Google map tracks community supported agriculture in Alaska
A Google Map of community supported agriculture farms shows the growth of CSAs in Alaska. Created by Deirdre Helfferich, managing editor at the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, the map introduces 32 CSAs to viewers, providing basic information and contact sources for each farm.
Helfferich started collecting CSA names in 2009 because she couldn’t find any resources containing that data. She has long been interested in local foods and served as a founding member of the Alaska Food Policy Council. She and her husband have been CSA members at Calypso Farm and Ecology Center in Ester since 2001.
“Back then there were only a couple of CSAs in the Interior,” Helfferich said. “Now every year there are more and more.”
Her map, http://bit.ly/1cskIxg, has been visited nearly 79,000 times. She suspects researchers from the lower 48 and Canada are visiting the site, along with consumers who are searching for a CSA where they can buy locally-grown food and support local farms.
“I’ve gotten really good feedback about the map,” she said. “People really like it and the farmers appreciate being listed.”
The site is fluid, with Helfferich continuing to add, delete and edit the CSAs on the map. She welcomes information on CSAs not currently listed. Contact her at email@example.com or 907-474-6923.
The satisfaction from creating the map for Helfferich is that she gets to share valuable information in a fun and free manner. She hopes that she is helping connect Alaskans to farmers in their communities. “It’s about people working together to supply each other with food. That’s the important thing.”
Helfferich believes CSAs are successful because people want to be involved in food and get to know the people who farm it. “It’s a really good thing for people to see things they would never see in a supermarket,” she said. “You get to smell the flowers and engage yourself and your kids. It’s a way of creating community with the farm and farmer.”
Belonging to a CSA brings consumers to the realization that there are people behind the food, she said. “You form a connection. It isn’t just an item wrapped in plastic.”
As for the future of the map, Helfferich plans to keep tending it, and she is looking into upgrading to a newer version of Google Maps to add functionality.
She dreams of the day the placemarks on the map aren’t just clustered on the road system, but are scattered around the vast land that is Alaska. “Look, there’s nothing in Nome and there’s nothing north of the Brooks Range,” she said. “Maybe people will see where the gaps are, find a niche and open a new CSA.”
This column is provided as a service by the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. Nancy Tarnai is the school and station’s public information officer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org