Visiting what may be the most remote and expensive supermarket in America

Dang, that grocery bill was more than my monthly rent in Tijuana. Granted, I live in a place one step above favela-level conditions. Electricity and running water, but I still bucket flush.

My kitchen/bathroom sink, for example…

Still, I’d be very hard pressed to find Potato bread (my favorite) here, or Haribo.


The biggest problem facing most Americans who struggle to afford food these days has less to do with calorie shortages than overall nutrition.


A classmate of mine spent a season in (back when it was called) Barrow doing some research on migrating whales.

I remember him saying that many shelf stable things in the grocery store had postage applied directly to them as mailing things to Barrow was the cheapest available shipping method.


Barrow only gets its supplies flown in, and on the summer barge. There is no truck that drives any supplies there.

I was curious as to what percentage of the higher prices was due to higher income, so I checked, and the median household income in Utqiaġvik is $82,976, which is significantly higher than the median in the rest of the country, $53,482. Average income is about the same, though. Not being particularly economically adroit, I’m not sure what to make of that. And based on comments above, it sounds like this community is not particularly affluent in general.

There are also no sales taxes or income taxes. But they’ve probably been replaced with the cost of shipping to the ass end of nowhere.


Keep in mind that Utqiagvik is the major regional hub and is served by Alaska Air daily. If you go a step further out, into villages like Wainwright, Nuiqsut, Kaktovik on the North Slope or out from Bethel in the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta area, prices go up further still as most of your goods are transported by yet another small plane. (though it should be noted, in winter, you can drive / snow machine / dogsled on the rivers to the hubs to stock up, play basketball, etc. Also, I’m pretty sure you can still get pizza delivered in some of the most remote villages… by plane.)

Protip: If you’re living in McGrath, AK and come into Anchorage to shop, you can flat rate priority mail frozen items to yourself at the 24-hour post office near the Anchorage airport in the evening and they’ll arrive still frozen the next day.


Federal, State and Borough employment makes up a chunk of the higher incomes.

You’ve also got dividends from the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, which handles a chunk of the royalties paid by resource extraction industries. The native corps were created as a result of the ANILCA and ANSCA laws passed in the '70s.

For example, ASRC’s 2017 dividends looked like this:

At its annual meeting in January, the Arctic Slope Regional Corp. board of directors set the annual dividend for its shareholders this year.

According to an announcement on Jan. 24, corporation shareholders will receive a total of $50 per share, to be divided among four payments throughout 2017.

The first payment of $7.50 per share will be made on March 8 for shareholders of record by Feb. 24. The second distribution of $10 per share will be made on May 10 for shareholders of record by April 20. The third, again of $7.50 per share, will go out Aug. 16 for shareholders of record as of Aug. 4. The final installment will be $25 per share, to be paid out Nov. 29 for shareholders of record as of Nov. 15.

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When the mean and the median are far apart, it indicates statistical leverage on the mean. For example, if the salaries in a town cluster around $55k, and Jeff Bezos moves in, the median will still be $55k but the mean will shoot up. In this Alaska case it means that only half the households are below $83k, but enough of those are far below (probably poverty level) to drag down the mean.

Neither mean nor median are very good indicators of “normal” town income when there are extremes.


I saw a story last year that some people in Northern Canada were making use of Amazon Prime to get food. I think thefe was a bit abkut Amazon clamping down, but I don’t remember tge details.

In Canafa there is a subsidy program to offset the higher costs, but I’m not sure it works for everyone. It was revamped last year.



I posted this at the time:

It strikes me that there is opportunity for large scale indoor hydroponics. Even with the cost of designing in additional insulation and providing heat (should be just a bit of natural gas up there) to run it, one would imagine you could turn out snappin’ fresh produce on a very economical basis?


Iceberg lettuce. Sure. Let’s spend the money to ship something bulky up there that has the nutritional value of chewing on tundra.


I wonder how this pilot project is doing today?


Evidently it is going very well. Serving 29,000 people. Still at it after 5 years, with several greenhouses in place and now expanding to other communities. Here’s a beautiful bit of film:
And an interesting article:


The best part of the pilot project:

Last year, the group ran a school co-op program with grade nine students, who got school credit for helping to build the greenhouse and learning how to grow vegetables – everything from planting to checking water and PH levels and harvesting. They’re hoping to expand that program to include grades 10-12 this fall.

Teen suicide is epidemic in First Nations and Inuit communities. Giving young people something that’s a great practical learning project, and important to the community, could make big difference.

I notice that for the non-hydroponic greenhouse, bringing up soil from the south is a big expense.

The people who think that with global warming we can simply farm in the arctic piss the hell out of me! I certainly don’t know much about farming or soil, but I do know that healthy living soil is complicated and adjusted to a particular climate. Turning tundra and permafrost into farmland is not as simple as turning up the heat! (Definitely not desirable, and meanwhile, the soil down south will be under stress.)

At least we don’t have to worry about decompression. Yet.


Are there reliable ways to stop the wrong kind of seal getting into the supply chain?

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The seal products were the export (primarily skin), the rest is used locally. The fishing industry just kills seals because they believe they compete for fish.

No overlap at all, because the seal clubbers didn’t ever harvest or use the seals they killed.


How much do they charge for caribou & whale blubber?

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Can’t legally be sold, so they don’t.

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About the same prices as Whole Foods in San Francisco then… :grinning: