(This article originally appeared in the Tuesday, April 9, 2013, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel. It is used here with permission.)
Sitkans Taking Stock of Local Food Security
By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Sentinel Staff Writer
How long could you survive on the food you have in your house today?
How often do you eat foods that are gathered locally?
The Sitka Food Security Survey is trying to find the answers to these and other questions related to food security in Sitka.
The survey is one of the projects of the Sitka Community Food Assessment group that was started at the 2012 Health Summit last fall.
“Community food security is looking at how secure are we as a community if for some reason something happened in the Lower 48 and we couldn’t get barges up here,” said Lisa Sadleir-Hart, the community food assessment coordinator for the Sitka Community Food Assessment project. “Are there things we could do differently? … We’re pretty dependent on the food coming from outside.”
The group is looking at food security from both a household standpoint and a community standpoint. While some information has been collected, more is needed on a home-by-home basis, Sadleir-Hart said.
To that end, Sadleir-Hart is hoping residents go online to participate in the food security survey to document where the problems are, where the strengths are and how to start addressing the shortcomings. The assessment will make it easier to apply for grants to help the community strengthen its food security position, she said.
“Our goal is 600 completed surveys, which is about 10 percent of the adult population here,” she said. She has set a tentative deadline by the end of this month.
Among many of the issues considered, Sadleir-Hart wonders how the 44-percent increase in food prices from 2006 to 2011 is affecting choices residents are making.
“Given these increases, fuel prices, housing prices, housing costs, at some point you have to make a decision: if you pay for one you might not be able to pay for something else,” she said. “People are hurting when it comes to food.”
The survey asks whether residents are able to eat as much as they need, and eat the foods they want to eat, or if they make sacrifices or eat less in order to feed others, when they are financially strapped.
Some of the focus in the survey is whether residents take advantage of foods that are available locally, including fish, deer, mushrooms, seaweed and berries, among the dozens of possibilities. Some questions are aimed at traditional and customary foods.
From a community standpoint, some data already indicates a level of “insecurity,” since 95 percent of the food Sitkans consume is shipped in from the Lower 48.
“Does our community have the capacity to feed itself if a natural disaster left us isolated?” is one of the survey’s underlying questions.
The assessment project’s goals are to create a community food security profile; map Sitka’s existing food resources and production capacity; and assess household food security, food accessibility, and food availability and affordability.
The work group for the project said community food security is a relatively new concept that covers a variety of disciplines, including community nutrition, nutrition education, public health, sustainable agriculture, and anti-hunger and community development.
“As such, no universally accepted definition exists,” the group said in a handout.
Sadleir-Hart said community food security can be seen as an expansion of the concept of household food security.
“Whereas household food security is concerned with the ability to acquire food at the household level, community food security focuses on the underlying social, economic and institutional factors within a community that affect the quantity and quality of food available …” the handout said.
Affordability is another issue that can affect community food security, Sadleir-Hart said.
The Sitka Community Food Assessment group from the Sitka Health Summit started by collecting data already available locally. Sitka Conservation Society contributed the Jesuit Volunteer, Courtney Bobsin, to work part-time to collect data on local producers, senior and tribal food programs, food banks and other food assistance programs.
“She’s been collecting lots of great information,” Sadleir-Hart said.
The assessment team is using the Food Security Toolkit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to guide the process. Sadleir-Hart said the local effort received a head-start on the assessment by looking at Kenai’s food security survey designed by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service. The Sitka Local Foods Network, which runs the Sitka Farmers Market, is also involved in the project.
The Sitka Community Food Assessment project received a $15,000 SEARHC Community Transformation Grant to fund Sadleir-Hart’s part-time position, and data analysis.
The goals of the assessment are to improve Sitka’s understanding of the local food system, identify the system’s strengths and weaknesses, inform decisions about policies and ways to improve Sitka’s security, and position Sitka to access grant funding for food system improvement.
Years ago, Sadleir-Hart said, more people in Sitka had vegetable gardens and some kept milk cows and other farm animals. The potential for increasing the amount of locally produced food still exists, and with it the prospect for economic development.
“There are a lot of different angles we could explore, from a community perspective,” she said.
Focus groups are also being called to continue to collect information about food and the community.
The Sitka Community Food Assessment group is looking ahead to the first annual Sitka Food Summit in November, when citizens review the findings of the data collection and start talking about ways to improve the current food system.
The survey can be reached by typing Sitka Community Food Assessment on Facebook, and going to the “Survey Monkey” link. The survey is filled out anonymously. The direct link to the survey is: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/MQTF22Q.