“All right,” announces Jenni Medley, wiping her hands on her faded black Carhartts and consulting a clipboard. “The birds are bagged. Total number is 70.”
It’s 3 in the afternoon, and just outside a small commercial processing facility in Homer, Alaska, Beau Burgess, one of Medley’s farming partners, stands in a miasma of blood, chicken guts, and swirling snow as another farmer sprays him with a garden hose. The temperature is 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Medley, Burgess, and three other employee-owners of Blood Sweat and Food Farm have been butchering chickens for seven hours, and they still need to freeze the birds, process their hearts and livers, clear some land for garden beds, and then feed the cows, rabbits, and pigs, all in sloppy mud and weather that one local calls “blustery as all get-out.” Welcome to farming in Alaska.
Medley believes the 12-hour days are worth it. Thanks to built-up organic matter and ash from nearby volcanoes, locals say that Homer has some of the best soil in the Northern Hemisphere. Water is plentiful, and land is so affordable that after three years in business, Blood Sweat and Food recently bought a new 10-acre parcel. Combined with the milder winters Alaska has experienced lately, this makes farming irresistible—especially for the Blood Sweat and Food crew, who hail from dry, overworked places like Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico. “I love the high desert of New Mexico,” Medley says. “But there’s no water. If I think about what I want to be doing, I just can’t do it there.”
Alaskans are also hungry for local food. Wild game, fish, and shellfish are staples of the Alaskan diet, but vegetables, perishables, and store-bought meat are usually imported from far away, at tremendous cost. In many villages and small towns, the produce at the local store is limited to a few stalks of wilted celery or a bin of mealy apples—if there’s any produce at all. Even shelf-stable food isn’t readily available, since bad weather can delay shipments to remote communities.