For over a century, various forms of crop cultivation, including family, community, and school gardens were a component of the foodways of many Alaska Native communities. This paper describes the history of these cropping practices in Athabascan communities of the Tanana and Yukon Flats regions of Alaska, and reveals a distinct agricultural tradition with roots that reach back as far as the late 1800s. Though American colonists, bureaucrats, and missionaries to the state saw agriculture as a mechanism for the economic development of the territory, gardening instead fulfilled a niche within local foodways that was perhaps best characterized by Karl E. Francis (1967) as “outpost agriculture,” valued not for its role as an exclusive means of subsistence, but as one of many equally important components in a flexible and diversified subsistence strategy. Nevertheless, these cropping activities are not widely considered to be either customary or traditional to Alaska Native communities, nor have they been incorporated into the historical and ethnographic literature about Alaska and about high-latitude agriculture at large. Because the use of and access to land and natural resources as practiced by Alaska Natives is heavily regulated by a state and federal legal framework based upon definitions of what is and is not “customary and traditional,” failure to recognize the long history of farming and gardening in rural Alaska has consequences for communities that are experimenting with new community gardens and other innovative responses to rapid ecological, climatic, and socioeconomic change.

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