Learn how to grow garlic with Andrea Fraga and Kaleb Aldred of Middle Island Gardens

Most gardeners do their planting in the spring. But if you’re growing garlic, the fall is the best time to plant.

The Sitka Local Foods Network education committee will host a free class on growing garlic with Andrea Fraga and Kaleb Aldred of Middle Island Gardens from 6:30-8 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 14, at the Sitka Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall (408 Marine Street, parking off Spruce Street).

Andrea and Kaleb have been selling their locally grown garlic at the Sitka Farmers Market and on Sitka Food Co-Op pick-up days this year. They grow a variety of garlic types, including music, Killarney red, and Georgian crystal.

For more information, contact Andrea or Kaleb at middleislandgardens@gmail.com, or contact Jennifer Carter of the Sitka Local Foods Network at 747-0520 or jlc63@alaska.net.

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First-graders harvest the seeds they planted while in kindergarten last spring

LITTLE HARVEST – First-grader Taylor McCarty, 6, holds up a slightly deformed carrot at the Russian Bishop’s House garden this morning (Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017). Students in Sarah Eddy’s Baranof Elementary School class and other first graders were harvesting the vegetables they planted in the spring when they were in kindergarten. This summer was not good for growing crops said Sitka National Historical Park Ranger Ryan Carpenter. Most of the carrots were only about an inch or so long. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Scenes from the sixth Sitka Farmers Market of the 2017 summer

TABLE OF THE DAY — Sitka Farmers Market Manager Nina Vizcarrondo, left, and Sitka Conservation Society Jesuit Volunteer Sean Mackinson, right, present the Table of the Day award to the Suminski family of Sweet Sisters Caramels (from left, Greta Terry, Mary and Lydia Suminski) during the sixth Sitka Farmers Market of the summer on Sept. 2 at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall. The Suminskis sold a variety of home-made caramels. They received a couple of Sitka Local Foods Network t-shirts, some Inga’s Spice Rub, and some Alaska Flour Company chocolate chip-barley cookie mix. There is one Sitka Farmers Market left this summer, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9, at the ANB Founders Hall (235 Katlian St.). Also, don’t forget to mark your calendars for the 23rd annual Running of the Boots costumed fun run fundraiser on Saturday, Sept. 23, at the Totem Square park, which this year benefits the Sitka Local Foods Network and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska. For more information, go to the Sitka Local Foods Network website at http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org. We also have a new Sitka Farmers Market page on Facebook.

It was sunny when we held our sixth Sitka Farmers Market of the 2017 summer season on Saturday, Sept. 2, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall (235 Katlian Street), but we still had a decent crowd even though we had some competition with the Labor Day holiday.

While our cold weather this spring slowed down some of our produce production this year, we are starting to get some decent crops in. We also have had several other local produce vendors at the market. We also had about three dozen vendors at the market (between those inside ANB Founders Hall and those outside in the Baranof Island Housing Authority parking lot) so there was a nice variety of items being sold. Vendors sold harvested foods (such as chaga tea and traditional medicinal tinctures), homemade baked goods, banana-Nutella crepes, hot seafood dishes, fresh smoothies, reindeer hot dogs, blackcod tips, arts and crafts, and home-baked bread. We also had an expanded selection of Alaska Grown products at the Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand.

The last Sitka Farmers Market of the summer takes place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9, at the ANB Founders Hall. To learn how to be a vendor at the market, contact market manager Nina Vizcarrondo at (907) 738-9301 (new number) or assistant manager Charles Bingham (907) 623-7660, or email us at sitkafarmersmarket@gmail.com. We also have a new kids vendor program at the market for young entrepreneurs age 12 or younger. Don’t forget to like our new Sitka Farmers Market page on Facebook.

Also, mark your calendars for the 23rd annual Running of the Boots costumed fun run fundraiser, which will take place on Saturday, Sept. 23, and this year will benefit the Sitka Local Foods Network and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska. More details on the Running of the Boots will be posted in the near future.

A slideshow of scenes from the sixth Sitka Farmers Market is posted below.

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23rd annual Running of the Boots raises funds for Sitka Local Foods Network and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska

It’s time to dig your XtraTufs out of the closet and paint them up. The 23rd annual Running of the Boots begins at 11:30 a.m. (registration opens at 10:30 a.m.) on Saturday, Sept. 23, at the big tent near Totem Square park on Lincoln Street. This year the costumed fun run fundraiser benefits two local nonprofit organizations — the Sitka Local Foods Network and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska.

This year, there will be more food, music and other tents staged near the start of the Running of the Boots, so it will have a more festive atmosphere. This change allows the race to be a bigger part of the Season’s-End Celebration festivities hosted downtown by the Greater Sitka Chamber of Commerce and the Alaska Cruise Line Association. In addition to the Running of the Boots, the Season’s-End Celebration includes a lunch from noon to 2 p.m. for Sitka residents featuring hamburgers, hot dogs, and fish. People are asked to make a $2 donation when they get their lunch, and the money raised will go toward a local community group or nonprofit to be announced.

“We’re happy to share this event with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska this year,” said Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham, who also has been a Big Brother to a couple of Littles in Sitka. “The Sitka Local Foods Network has hosted this event for most of the past decade, but this year we weren’t sure if we had enough board members in town to keep the event going. It’s a great event, and I’m happy Big Brothers Big Sisters decided to partner with us to keep it going. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska is a great mentorship organization for youth in Sitka, so this will be a good activity for Bigs and their Littles.”

So what is the Running of the Boots? It’s Southeast Alaska’s answer to Spain’s “Running of the Bulls.” Sitkans wear zany costumes and XtraTufs — Southeast Alaska’s distinctive rubber boots (aka, Sitka Sneakers).  For the past decade, the Running of the Boots raised funds for the Sitka Local Foods Network, a nonprofit organization that hosts the Sitka Farmers Market and advocates for community gardens, a community greenhouse, sustainable uses of traditional subsistence foods and education for Sitka gardeners. This year, it also will raise funds for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska, which helps mentor local youth.

The Running of the Boots is a short race for fun and not for speed, even though one of the many prize categories is for the fastest boots. Other prize categories include best-dressed boots, zaniest costume, best couple, best kids group and more. The course starts at Totem Square park, and runners will run from one end of Lincoln Street to the other and back to Totem Square park (or, we may just run from Totem Square down Lincoln Street to St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral, where runners will loop around the church and head back to Totem Square). There will be lots of prizes, including some new pairs of XtraTufs. There also is live music, and fun for the entire family. Some of the better costumes in recent years have been worn by adults.

The entry fee for the Running of the Boots is $10 per person and $30 per family, and people can register for the race starting at 10:30 a.m. Costume judging starts about 11 a.m., and runners hit the streets at 11:30 a.m. (NOTE: these times are a half-hour later than in recent years). As usual, local merchants have donated bushels of prizes for the costume contest. The Sitka Local Foods Network will host a farm stand booth with fresh veggies for sale from St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm. The booth takes debit cards, WIC vouchers and Alaska Quest (SNAP) electronic benefit cards.

To learn more about the Running of the Boots, contact Kealoha Harmon of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska at 747-3500 or by email at kealoha.harmon@bbbsak.org, or Charles Bingham of the Sitka Local Foods Network at 623-7660 or by email at charleswbingham3@gmail.com. We also need several volunteers to help set up and take down the race (two needed) and to judge the costumes (two needed). Contact Kealoha to learn how to volunteer.

Historical information about the race (through 2005) can be found online at http://www.runningoftheboots.org/. Info about the Sitka Local Foods Network and more recent Running of the Boots events (2008-16) is online at http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org/ (type Running of the Boots into the search bar at the top of the page). Click this link to see a slideshow of scenes from the 2016 Running of the Boots.

Also, don’t forget to like our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SitkaLocalFoodsNetwork and follow our Twitter page at https://www.twitter.com/SitkaLocalFoods (@SitkaLocalFoods) to stay updated on Sitka Local Foods Network activities. The Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska page on Facebook for Sitka is https://www.facebook.com/bbbsaksitka.

Like what we do? Please join our board of directors or volunteer with us

The 2017 Sitka Local Foods Network board of directors and St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm lead gardener. Back row, from left, Tiffany Justice (treasurer), Ben Timby (secretary), Sam Pointer (director) and Charles Bingham (president/communications director). Front row, from left, Nina Vizcarrondo (co-secretary/farmers market manager), Laura Schmidt (lead gardener), Jennifer Carter (vice president).

Are you enjoying the fresh local veggies at the Sitka Farmers Market this summer? Did you take any of our garden education classes this spring? Are you concerned about increasing access to local food for all Sitka residents?

Please consider joining the board of directors for the Sitka Local Foods Network to help us pursue our mission to increase the amount of locally produced and harvested food in the diets of Southeast Alaskans. We need more board members in order to keep running our programs.

Board members help direct the Sitka Local Foods Network, a non-profit that promotes the harvest and use of local food in Sitka. In addition to setting the focus of the group during our monthly meetings, board members also serve on at least one committee supporting at our three main projects of the Sitka Farmers Market, St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm, and garden education and mentoring. We also hope to help with the Sitka Community Gardens project as we look for a new location now that Blatchley Community Garden has been closed. In addition, some board members have supported other local foods projects in Sitka, such as the Sitka Kitch, Let’s Grow Sitka, the Sick-A-Waste compost project, the Sitka Community Food Assessment project, Sitka Fish-To-Schools, other school education projects and more.

To apply for a spot on the board, please fill out the application linked below and submit it to sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.org. For more information, please email us. Please note this is a working board, and our group is evolving and maturing as we try to raise funds to hire staff. Board terms are for three years, with three seats up for reapplication each winter.

We also are looking to increase our pool of volunteers who will help out during the various projects hosted by the network each year (no formal application needed, just send us your name/contact info and what types of projects you enjoy). We need volunteers to help with the upcoming Sitka Farmers Market, helping our lead gardener at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm, and helping us teach gardening classes or working with our garden mentor program families.

The next regular Sitka Local Foods Network board meeting is from 6-8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 26, at the Southeast Alaska Independent Living (SAIL) office, 504 Lake Street, Suite C. The board usually meets once a month. Please note, we will sometimes move our meetings to avoid conflicts with board member schedules, venue schedules and to insure a quorum. All of our board meetings are open to the public.

Click here for a copy of the Sitka Local Foods Network board of directors job description. Click here for a copy of the board application.

Beyond Leafy LLC grows fresh, local basil for Sitka market using vertical hydroponics

From the outside, it looks like any suburban garage. But inside there’s a 2,000-cubic-foot box where Jimmie and Leslie Kranz are growing fresh, local basil for the Sitka market using a vertical hydroponic greenhouse system.

Their company, called Beyond Leafy LLC, recently started supplying basil to a few Sitka restaurants and also provides it for the Market Center grocery store. Soon, the couple hopes to expand their business so their basil is available at Sea Mart.

“We’ve been brainstorming for years to find a product or service that would serve the people and our community,” Jimmie Kranz said. “The thing about this business is we’re not selling a service or product that people question. We’re selling what most people already have in their refrigerator.”

They also wanted something they could do together, especially since until earlier this year Jimmie was working about 14 hours a day with the Alaska Marine Highway System at the ferry terminal and Leslie was working about 10 hours a day with the Transportation Security Administration at the airport. Jimmie quit his state job in February, and Leslie quit her federal gig in June.

“We like working together,” Leslie Kranz said. “We’re having fun and the reception from the community has been extraordinarily positive.”

In addition to the couple, there are five kids and all except the oldest (Kameron, 32, who runs his own business in Arizona) are involved in the company. Tray, 25, is based in Grenada, but he’s been doing the website and social media for the company and helps with finances. Jake, 22, is a commercial fisherman but spent 3 1/2 months helping Jimmie build the hydroponic towers. The younger two kids, Madi, a 17-year-old senior at Sitka High School, and Kale, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Blatchley Middle School, both help Jimmie and Leslie trim the basil plants and prepare orders. The family also has weekly business meetings.

Beyond Leafy LLC is serving a big need in Sitka. Many restaurants and bars use basil in their food dishes and drinks, and locally grown basil tastes better and is picked at peak freshness (not a week or two early so it can be sent here by barge). When food has to travel long distances it can lose nutrients and flavor. Beyond Leafy also fills a niche found by a previous company in Sitka that provided basil to local restaurants and grocery stores, but switched to growing weed once marijuana was legalized. When the switch to weed happened last year, it left some restaurants scrambling for a new source of local basil.

“The Mean Queen is thrilled to once again have a local basil provider,” said Mary Magnuson, co-owner of the Mean Queen restaurant. “Beyond Leafy provides a very high quality product that graces both pizzas and our signature LA Preppy Martini. There is literally no comparison in the local product and what we can order from our suppliers. We are looking forward to their growth into more items.”

To grow the basil, Jimmie and Leslie take a package of rock wool (A-OK Starter Plugs) and plant seeds into each section square. The seeds grow in trays until they are a couple of weeks old, when their rock wool section squares are broken apart and the pieces of rock wool are inserted into the towers, spaced about 6-8 inches apart.

Each tower features an eight-foot-long piece of four-inch-diameter PVC pipe that has been split vertically so a felt/foam media can be inserted into each piece (the felt/foam media is purchased locally from Ben Franklin). The individual towers can be removed from their spots and moved to another spot (they move the towers every two weeks to chart the progress of their basil plants), or they can be placed on the table in the middle of the box for trimming.

Scattered throughout the box and within each tower section, there are lights connected to a roller system that moves the lights back and forth and up and down so each plant gets what it needs to grow. The light system is on a timer. The roller system helps control the temperature in the box and prevents the basil leaves from being burned by stationary lights, and also means they don’t have to use as many lights as some operations. The vertical hydroponic system also includes a recirculating watering tank and hoses that deliver water to each of the towers.

Jimmie said he designed the family’s system after taking an online university class on vertical hydroponics from Bright Agrotech, which recently was bought out by a company called Plenty that plans to develop larger-scale vertical hydroponic systems.

Jimmie and Leslie usually harvest the basil from 6-9 a.m., and it’s in the stores and restaurants by 10 a.m. From seed to harvest, it usually takes about 8-10 weeks for the basil to reach maturity. Beyond Leafy is selling its basil for $56 a pound or $3.50 an ounce (it takes a lot of basil to make an ounce), which might seem high but Jimmie noted that most restaurants only get about six ounces of usable product out of a pound of basil because of all the stems and other parts. Because they hand-trim their basil it’s all usable product, so Jimmie said the price works out to be about the same.

Right now, Beyond Leafy LLC is growing several types of basil (Genovese, Italian, sweet, purple opal, Thai and lemon), and also experimenting with dill and rosemary. They currently are growing about 10-15 pounds of basil a week, and expect to grow to about 40-50 pounds a week once Sea Mart starts carrying their product.

“Since we started the business it changed our whole mindset, and now we’re thinking more about what we can do for our community,” Jimmie said. “We also are eating more local, healthy food. I’d say basically the four of us still in the house (Jimmie, Leslie, Madi, and Kale) have lost about 100 pounds since we started the business.”

Eventually, they hope to find a warehouse unit to lease so they can expand their operation to include several types of lettuce, kale and chard. In order to help the business grow and expand, the couple set up a GoFundMe site.

“We can’t do it alone,” Jimmie said. “There is a bit of fear when you quit your jobs, cash in your retirements and take your family on a venture like this. But entrepreneurs have to take risks to move forward.”

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Sitka Farmers Market among the leaders in the ninth annual Farmers Market Celebration

Have you voted yet in the American Farmland Trust’s ninth annual Farmers Market Celebration? They just released the first standings in the national contest, and the Sitka Farmers Market ranks among the leaders nationally and is No. 1 in Alaska.

The celebration calls on shoppers to identify the best farmers markets in the country. It launched on June 21, and runs through Friday, Sept. 22. So far we’ve hosted five Sitka Farmers Markets this season (on July 1, July 15, July 29, Aug. 12, and Aug. 19), and our last two markets of the season take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, Sept. 2 and Sept. 9, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall (235 Katlian St.).

The Sitka Local Foods Network also will host a farm stand at the 23rd annual Running of the Boots costumed fun run fundraiser which starts at 11:30 a.m. (registration at 10:30 a.m.) on Saturday, Sept. 23, at Totem Square, and this year the event benefits both the Sitka Local Foods Network and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska.

“The Celebration encourages market customers, family farmers, community activists – anyone who believes they’ve got the best farmers market in the country – to endorse their market in four special areas: Focus on Farmers, Healthy Food for All, Pillar of the Community, and Champion for the Environment,” said Susan Sink, American Farmland Trust vice president of development and external relations.

Shoppers are encouraged to use Instagram and join the local food community in saving farmland with their forks, as part of AFT’s “#OnMyFork” social media campaign. Supporters are encouraged to post pictures or videos of their farmers market to Instagram using the hashtag #OnMyFork. If you do post something about the Sitka Farmers Market, please tag our Sitka Local Foods Network page on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/SitkaLocalFoodsNetwork or share it on our Twitter page, https://www.twitter.com/SitkaLocalFoods. Please use the hashtags #SitkaLocalFoodsNetwork and #SitkaFarmersMarket if you share a photo.

To vote for the Sitka Farmers Market in the national contest, just go to http://markets.farmland.org/market/sitka-farmers-market/ and recommend our market. In past Farmers Market Celebrations, sponsored by the American Farmland Trust, the Sitka Farmers Market has been at or near the top among the Alaska rankings. In 2015, the Sitka Farmers Market was the top Alaska market in this contest. In 2016, the Sitka Farmers Market earned Best In Class honors in the contest.

We made a few improvements in 2017 (vendor rates back to 2015 levels, a new Alaska Grown booth featuring products from around the state, a kids vendor program, etc.), so this year’s markets have been better than in the recent past. Stop by on Sept. 2 and Sept. 9 and check things out, then support us in the online contest voting.