Alaska editorial: Global Food Alaska event a brilliant idea

Posted: Thursday, June 28, 2007

Nothing like this has ever happened in Alaska before - but it should.

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The Global Food Alaska 2007 event put producers, harvesters, packagers and transporters all together under one roof to see how they can better connect the food chain in the state.

The concept was to "create more efficiencies and effectiveness along Alaska's supply of food," according to Robin Richardson, president of Global Food Collaborative LLC and organizer of the event.

"A lot of people are coming up to address that issue and there are a lot of people participating who want to find solutions."

The conference was open to major commercial and institutional buyers, such as Alaska school districts and the Alaska Marine Highway System, to smaller businesses and organizations, like restaurants, hotels and bed-and-breakfast operators, plus suppliers of all kinds. Exhibitors served as hosts.

What a brilliant idea. In fact, there should be more of this taking place in our community.

It isn't just food and beverage buyers and sellers who struggle with the cost of moving their products in Alaska and Outside, there are many businesses who share the stress of looking for cost effective ideas and solutions.

More than 300 of them gathered for the event. It even included some "celebrities" - the Bering Sea crabbing skippers who have become popular figures nationwide as a result of the Discovery Channel show, "Deadliest Catch."

The captains offered to come and share the other side of crab fishing and their roles working in the seafood industry. It isn't exactly what you see on TV.

Larry Hendricks, captain of the Sea Star in one season of the reality show, said he was interested in letting people know crab fishing is a sustainable and renewable industry being challenged by crab from other countries.

"Foreign importers are selling back to America crab caught by fishermen from other places - such as Russia - that aren't held to the same standards, so we'd like to see crab become a certified fish product, similar to the way Angus beef is a certified beef product," he said.

Rick Roeske, program manager for Cook Inlet Salmon Brand, another sponsor of the event, summed up the event well, saying it served as a valuable opportunity to learn from each other and collaborate on ways to maximize generating sustainable business and economic developments from Alaska's bounty.

"People Outside are kind of removed from the food source, but this gives national and international buyers a chance to visit Alaska, sit down and ask questions about the process from harvest to market. And, with it being closed to the public, sellers and buyers can - in a nonstress environment - discuss what is done, negotiate prices and strike deals," Roeske said.

It wasn't a public event, although the doors were opened for part of the conference. What's important is the ones who needed the answers and wanted to make connections had two days to do so.

Actually, it's hard to believe no one has done this here before now. We have the ways, means and amenities to provide such conferences, and we need to be doing this more often. It not only benefits those directly involved, but it trickles down into all of the communities - especially when the result of the event is a success.

Sponsors say the next Global Food Alaska conference won't take place until 2009. Hopefully it won't be that long before we see another great concept come to fruition.



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