UAF student shares views of Circumpolar Agricultural Conference/UArctic Food Summit

Mohammadi, Azara

By Azara Mohammadi

UAF anthropology student

I am very grateful for the opportunity to attend and participate in the 8th Circumpolar Agricultural Conference, which was only afforded through special funding provided by Chancellor Rogers. At the University of Alaska Fairbanks we are very lucky to have a chancellor who recognizes the importance of sharing ideas across state boarders and actively works to unite the North in an effort to address the common agricultural struggles we face, through the gathering and sharing of information.

As one of the only (if not the only) undergraduate students attending the Circumpolar Agricultural Conference, I was slightly awe-struck at first. Although I read and reread the agenda many time before leaving, I was not prepared for the impact the conference as a whole would have on my understanding of the world.  It would be an understatement to say that it was inspiring to meet and speak with individuals from around the world, leaders in their field, who share a common desire to address food security. The privilege of witnessing a part of the process by which decisions about the world are made, is a memory that will stay with me.

As an anthropology student I was very excited to learn about a more holistic approach to food security, which explicitly includes anthropological knowledge and conceptual tools. The emphasis on understanding food as not just food, but a confluence of many of the aspects of human life within a unique ecological zone, was so wonderfully articulated by many presenters.

As an aspiring champion for local agriculture in my own community, I particularly enjoyed when presenters shared their success stories. In most cases, their challenges were far greater than those I am facing in Fairbanks. This left me with a new perspective that at once made be feel that my challenges were not so difficult, relative to those who truly suffer from food insecurity, while at the same time reminding me why it is important to address food security. I left with a renewed sense of purpose and determination, which I attribute to a clearer vision of what achieving my goals promoting local agriculture might actually resemble and look like in action.


Breakout session results: Where do we go from here?


8th Circumpolar Agriculture Association, UArctic Northern Food Security Thematic Network joint conference, Girdwood, Alaska, USA  Sept. 29 – Oct. 3, 2013.

“Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security in the Circumpolar North”

Approximately 140 registrants


Break Out Session Question:

If you had the opportunity to send a message to Policy Makers, Governments, Arctic Council, CAA, etc.

what would be your top 3-4 insights including highlights/barriers/opportunities?

Across all Sessions:




  1. I.                   GUIDING PRINCIPLES:


  • Multi-disciplinary approach imperative (animal health, human health, environment).  Identify “commons”, work for common good.                                                                         
  • Systems approach
  • Best Practices


  • Need a paradigm shift in approach—look at “full” picture cost accounting—need to evaluate programs/projects in terms other than economic feasibility/sustainability.              
  • Move away from monetary thinking
  • Move away from exclusive economic thinking                                                                                 
  • Use old/new way of thinking about food systems of where we live.
  • Look at food as sacred—be grateful—eat little.


  • Living in the north is the common denominator, place/space policy requires knowledge of the area
  • Focus on Resource/Information Sharing
  • Need to work from bottom up;
  • Need to support grassroots initiatives;
  • Food Security:  Best achieved at the local level
  • Responsible economic development that respects the environment + local food systems.
  • Preserve ecological systems that are vital—our water, etc.
  • Think local, build on traditional economies.
  • Value our communities peoples.
  • Small—family—community—territory—nation (SHARE)


  • The policies we develop—need to mesh so they flow rather than block
  • Reduce Bureaucracy
  • Increased collaboration across all barriers
  • Changes in regulations—does not threaten food on national security.


  • Science needs to support all above—universities.


  • Plan 25 yrs. ahead—how are our children going to eat—the natural world will be much different, radically different.  All our efforts need to be in figuring out how to make that a better world to live in.



  1. II.                 BARRIERS/CHALLENGES:


  • Lack of Education
  • Need to get rid of silos we work/live in
  • Climate Change
  • Cross border/customs is a hindrance for trade/production.
  • Cultural change for countries—“Food is not just food.”
  • Seed security (Homeland security)—difficult to share seed/animals:  is security at the right level?
  • Science crosses borders—what can science do to identify barriers, risks, sharing.





  • Downstream savings of having a local food supply
  • Determining value of creating opportunity
  • Economic benefit of local food systems
  • Tying local food systems to economic development
  • The way we educate—use systems and indigenous knowledge
  • Must inform decision makers about the benefits of N. Agriculture
  • Increasing population—need more food
  • Sharing successful models from hunter/gatherers around food sharing systems to address food security.


  1. IV.              ACTION:


  • Ensure cooperative activities “conceived” at the conference move forward towards implementation.


  • Educational Outreach
  • Increased awareness—education–outreach
  • Hands on education to build capacity
  • Hands-on demonstration education
  • Humans are healthier when connected to the land.  Need to educate youth to maintain connection, need experiential education “get dirty”.
  • Education/training are key
  • Education especially youth—need national policy/curriculum in schools.
  • Greenhouses in schools (e.g. use of waste heat to heat greenhouses)


  • Economic analysis of local food
  • Economic Viability
  • Shifts in how we evaluate the ‘economics’ of northern grown food.
  • Improve communication between agencies + businesses + develop common policy to address whole cost accounting.
  • Determine the economic, social + health benefits of a local food system.


  • Enable community (and inter-community) trade of locally produced + harvested foods—reduce barriers to this happening.                                                        
  • Should be easier to share food across borders—risk vs. benefit at societal level.  Food Sovereignty?                                                                                                                   
  • Make food systems available to neighbouring provinces, territories—AK.  Open dialogue on sustainable food systems available locally.
  • Provide a forum for community identification of policy + food safety issues—ground up approach.
  • “Northern Ag Policy”
  • Regulations that allow farmers to efficiency produce food, but keep foods safe.
  • Upfront investment in community infrastructure that reduces the need for imported products.


  • A national goal for increasing the degree of self-sufficiency (e.g. 1% per year).                                               
  • Competence building—Targets incentives & [provides an] instrument to enhance circumpolar cooperation.
  • Circumpolar science needs to focus on creating dialogue seriously about survival issues—assist communities to become more self-sufficient.
  • Canada must create a National Food Policy/Strategy—a Northern Food Strategy.


  • Transportation subsidies so that the price of groceries (excluding junk food) will become more  even all over the country.


  • More focus on efficient food use/reduction of food waste


  • Long-term monitoring of food systems, food frequency—include in Health Impact Assessments
  • Arctic qualities – documentation.


  • Increase renewable energy development to allow Arctic inhabitants to have more available access to food by decreasing heating costs, more resources for purchasing food and accessing traditional foods.  Development of energy efficient housing.


  • Basic Agricultural & Agronomic subjects and science:  crops and production systems, adaptation to climate change.


  • May have biggest impact on the Arctic Council.  We should meet with them and invite to next CAC and emphasize how agriculture is important to communities and society we are part of the economy and not food.


  • Were local legislators invited?  More visibility of AK Food Policy Council.


  • Identify common challenges, bring awareness to policy makers for northern regions and interests (climate change, socio-economic change in local communities, strongly linked).
  • Identify interest of stakeholders—many levels, future generations.


  • Develop mind set for local sustainability.


  • Develop markets for local food production.


  • We must seize the opportunity that is climate change.  More money need to go into breeding and environmental studies so that we can prepare for new climates and here this becomes an issue for the European Union.
  • Plant Breeding collaboration—more market.  Costly to start, could spread effort.



  1. V.                IMPLEMENTATION (HOW):


  • Project-based Circumpolar/Cross Border Working Groups.
  • Identify and select projects.
  • Identify a champion for each project.
  • Integrate members from Thematic Networks, CAA
  • Funding Sources
  • Target:  Deliverables reported at next joint CAA/UArctic Northern Food Security Thematic network meet in Iceland.

CAC/UArctic Food Summit attendees comment on conference

Anonymous comments from attendees:

I was particularly interested in community greenhouses so it was good to see some sessions on that.

I have a new understanding of food security issues, impacts and initiatives and potential for progress.

Very good networking and putting faces to names.

Poster sessions were an excellent way to learn in-depth about projects taking place and meet the people who we can collaborate with.

The participation of indigenous people must be a priority in discussions on food security.

The workshop was excellent. I enjoyed learning about the different approaches in improving/building regional food systems.

The opportunity to interact with researchers from across the Arctic was eye opening. The challenges of the future of feeding Arctic peoples goes beyond one country.

The financial assistance provided by the OECD was instrumental in bringing the diversity and range of expertise to this meeting. This meeting could not have happened without their support.

The diversity of backgrounds was fantastic. Even more important was the commonality of the needs from diverse backgrounds.

I’ve been researching food security possibilities with an open mind and came here to get an idea of what I might have overlooked. Now I have a marvelous selection of contacts and resources to work with.

Global perspectives in advancing food security in the circumpolar world

The international panel addressed these questions:

1. What is the main barrier to advancing food security in your country/area of specialization?

2. Your suggestion on how to address this barrier?

3. What is the most promising idea/suggestion to advancing food security in the circumpolar north?

Tom Allen, University of Saskatchewan, Canada:

Food security is a very complex issue. No one is talking about people who are food insecure. Food security is a serious social and health concern in Canada. Almost every province has gone backward since 2005. There is no other subject matter that is as complex as food and it has connections to so many other disciplines. You have to bring people to the table from all jurisdictions. Sasketoon is one of the richest provinces and one in seven children are hungry. We need data-driven research to show how food is connected to health and education. We need to learn how to effectively lobby government. We need a coordinated effort, public and private sectors, universities. We are reaching a tipping point. How high will health care costs go before we realize the importance of food in health? We need to be proactive and give a coordinated message to government.

U.S., Bryce Wrigley, Alaska farmer

There is no food security without a strong, local food system. Processing is a critical component. We need an agency to nourish the local food system until it can stand on its own. We need the university’s support of agricultural research. We need a broader, wider ability to cooperate internationally. We need to elevate food security to the policy level. It is critical to life and happiness.

University of Saskatchewan, Karen Tanino, Canada:

There is a new grant will show the importance of agriculture to everyday life. Why not try to make a very attractive, positive video showing food systems, health, community development are all important? Why not do it from an international perspective? The video could be used throughout the circumpolar north to show the importance of agriculture to the economy and show the importance of research? We can try together as a project to capture that funding and build a video. Maybe we should have an arctic food day where we ask everyone not to eat. This would get media attention.

University of the Arctic Thematic Network lead, Geopolitics, Finland, Lassi Heininen:

There have been discourses on global issues, where is food security? We are not just talking about lack of food but food safety. It is important to be clear on what we mean by food security. We will have discourse with globalization. Food security and food safety are part of human security.

University of Alaska Fairbanks Professor Milan Shipka:

One of the difficulties we face is it’s hard for people to conceptualize food security when their stomachs are full. There are several meanings for food security. We have food availability, food affordability, food safety. It’s hard for policymakers when they get a mixed message.

Berndt Skarstad, leader Northern Norwegian Council of Agriculture:

How do you use the arable land? Fish farming is becoming more important in Norway. Food safety is a good argument to produce local food. The customer needs to know where the food is produced. There are very high prices on food in Norway compared to the rest of Europe.

UAF Cooperative Extension Service Agent Darren Snyder:

The threat of business as usual is there. Need a platform within our group. Let’s get our act together more. We need to have our message, our plan, more cohesive. Be clear how we are looking at the whole food/one health idea. We have opportunities to create what would work and go to policymakers with that in mind to strengthen the food system as a while. Create the framework before we ask them.

Lisa Sadleir-Hart, Alaska Food Policy Council, Sitka:

Connect with your media channels and work strategically to get as many stories as you possibly can. Pair the stories with the research and the data. Policy changes when we have really good data but hearts change when people hear stories. This is an opportunity to engage younger people. We have to have a sense of urgency about this. It’s important right now. We don’t have the luxury of a lot of time. Find the right spokespeople. Stretch and connect outside our comfort zones. We don’t have a lot of money but we have spirited people with amazing stories.

Alaska farmer challenges CAC attendees to take action


From left, Casey Steinau of Sen. Mark Begich’s office, Diane Peck (Alaska Food Policy Council), Lisa Sadleir-Hart (Alaska Food Policy Council), visit with farmer Bryce Wrigley about solutions to food security.

Bryce Wrigley of Wrigley Farms and Alaska Flour Co. asked CAC participants what they would do if they didn’t fear anything.

“It’s important to act, to accomplish something, to chart out a process or path,” he said at Monday’s luncheon.

Quoting Winston Churchill and his “Never give up” line, Wrigley said, “That’s the attitude we need to have food security.”

Originally from Idaho, the Wrigleys moved to Delta Junction, Alaska, in 1983 to establish Wrigley Farms. They raised barley for animal feed for decades. Then Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and Wrigley could not stop thinking about the state’s food supply.

“It took two weeks for those people to get food and they are close to the food supply.”

So Wrigley decided it was time to start feeding humans in addition to livestock. At the Alaska Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station’s farm at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, a new variety of hulless barley, called Sunshine Barley, was released and Wrigley began growing it with great success.

He’d never even been in flour mill so he and his wife Jan visited several in the lower 48 and came home to hammer out things like equipment, insurance and regulations. “The devil is in the details,” Wrigley said. “It wasn’t a fun process.”

By December 2011 Alaska Flour Co. was fully operational and today it supplies Alaskans with barley flour and barley cereal, made in Alaska!

“Keep your eye on the objective,” Wrigley said. “Sure it’s cheaper to ship flour in but what does it really cost us?”

He said maintaining a farm is one way his children can stay productive and get involved in the family business, if they choose to do so.

He isn’t advocating that Alaska stop importing food. “I like bananas,” he said with a laugh.

“But what will we do if the planes, trucks and barges don’t make it? We need a mechanism to fall back on.

“We’ve got to develop policies and raise awareness of the process. Burying your head in the sand is not a solution. Let’s build something and solve problems.”


Bryce Wrigley with Stephen and Elena Sparrow (both UAF professors). Steve is interim dean of the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the interim director of the Alaska Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station.

More about the Wrigleys’ flour mill:

Fellowships available

John Sadler, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) theme coordinator, the Natural Resources Challenge, Biological Resource Management for Sustainable Agricultural Systems, Cooperative Research Program, announced at the CAC/UArctic Food Summit that in addition to sponsoring conferences like this one, his office offers fellowships for Ph.D.s to work in foreign countries.

“We want to achieve the link between science and policy,” Sadler said.

“This conference has everything from plant and animal science to sociology and anthropology. It has both a broad and narrow geographical focus. It is one of the most multi-disciplinary conferences we have sponsored.”

Ph.D.s interested in working with other OECD countries may contact John.

His website is