Last summer, I was perusing one of Fairbanks’ many antique shops. With a handful of eclectic treasures, I approached the checkout counter. The cash register was malfunctioning, which meant the cashier and I had to prolong our pleasantries beyond the usual, “Did you find everything okay?” and “Warm today, isn’t it?”
“Did you lock your car?” the woman asked, punching buttons on the register.
I asked her why.
“This time of year (early August) you have to be really diligent about locking your car,” she said. “If you don’t people will sneak zucchini onto your front seat.”
It was a Mayberry moment. I realized I lived in a town where, at least for some people, an abandoned zucchini in the front seat of the Subaru was the worst thing to happen in a day. Still, her warning wasn’t without some merit. By the end of summer, I am in the majority of people who are sick to death of zucchini bread. No matter how conservative our farmers and gardeners are during planting season, every year there is invariably too much zucchini.
When it comes to growing conditions, life doesn’t get much better than Interior Alaska if you’re a zucchini. The prolific squash thrives in sunny, 70-degree weather, and a single plant can produce 6-10 pounds of fruit. According to the Interior Grown Agriculture Directory, available online at growfairbanks.com, there are at least 10 farms growing zucchini this season, and likely many more gardens. Which means you, lovers of fresh, locally grown produce, have one of two choices: consume a bakery’s worth of zucchini bread or learn new ways to prepare this versatile summer staple.
If aiming for the latter there are plenty of ways to find new recipes: cookbooks (yes, they still exist), Google searches, a call home to Mom (she wants to hear from you). However, it’s been my experience if you want a unique recipe, you do best to talk to a chef or a farmer. I’m sure your speed dial is teeming with chefs and farmers just waiting by the phone to hear from you. But on the off chance that’s not the case, July is full of opportunities for you to pick the brains of Fairbanks’ ultimate foodies.
A farmers market is a relaxed setting that allows you to meet with the growers — and chefs, if you time your visit right. Coming back for a sixth season, Chef at the Market kicks off in July and runs through September. On select Wednesdays at the Tanana Valley Farmers Market, local chefs will teach you how to cook with some of their favorite Golden Heart Grown vegetables. For example, the Lemongrass team will take that abandoned, front-seat zucchini from tired to Thai on July 26.
The Annual Tour of Farms is another event at which you can mingle with Fairbanks growers. For five years, Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation has highlighted area farms to introduce the general public to the agriculture community with this fun, family-friendly event. Those who participate on the tour come away with a deeper understanding of our local food system and the special brand of persistence and ingenuity required to farm in Alaska. Tourgoers also receive practical information, such as where to sign up for Community Supported Agriculture shares and where to buy local produce outside of the farmers market. The tour, running from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on July 23, is self-guided and completely free. All participants who turn in their farm passports will be eligible to win door prizes from the farms, and the more farms you visit, the more times you’re entered to win. More information about all of FEDC’s agriculture-related projects and events can be found at growfairbanks.com.
Hopefully you take advantage of these events, because the real crisis facing Fairbanks is not our abundant zucchini. Rather, it’s our lack of locally produced food. Only 4 percent of the food Alaskans consume is produced in Alaska. Chef at the Market and the Tour of Farms are reminders, though, that a partial solution to our state’s shortage of local food is planted every spring and harvested every summer. The more we buy from local farmers, the more resources those farmers have to expand their operations and in turn grow more food for Fairbanks. Be part of the solution and buy from the farmers and markets when you can. Enjoy the day spent outside touring the farms on July 23. And whatever you do, please remember to lock your cars.
Samantha Reynolds, a graduate of Loras College, is a project manager for Fairbanks Economic Development Corp.