Young activists promote food security to lawmakers in Juneau

AYEA grill

Teens with Alaska Youth for Environmental Action hosted a barbecue for legislators and staffers at the Dimond Courthouse Plaza across the street from the Capitol building on Thursday. Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO.

Teenagers from across the state were in Juneau this week, pushing lawmakers to adopt legislation that promotes local food production and provides better food security for Alaskans.

The Alaska Youth for Environmental Action also handed out the group’s annual “Legislators of the Year” awards Thursday at a barbecue across the street from the Capitol building.

On a bright, sunny day in the Capital City – perfect barbecue weather, except for the strong winds gusting down Main Street – the 20 delegates to the AYEA Civics and Conservation Summit huddled around the grill to stay warm.

As fresh Alaska king salmon sizzled nearby, 17-year-old Paige Krichbaum said there should be more food made in the state.

“We import a lot of carrots and potatoes – a lot of root-type of things – that we can make ourselves,” Krichbaum said.

Each year, AYEA focuses on four pieces of legislation for the organization’s Juneau fly-in. The delegates work in teams to research bills or resolutions, and meet with lawmakers to push the group’s legislative agenda.

Krichbaum worked on a resolution that calls for a state working group to explore ways to improve food production in Alaska.

“In the Mat-Su Valley they have a lot of rich soil and such a long day that we can plant a lot of things in there,” she said. “So, really local food should be a really big thing here.”

Krichbaum is a senior at Bartlett High School in Anchorage. She also works part-time at a bakery, and plans to enter the culinary arts program at the University of Alaska Anchorage after graduation. Local food is very important to her.

“That’s really what our thing is here this year, is to promote local food and have a local food future for Alaska,” Krichbaum said.

Three of AYEA’s legislative priorities this year deal with food issues. The fourth – House Bill 96 – would ban toxic chemicals in children’s toys sold in the state. Togiak High School junior William Kohuk promoted that legislation in meetings with lawmakers.

“I’m pretty worried about babies who are teething,” Kohuk said. “They’re, like, sucking these toxic chemicals, and like sucking them into their bodies.”

Kohuk says nearly 20 other states have passed legislation similar to HB 96.

“And why hasn’t Alaska banned these toxic chemicals? That’s a question I’m going to ask my Representative Bob Herron today,” he said.

Five lawmakers received Legislator of the Year awards from AYEA this year. The recipients include Senator Bill Wielechowski and Representatives Paul Seaton, Scott Kawasaki, Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, and Geran Tarr.

Because of a House floor session, only Senator Wielechowski was able to attend the awards presentation. It’s the second year in a row the Anchorage Democrat has been honored by the young environmentalists.

AYEA Wielechowski

Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) was honored as a Legislator of the Year by Alaska Youth for Environmental Action for the second year in a row. Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO.

“I don’t get too many awards from the big corporations,” Wielechowski said. “But I’m happy to have them from the kids who are the future of our state.”

Wielechowski was given the award for sponsoring Senate Bill 6, an effort to provide more funding to school meal programs in Alaska. It’s currently stalled, as the Republican-led Senate majority focuses on oil taxes, energy, and issues like school choice or vouchers.

But Wielechowski says it remains one of his top legislative priorities, and he thinks the teens of Alaska Youth for Environmental Action are great advocates for the bill.

“Great questions, really, really paying attention, really concerned about the future of our state, concerned about feeding kids,” Wielechowski said. “And I was very impressed. I’ve always been very impressed with them.”

This is the 13th year AYEA has held its Civics and Conservation Summit in the Capital City. The organization formed in 1998. All of its members are between 13 and 18 years old.

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