Southeast Conference’s New Food Security Coordinator, Lia Heifetz
Contact Lia via email: GrowSoutheast@gmail.com Phone: 321-5425
Lia Heifetz—Food Security Coordinator for Southeast Conference and owner of Grow Southeast—has increasingly become the face of the food security movement in the region. Lia was hired by Southeast Conference and the Sustainable Southeast Partnership to increase food-related sustainability in Southeast Alaska in an effort to promote self-reliant communities. Lia works to shape a resilient food system that decreases our dependence on outside sources, sparks food-based business startups and improves household and community health. This vision for a prosperous regional food system includes a reliable supply of wild foods, thriving agricultural enterprises, and improved access to fresh and nutritious foods for all residents across our region. Lia’s current work is predominantly centered in the communities of Kasaan, Kake, Hoonah, and Hydaburg.
Lia was born and raised in Southeast Alaska and wants to see our communities and people prosper. “Food is an irreplaceable, unique resource- everyone needs it,” she explains. “It not only provides caloric value, it is a fundamental part of cultures and traditions. Food can bring people together, has cultural and place-based significance and can serve as medicine for physical, spiritual, and mental well-being. Participating in local food production and consumption has the amazing ability to reconnect people to the land, nature, local history and traditions. On a personal level, there are few things that I find more fulfilling than putting up food from start to finish and being able to share with friends and family. There are amazing opportunities in Southeast Alaska to participate in these sorts of activities- backyard gardening, fishing, hunting, gathering, etc.”
Why Southeast Alaska Food Security?
In Southeast Alaska, the distance between food origin and consumer is typically thousands of miles. This large gap between supply and demand has created a scenario where the supply capabilities of food producers, processors, and global resources do not match the demands of consumers. Additionally, this fuel intensive and expensive food system leaves Southeast Alaskans vulnerable to spontaneous disturbances that may occur anywhere along the extensive supply chain. A key step in increasing food security is to increase education around food origin and health; and engage youth in growing food.
In Southeast Alaska we have access to an abundance of wild foods that can be obtained locally like shellfish, fish, deer, berries, and beach greens providing our region uniquely localized food system advantages. Despite this, use of locally obtained foods remains relatively small, and the vast majority of our region’s residents are dependent on foods brought in from outside the region. Imported foods are more expensive, less flavorful, less nutritious and provide us a diminished level of food security.
There are abundant opportunities to improve our region’s food systems, decrease our dependence on outside sources, develop food-based business start-ups, and improve household health with great benefit to our communities and environment. Organizations across the region are working with rural communities in the region on increasing the production of local foods, along with access to these foods, for community food security, human health and economic development. Success of these food security initiatives would provide jobs, improve health outcomes, keep more food dollars circulating locally and create communities that are more self-reliant and less vulnerable to disturbances along the extensive distribution chain much of our food travels to get to our plates.
Southeast Alaska Food System Assessment
Grow Southeast and Southeast Conference recently released the “Southeast Alaska Food System Assessment,” a pilot project to identify actions to promote self-sustaining communities and a resilient food system. The 32-page document is the result of a four-month research project that examines local food systems throughout the region to see what challenges exist and how they can be solved so Southeast Alaska communities are more food secure and sustainable. This report focuses on the findings of a food cultivators survey that took place in several communities. It weighs the strengths and weaknesses of the local cultivation systems in place, with a special wild food focus group hosted by the Organized Village of Kake. Download Southeast Alaska Food System Assessment (PDF)
Invigorating Alaska’s Food System with Wild Foods Video
This seven-minute film showcases the growing community of Southeast Alaskan residents, communities and organizations that are dedicated to invigorating the region’s food system with locally cultivated and wild harvested foods. The video highlights Kasaan’s Community Harvest, an series of events hosted by Southeast Conference, the Organized Village of Kasaan and the Cooperative Extension Service. In Kasaan food is culture and serves to instill a sense of pride in identity and culture. Due to transportation expenses, all produce and products for sale on the island are extremely costly. These challenges present the opportunity to revitalize culture, wellbeing and food security with the harvesting, processing and consumption of wild and traditional foods, medicines, and materials. Watch video here.
Another project is the mobile greenhouse, the result of a partnership between Southeast Conference, UAS, Cooperative Extension Service, Juneau School District, and The Nature Conservancy. This will be demonstration project to engage students, teachers and community members in education around greenhouse design; food origin and health; and engage youth in growing food. Kaden Phillips, a UAS student, and Robin Gilcrest, UAS Construction Technology Professor, designed the greenhouse and Juneau Douglas High School construction students are building it on a flat bed trailer. When it is finished it will be transported to different locations around Southeast Alaska, primarily rural communities. It will stay at a school for the duration of a growing season under the supervision of an educator or other identified community champion. Science, math, health, culinary, and place-based courses will accompany the greenhouse in a user-guide format.
Southeast Farm and Fish to Schools Conference, April 2-3, 2015, Juneau
The goal of the Southeast Alaska Farm and Fish to School Conference is to source more local foods to schools; increase the amount of local food production and processing in the Southeast; connect producers to market outlets; and increase awareness around food origins, health and traditions for students.
It featured local food entrepreneur development sessions; opportunities, agencies and resources for school projects; successful models in action; methods to integrate local foods into daily meal preparation; cooking demonstrations and recipes for local foods; place-based, culturally appropriate implementation. The conference served as a vehicle to connect food producers to a sizeable local market and facilitate the formation of a network of Southeast food producers to enable problem solving and access to resources to launch, initiate and enhance local food production.