Women farmers are on the rise in the Last Frontier

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Martha Lojewski of Mount McKinley Peonies harvesting flowers during their peak season. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Peony Cooperative)

Martha Lojewski of Mount McKinley Peonies harvesting flowers during their peak season. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Peony Cooperative)

This article was originally written for the Modern Farmer.


In Alaska, where farmers battle grueling winters and short growing seasons, women are almost as likely as men to be planting seeds and pulling crops.

On average, 36 percent of farmers in the US are women, but in Alaska, women account for almost half—47 percent. National trends have seen women on the rise, too, with the percentage of male farmers dropping between 2012 and 2017. In Alaska, the number of women producers skyrocketed by 56 percent in that five-year period.

Farmers say there are a number of factors that contribute to this trend, including a rise in peony cultivation and the availability of grants for women farmers. The USDA’s Farm Service Agency reserves loan money for under-represented groups and beginning farmers.

For some reason, women are more likely to own small farms in Alaska, and small farms are booming in the state, says Suzan Benz, a state statistician for the USDA. In 2012, there were 247 farms that were nine acres or less in size; in 2017, the USDA found small farms accounted for 428 of Alaska’s farms. The USDA Agriculture Census found there are more female principal producers on Alaskan farms between one and nine acres in size: 284 women compared to 280 men. Principal producers make most decisions on a farm, and men account for more principal producers in every other acreage category in Alaska.

Emily Garrity, a farmer in Homer, owns Twitter Creek Gardens, a nine-acre operation; one and a half-acres is used to cultivate 50 vegetables and herbs. 

Garrity has noticed more women in farming, especially when looking for workers: About 90 percent of her applicants are women. 

“In my experience over the last 20 years of farming and being involved with farmers, there has always been a high percentage of females,” Garrity said. “I go to these [agriculture] conferences, both in the state and different workshops across the nation, and there are all of these young women in their 20s and 30s excited about [agriculture]—and they’re good at it.”

Observers point to Alaska’s “blooming” peony industry as a reason more women have entered farming. The state’s summer season allows the flowers to be harvested later in the summer than other competitive markets. In the 2000s, there were only a handful of farmers who grew these flowers, but that number has skyrocketed to at least 128 farms, according to Pat Holloway, a former University of Alaska Fairbanks horticulture professor who tracks the peony industry. 

Martha Lojewski started her farm, Mount McKinely Peonies, in 2014 after trying to find a job that was more accommodating for her young children. Their six-acre farm is in Willow, about 70 miles north of their home in Anchorage.

Lojewski and her husband launched a co-op a year later, Alaska Peony Cooperative, which now consists of 11 farmers—the majority of which are women- or family-owned.

Lojewski didn’t use loans or grants to start her farm, but she said women and minorities now have more options for funding and that those opportunities are likely contributing to an increase in women farmers.

“You can get a few more benefits being a minority farmer and a new farmer, so most of us set it up so the female is the primary owner of the business,” Lojewski said.

Amy Pettit also recognizes this trend. She is the executive director of the Alaska Farmland Trust, a non-profit dedicated to preserving farmlands, and moved to Alaska in 2005 to intern with the Alaska Division of Agriculture.

Not only does Pettit see more women farming in the state but more women in roles of agriculture leadership—like the head of Matanuska Experiment Farm, executive director of the Farm Bureau, president of the Food Policy Council, Alaska Farmers Market Associations and Pettit’s own position.

“I can remember many industry meetings where I felt largely outnumbered by the males in the room,” Pettit said. “It is very different today. The number of female farmers has increased significantly.”

What busking winters in downtown Anchorage taught KillBill Sax

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Saxophonist Bill Hauser performs at Tequila 61 on Friday, Aug. 16, 2019. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Saxophonist Bill Hauser performs at Tequila 61 on Friday, Aug. 16, 2019. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Saxophonist Bill Hauser performs at Tequila 61 on Friday, Aug. 16, 2019. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

This article was originally written for the Anchorage Daily News.


It’s quite a sight to exit an Anchorage bar in February and see a saxophone player busking alongside two propane heaters at 1 o’clock in the morning. But for a year and a half, that was Bill Hauser’s hustle — known to Alaskans by his stage name KillBill Sax.

Hauser got the idea from another local sax player — Nelson Felix — who was busking downtown and had been doing so for years.

“Nelson was very gracious about another sax player setting up shop and even supportive,” Hauser said. “I ended up using the exact same propane heaters set-up that he had, after trying other methods that didn’t work. Sometimes he and I would perform together or across the street from one another, and he was really the inspiration for me giving it a go.”

And while KillBill doesn’t busk anymore, he regularly plays at a number of bars and restaurants in town. He teaches too.

“I am in a fortunate position at this point in time where I don’t have to [busk],” Hauser said. “I always need to make money, I always need to hustle, but I realized whatever you spend your time doing, that’s your life — in general.”

Hauser grew up in Anchorage’s small jazz scene. While most 19-year-olds were sneaking into bars for the booze, Hauser had other priorities — slipping into Blues Central for their Sunday night jam sessions.

“I would sneak in from the back door — I had like a full beard back then too,” Hauser said. “They didn’t card me. I was playing with the band. I didn’t cause any trouble or anything. Those are actually some of my best memories was coming home from college and playing with the Blues Central house band. That was kind of my first taste of learning how to play behind a singer and learn how to try and mimic a vocal run they might do.”

The Anchorage-based saxophonist discovered a love for the instrument in elementary school. Soon after graduating college, he got a gig as a member of the Platinum Soul Band with the Universoul Circus — a traveling circus that combines music, theater and circus acts. It was the biggest job he’d ever gotten. But Hauser doubted whether he would be as good as the other more experienced musicians, and the experience scared him off. Not soon after, he moved to New York City.

After putting his horn down for over a decade, Hauser needed an outlet and found a community in New York, performing in niche R&B venues in The Village.

“(Before) I was always afraid of being judged for not being good enough,” Hauser said. “Then I realized I didn’t care what people thought as much as I needed that outlet. It felt like more of an actual need to stay sane than it was about just enjoyment.”

The problem of living somewhere so fast-paced is that you aren’t afforded the luxury of figuring things out, Hauser says. He established a network in New York but needed to find a place to slow down. In 2015, he moved back to his home state.

“Everyone wants you ready-made out there,” Hauser said. “In fact, they want you ready-made in most places. This place is much more forgiving, for a whole bunch of other reasons. But those reasons aren’t important … there haven’t been any places that have treated me as well as my hometown. I really couldn’t think of a better place to come back and figure things out and reboot, rebrand.”

Hauser is currently working with Maple Struggle, an artist and producer from the United Kingdom, to produce his EP album, which will feature an assortment of instrumentalized covers. In the meantime, Hauser is performing at of establishments in town, including most recently the Whale’s Tail, Tequila 61 and Matanuska Brewing Company (a full schedule can be found at killbillsax.com).

You can listen to KillBill Sax live Saturday, Sept. 28 and Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. at The Whale’s Tail.

‘Umiak,’ ‘quesa-deer-a’ and fresh oysters: How Alaskans put their own spin on state fair food

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This article was originally written for the Anchorage Daily News.


State fairs are typically known for the powder-sugared, fried classics like elephant ears, corn dogs and cheese curds. The Alaska State Fair has all those too, but there are also more than a handful of vendors selling items with an Alaska twist. Here’s what a few of them had to say during the first weekend of the fair in Palmer.

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Grilled halibut on rice at Fish On! Camp Grill at the Alaska State Fair, Aug. 25, 2019 (Photo by Samantha Davenport)

Fish On! Camp Grill

It’s the sixth year Buffy Meyer has been operating the Fish On! Camp Grill at The Gathering Place.

Meyer, who is half Inupiaq, heard about the fair’s interest in opening a salmon bake booth at The Gathering Space several years back.

“I’m a fur designer (and) a sewer — so I was part of The Gathering Place before it was created here; (its previous location) was over by the Red Gate out of tents,” said Meyer.

Meyer and her sister, Esther Hershman, submitted a proposal. To their surprise, it was accepted. Meyer’s husband designed and built the current space, just off the Yellow Trail.

“We love cooking — we do all of the salmon, halibut, king crab — we do that all for ourselves subsistence-wise, so we knew how to cook it,” Meyer said.

Fish On!’s menu items include Alaska Native-inspired dishes like grilled halibut, salmon sliders, fry bread and reindeer stew. One dish called “umiak” (an Inupiaq boat) consists of jalapenos stuffed with a three-cheese blend, wrapped in a salmon fillet and wrapped with bacon. Meyer says the seafood comes from Norton Sound Seafood Products and Kwik’Pak Fisheries.

When they started out at the salmon bake, Meyer says, service was a bit slower but customers didn’t seem to mind.

“They had this cultural-rich area to watch, this stage, the performances, so it’s almost like they are able to sit here, be entertained and wait for their number to be called,” said Meyer.

Crab bisque and fries are are served from the Crab Shack at the Alaska State Fair on August 28, 2018. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Crab bisque and fries are served from the Crab Shack at the Alaska State Fair on August 28, 2018. (Marc Lester / ADN)

The Crab Shack

It all started when Katy Smith’s husband, Cade, had an idea to sell crab cakes at the Alaska State Fair. They made 500 crab cakes that year, which they thought was more than enough.

“They sold them out in the first three hours of the beginning day of the fair, and it’s just grown ever since,” Katy Smith said.

Over the last 20 years, The Crab Shack has turned into a staple of Alaska fair cuisine — from bacon-wrapped scallops to king crab bisque and their coconut crab cakes.

Smith said it’s important that their menu is filled with food sourced from within the state. Last year, the Smiths added french fries made from Vanderweele Farms’ Yukon Gold potatoes.

Cade is the owner of FishEx, a Alaska seafood company. “All of (my husband’s) seafood products, we try to bring out of Alaskan waters because this is us, this is Alaska,” said Katy.

“Nobody wants to eat seafood from somewhere else at the state fair.”

You can find The Crab Shack on the Purple Trail next to Hula Hoop Cookies.

Bushes Bunches

For over 30 years, Bushes Bunches has made its presence at the state fair known with brightly colored beets, an abundance of squash and crunchy carrots from the Palmer farm.

Kristi Short of Bushes Bunches says this is her third year helping out at the state fair. She and her boyfriend, Christopher Young, began helping Bruce Bush a few years ago.

Bushes Bunches was founded in 1956. In a state where the majority of food is shipped in, Short says she believes it’s important to support food supplies that are produced locally.

“It’s very important for the livelihood — not just for the farm itself but our community,” said Short.

Bushes Bunches Produce Booth is outside the Craig Taylor Equipment Farm Exhibits. In addition to fresh produce, they sell Alaska Grown beef stew and Bushes peanut potato — a cross between a Yukon Gold and fingerling potato, served with a smoky bacon dip.

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Salmon quesadillas on the grill at Salmon Express at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, Aug. 25, 2019 (Photo by Samantha Davenport)

Salmon Express

Garrett Burtner, a retired commercial fisherman from Bristol Bay, says he and his wife, Judy, and their four sons have grown Salmon Express together since its debut at the fair 21 years ago.

“You get hooked on this — being a carny,” said Burtner. “It’s a family operation. I have my youngest son and his wife who are moving into the business and we’re moving out as we age.”

Burtner serves quesadillas filled with fresh grilled Alaska salmon, salsa, mozzarella cheese and guacamole. If seafood isn’t your style, try the “quesa-deer-a,” a reindeer sausage quesadilla with the fixings. Salmon Express is on the Red Trail.

Prince William Sound oysters from the Pristine Products oyster stand at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, August 2018. (Photo by Mara Severin)

Prince William Sound oysters from the Pristine Products oyster stand at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, August 2018. (Photo by Mara Severin)

More Alaska-style fair foods:

There are plenty more Alaska-centric delicacies to put on your fair food wish list.

The Red Beet features an assortment of sandwiches and sides with local meats and organic vegetables — sausage, pork, onion, tomatoes, potatoes, red cabbage, kale and more. They are just off the “beeten” path on the Red Trail. Farther along, Mr. Gyro serves their Alaska-grown potato wedges, and Pristine Products sells oysters fresh from Prince William Sound because it wouldn’t be a trip to the fair without a stop for shucking — would it?

Indian Valley Meats has a stand with spicy reindeer Polish dogs, buffalo bratwurst and caribou steak sandwiches. If you’ve got a hankering for halibut, delicious seafood pitas and deep-fried fish await at Seafood Alaska in log cabin No. 3, adjacent to the carnival rides. Yukon Concessions is also a good stop to get your fried halibut fix.

Just down the way at log cabin No. 5 is Lionel’s Seafood, where fairgoers can dig into seafood gumbo, chowder, clams and shrimp. At log cabin No. 6, the Patty Wagon serves Alaska-grown garden fries.

At the iconic Talkeetna Spinach Bread Airstream food truck on the Purple Trail, attendees can enjoy a blueberry-rhubarb crisp made from local fruits and veggies. Russian Eats, a new vendor this year, speaks to Alaska’s unique connection to Russian culture and cuisine with homemade piroshki and borscht.

Other vendors with Alaska-grown products, according to the Alaska State Fair website, are Friar Tucks, Red Bird Kitchen, Reuben Haus and Vagabond Blues.

Got a hot tip for an Alaska-style fair dish that we missed? Email dining@adn.com. The Alaska State Fair continues through Sept. 2 in Palmer. You can find a complete food guide at alaskastatefair.org.

Daredevils, funnel cake, bonsai: Scenes from the Alaska State Fair

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Grace Bacher

This article was originally written for the Anchorage Daily News.


Every August, hundreds of thousands of Alaskans make the trek to the state fair in Palmer to chow down, conquer rides and enjoy the last days of summer. Here’s what some of them had to say Sunday during the first weekend of the fair.

Amy and Erica Klementson

Amy and Erica Klementson prepare to be catapulted 50 feet into the air on the slingshot carnival ride at the Alaska State Fair, Aug. 25, 2019 (Photo by Samantha Davenport)

Erica and Amy Klementson

The anticipation while you’re waiting in line for the fair’s slingshot ride can be almost as nerve-wracking as being catapulted into the air. While the ride shook and rattled and passengers screamed their lungs out, Amy and Erica Klementson waited. Amy kept her composure. Meanwhile, it seemed, Erica’s nerves were building. Their turn finally came; the ride operator pushed the button and shot the women 50 feet in the air, and their screams echoed across the rowdy fairground.

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Tom Robertson’s booth Alaska Chainsaw Carvings is where Robertson crafts furniture and decor at the Alaska State Fair, Aug. 25, 2019. (Photo by Samantha Davenport)

Tom Robertson

While fairgoers filtered in and out of the Green Gate entrance, Tom Robertson was busy carving. His booth, Alaska Chainsaw Carvings — where he crafts furniture and decor — is right next to the slingshot.

Working on a bear sculpture, Robertson said he’s ridden the slingshot more times than he can count as a plus-one for fairgoers who couldn’t find a buddy daring enough to go with them.


Russell Summerville flies through the air at the King BMX Stunt Show at the Alaska State Fair Aug. 25, 2019 (Photo by Samantha Davenport)

Russell Summerville

From the slingshot to the King BMX Stunt Show, the Green Gate entrance never fails to intrigue daredevils and spectators alike. Russell Summerville flew through the air at the King BMX Stunt Show Sunday. King BMX riders have competed in the X Games and Gravity Games; in 2012, they competed on “America’s Got Talent’s” seventh season.

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Maria and Gabby Jones have a sundae funnel cake at the Alaska State Fair Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019 (Photo by Samantha Davenport)

Maria and Gabby Jones

Maria Jones and her daughter Gabby, 5, took a break amid the rush of the Sunday fair crowd to enjoy a sundae funnel cake outside of the Eworx Don Sheldon Events Center. They weren’t the only spectators that had their faces painted — butterflies, kittens and skeletons of every age strolled by.

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Tim Pack trims a nanking flowering cherry tree at the Cook Inlet Bonsai Study Group display at the Alaska State Fair Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019 (Photo by Samantha Davenport)

Tim Pack

Amid the hustle and bustle of farm animals and fairgoers, time slows down at the Cook Inlet Bonsai Study Group display, where Tim Pack, a club member, trimmed a Nanking flowering cherry tree Sunday. Members have been displaying their trees for more than 20 years at the Alaska State Fair.

The bonsai room is tucked away near the beekeeping area in the Craig Taylor Equipment Farm Exhibits. When fair time is over, the organization goes on digs to find material, either in the wilderness or on members’ properties around the state.

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Casey Mellott participates in a blanket toss at the Alaska State Fair Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019 (Photo by Samantha Davenport)

Casey Mellott

In the middle of a rawhide blanket surrounded by dozens of participants, Casey Mellott was launched into the air at the World Eskimo Indian Olympics Blanket Toss. The blanket toss took place at The Gathering Place — an area dedicated to celebrating Alaska Native tradition that was first added to the fairgrounds in 2014, then expanded. Unalakleet’s “Eskimo Ninja” Nick Hanson — who competed on the TV show “American Ninja Warrior” in 2017 — led the event, as well as a “ninja warrior pro camp” where children and adults could attempt obstacles from the NBC hit.

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Alyssa London, the first Tlingit woman to represent Alaska at the Miss USA Pageant in 2017, spoke at the Dena’ People’s Stage at the Alaska State Fair Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019 (Photo by Samantha Davenport)

Alyssa London

Alyssa London was the first Tlingit Miss Alaska at the Miss USA Pageant in 2017. She made headlines for her evening gown — a Tlingit robe with a design of a killer whale that represented London’s heritage. When taken off her shoulders, the robe transformed into an evening gown adorned with Swarovski crystals. London didn’t win the pageant, though she did make it into the top 10. London spoke at the Dena’ People’s Stage Sunday about her experiences in a national competition; although daunting, it made her proud to represent her heritage. London didn’t wear the dress at the fair; she wore a robe from artist Doe Stahr of Deer Creek Studio.

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Trent McFarland entertains attendees at the Alaska Tough Enough to Wear Pink Ram Rodeo at the Alaska State Fair Sunday, Aug. 27, 2019 (Photo by Samantha Davenport)

Trent McFarland

Across the Yellow Trail from The Gathering Place is the BP Grandstand, where the rafters were full of lively and rambunctious rodeo-goers, eager to cheer on their favorite cowboys and cowgirls at the Alaska Tough Enough to Wear Pink Ram Rodeo. Between barrel racing, team roping and bull riding, Trent McFarland kept attendees entertained by lassoing, dancing and stealing their phones and taking selfies. On Sept. 13 and 14 at the Sullivan Arena, Rodeo Alaska will be having a tribute event for first responders, where all proceeds will be donated to fire victims in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

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Grace Bacher, 7, tries not to have too much fun while on the carousel at the Alaska State Fair Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019 (Photo by Samantha Davenport)

Grace Bacher

Grace Bacher, 7, tries not to have too much fun while on the carousel at the Alaska State Fair Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019 (Photo by Samantha Davenport).

The Alaska State Fair continues through Sept. 2 in Palmer. For a complete daily schedule, see alaskastatefair.org.

Alaska’s Trumpian Governor Just Threatened the Health of the Entire State

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Photo by Staff Sgt. Edward Eagerton/Wikimedia Commons.

This article was originally written for Vice.

Alaska is the largest state in the union, bigger than Texas, California and Montana combined. And it’s in trouble: The state has been grappling with a budget crisis triggered by a drop in oil prices four years ago, leading to a decrease in population, a recession, and Alaskan politicians dipping into the state’s savings. The governor, a right-wing ideologue who dismisses climate change, is further jeopardizing the state’s economy by attempting to deliver on his promise of giving every Alaskan a bigger annual check in the mail.

Michael Dunleavy won the governor’s seat in November by promising a restoration of the PFD—an annual check distributed to Alaskans from a fund based on oil revenues, which are vital to the state economy. (Some years, oil revenue has contributed to 90% of the total budget.) The fund, called the Alaska Permanent Fund, began in 1976 to provide residents with a share in the wealth of oil profits. The last governor, Bill Walker, dealt with the shortfall in oil revenues by capping PFDs in 2016, 2017 and 2018, resulting in about $3,700 less in every Alaskan’s pocket over those three years. During the campaign, Dunleavy repeatedly pledged to pay that back to Alaskans over the next three years, in addition to the annual PFD.

On Monday, he heavily marked up a budget passed by the state legislature to free up money for the PFD. But that comes at the expense of a number of social safety nets that serve some of the most isolated people in the country. The austerity-focused cuts, which Dunleavy first proposed in February, would also prompt immediate layoffs in Alaska, which employs many federal workers.

“Unlike during the oil-driven recession, all the people who will lose jobs (university employees, etc) are Alaska residents who own homes and spend money in the economy,” said Mouhcine Guettabi, a regional economist at the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

“Given the national market in academia, we will see a significant number of those affected leave the state, which will have consequences for housing prices.”

Dunleavy’s about-face is part of a larger push by other populist Republicans currently in power, as well as the Trump administration, to axe government-funded health and education programs that support low-income and isolated Americans to cut down deficits, even if they could have long-term human and financial cost. In just the past six months, the White House has announced plans to significantly curb funding for affordable housingMedicaid, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

And while none of this might be a total surprise but the fallout is shocking. Some of the items in Dunleavy’s cuts include $130 million from the University of Alaska system, $50 million from Medicaid (atop a $70 million cut already approved by the legislature and an additional $27 million in dental), and the elimination of a $30 million funding boost for K-12 schools. He has completely cut the Senior Benefits Program and the Alaska Council of the Arts. In several gubernatorial debates last year, Dunleavy said he would not cut public education spending or the court system. Yet both are included in the line items in his budget vetoes. He even slashed funds to the state ferry, which provides transportation to many of Alaska’s far-flung islands.

Medicaid, which 184,000 Alaskans rely on, was especially hit hard; adults on Medicaid will no longer receive full dental benefits, only emergency care. In a letter urging legislatures to override the veto, the Alaska Governor’s Council on Disabilities & Special Education wrote that cuts to Medicaid would be “devastating” for Alaskans with disabilities.

And the University of Alaska Fairbanks—where Dunleavy received his master’s in education—was also targeted. Guettabi said the $130 million veto to the University of Alaska budget alone would cut 1,300 jobs and return the state to a recession. “Once we account for the other cuts and their direct and indirect effects, the state will lose about 1,000 jobs for every $100 million of cuts,” he said.

This has wider implications for climate research. The university is home to the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, the primary academic research center for the Arctic in the U.S. And there could be a strong ideological influence here since Dunleavy’s opinions echo that the current administration: He dismissed the state’s Climate Action for Alaska Leadership Team, which developed solutions for a rapidly changing climate.

“The issue of global warming, in many respects, it’s still being debated as to how to deal with it, what exactly is causing it,” Dunleavy told the Anchorage Daily News. “I know there’s a lot of folks and scientists who believe that man is contributing to this. But the question is, what is Alaska’s role in this? What is Alaska doing?”

Ironically, some of Dunleavy’s supporters rely on the funding he hopes to slash. The Kenai Peninsula Borough, which is home to nearly 60,000 people, could lose about 18% of its annual revenue thanks to the governor’s bill proposal to repeal oil and gas property taxes. The Peninsula voted strongly in favor of Dunleavy, by almost 70%.

These cuts were part of Dunleavy’s February budget proposal, which was catastrophically unpopular: In community meetings, residents were against it nearly five to one. Even though Dunleavy’s fellow Republicans controlled both the state house and senate, Alaska lawmakers approved a budget that reinstated many of the funds and programs that the governor had wanted to cut, and it did not fund a full PFD.

Apparently undaunted, Dunleavy hit the road in March to push his “Statewide Discussion for a Permanent Fiscal Plan,” a campaign promoting his budget cuts, organized and paid for by Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group funded by the Koch Brothers. Residents grew increasingly frustrated about the governor’s roadshow, claiming that reservations were required and participants must comply with AFP’s conditions to attend, including a ban on recordings. After making the cuts, Dunleavy posted a video to Twitter explaining them,, saying, “These vetoes should not come as a surprise to Alaskans as they have been part of our proposal since February.”

Alaskans are putting up a fight; hundreds have protested on the Capitol steps in Juneau, and Alaskan band Portugal. The Man is hosting a rally against the governor’s vetoes Tuesday.

“The fundamental question is now squarely before Alaskans,” Bryce Edgmon, Speaker of the House, wrote in a statement. “What’s more important: a healthy economy, our schools, university, and seniors, or doubling the Permanent Fund Dividend at the expense of essential state services? The governor has made his choice clear.”

Anchorage singer-songwriter embarks on tour after winning NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest

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Musician Quinn Christopherson, photographed in Anchorage on April 30, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Musician Quinn Christopherson, photographed in Anchorage on April 30, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN)

This article was originally written for the Anchorage Daily News.


The last few weeks have been a whirlwind for Quinn Christopherson and Nick Carpenter.

After they were crowned NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest winners last month, the Anchorage duo was flown to Washington, D.C., to play their set at NPR headquarters. On Monday, they’ll head out on tour with NPR Music until the end of June.

“I’m just so excited to get on the road and play music for people that want to hear it,” Christopherson said in an interview Thursday. “I can’t even believe this opportunity. It’s a dream come true.”

Christopherson’s Tiny Desk Concert featured three songs: “You Told Me,” “Glenn” and his original submission for the contest, “Erase Me.” While it wasn’t included in NPR’s video due to copyright reasons, he also sang for the crowd his favorite song, “Harden my Heart” by Quarterflash.

“What was most striking about their performance was their unfettered confidence. Watching them play together and hearing their songs, with their interweaving guitar lines and vocal harmonies, feels like seeing two brothers performing old favorites. The concert was fun and, at moments, reverent,” Bob Boilen, creator and host of NPR’s “All Songs Considered,” wrote in a post about their concert.

Christopherson said the room was jampacked with NPR employees, eager to hear what they had to play.

“We start playing and it’s just silent,” said Christopherson, who is Athabascan and transgender. “It was a really, really nice crowd, a crowd that was really there to hear what we had to play.”

Carpenter — who heads his own band, Medium Build — accompanied Christopherson in his Tiny Desk video submission. He was surprised at how unassuming the Tiny Desk “stage” was; it was more like a dolled-up corner of NPR’s newsroom. He even made his own contribution to the iconic bookshelf: an Aces hockey puck, which sits in the lap of a teddy bear.

“It felt like playing at Uncle Leroy’s (Coffee in Anchorage),” Carpenter said. “It was like, ‘Cool, yup, people are here, right on, let’s do it.’ ”

Christopherson says having a familiar face beside him on stage made him more comfortable for his performance.

“It was really special knowing that Nick has been with me since the start and supported me from the start,” Christopherson said. “I couldn’t picture myself there with anyone else.”

In addition to his Tiny Desk offer, Christopherson was the recent recipient of a Rasmuson Individual Artist Award, which he will use to buy instruments and equipment that he hasn’t been able to afford since he started performing.

After performing “You Told Me” at NPR, Christopherson looked at Boilen and said, “I don’t know if you know this, but when you called me and you told me, ‘You won,’ I got off the phone and I thought, ‘Dang, I should buy a guitar.’ Legit did not have one.”

The second song in Christopherson’s set, “Glenn,” is a tribute to his father and a homage to his life in Anchorage.

“Me and my dad, we’re two peas in a pod / And I look just like him, too,” he sings. “Driving through Spenard to the bowling alley / he got me my own ball and matching shoes / I was a real bad sport, I never like to lose / But he kept showing up and teaching me the rules.”

Christopherson is as much of a storyteller as he is a singer. Between songs, he sprinkled in anecdotes about his life and family back home.

“My dad wanted to come but I told him he better stay back because I know he would just show up in all the Seahawks gear,” Christopherson said during the concert. “He’s got, like, the hat, a matching jacket, and if it’s cold he’s wearing gloves, too. But he says he doesn’t buy any of it, it’s all gifts. Anyway, that’s Glenn.”

During their tour, Christopherson and Carpenter will play in Seattle, Los Angeles, Austin and New York.

“We’re going to encounter the first wave of Quinn fans,” Carpenter said. “This is a really cool era right now where we get to see what the initial group of people that align themselves and feel seen by Quinn look like and what they talk like and who they are. I’m stoked.”

Christopherson’s music is available on Spotify, iTunes and YouTube.

Anchorage singer-songwriter wins NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest

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Musician Quinn Christopherson, photographed in Anchorage on April 30, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Musician Quinn Christopherson, photographed in Anchorage on April 30, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN)

This story was originally written for the Anchorage Daily News.


Quinn Christopherson, a singer-songwriter in Anchorage who is Athabascan and transgender, has won NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest — a nationwide competition that invites musicians to submit a video of one of their songs.

“Quinn’s entry astounded our judge panel from start to finish. His powerful song ‘Erase Me’ is a nuanced take on his experience as a transgender man coming to terms with the power of his voice. Standing in front of a majestic painting of Mt. Denali, Quinn and his bandmate, Nick Carpenter, created their own work of art,” wrote Bob Boilen, host of “All Songs Considered,” in an announcement posted Wednesday morning.

The 26-year-old’s song was selected from a field of 6,000 contest entries. As the winner, Christopherson will be featured in a Tiny Desk Concert at NPR Music and will tour the U.S. with NPR and Blue Microphones.

In “Erase Me,” Christopherson tells his own story: “I used to have long hair / I used to smile when I walked / I used to be someone I hated / I used to cry a lot.”

Christopherson began his transition in 2017. For years, he said, he didn’t sound the way he wanted to, and for the longest time, he wasn’t sure why. After he came into his new voice, his music started to match the artist he wanted to be.

“I didn’t like myself before. I didn’t expect for music to evolve like that … music has changed for me in the most positive way,” said Christopherson.

“I would say this last year and a half I’ve finally started making music and sounding the way I think is OK, and I like it,” said Christopherson. “This is all new for me; it’s been a long time coming.”

In “Erase Me,” Christopherson sings about becoming a “passing” transgender man, a privilege he never had before.

“Nobody interrupts me / nobody second-guesses my opinions / and nobody tells me that I can’t do it / I got so used to pulling the short stick,” he sings.

“Erase Me” was shot in the Anchorage Museum by Dmitry Surnin and directed by Emma Sheffer. Wearing a baby blue polyester suit, Christopherson is joined by Carpenter, of the Anchorage band Medium Build.

Christopherson credits Carpenter for pushing him to do more.

“My music wouldn’t be where it is today if it wasn’t for him,” said Christopherson.

In the video, Carpenter and Christopherson perform in front of the famous, massive Sydney Laurence painting “Mount McKinley” — made in 1929 and measuring more than 7 feet by 13 feet.

“Honestly, I kind of wanted to reclaim that, this white person painting Denali,” said Christopherson. “I am indigenous, so it’s important for me to be visible and take things back sometimes. Sometimes, you gotta do that.”

This isn’t Christopherson’s first time submitting to Tiny Desk — NPR featured him on “All Songs Considered” last year for his song “Mary Alee,” a tribute to his late grandmother. The music video was filmed in the middle of winter by Sheffer — Christopherson’s partner — on the ice at Westchester Lagoon in Anchorage. In it, Christopherson sings and plays guitar while sitting on a burnt-orange recliner chair he and Sheffer found at a thrift shop.

“I submitted to Tiny Desk last year, and that was kind of right when I was stepping into who I am, but I was still a folk singer, right? It’s so bizarre — but it’s not a bad thing,” said Christopherson. “For me, it wasn’t working.”

When Christopherson sings “Erase Me” for a crowd, he says, he’s representing a community that isn’t in front of a microphone very often. He says representation of indigenous people in pop culture is bleak, so he makes himself visible. Often, he performs in his kuspuk.

He said that telling stories through his music is the only way he knows how.

“All of my grandparents and great-grandparents and ancestors, they’re all storytellers,” Christopherson said.

“Growing up, telling stories, listening to stories, that is such a big part in our culture — so when you listen to my music, all I do is tell stories. That’s not on purpose; that’s all I know. I have come to terms with any time (that) I get in front of a crowd, you’re going to learn a little bit, and that’s OK.”

Christopherson’s music is available on Spotify, iTunes and YouTube.

A little electro-pop, a little outlaw country: Jared & the Mill is back in Alaska

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Arts and culture

This article was originally written for the Anchorage Daily News.

Jared Kolesar is no stranger to being on the road.

He and his bandmates of Jared & the Mill — an indie-rock band with southwest roots — have been playing together for seven years on tour anywhere between seven to nine months out of any given year.

Kolesar says his bandmates — Michael Carter, Larry Gast III, Chuck Morriss III and Josh Morin — have been his constant while on the road. They met while attending Arizona State University and always keep one another in good spirits.

The band, who was in Alaska to perform at Williwaw in 2016 at Humpy’s 22nd anniversary weekend, is currently two months into their tour for their most recent album, “This Story is No Longer Available,” which debuted in February.

A child of the 90s, Kolesar says he “grew up on everything” — from punk and hip hop to classic rock and metal. Last month, Jared & the Mill released a cover of Billie Eilish’s song, “When the Party’s Over,” which was featured in a story by Billboard, and has previously covered tracks like Lorde’s “Royals,” but their style varies far from electro-pop.

“A common thread between me and all the guys — being from Arizona, we spent a lot of time growing up listening to Western music and outlaw country,” said Kolesar. “That’s kind of why I think we play in that direction.”

While the album is a hefty 16 tracks, nine of the songs were released over 2018 and into early 2019, like “Soul in Mind” and “Dark Highways.” The LP features three skits, including “Monica Voicemail” and “Jared & the Mill Sucks,” which Kolesar says keep the album light.

“I think this is the record that we’re definitely most proud of up to date,” said Kolesar. “This is the first time we’ve released something and feel 100 percent confident about what we are putting out there, and it’s a really good feeling.”

The first two months of the tour have been spent in the south and up the East Coast; Kolesar is eager to spend the second half in a more familiar region.

“We are seeing our fan bases grow all over the place, it’s been really, really special,” said Kolesar.

You can see Jared & the Mill live at Alice’s Champagne Palace in Homer on May 4 at 8 p.m. and at Williwaw the following night at 8 p.m. Tickets can be purchased here.

Inuit actress plays lead role in ‘Twilight Zone’ episode set in Alaska

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(Photo by Robert Falconer/CBS)

This article was originally written for the Anchorage Daily News.


Trouble is brewing in the fictional town of Iglaak, Alaska: It has entered “The Twilight Zone.”

The 2019 CBS All Access series is the third revival of the original 1959 series. This time it’s narrated by actor and filmmaker Jordan Peele.

Canadian actress Marika Sila plays Sgt. Yuka Mongoyak in the series’ fourth episode, “A Traveler,” which is set in a town above the Arctic Circle (though it was filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia). Like her character, Sila is Inuit. Her tribe is from Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, which lies on the coast of Beaufort Sea. Sila says that hundreds of years ago, her tribe branched off from the Thule tribe in Alaska.

Sila says she’s honored to be part of such an iconic series playing an indigenous woman.

“I didn’t really connect with any Native actresses when I was younger,” said Sila. “I think if I was young and I saw indigenous actresses, I would have related to them more and believed in myself more — but it’s taken until now for everything to really happen.”

In the episode, Mongoyak is a cop who has to deal with an unexpected visitor at the police station, played by Steven Yeun. Mongoyak’s boss — portrayed by Greg Kinnear — invites the traveler to the annual holiday party, and then things get weird.

After reading the storyline, Sila says she fell in love with her character but had no idea the story was part of “The Twilight Zone” series until she booked the role.

“It was very empowering to play Sgt. Yuka Mongoyak,” said Sila. “Just her as a character — she’s really strong and confident and she has everything together — or she feels she does at least. Playing a strong role like that has really given me a sense of empowerment in my own life.”

Sila says she feels the responsibility to make her family and people proud.

“My mom grew up on ‘The Twilight Zone,’ and my dad and my uncles,” said Sila. “When they heard, they were so excited. … I think it’s a good beginning for indigenous actresses and indigenous artists in general.”

“A Traveler” was written by Glen Morgan from “The X-Files” and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour from “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night.”

The episode will be available on streaming service CBS All Access on Thursday, April 18.

Here are some up-and-coming art galleries to check out in downtown Anchorage

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Arts and culture

This article was originally written for the Anchorage Daily News.

The sun is still shining at 8 p.m. and the ice is almost entirely melted off the sidewalks. That means Anchorage is entering into the best time of year to walk around downtown and check out the First Friday art openings.

There are plenty of places downtown April 5 that First Friday-goers are familiar with — the International Gallery of Contemporary Art and the Anchorage Museum, to name a couple. But this year a few newer galleries have sprung up in unexpected places.

Akela Space

320 W. Sixth Ave. Ste. 132F

Jovell Rennie was facing a consistent problem when showing his photography for First Friday events. A lot of the venues downtown hosting First Fridays are coffee shops and restaurants — businesses where the art is secondary.

“I’m thankful that the businesses would even consider opening their doors to creatives, but there weren’t a lot of spaces in town that were dedicated to the consumption of art,” said Rennie.

That’s why Rennie — alongside Oscar Avellaneda-Cruz, Willie Dalton and Mikey Huff — opened Akela Space last spring.

The space is tucked away on Sixth Avenue across the street from the Nordstrom. It’s an open room with large, floor-to-ceiling windows. One wall of the gallery is covered by a highly detailed mural by local artist Ted Kim, who completed the piece in one eight-hour sitting.

Rennie says each event at Akela Space is different from the last. In addition to art openings, they’ve hosted wrestling in sumo suits and musical performances.

“It is a labor of love,” said Rennie. “We don’t pay ourselves from Akela, we just put the money right back into the space.”

Rennie says they try to have multiple events a month, including artist lectures and refreshers — Akela’s way of bringing people back in to view the art. Rennie says Akela Space is their way of giving back, not only to the community but to the artists, too

This Friday, Akela Space will be hosting “Embarrassingly Bad Photos of Really Great People” from 6-10 p.m. For more information visit Akela Collective on Facebook (320 W. Sixth Ave. Ste. 132F)


419 G St. Ste. 200

Simonetta Mignano had an idea buzzing in her brain; she wanted to start an indie bookstore.

“I can’t think of something that I love more than books,” said Mignano. “I spent the last decade dwelling into this field, and I just love it everyday more.”

When she started looking for a location, she found the space in a building on G Street dating back to the 1930 or ‘40s that she fell in love with, complete with hardwood floors and original wallpaper. She says the idea for a gallery came with the space.

Mignano is originally from Italy and has a background in art publishing. She recognized that there was a direct connection with people in the community and Alaska-inspired art.

“I thought it would be interesting to bridge some sort of connection and inspiration between artists and art from here and artists and art not from here,” said Mignano.

Today, Bivy is an art gallery that doubles as a small bookstore, with shows changing every two months. She operates the space with her husband, Matt.

“I see Bivy as a project that doesn’t have a deadline or an expiration date,” said Mignano. “I’m not tired, my husband is not tired. I think one big thing that I would like is to collaborate on a programmatic level with people from here.”

Works of Michael Conti, John Coyne, Stephen Cysewski, Philippe Fragniere, Rebecka Tollens and Emma Sheffer are featured in “Snow Day,” which is on display at Bivy from 5-9 p.m. (419 G St. Ste. 200)

Tiny Gallery

706 W. Fourth Ave.

What once housed a floral shop and Katie Sevigny’s art studio on Fourth Avenue is reopening as Tiny Gallery, a space highlighting Alaska-made products.

Glass artist Laurette Rose of Cold Rose Creations is launching the Tiny Gallery. She says that every piece at the gallery is certified Made in Alaska.

Despite the name, Tiny Gallery is not puny — it’s around 700 square feet. Rose says there is a storage area as well as a workspace. She plans to teach small workshops in the fall and make the gallery available for other artists to teach classes, too.

“A lot of people are like, ‘I don’t really think it’s that tiny,’ but the front of it is a lot more condensed,” said Rose. “There is a functional amount of space, but I just like the name Tiny Gallery.”

Rose says she hopes the warmer weather will bring people out to the opening.

“It’s light outside, it’s warm, so I think it’s a great opportunity for people to get downtown and do the first Friday thing,” said Rose.

The gallery’s grand opening is on Friday from 4-8 p.m. (706 W. Fourth Ave.)