Research puts food resilience under the microscope

Aug 5, 2021

Fresh kale from the Farmers Fresh Market at the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank in July.
Credit Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

Researchers and the Cooperative Extension Service want to know how the pandemic and the 2019 Swan Lake Fire impacted food resilience on the Kenai Peninsula.

Courtney Long is a PhD student at Iowa State University. She said the study on the peninsula is one of five she’s conducting in rural communities across the country. 

“The interest that we're looking for in resilience right now is like, where are we currently in supporting local foods? What are the gaps that we have for local food and farm businesses or organizations?” she said.

Food resilience is the capacity for a community’s food system to weather outside forces, from the disruption of supply chains during a global pandemic to evacuations during a wildfire.

Melissa Clampitt, program coordinator with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service, said the Kenai Peninsula is already very food resilient, with a strong community of local producers and farmers markets.

Still, the state at large faces unique challenges by virtue of its geography.

“We are isolated, even though we are on the road system," she said. "If something shuts down, we got problems.”

Long is doing her study in several parts. She’s already started collecting information about people’s personal experiences with COVID and wildfires through one-on-one interviews and surveys. This month, she’s holding in-person focus groups in Homer and Soldotna.

She said she plans to finish collecting data in August. And she said she wants it to be useful for the communities she’s studying. 

"Long term, the hope is we can utilize this information so Alaska, the Kenai Peninsula can use that for strategic planning for things in the future regarding becoming a resilient food system," Long said.

Clampitt said it’s information the Cooperative Extension Service will use to inform its work.  

“We thought it would be such a great opportunity to really say, ‘Hey, what are the needs here? Where can Extension help?'” she said.

Long’s findings will also be part of her dissertation.

The focus groups in Homer are Aug. 15 and 16 at the Pratt Museum. The ones in Soldotna are on Aug. 17 and 18 at the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank. Register for a two-hour focus group slot here.