edge to keep it from winding its way onto the driver’s side. You accomplish this by heating one side of the crack with a hair drier and as the window stresses from having one side of the crack cold and the other hot you can direct the damage out of your way. The problem is I can’t remember which side to heat up, the side you want it to travel to or the side you want to direct it away from. I checked a couple YouTube videos which turned out to be pretty useless since those guys can’t seem to remember which way it goes either. If you’re going to attempt this technique, I suggest practicing on someone else’s car. Most of us just get used to the stripes on the scenery and don’t think about it again until friends come to visit from Outside. The conditions of our windshields are as surprising to them as the bears on the porch and remind us that Alaska, and Alaskans, will always be a little different. If you’ve been following this column at all, you know that Susan is going to put this off until next year.

SUSAN DUNSMORE

You really can’t win this one

A L A S K A M A G A Z I N E . C O M SEPTEMBER 2019

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Some discounts, coverages, payment plans and features are not available in all states, in all GEICO companies, or in all situations. Boat and PWC coverages are underwritten by GEICO Marine Insurance Company. Homeowners, renters and condo coverages are written through non-affiliated insurance companies and are secured throughpayment the GEICO Agency, ATV coverages arecompanies, underwrittenorbyin allGEICO Indemnity is a registered service bymark of Government Employees Insurance Company,renters Washington, D.C. 20076; a Berkshire subsidiary.insurance © 2018 GEICO Some discounts, coverages, plansInsurance and features areInc. not Motorcycle available in and all states, in all GEICO situations. BoatCompany. and PWCGEICO coverages are underwritten GEICO Marine Insurance Company. Homeowners, and condo coverages are writtenHathaway throughInc. non-affiliated companies and are secured throughpayment the GEICO Agency, ATV coverages arecompanies, underwrittenorbyin allGEICO Indemnity is a registered service bymark of Government Employees Insurance Company,renters Washington, D.C. 20076; a Berkshire subsidiary.insurance © 2018 GEICO Some discounts, coverages, plansInsurance and features areInc. not Motorcycle available in and all states, in all GEICO situations. BoatCompany. and PWCGEICO coverages are underwritten GEICO Marine Insurance Company. Homeowners, and condo coverages are writtenHathaway throughInc. non-affiliated companies and are secured through the GEICO Insurance Agency, Inc. Motorcycle and ATV coverages are underwritten by GEICO Indemnity Company. GEICO is a registered service mark of Government Employees Insurance Company, Washington, D.C. 20076; a Berkshire Hathaway Inc. subsidiary. © 2018 GEICO

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