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Alaska Sea Grant Delivers Food Business Course in 9 Rural Communities

Food insecurity in Alaska is exacerbated by the state’s geographic isolation, changing climate, and high cost of energy. In 2008, 19% of Alaska Natives and 22% of rural residents were food insecure. Per capita income is less than half the national average in rural communities and residents face few local economic opportunities. These factors limit access to healthy and affordable foods. USDA has initiated programs to encourage small farm business development in “food desert” areas such as rural Alaska to address food insecurity and generate economic activity. Also, consumer demand is growing for locally produced foods. In Alaska this has generated interest in developing small farms and specialty food businesses that sell directly to consumers.

Responding to the need for assistance in specialty food business development, in 2014 Alaska Sea Grant partnered with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service to develop and deliver “Starting and Operating a Specialty Food Business,” a three-weekend course on how to start a food business and the potential benefits and risks. The course has been delivered three times via videoconference to nine communities around the state. 

Results: Sixty-three participants took the course in 2014; 85% had no prior business experience and most were women. Three have started businesses that continue to date. Other participants are conducting feasibility analyses or deciding whether to start a business. The Alaska Sea Grant–Cooperative Extension team is monitoring the progress of the three small businesses and other participants.

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