Shopping Tips for Rural Alaska

On the Alaska Teacher Placement website, you’ll find tips for shopping when you are living in rural Alaska. This is mostly geared toward bush Alaska, but not too far off what many of us face living in rural parts. (Thanks to Angela Gonzalez of Rural Cap  for the link.)

Here in Tok, we are lucky to be on the road system. Can’t even imagine what it would be like without roads in. Or out.

Although things have improved dramatically in terms of rural Alaska shopping options since the 1980′s and early 1990′s, your first year or two in the Bush is still going to go more smoothly if you plan ahead!

There are several basic approaches you can follow to prepare for you first year. Which one is right for you depends partially on what village you are headed to, the size and composition of your family, and your consumption habits and patterns. You have three basic choices for how you order your basic items: traditional grocery shippers; on-line retailers, or do-it-yourself shopping trips to Anchorage or Fairbanks.

Here are some tips for Guerilla Shopping:

You are either on an overnight layover in Anchorage or Fairbanks, and have only a few hours to buy as much as possible. You know you will return to the village for a couple months – maybe longer – without another chance to get fresh stuff or necessities at prices like this. What’s a guy or gal to do?

  • Shop with a plan or a list, or you’ll be ineffective!
  • Boxes / rubbermaid tubs, packing tape and markers…have them with you.
  • Keep packing and/or shipping limits in mind at all times…pack as you shop if possible.
  • Mail suitcases…you need fresh produce and fresh meat more!
  • Coolers are useful as luggage both in the summer to chill, and in the winter to protect produce from cold.

And some tips on dairy products:

Real Milk

If you order several cases of sterilized, shelf safe “Real Milk” in pint containers, the cost is not all that outrageous. It will be more expensive than a grocery store in Pittsburgh or Minneapolis, but the net cost is not all that much higher than in Anchorage or Fairbanks.

Whole Milk

Whole milk is far easier to get than it once was, but is still quite expensive by Lower 48 standards. A gallon of milk in some village stores can be over $12, and you need to watch those expiration dates. But, a gallon of whole milk at Fred Meyers on-line today is $2.99, plus shipping.

Gallons of milk are treated like perishable produce for shipping purposes.

And, contrary to what my mother told me, yes, you can freeze milk ;-)

Powdered Milk

When I first moved up to Alaska, my family could only get “Milkman”, a powdered milk substitute that you mix with water. There really is no need to do this to yourself any longer, and I don’t recommend it. Some friends of mine STILL order it. Go figure.

You can read the entire post here.

I’m all for shopping local, and here in Tok we have both Three Bears and the healthfood options at Tok General Store. But I’m also all for Guerilla Shopping whenever we get to Anchorage or Fairbanks.

What are your favorite shopping tips for rural Alaska?

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