• Sitka Farmers Market makes 101 Best Farmers Markets in America 2015 list

101-farmers-markets

TheDailyMeal.com has ranked the Sitka Farmers Market on its 101 Best Farmers Markets in America 2015 list.

The Sitka Farmers Market ranks 99th in the national rankings. The Homer Farmers Market ranked 60th (although it was incorrectly listed as being from Arkansas) and was the only other Alaska market in the rankings.

#99 Sitka Farmers Market, Sitka, Alaska

Besides being a wonderful farmers market, the Sitka Market provides healthy eating education and entertainment for the community as a part of the Sitka Local Foods Network. The market is open Saturdays from July to September.

The Sitka Farmers Market will take place six times this summer, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on alternate Saturdays, July 4, July 18, Aug. 1, Aug. 15, Aug. 29, and Sept. 12, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall, 235 Katlian St. We offer a wide variety of locally grown produce, locally caught seafood, locally baked bread, and locally made arts and crafts. We also feature live music, and lots of family fun.

• Sitka Local Foods Network to host six Sitka Farmers Market events in 2015

2015SitkaFarmersMarketFlier

Celebrate your independence from store-bought and factory-processed food this year by joining the Sitka Local Foods Network as it hosts the eighth summer of Sitka Farmers Markets in 2015. There will be six markets this year, starting on July 4 and taking place on alternate Saturdays through Sept. 12. The Sitka Farmers Markets give Sitka residents a chance to buy and sell locally produced food and crafts.

The Sitka Farmers Markets take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 4, July 18, Aug. 1, Aug. 15, Aug. 29, and Sept. 12 at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall (235 Katlian St.). The markets feature local seafood (fresh, frozen, and cooked, ready to eat), locally grown and harvested fruits and vegetables, baked goods, locally made jams and jellies, live entertainment and music, local arts and crafts, and a variety of other items gathered or made in Sitka. We emphasize local products and lots of fun. We are the first farmers market in Southeast Alaska to accept WIC coupons and Alaska Quest EBT for SNAP (food stamp) users. Debe Brincefield is the Sitka Farmers Market manager, with Francis Wegman-Lawless serving as assistant manager.

“The Sitka Farmers Market is a great way to connect with community members and support local entrepreneurs,” Sitka Local Foods Network Board President Lisa Sadleir-Hart said. “Spending your dollars locally has a multiplying effect and helps your neighbors. We also encourage Sitkans to join the $5 Per Week Alaska Grown Challenge and support your local producers each week with $5. Dollars spent locally multiply in our community to the tune of about $3 for each dollar spent. So you get great local food and support your neighbors by spending locally.”

The Sitka Farmers Market started as a community wellness project that came out of a health priority planning meeting at the 2008 Sitka Health Summit. The markets are sponsored by the Sitka Local Foods Network, Alaska Native Brotherhood Camp No. 1, Alaska Native Sisterhood Camp No. 4, Baranof Island Housing Authority, the Alaska Farmers Market Association, the Alaska Division of Public Health Cancer Control Program, and the SEARHC Health Promotion and Diabetes Prevention programs.

“As with the past three seasons, we invite Sitkans who participate in food stamps to use their QUEST card at the market and we will match up to $20 per market for each food stamp participant in a household until resources are exhausted,” Sadleir-Hart said. “So for a family of four that could mean up to $80 extra dollars to shop at each market. Additionally, the St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm stand will be working with the SEARHC Health Promotion program to debut a new fruit and vegetable prescription program at the market. SEARHC’s nutritionist will provide eligible beneficiaries with $5 vouchers to use at the farm stand to access local, fresh produce. The farm stand also will accept WIC farmers market and fruits and vegetable vouchers (FVV).”

To learn more about the market and how to be a vendor, contact Sitka Farmers Market Manager Debe Brincefield at 738-8683 or by e-mail sitkafarmersmarket@gmail.com. Vendor rules, registration forms and other info for potential vendors can be found on the Documents page at http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org/.

• Vote for the Sitka Local Foods Network and help us win $15,000 for St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm

GardensForGood

StPetersSignWithToDoListSignHelp us grow the St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden program by voting for the Sitka Local Foods Network in the Nature’s Path Organic Foods Gardens For Good contest.

People can vote once per day from Monday, June 22, through 10:59 a.m. (Alaska time) on Monday, July 6. The top three vote-getters (two from the United States, one from Canada) will win $15,000 each to support their urban gardening efforts. We are the only project from Alaska among the 120 entrants.

“The Gardens for Good program is a way to fund the terrific things we are doing in Sitka through the Sitka Local Foods Network to get healthy, fresh and local produce into the mouths of Sitkans,” Sitka Local Foods Network Board President Lisa Sadleir-Hart said. “Take time to vote once a day so we can make it into the final nine. We could really do a lot with $15,000!”

The St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden was built in 2008, shortly after that year’s Sitka Health Summit, when a majority of Sitkans said they wanted to see more community gardens/greenhouses in Sitka and they wanted a local foods market. The Sitka Farmers Market was launched a couple of months later, with produce grown at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm for sale to Sitka residents.

A group of kids harvests garlic during an Aug. 12, 2011, work party at St. Peter's Fellowship Farm.

A group of kids harvests garlic during an Aug. 12, 2011, work party at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm.

Since then St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm (located behind St. Peter’s By The Sea Episcopal Church, 611 Lincoln St.) has grown and it now produces several times the amount of local produce as what was for sale that first year. We also have added a few satellite gardens to help us grow even more produce in Sitka, and we still sell it at the Sitka Farmers Markets. People with Alaska Quest (SNAP) and WIC benefits can purchase the local produce using matching funds, so they can double the value of their vouchers. St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm produce is sold to school lunch programs, and we host a table during non-market weekends at the Chelan Produce stand.

In addition to growing local produce to sell to Sitka residents, St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm has been used to teach locals about gardening. It’s also a fun place for kids to become more connected to their food. We also will use the $15,000 to continue our garden mentor program for another year or two and to help support the development of the Sitka Kitch community commercial kitchen project.

Don’t forget to vote for us once per day now through the morning of July 6. Your support is greatly appreciated. Please use this link, http://wshe.es/fZ1TjYIj, to share on your social media sites, letting people know where they need to go to vote for us.

• Take the $5 Per Week Alaska Grown Challenge and help improve Alaska’s food security

AlaskaGrown2_Graphic

AlaskaGrown3_GraphicThe Alaska Farm Bureau announces the $5 Per Week Alaska Grown Challenge – a statewide campaign to increase consumer spending on Alaska Grown products with the goal of strengthening local economies and increasing Alaska’s food security.

The Kenai Peninsula Chapter of the Alaska Farm Bureau, in partnership with the Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District and several other local organizations (including the Sitka Local Foods Network), launched the $5 Per Week Alaska Grown Challenge on May 5, in honor of Alaska Agriculture Day. Now the Challenge is going statewide with the help of social media, Alaska Farm Bureau chapters, and local food advocates across the state.

“We’d like to see the state investing in agriculture the way it invests in the resource extraction industries,” said Heidi Chay, district manager of the Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District. “After all, everyone needs to eat, and Alaska is at the end of a very long and vulnerable food chain. The signs of agriculture’s growth potential are all around us. … However, if the state can’t or won’t invest in agriculture the way it should, it’s on Alaskan consumers to take the lead. That’s why the District joined with local partners last month to launch the $5 Per Week Alaska Grown Challenge. We’re calling on Alaskans to invest a small part of their food dollars in the future of Alaskan agriculture, by spending $5 per week per person year-round. Farmers market season is a great time to start.”

Sitka residents will be able to participate in the Challenge by purchasing local veggies at the Sitka Farmers Markets this summer. The markets take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on alternate Saturdays, July 4, July 18, Aug. 1, Aug. 15, Aug. 29, and Sept. 12, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall, 235 Katlian St.

“I’m excited by the prospect of growing local producers pocketbooks with the $5 Per Week Alaska Grown Challenge in Sitka,” said Lisa Sadleir-Hart, Sitka Local Foods Network Board President. “It’s about supporting local foods and your neighbors as well as giving your body the benefit of fresh food. I plan on spending at least $5 a week on local food and doing it at the Sitka Farmers Market makes absolute sense.”

The Challenge calls on Alaskans to spend $5 per week per person on Alaska Grown products year-round. With farmers market season just around the corner, this is the perfect time for Alaskans to commit to investing a portion of their consumer dollars in the future of Alaskan agriculture.

graphic1Agriculture has played an important role in Alaska’s history. Today it is a growing industry with increasing numbers of farms producing food, forage and fiber for local consumers, as well as peonies and rhodiola for sale around the world.

Although farm production is rising, the economic potential of Alaskan farms is far from realized.  More than 95 percent of Alaska’s food is imported, which means that most of our food dollars are leaving the state.

Are Alaska farmers prepared to scale up to meet increasing demand? Yes. According to the Alaska Division of Agriculture, 67 percent of Alaska farmers surveyed indicate that they would increase production if they had more market options. Meanwhile, a warming climate and the rapid adoption of season-extension technologies such as high tunnels are creating more favorable conditions for agriculture.

The Alaska Farm Bureau is calling on every resident in Alaska to join the $5 Per Week Alaska Grown Challenge. If every Alaskan spent $5 per week on Alaska Grown products, year-round, it would have a $188 million dollar impact.

Why buy Alaska grown? Not only are you supporting Alaskans and boosting our economy, you’re also getting a fresher, tastier, more nutritious product. In a blind taste test, 82 percent of Alaskans surveyed could taste the difference between products grown here and those shipped up. Adults and kids say Alaska grown is sweeter, fresher-tasting and crispier.

The $5 Per Week Alaska Grown Challenge isn’t hard. The key, simply enough, is to eat what grows here. You can find a wide variety of produce and value-added products like bread, jam and pickles at farmers markets throughout the summer. Alaska Grown carrots, potatoes, cabbage, milk and barley products (flour, couscous and even pancake mix!) are available year-round in local grocery stores, joined by lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and broccoli during the growing season. Local farms produce meat, poultry, eggs and honey, which are available direct from the farm and at locally-owned retailers. Farmers grow more than just food; Alaska also has cut flower and natural fiber industries with products available. Local restaurants, breweries, distilleries and wineries purchase local products to use in their recipes. And don’t forget our local seafood products.

Not sure where to find Alaska Grown? Check out the $5 Per Week Alaska Grown Challenge website (http://www.alaskafb.org/challenge/) where you will find links to local and statewide resources including the Alaska Grown Source Book, a list of local producers and farmers markets. Be sure to ask for Alaska Grown when you are eating out as well.

Take the challenge: $5 per person per week. You’ll help local farmers, boost the local economy, increase Alaska’s food security, and eat better too. Sign up for the challenge here, http://www.alaskafb.org/challenge.

• Taste of Alaska white paper

• KCAW-Raven Radio features Sitka Local Foods Network’s garden mentoring program in story

KubackiCoupleWithGarden

Vegetable gardening used to be a necessity for Sitka residents back in the day, but regular barges and daily flights made it easy for people to stop growing their own food and buy it at the store. If you didn’t have your own garden, you didn’t have fresh veggies. In recent years grocery prices and shipping costs have gone up significantly, so more Sitka residents are going back to gardening. But there are some Sitkans who haven’t gardened before.

That’s where the Sitka Local Foods Network garden mentoring program comes in. This program started in 2014 when the network mentored two first-time gardeners and their families through a year of growing four basic crops that do well in Sitka — lettuce, kale, potatoes and rhubarb. This year, our two original families are back for a second year with slightly trickier crops (carrots, chard, peas and green onions), and we have four new first-year families in the program.

Recently, KCAW-Raven Radio reporter Vanessa Walker attended a class at the home of Rebecca Kubacki to learn more about the program and how it’s helping Rebecca reconnect with her food (click here to listen to the story). All of our free garden mentoring program classes are open to the public and we try to announce the classes enough in advance so people can attend.

Michelle Putz has been contracted to coordinate the program and design lesson plans, after the Sitka Local Foods Network received a community development grant from First Bank. We also have about a half-dozen experienced Sitka gardeners who serve as mentors for the program.

For more information about the garden mentor program, please contact Michelle Putz at 747-2708.

• USDA offers cost-share assistance program to help farms get certified as organic

Carrots2

2000px-USDA_organic_seal.svgWith the growth of the local foods movement in recent years, many consumers are more aware of the health benefits of eating organically grown food. But in Alaska, getting certified as organic is a challenge due to high costs and no accredited certifying agents being in the state.

In an effort to meet the growing demand for organic food, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced two cost-share assistance programs to increase the number of farmers and manufacturers working with organic products. The programs cover three-quarters of the certification costs, up to $750 per category (up to $3,000 total), for each of the four categories of organic food — crops, livestock, processed products, and wild crops.

“The organic industry saw record growth in 2014, accounting for over $39 billion in retail sales in the United States,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The organic certification cost-share programs help more organic businesses succeed and take advantage of economic opportunities in this growing market.”

The USDA Agriculture Marketing Service National Organic Program (NOP) has allocated approximately $11.9 million to participating state departments of agriculture to help defray the costs of organic certification incurred by organic producers and processors. Reimbursements to organic operations will be made under the Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) Certification Cost Share Program or the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP).

The cost-share programs were included in the 2014 Farm Bill. NOCCSP has approximately $11 million available for producers and processors in participating states, U.S. territories and the District of Columbia. AMA has $900,000 for producers in 16 participating states (Alaska is not in the AMA program).

Each state has its own application process, and Barbara Hanson from the Alaska Division of Agriculture in Palmer is Alaska’s contact for the NOCCSP program. She can be contacted at (907) 761-3854 or barbara.hanson@alaska.gov. The program this year is for organic certification costs incurred between Oct. 1, 2014, and Sept. 30, 2015.

Organic certification is important because no food can claim to be organic without the certification, even if it’s grown or processed following organic standards. In Alaska, this has been a challenge because it’s difficult to get a USDA-accredited certifying agent out to our farms and there are none based in our state. So many Alaska farms go without the label. Click this link to learn more about the process for becoming certified as an organic farm.

• 2014 Alaska USDA organic certification cost-share program letter

• 2014 Alaska USDA organic certification cost-share program application

• What Is Organic Certification Fact Sheet

• USDA Organic Cost-Share Programs Information Sheet

• Harmful algal bloom warning issued for shellfish harvested in Starrigavan Beach

Clam diggers work the beach at Starrigavan in this file photo. The Sitka Tribe of Alaska is warning Sitkans against harvesting clams in the area due to a harmful algae detected Monday, June 8, 2015. (Daily Sitka Sentinel file photo by James Poulson)

Clam diggers work the beach at Starrigavan State Recreation Area in this file photo. The Sitka Tribe of Alaska is warning Sitkans against harvesting clams in the area due to a harmful algae detected Monday, June 8, 2015. (Daily Sitka Sentinel file photo by James Poulson)

Southeast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research (SEATOR) on Monday, June 8, issued a warning that people should not be eating shellfish harvested at Starrigavan Beach in Sitka.

Pseudo-nitzchia“Yes, we are seeing a bloom of Pseudo-nitszchia. This species of plankton can produce domoic acid which can cause amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP),” Sitka Tribe of Alaska Environmental Program Manager Chris Whitehead said.

Whitehead is coordinating SEATOR and the Southeast Alaska Tribal Toxins (SEATT) partnership program where seven tribes in Southeast Alaska are partnering to test shellfish for harmful algal booms that can cause problems such as paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) or other health issues. The SEATT partnership program and SEATOR were launched a little bit over a year ago because there is no harmful algal bloom testing of Southeast beaches by the state, even though there had been many recent cases of PSP outbreaks that resulted in people being hospitalized or even dying.

According to the SEATOR website, Pseudo-nitzchia spp is a genus of diatoms found worldwide. In North America, it can be found on the Pacific Northwest Coast from Alaska to mid-California, the Northeast Atlantic Coast of Canada, in North Carolina, and in the Gulf of Mexico. Domoic acid is a neurotoxin that binds glutamate receptors, which are involved in memory processing.

Amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP) causes gastrointestinal and neurologic issues. Mild cases usually occur within 24 hours after eating shellfish exposed to the ASP toxin. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. In more severe cases there also will be neurological problems, such as headaches, confusion, hallucinations, short-term memory loss, respiratory difficulty, seizures, coma, and in extreme cases, death.

According to a recent story from Oregon Public Broadcasting’s KUOW/EarthFix program, there currently is a massive harmful algal bloom extending from Homer, Alaska, on the north to Monterey Beach, Calif., in the south. In addition to impacting shellfish, the toxic harmful algal bloom has caused problems in fish and marine mammals that ate infected shellfish.

If you recently have eaten shellfish harvested in the Starrigavan State Recreation Area and have any of the above symptoms, you should seek medical help immediately.