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COVID-19 supply chain woes provide opportunities to local farmers

While crops aren’t catching COVID-19, that doesn’t mean that the business of farming hasn’t changed on Kodiak. Just ask Siene Allen and Gideon Saunders of BrightBox Farms.

“You know, there’s a demand for locally grown produce supply chains with the pandemic were interrupted, trucking was maxed out. They were moving product as fast as they could, across the country… there was a lot of interruption in supply chain, they were moving things as fast as they could,” Saunders said. “I can’t really speak to traditional farming. I’m not really connected with that. But a lot of the vendors and people within what we’ll call the vertical farming industry, have seen an absolute boon in production and demand for produce grown as close to the communities as possible, and so a huge uptick in that.”

Allen and Saunders had only just started their business when the pandemic was getting underway. Allen said that with the new challenges came new opportunities- particularly in the ways they reached customers.

“We were really fortunate in that the pandemic was a good time for us to start our business. We started growing microgreens back in May, and had those available for farmers markets and for some local restaurants. And for people to place orders online, and then come pick up at the farm,” Allen said. “It was really more about just starting off, meeting the needs of people here in Kodiak. And so for us, it’s been a lot about connecting with our local stores, we sell product to Cost Savers because it’s easy for people to get it. We were working with the co-op to sell products through them. Because they had a nice way for people to to set regular orders and pick things up and then participating in the markets. And so now moving forward, we’re going to continue to work with local retailers, have weekly pickups at the house for people who want to put in orders and also work with the catalog. So really just whatever way we can to get product in their hands.

BrightBox Farms has another trick up its sleeve however—the shrewd innovation of the most current technologies in hydroponic farming.

“That’s the exciting thing about advances in technology around LED lighting, full spectrum LED lighting, and then just efficient hydroponic systems, cleaner ingredients. When you combine all that, you know, for, for a location like Kodiak, anywhere in Alaska, and you know, northern regions, being able to run the systems year round reliably,” Saunders said. “…. it’s a perfect way to provide food sustainability to the northern regions. They’re sending their systems all over the world, but more and more are arriving in Canada and Wyoming and Minnesota and the hydroponics and the LED lighting, are incredibly efficient. We have a farm that can produce 1000 heads of lettuce a week, and only use five gallons of water a day to do that.”

Those interested in learning more about BrightBox Farms’ methods, or simply to get some of their produce on your table, can do so at