by Marion Nestle
Jul 26 2009

Food in Fairbanks

I’m just back from a long trip to Alaska where I gave a talk at the University of Fairbanks.  Fairbanks, in central Alaska, is 200 miles from the Arctic Circle and has a short growing season from the end of May to the beginning of September, but those few weeks are brightly lit.  The sun set at midnight in mid-July and it never really got dark.

As for the food revolution, it is booming.  Even the local Safeway has gotten into locally grown foods, although not always accurately.Not exactly local food When I saw the pineapples, I asked what “locally grown” meant.  Somewhere in Alaska.   Oh.   But Safeway really does have locally grown food, mostly cabbages and root vegetables.  Where were they grown?   Someplace around here.

I saw vegetables growing everywhere, even in small urban spaces such as the entryway to the hotel where I was staying.  The long daylight makes for big vegetables and this plot sported a two-foot long zucchini.  Alas, it had disappeared by the time I got back to photograph it.

Hotel garden

And yes, Fairbanks has a farmers’ market, and it was in full swing.

Farmers' Market, Fairbanks

And then to the organic farm at Rosie Creek.  It was full of summer interns visiting from the nearby Calypso Farms.Rosie Creek

Calypso Farms has a terrific garden program in five schools in the area.


And here a few first-time tourist remarks:

Where is the most entertaining food? That had to be at Bigun’s Crab Shack in Skagway.  Bigun is the chef, spelled that way, not Big-‘un (He’s the one that didn’t get away, according to his mom).  What Cajun cooking is doing in Skagway is beyond me but it was wonderful to have it on a hot summer day.

And what was the best off-beat museum?  It has nothing to do with food, alas, but I still vote for the Hammer Museum in Haines.  Not to be missed.

The Hammer Museum

  • A two-foot long zucchini is nothing special: it’s simply a sign that the plot hasn’t been picked in a few days.

    Big zucchini are a joke among us gardeners, and we often leave them on our neighbor’s doorstep in the middle of the night.

  • Good to see that even in Alaska they are getting into locally grown food.

  • Janet Camp

    It’s nice to hear something about Alaska more positive that it’s politics! Thanks for sharing and the photos. I look forward to the Hammer Museum; on my next trip west, I’m going to include Alaska.

  • Wanda

    Awww Fairbanks! I lived there for a short while. I worked in a seasonal position and to get fresh food was sometimes too expensive. Does local mean cheaper?

    “Grown somewhere in Alaska” is locally grown. Haha.

    The Farmer’s Market is nice after long winters.

  • As a former Alaskan, I can attest to a burgeoning “local grown” movement, and the produce was among the best I’ve ever had. Long days of sunshine and cool nights make for especially sweet root vegetables and crucifers. Carrots grown in Alaska are incredibly sweet, as are the strawberries: far more so than those I’ve encountered down here.

    And that zucchini? Unlike the 2-footers one encounters in the Lower 48, the one that Marion ran across was actually edible. Those long summer days produce larger vegetables far more quickly than down here, which means giant zucchini are still tender at a size most gardeners might consider compost material.

    I hope you got to try some local game, too, Marion. Caribou and moose are wonderful eating.