Pickled veggies. Photo courtesy Foundroot.
Leah Wagner and Nick Schlosstein are a husband and wife team who run Foundroot, an online business selling seeds proven for Alaskan growing conditions that are open-pollinated, which allows for home gardeners to save their own seeds. Foundroot sources most of its seeds from farms and other ethical companies in the U.S., and in 2017 they started a small farm in Haines where they grow seeds and produce for the local market. Foundroot has sent more than 16,000 seed packets to over 65 Alaskan communities and throughout the Lower 48.
What does Foundroot mean?
Leah: We were playing with a bunch of different ideas for the name when we started. Ultimately, we felt like we found the root of the food security problem, and also the root of the solution. In breeding those seeds we found the ability to really do something beyond meeting basic food security needs. We talk a lot about the idea of food sovereignty.
Could you expand on the idea of food sovereignty? What is it and why is that important?
Leah: We focus on the idea of a closed-loop system. Growing from seeds, producing food, saving that seed, and creating this circle of production that allows for a deeper level of self-reliance. The more diversity there is in our seed supply and the more widely distributed the seeds are, the more resilient of a food system we have. We’re trying to develop a model of intensive market gardening in conjunction with open-pollinated seeds, and this could potentially be a blueprint for regenerative, closed-loop agricultural systems throughout Alaska and other remote regions of the world.
Why is food independence, security, and diversification important in a place like Alaska?
Nick: Especially where we live, everything comes on a barge, which could be easily delayed. We live pretty far away from the rest of the country and at this point there’s very little of our commercially bought food produced in state. The movement to food sovereignty improves our food, creates local jobs, and just provides that sense of security if the supply line were delayed or cut in some way.
What do you hope the results are in five or 10 years? What do you hope the food community looks like in Alaska?
Nick: We’re beating the nation in the rate of new farmers starting up. That’s a great trend and we want to keep encouraging that and encouraging more people to think of gardening as a legitimate way to add to their food intake, rather than just a hobby. We want to keep coming up with more resources to help people succeed.
Leah: A big part of what we’re trying to do is just encourage food production on any scale. Even a windowsill herb garden is a legitimate part of food production.
In the subsistence garden that you grow and eat from are there any specific foods that are your favorite?
Leah: Blackcurrants. We’ve been trialing a lot of berries in the hopes of getting more of those out to people as well. I bought eight different varieties of cultivated blueberries, which are not commonly grown in Alaska. We’ve been working with eight varieties of strawberries as well. A lot of our experiments end up in our subsistence garden now. So, we’re doing a lot of trials and seeing what seeds to add to the catalogue. New varieties that are maybe pushing the envelope a little bit that we haven’t necessarily grown before.
That sounds like a win-win. You get to experiment, grow the business, and eat some delicious berries.
Leah: Yeah, we’re pretty well fed!