Arctic farming: Alaskan town defies icy conditions with hydroponics

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The landscape is virtually treeless around a coastal hub town above Alaska’s Arctic Circle, where even summer temperatures are too cold for boreal roots to take hold.

Amid these unforgiving conditions, a creative kind of farming is sprouting up in the largely Inupiat community of Kotzebue.

A subsidiary of a local Native corporation is using hydroponics technology to grow produce inside an insulated, 40-foot shipping container equipped with glowing magenta LED lights. Arctic Greens is harvesting kale, various lettuces, basil and other greens weekly from the soil-free system and selling them at the supermarket in the community of nearly 3,300.

“We’re learning,” Will Anderson, president of the Native Kikiktagruk Inupiat Corp., said of the business launched last spring. “We’re not a farming culture.”

The venture is the first of its kind north of the Arctic Circle, according to the manufacturer of Kotzebue’s pesticide-free system. The goal is to set up similar systems in partnerships with other rural communities far from Alaska’s minimal road system — where steeply priced vegetables can be more than a week in transit and past their prime by the time they arrive at local stores.