As 2015 comes to a close, here are some highlights from the past year for your Sitka Local Foods Network. We are looking forward to a lot of new adventures in 2016, and encourage people to join us. We always need new volunteers, and please donate to us through Pick.Click.Give. when you file for your Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend starting on Jan. 1 and ending March 31. Your donations help fund a variety of Sitka Local Foods Network programs, such as the Sitka Farmers Market, St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden, and a host of garden and food education opportunities.
Our annual meeting and potluck will be from 5:30-8 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 30, at the Sitka Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall (408 Marine Street, parking is off Spruce Street). This event is open to the public, just bring a dish (preferably with local foods) to share with everybody. We usually introduce new board members, confirm our new officers, and give an update on our finances and programs.
And now here are those 2015 highlights from your Sitka Local Foods Network:
Grew food at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm and extension gardens
For the eighth straight year, the Sitka Local Foods Network expanded its produce-growing operations at the St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden and our extension gardens, such as the one on land owned by Pat Arvin. The food grown from these gardens is sold at the Sitka Farmers Market, where Sitka residents, including people with SNAP (food stamps) and WIC (supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children) benefits, have access to fresh local produce. In addition to supplying the Sitka Farmers Market, this year we grew enough to sell to some school lunch programs, at the Sitka Seafood Festival, at the Running of the Boots costumed fun run, and at a booth on days when Chelan Produce was in Sitka.
Hosted six Sitka Farmers Market events
We hosted the Sitka Farmers Market for the eighth straight summer, and this year there were six markets on alternate Saturdays from July 4 through Sept. 12. In addition to selling produce from St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm and our extension gardens, the Sitka Farmers Market serves as a business incubator where budding entrepreneurs sell jams/jellies, baked goods, fish, prepared food ready to eat, and a variety of local arts and crafts. Our emphasis is on local products always. The Sitka Farmers Market also provides a venue for local musicians (we hire a few to play at each market). One of the highlights this year was a brief performance by the students involved in the musical with the Sitka Fine Arts Camp. Another highlight was the inaugural Sitka Slug Races, where Sitka residents brought their own slugs (or rented ones we harvested) for a series of races on a glass table.
Taught a variety of garden education classes and mentored some novice gardeners
The Sitka Local Foods Network education committee hosted a variety of classes this year for local food gardeners. We started out with a couple of classes about basic gardening in Sitka, and followed those with classes on starting seeds, composting, chickens, rabbits, fruit trees, potatoes, carrots, rhubarb, and more. In addition, we hosted the second year of our family garden mentoring program with funding from First Bank. In this program we provided one-on-one mentoring for four families of novice gardeners and two families returning for a second year of the program. We are hoping to bring this innovative program back in 2016 and we are recruiting for new families. This fall we received a small grant from the United Way of Southeast Alaska that we will use to develop a teaching garden at Baranof Elementary School near downtown Sitka.
Partnered with several organizations to launch and operate the Sitka Kitch
This year we partnered with the Sitka Conservation Society, UAF Cooperative Extension Service, First Presbyterian Church, Sitka Food Co-op, and other organizations to help launch the Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen, which officially opened in March 2015. The Sitka Kitch is available for cottage food entrepreneurs to rent as they make their products, plus we have been offering a variety of food preservation and cooking classes. The Sitka Kitch also is available for people to rent who need a larger kitchen to cook a community meal.
Helped launch the Sitka Food Collaborative
Toward the end of the year, the Sitka Local Foods Network, Sitka Conservation Society, Sitka Kitch, Sitka Food Co-op, Sitka Seedling Farms, and other food groups created the Sitka Food Collaborative and then submitted an application for a USDA grant to conduct a Sitka Food Systems Assessment. This will build on the work done in 2013-14 with the Sitka Community Food Assessment, but will look at ways we can improve our local food system so we have better food security.
Fundraising and strategic planning
The Sitka Local Foods Network is maturing as an organization, and this year we decided we needed to start raising money so we eventually can hire a part-time director to take care of some of the daily chores dealt with by our volunteer board of directors. We have started to set aside a little bit of money, still have a ways to go. This year we received a grant from the Alaska Community Foundation that will allow us to work with the Foraker Group in 2016 to create a fundraising and long-term strategic plan. We participated in the Pick.Click.Give. program for the second year, and we are preparing for our third year of receiving donations from Alaskans when they file for their Permanent Fund Dividends. We launched an online donation page on Razoo.com (a donation website for nonprofit groups), and hosted fundraisers for St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm, the Sitka Sound Suppers (with a totally local meal) and #GivingTuesday (#GivingTuesdayAK in Alaska). This fall we received a small grant from the United Way of Southeast Alaska that we will use to develop a teaching garden at Baranof Elementary School near downtown Sitka. In December, the Sitka Local Foods Network was named Alaska’s winner in the 50 States For Good contest, hosted by Tom’s of Maine. Each of the winning community nonprofits from each state won $20,000 to improve their programming, which we should receive in January.