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Growing Farmers

Growing Farmers

Growing Farmers

Alaska's state fair, which runs until September 5th, began as a celebration among residents of the Matanuska Colony, a New Deal scheme under which 200 down-and-out midwestern farm families were moved to Alaska to see whether agriculture could gain a foothold in the coldest state. The state fair lives on, but little more than a decade after the start of the colony most of the participants had abandoned their frigid farms. The project was widely seen as a flop.

In this state, glaciers cover 300 times more acres than farms. Only 5% of the food consumed is grown locally, compared with 81% nationwide. The growing season is short and summer temperatures chilly. Tomato plants wither. Fruit trees, in most parts of the state, are just a dream.

Enter the high tunnel: a greenhouse consisting of a curved metal frame with plastic sheeting stretched across it. There is even a federal programme to pay for it. The scheme, which seeks to extend growing seasons and improve soil health, is open to farmers across the country. But it is Homer, a town of about 5,000 souls 200 miles south of Anchorage, that has become the high-tunnel capital of America, officials say. Residents have put up more than 120 federally funded greenhouses—far more per person than anywhere else.

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