Farm flourishes on Alaska tundra
June 10, 2013
By Craig Medred | The Alaska Dispatch: BETHEL, Alaska — The red barn on the barren, windswept plain along the Kuskokwim River outside of this village-cum-regional-hub in far Western Alaska is more than a touchstone for some foolish pioneer yearning for a homeland far away. Tim Meyers doesn’t much miss Wisconsin.
He left there a long, long time ago, and he has never harbored any desire to go back. Alaska is in his blood. He likes the freedom of the frontier where a man can pursue just about any crazy idea that comes into his head because there aren’t a lot of people around to tell him he can’t.
And farming the tundra is a crazy idea. Everyone knows that. Alaska is a cold, dark place.
Arguably the biggest public boondoggle in state history centered around farming. The late Gov. Jay Hammond — a Republican, an environmentalist, and in some ways a man before his time — envisioned a sustainable agriculture industry in the Far North, exporting Alaska barley to the world and supplying the state with milk from the backyard of a then 14-year-old future basketball player from Wasilla named Sarah Palin. The idea didn’t work.
“The Alaskan farm project, a curious hybrid of Soviet-style agriculture and traditional American romance with the land, would be the stuff of black comedy were there not so many families stuck with a lifetime of debt,” The New York Times reported in 1992 as the project finally went under.
One of Alaska’s earliest ventures into state capitalism, the project was a $120 million loser. Agriculture in Alaska was left with a black eye.
“You want to know how to lose money in a hurry?” Harvey Baskin told Times reporter Timothy Egan two decades ago. “Become a farmer with the state of Alaska as your partner. This is what you call negative farming.”
Meyers is not partnered with the state. In the wake of a history of bad investments, the state has become too smart. Who in their right mind would want to partner with someone who thinks he can farm the friggin’ tundra?