St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden work party takes place on Saturday, May 7

A to-do list of chores at the St. Peter's Fellowship Farm communal garden

A to-do list of chores at the St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden

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.

Are you interested in meeting other Sitka gardeners and learning about how to grow food in Sitka’s rainy climate? Then join us for a garden party from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday, May 7, at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm.

St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm is located behind St. Peter’s By The Sea Episcopal Church, 611 Lincoln Street (the brown church with the steeple above Crescent Harbor). It is a communal garden that grows food to be sold at the Sitka Farmers Markets, at a table when Chelan Produce is in town, and used for various school lunch and hunger programs around town. This year’s Sitka Farmers Markets are from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, July 2, July 16, July 30, Aug. 13, Aug. 20, Sept. 3, and Sept. 10, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall (235 Katlian St.).

“We will be putting starts in the ground, weeding and prepping beds for planting,” St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm lead gardener Laura Schmidt said.

The garden work parties are kid-friendly, so feel free to bring the munchkins to help.

To learn more, call St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm lead gardener Laura Schmidt at 738-7009 or 623-7003.

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As you build your garden this spring, don’t forget to Plant A Row For The Hungry

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article first appeared on this site in April 2010. It is repeated because much of the information remains current and newsworthy.)

As you start to plan your garden for this spring and summer, don’t forget to Plant A Row For The Hungry. The Plant A Row For The Hungry program (also known as Plant A Row or PAR) is a national campaign by the Garden Writers Association of America that has its roots in Alaska.

In the cold winter of 1994, Anchorage Daily News (now called the Alaska Dispatch News) garden columnist and former Garden Writers Association of America President Jeff Lowenfels was returning to his hotel after a Washington, D.C., event when he was approached by a homeless person who asked for some money to buy food. Lowenfels said Washington, D.C., had signs saying, “Don’t give money to panhandlers,” so he shook his head and kept on walking. But the man’s reply, “I really am homeless and I really am hungry. You can come with me and watch me eat,” stayed with Lowenfels for the rest of his trip.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels

The encounter continued to bother Lowenfels, even as he was flying back to Anchorage. During the flight, Lowenfels came up with an idea when he started writing his weekly garden column (the longest continuously running garden column in the country, with no missed weeks since it started on Nov. 13, 1976). He asked his readers to plant one extra row in their gardens to grow food to donate to Bean’s Café, an Anchorage soup kitchen. The idea took off.

When Anchorage hosted the Garden Writers Association of America convention in 1995, Lowenfels took the GWAA members to Bean’s Café to learn about the Plant A Row For Bean’s Café program. The Garden Writers Association of America liked the idea, and it became the national Plant A Row For The Hungry campaign (also known as Plant A Row or PAR). In 2002, the Garden Writers Association Foundation was created as a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit to manage the Plant A Row For The Hungry program.

“I am not surprised by the growth of PAR,” Lowenfels wrote in an e-mail to the Sitka Local Foods Network. “It is now in all 50 states and across Canada and there are thousands of variations of the original program — from prison gardens for the hungry to botanical gardens donating their produce from public display gardens. This is because gardeners always share information and extra food, so the idea was a natural.”

It took five years for the program to reach its first million pounds of donated food, but the second million only took two years and the next eight years saw a million pounds of donated food (or more) each year. Since 1995, more than 14 million pounds of food have been donated. Not only that, the program is getting ready to expand overseas to Australia, England and other countries with avid gardeners.

“We have supplied something in the vicinity of enough food for 50 million meals,” Lowenfels wrote in his e-mail. “Gardeners can solve this hunger problem without the government. And we don’t need a tea party to do it! Or chemicals, I might add, as author of a book on organic gardening!” Lowenfels is the author of Teaming With Microbes, written with Wayne Lewis. He recently released a second book, Teaming With Nutrients, which is a follow-up to his first book.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one out of every eight U.S. households experiences hunger or the risk of hunger. Many people skip meals or eat too little, sometimes going an entire day or more without food. About 33 million Americans, including 13 million children, have substandard diets or must resort to seeking emergency food because they can’t always afford to buy the food they need. In recent years, the demand for hunger assistance has increased 70 percent, and research shows that hundreds of children and adults are turned away from food banks each year because of lack of resources.

According to the 2014 Sitka Community Food Assessment Indicators Report, about one in six people in Sitka is food insecure. In 2013, there were 1,410 Sitkans (out of a population of about 9,000) and 766 families receiving food assistance (SNAP, aka food stamps). There also were 229 individuals who received food pantry assistance from the Salvation Army and 7,243 meals served through its lunch soup kitchen in 2013, and that number has grown substantially since then.

While many people credit Lowenfels for creating the Plant A Row For The Hungry program, Lowenfels says the real heroes are the gardeners growing the extra food and donating it to local soup kitchens, senior programs, schools, homeless shelters and neighbors. You can hear him pass along the credit to all gardeners at the end of this 2009 interview with an Oklahoma television station (video also embedded below).

“One row. That’s all it takes. No rules other than the food goes to the hungry. You pick the drop-off spot or just give it to a needy friend or neighbor. Nothing slips between the lip and the cup, I say,” Lowenfels wrote in his e-mail.

For people wanting to Plant A Row For The Hungry in Sitka, there are several places that would love to help distribute some fresh locally grown veggies or berries to those who are less fortunate, such as the Salvation Army, Sitkans Against Family Violence (SAFV), local churches, Sitka Tribe of Alaska and other organizations. The food the Sitka Local Foods Network grows at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden goes to the Sitka Farmers Market, school lunches and other programs.

People who participate in the Alaska Food Stamp program can use their Alaska Quest Cards to purchase produce and fish at the Sitka Farmers Market and other farmers markets around the state. People who participate in the  WIC (Women, Infants, Children) supplemental food program (operated in Southeast Alaska by the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium or SEARHC) also can use special farmers market vouchers to buy fresh vegetables at the Sitka Farmers Market and other farmers markets in Alaska (this is part of the national WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program).

The Sitka Local Foods Network also takes donations of local produce to sell at the Sitka Farmers Markets, and all proceeds are used to help pay for SLFN projects geared toward helping more people in Sitka grow and harvest local food. For more information, contact the Sitka Local Foods Network board members at sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com.

• 2016 Plant A Row informational brochure

First two classes set for 2016 Sitka Local Foods Network garden mentor program

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Rebecca Kubacki and her family after planting their garden bed in 2015.

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Breezy and her family after planting their garden bed in 2015.

The first two classes for the 2016 Sitka Local Foods Network garden mentor program have been set for our two participating first-year families and our three returning second-year families. The classes will be similar at each location, and they are open to the public. (Note: This post has been updated with our second first-year family and a new time on one of the other classes.)

For our first-year families, the first class will focus on site selection, garden preparation, building planter beds, simple vegetables and soil preparation. The second class will be about simple vegetables and planting. Our first-year gardener families (Erin Mathes and Fran Baratki), learn how to grow four hardy crops for Sitka — kale, lettuce, potatoes and rhubarb.

Our three returning families (A.J. Bastian, Rebecca Kubacki and Breezy) will be planting carrots, chard, green onions and peas this year.These four crops are slightly more difficult crops to grow that our first-year plantings of kale, lettuce, potatoes and rhubarb. Even though the crops for our second-year students are more difficult to grow, many gardeners in Sitka still have good results with these vegetables. These classes are essentially the same, so feel free to attend the Class 1 and Class 2 that best fits your schedule.

The class schedule and location for the one first-year and three second-year families is:

  • Erin Matthes (first-year family), 716 Etolin Street — CLASS 1: 3 p.m. on Wednesday, April 27; CLASS 2: 3 p.m. on Monday, May 9.
  • Fran Baratki (first-year family), 180 Price Street, No. 6 (purple trailer) — CLASS 1:  Done; CLASS 2: 4:30 p.m. on Monday, May 9.
  • A.J. Bastian, 207 Brady St. — CLASS 1: Done; CLASS 2: 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 28.
  • Rebecca Kubacki, 1202 Halibut Point Rd. — CLASS 1: Done; CLASS 2: 5:30 p.m. on Monday, May 2.
  • Breezy, 616 Sawmill Creek Rd. — CLASS 1: 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 28; CLASS 2: 5 p.m. on Thursday, May 5.

This is the third year of the garden mentor program, which provides one-to-one mentoring to families who are trying to garden for the first time. In order to reach more people, our participating families allow the classes to be made public. By teaching families the basics of gardening, we are helping them improve their family nutrition, extend their family food budget, and increase food security in Sitka.

Michelle Putz has been contracted to coordinate the program and design lesson plans. We also have about a half-dozen experienced Sitka gardeners who serve as mentors for the program. For more information, please contact Michelle at 747-2708.

Scenes from the Sitka Kitch Cooking From Scratch class Soups, Sauces and Dressings

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kitch_logo_mainStudents made a pear chutney, a chili barbecue sauce and a tomato soup with black beans during the April 18 Cooking From Scratch series class Soups, Sauces and Dressings at the Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen, located inside the First Presbyterian Church (505 Sawmill Creek Road). This class was a make-up of a postponed class from February.

This class was taught by Kathy Jones, the executive chef at the Westmark Hotel and Totem Square Inn, with assistance from her sous chef Barbara Palacios. It was focused on preparing homemade sauces and dressings to help you lower your food costs and increase the flavor of items you cook.

The Sitka Kitch was a project of the 2013 Sitka Health Summit, and the project is coordinated by the Sitka Conservation Society in partnership with the Sitka Local Foods Network. The Sitka Kitch can be rented to teach cooking and food preservation classes, by local cottage food industry entrepreneurs who need a commercial kitchen to make their products, and for large groups needing a large kitchen for a community dinner. To learn more about how to rent the Sitka Kitch, please go to the website at http://www.sitkawild.org/sitka_kitch.

New classes will be announced soon, so watch our website, our Facebook page, the Sitka Local Foods Network website and our EventSmart online registration website for details. When new classes are announced you can register on our EventSmart page, but you will pay at the class with cash or check (made out to Sitka Conservation Society). For more information about the Sitka Kitch, email sitkakitch@sitkawild.org.

A slideshow of images from the class is posted below.

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Sitka Local Foods Network recruiting new board members and other volunteers

The 2015 Sitka Local Foods Network board of directors. Front row, from left, Alli Gabbert, Lisa Sadleir-Hart, and Jennifer Carter. Middle row, from left, Maybelle Filler and Michelle Putz. Back row, from left, Charles Bingham, Brandie Cheatham, Matthew Jackson, and Beth Kindig.

The 2015 Sitka Local Foods Network board of directors. Front row, from left, Alli Gabbert, Lisa Sadleir-Hart, and Jennifer Carter. Middle row, from left, Maybelle Filler and Michelle Putz. Back row, from left, Charles Bingham, Brandie Cheatham, Matthew Jackson, and Beth Kindig. Our 2016 board of directors (no picture available) is President Michelle Putz, Vice President Matthew Jackson, Treasurer Kathy Jones, Secretary Brandie Cheatham, Charles Bingham, Jennifer Carter, Edith Johnson, Chris Todd, and Wendy Lawrence. 

Are you concerned about increasing access to local food for all Sitka residents? Are you worried about rising food prices in Sitka, or do you want to advocate for more community gardens in Sitka?

Due to the unforeseen upcoming loss of two board members this summer, please consider joining the board of directors for the Sitka Local Foods Network to help us finish out the 2016 calendar year. We also are trying to build up a pool of possible replacements for this winter when we have three of our nine board spots up for reapplication.

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. In addition, some board members have supported other local foods projects in Sitka, such as the Sitka Kitch, Blatchley Community Garden, 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 Sitka Local Foods Network board meeting is at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 10 (Note: this is a change from our usual meeting date), at the See House behind St. Peter’s By The Sea Episcopal Church (611 Lincoln St.). The board usually meets from 6:30-8 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month, with a short finance committee meeting at 6 p.m. on alternate months. Please note, we may be changing our meeting dates in the near future.

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.

Sitka Kitch to host rescheduled Cooking From Scratch class on soups, sauces and dressings

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Chef Kathy Jones, left, and student Pat Hughes, watch pots boil during a recent Basic Culinary Skills class series during March 2016 at the Sitka Kitch.

kitch_logo_mainThe Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen will host a rescheduled class on cooking soups, sauces and dressings from 6-8:30 p.m. on Monday, April 18, at the Sitka Kitch, which is located at the First Presbyterian Church (505 Sawmill Creek Road). This class originally was part of the Cooking From Scratch series in February, but had to be postponed.

This class will be taught by Kathy Jones, the executive chef at the Westmark Hotel and Totem Square Inn, with assistance from her sous chef Barbara Palacios. It is focused on preparing homemade sauces and dressings to help you lower your food costs and increase flavor.

The Sitka Kitch was a project of the 2013 Sitka Health Summit, and the project is coordinated by the Sitka Conservation Society in partnership with the Sitka Local Foods Network. The Sitka Kitch can be rented to teach cooking and food preservation classes, by local cottage food industry entrepreneurs who need a commercial kitchen to make their products, and for large groups needing a large kitchen for a community dinner. To learn more about how to rent the Sitka Kitch, please go to the website at http://www.sitkawild.org/sitka_kitch.

The cost of the class is $20, plus a food fee shared among the registered participants. Registration closes at noon on Saturday, April 16, so the instructor can purchase supplies. Please register online through our EventSmart website, but you will pay at the class with cash. For more information, email sitkakitch@sitkawild.org.

Alaska Growers School provides guidance for Native-run agriculture projects

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The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service is offering the Alaska Growers School this summer for Alaska Native-owned farms and ranches. This training is offered by webinar and is intended for Alaska Native tribes, Alaska Native corporations, or Alaska Natives who are currently farming or ranching or hope to start.

(Photo by Jeff Fay) Meriam Karlsson provides a tour of the greenhouse and hydroponic system near Pike's Waterfront Lodge.

(Photo by Jeff Fay for the UAF Cooperative Extension Service) Meriam Karlsson provides a tour of the greenhouse and hydroponic system near Pike’s Waterfront Lodge.

A total of nine lessons will be offered by webinar and teleconference from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, June 8 to Aug. 10. Those interested should register for CEPD F001 UX1 Alaska Growers School (CRN 51871). The cost of the course is $50, however tuition waivers are available. To apply for a waiver, first you must register, then you can complete the waiver (the link is available on the registration page).

This training is non-credit and will be taught by University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service experts as well as experts from Arizona and Washington who are knowledgeable about Native American farming and ranching policies. This training is intended for Alaska Native tribes, Alaska Native corporations, or Alaska Natives who are currently or hope to start farming or ranching. Representatives or employees of Alaska Native owned corporations (regional or village) are also welcome to participate in the course. The course will address opportunities available to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

There are lots of reasons to think about starting a farm or ranch. With persistent, low oil prices, agriculture could be a diversification strategy. Starting a farm in a remote village could provide fresher, healthier food for a community as well as improved food security. It also could improve local economies by providing job opportunities and keeping more money in a particular community.

This class will provide the nuts and bolts of getting started farming or ranching in Alaska and will specifically address opportunities available to Alaska Native-owned farms and ranches who are considered socially disadvantaged by the USDA. We will showcase successful Alaska Native- and Native American-owned farms and discuss some of the most promising enterprises for Alaska, such as Rhodiola and peonies.

In the Summer 2016 Alaska Growers School, you will:

  • Learn about important considerations for starting or expanding a farm or ranch.
  • Consider opportunities to improve food security in remote Alaska Native villages
  • Learn about business mapping and how to choose a business structure
  • Establish your vision, goals, values, and strengths.
  • Assess your resources, skills, and motivations for farming.
  • Understand and learn how to manage the risks of starting or expanding a farm in remote Alaska.
  • Learn about other training opportunities, technical assistance, and resources.
  • Connect and learn with other Alaska Native and Native American growers.

The course will be offered using, Blackboard Collaborate.

Please contact the UAF Cooperative Extension Service for any questions about the Alaska Growers School.

This material is based upon work supported by the Office of Advocacy and Outreach, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award # 59-2501-15-045. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.