From the Archives, November 1, 2011: ‘Alaska Grown but made in Georgia’

Rebecca Lawhorne/Sun Star Reporter

From T-shirts to hats, the blue, green and yellow Alaska Grown logo is almost as common a sighting as a moose in Alaska. The logo was created in 1986, with the apparel soon following, by the Alaska Division of Agriculture as a means to raise awareness and consumption of Alaska agricultural products. More importantly, it is a seal of quality stamped onto something 100% locally grown in Alaska. More than 400 companies have passed the established standards to sport the logo.

Some would argue that the success of the apparel is due to its support and encouragement of Alaskan pride and beloved independence from the Lower 48. But some people proudly sporting hoodies and tees might be surprised to learn that their “Alaska Grown” apparel is not, in fact, Alaska grown. While some people say the business arrangement conflicts with the Alaska Grown message, those involved say it is Alaska’s independence that made this arrangement a necessity.

Jeff Bushke,63, a retired Army veteran and owner of Alaska Garments and Graphics couldn’t believe it when he discovered that much of the popular Alaska Grown apparel wasn’t printed in Alaska, but in Georgia, he said.

“I find this wrong,” said Bushke, who has been in the printing business slightly less than two years. Bushke soon contacted the Department of Agriculture, which owns the logo, as well as the Matanuska-Susitna chapter of the Alaska Farm Bureau and Alaska Future Farmers of America.

Both organizations hold licenses to manufacture and sell the apparel for promotional purposes, but the Alaska FFA is the only one that uses the printing company in Georgia. Those involved with the program at the Division of Agriculture and the FFA stated that although they understand the concern, the five-year-long business partnership has been the only way to allow the apparel to be printed and distributed on a large scale

Amy Pettit has worked in Alaska’s Division of Agriculture since 2005 and now heads Alaska Grown marketing. Printing comes down to simple economics and scale, she said.

“We are tied to do business with a low cost bidder, and often the lowest bidder is out of state,” she said. When she found out the division printed Alaska Grown products in Georgia, Pettit’s “eyebrow did go up a little,” she said.

There is no printing company in Alaska that could handle demand, Pettit said. If they distributed the load to multiple Alaska printing companies, the costs would likely inflate, resulting in less profits for the FFA and increased prices for consumers. There is no way to mandate the two organizations to have their merchandise printed within the state. “We can’t impact private business in that way,” she said.

Alaska’s Division of Agriculture had conflict with the use of the Alaska Grown logo before. In 2005, the Mat-Su chapter of the Farmer’s Bureau filed for a federal trademark on the popular logo, and had already been seeking exclusive rights from the agricultural division to use the logo on promotional clothing for a year. The state responded by suing the chapter, settling in 2008 with the Mat-Su chapter paying an undisclosed amount to the state for damages but with their license to use the logo still intact.

Those making the decisions at FFA don’t believe it conflicts with the Alaska Grown message at all. It’s about what is available in our state, said Amy Harmon, co-advisor of the Alaska FFA. They sought out an Alaskan distributor, Tweedie & Storter, that struck a deal with a large-scale printing operation in Georgia.

“There is no Alaskan company that can distribute and print, and that’s what we need,” Harmon said.

The larger companies that sell Alaska Grown merchandise, like Fred Meyer and Wal-Mart, have specific contractual obligations that cannot be met by many printing companies. “They won’t just buy shirts from anyone,” Harmon said.

Bushke isn’t the only one who believes that the Alaska Grown shirts should be made by Alaskans.

Ashley Nelson is a gardener for the Chena Ridge Hot Springs Resort, an Alaska Grown certified grower, and tends to everything from 500 tomato plants to her personal favorite, cinnamon basil. Alaskan farmers are “working hard to be self-sustainable. It hurts my heart to know that this hasn’t been an issue,” Nelson said.

Many believe that although complicated, it is a worthwhile cause to bring the business back to Alaska.

“Although it will mean less money for the organizations, it would mean more money for the Alaskan economy,” Pettit said.

Bushke thinks that it shouldn’t be about saving money. “Are they going to save that extra dollar or two, or bring that business to Alaska where it belongs?”

With the way things are set up now, according to Alaskan law, the only way for the change to be made, is if all things representing Alaska Grown are required to adhere to the same standards, to be made here, not flown here.

Bushke’s company holds a permit for “Made in Alaska” products and he would like to see the same tag on merchandise that promotes Alaskan products.

“Every time I see those shirts, I think of Georgia,” Bushke said.

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