What you put #OnMyFork matters during eighth annual Farmers Market Celebration

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What you put #OnMyFork matters. That’s the message behind American Farmland Trust’s eighth annual Farmers Market Celebration. The celebration calls on shoppers to help identify the cream of the crop — the best of America’s farmers markets — and in Alaska we think that’s the Sitka Farmers Market.

2016SitkaFarmersMarketFlier2The celebration calls on shoppers to help identify the best of America’s farmers markets. The summer-long event launched June 20 and runs through Sept. 21. The first Sitka Farmers Market of the 2016 summer is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 2, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall. The other six Sitka Farmers Markets this summer are on Saturdays, July 16, July 30, Aug. 13, Aug. 20, Sept. 3, and Sept. 10.

“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.

“While farmers markets have been growing in popularity, keeping family farmers on farmland remains a nationwide challenge,” Sink says. “Many family farmers are struggling to stay financially afloat and face daily pressure from development to sell their land. Farmers markets provide a wonderful opportunity for family farmers to sell directly to consumers and to help make a living on their land.”

bigcabbagewsFarmers markets have a lot to offer. Beyond the beautiful array of fresh and local food, farmers markets help family farmers thrive, connect us as a community and can be catalysts for both environmental and social good. That is why American Farmland Trust is giving away awards to farmers markets who are the Best in Class in four special areas — Focus on Farmers, Healthy Food for All, Pillar of the Community, and Champion for the Environment.

If you have ever been to the Sitka Farmers Market, you may already know that they are the gold standard for farmers markets in these areas. If you haven’t been to the market before, here are a few reasons why the Sitka Farmers Market deserves to be named one of America’s top markets:

  • Focus on Farmers — The Sitka Local Foods Network, which sponsors the Sitka Farmers Market, has been working with local gardeners and small farmers to increase the amount of locally grown fruits and veggies in Sitka. Not only is locally grown food fresher and better tasting, but it’s better on the environment because it doesn’t have to travel thousands of miles to get to Alaska.
  • Healthy Food for All — The Sitka Farmers Market was the first farmers market in Southeast Alaska to accept SNAP (food stamps/Alaska Quest cards) and WIC vouchers for people benefitting from those programs. In addition, we have matching dollars of up to $20 per person per market available for SNAP-eligible foods (produce, fish, baked goods, barley products, etc.).
  • Pillar of the Community — The Sitka Farmers Market not only serves as a community gathering place, but it also is a business incubator. It’s a good place for budding entrepreneurs to test ideas and products before going into full production. The Sitka Farmers Market emphasizes local, local, local, which helps put the focus on products from Sitka.
  • Champion for the Environment — It’s estimated that Alaska residents import about 90-95 percent of their food from the Lower 48 or foreign countries. By encouraging people to grow or harvest food locally, we’re cutting down on thousands of miles of transportation costs. That means less fuel is used, and fewer pollutants in the air.

To help shine a light on the Sitka Farmers Market, 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.

Sitka Local Foods Network to host seven Sitka Farmers Markets this summer

 

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Sitka residents might notice a few changes when the Sitka Local Foods Network opens its ninth season of Sitka Farmers Markets this Saturday. For one, there will be more markets — seven instead of the six markets hosted in recent years. Another change is a more compact market, with a revised vendor price structure and fewer special programs that put the emphasis back on local foods.

SLFNBoothAlliGabbertHelpsGuyBuyingLocalIngredientsForHalibutChowder“The Sitka Farmers Market is a community gathering as much as it is a market,” said Matthew Jackson, newly installed president of the Sitka Local Foods Network and co-manager of the Sitka Farmers Market this year with Brandie Cheatham. “It’s a great way to connect with your neighbors and support local entrepreneurs. In Alaska we know all about the leaky bucket effect, so shopping at the Sitka Farmers Market is a way to keep money circulating in our community.”

The first Sitka Farmers Market of the season takes place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 2, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall (235 Katlian St.). The other markets this summer take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, July 16, July 30, Aug. 13, Aug. 20, Sept. 3, and Sept. 10, at ANB Founders Hall.

SLFNBoothLauraSchmidtAndDaughterWithPotatoesThe markets feature a variety of locally grown produce, locally harvested seafood, locally manufactured cottage foods, locally made arts and crafts, music and fun. The Sitka Farmers Market was the first market in Southeast Alaska to accept Alaska Quest (SNAP) electronic benefits transfers (EBT) and WIC coupons.

“For the last four seasons we’ve been proud to welcome Alaska Quest EBT and WIC shoppers at the market,” Jackson said. “It is so important to make sure local food is accessible to everyone.”

SLFNBoothLisaSadleirHartHelpsCustomersThe second Sitka Health Summit in April 2008 planted the seeds for the Sitka Farmers Market, as Sitka residents chose starting a local foods market as one of their community wellness initiatives for the year. About the same time, St. Peter’s By The Sea Episcopal Church was looking for a way to put some recently cleared land behind the church’s See House into use for a community project. St. Peter’s offered to lease the land to the group that became the Sitka Local Foods Network for $1 a year, and in May 2008 a group of Sitka residents built raised garden beds and planted a variety of crops. Later that summer, there was enough produce grown at St. Peter’s to supply our first three Sitka Farmers Markets starting in August 2008.

2016SitkaFarmersMarketSponsorsWe grew to five markets in 2009, followed by six markets each year from 2010-15 and now seven markets in 2016. Led by lead gardener Laura Schmidt, the production of local produce at St. Peter’s has grown each year, and there now are satellite gardens, such as the one on land owned by Pat Arvin. Most of the food grown at St. Peter’s and the satellite gardens is sold at the Sitka Farmers Market, but there has been enough for the Sitka Local Foods Network to also have a table when Chelan Produce is in town and to sell to local school lunch programs and restaurants. The money raised helps support the Sitka Local Foods Network, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, in its mission “to increase the amount of locally produced and harvested food in the diets of Southeast Alaskans.”

To learn more about the Sitka Farmers Market and how you can become a vendor, contact Matthew Jackson at (907) 821-1412 or jackson.mw08@gmail.com. The Sitka Local Foods Network website, http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org/, also has more info on the markets and links to vendor forms. The Sitka Farmers Market is sponsored by the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC).

Deadline approaching for FY2017 high tunnel cost share program

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IMG_8020Applications are being accepted for the fiscal year 2017 fiscal year high tunnel cost share program in Southeast Alaska, which is coordinated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Applications for the FY2017 funding period are due by Sept. 1, 2016, in the USDA NRCS Juneau Field Office. However, applicants are encouraged to apply early for the program, which is part of the USDA Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

“Since people need to verify they are eligible prior to submitting an application, I highly recommend that people interested in applying for NRCS programs get in touch with the field office by July 31,” said Samia Savell, USDA District Conservationist for the Juneau Field Office. “The Juneau Field Office now has two additional staff – Will Murray and Jodi Hastings. Any of us can answer questions or assist with the necessary application requirements.”

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) may provide funding assistance to qualified landowners in order to offset the cost of purchasing professionally manufactured high tunnels.

Juneau_tunnel1High tunnels, also known as hoop houses or temporary greenhouses, extend the growing season so more food is produced before and after the traditional weather dates for growing stuff outdoors. They also can help with irrigation and drainage, and with pest control.

High tunnels are different than greenhouses in that they are passively heated by the sun, so they have lower energy costs than greenhouses. High tunnels are at least nine feet tall (an increase from six feet tall in recent years), so people can walk upright in them. Low tunnels, which usually involve some PVC pipe bent over a garden bed and covered with row cover, aren’t eligible in this program. Food in high tunnels is planted either directly into the ground or in raised beds, not in containers.

Picture10To learn more about the USDA’s high tunnel program, click here, and click here to get information about the application procedure. This link has frequently asked questions and answers about seasonal high tunnel systems for crops. This link has a fact sheet about high tunnels.

The high tunnel cost share program started a couple of years ago as a pilot program, but now is a permanent part of of the NRCS EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentive Programs). The program recently was revamped, and one major change is there now is no size restriction on the structures NRCS provides cost-sharing funds (previously it was limited to up to 2,178 square feet, or 5 percent of one acre). Also, geodesic domes are now eligible. Both the land owner and land must meet certain eligibility requirements.

Funding is provided on a reimbursable status once the high tunnel is installed and certified to meet NRCS standards. In 2012 there was just one high tunnel in Sitka, but in 2013 there were six. Other areas of the state, such as Homer, have built dozens of high tunnels through the program.

EQIP FY 2017 Dates to Know“The application itself is due by Sept. 1, but applicants must have already gotten a farm and tract number by registering with the Farm Services Agency – and it can take some time to get that done,” Savell said. This link includes a table outline of the various dates when things are due (or click the image at left).

For information regarding the NRCS technical service or program participation in Southeast Alaska, please contact Samia Savell, Will Murray, or Jodi Hastings at the Juneau field office at (907) 586-7220 or 586-7208, or send an email to samia.savell@ak.usda.gov, william.murray@ak.usda.gov, or joanne.hastings@ak.usda.gov. Click here for a link to the Alaska NRCS page. Contact information for the offices in Alaska is also available at www.ak.nrcs.usda.gov/contact/fieldoffices.html.

 

Sitka Kitch to offer Preserving the Harvest: Pickles and Sauerkraut class

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kitch_logo_mainWant to learn how to make a simple pickle using a vinegar brine? What about the art of fermentation, and making homemade sauerkraut filled with probiotics to go with reindeer dogs and sausages?

Lisa Sadleir-Hart, RDN, MPH will teach Simple Pickles and Sauerkraut at 6 p.m. on Monday, July 18, at the Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen, located at First Presbyterian Church (505 Sawmill Creek Road). This is part of a new Preserving the Harvest series of classes that will be held throughout the summer. The other classes in the series will be announced once details are finalized.

jar-pickles-prepared-salt-vinegar-glass-35566465The 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 class cost is $20, plus a food and supply fee that will be divided among the number of registered students. Registration is capped at 10 students, so sign up early to secure your space in this first food preservation class of the season. Registration closes at 10:55 p.m. on Friday, July 15.

You will use our online registration site, http://sitkakitch.eventsmart.com/, to sign up for the class, but you’ll pay by cash or check (made out to Sitka Conservation Society) at the beginning of the class. To avoid a no-show fee, we ask for 48-hour notice if you can’t attend the class.

If you have any questions, please email sitkakitch@sitkawild.org.

Fifth-grade students start their own garden at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School

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Five fifth-grade boys are growing a variety of crops this year after starting their own garden at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School.

The five boys who started the garden — Kyan Scudero, Bridger Bird, Takeshi Handy, Samuel Jones, and Camden Young — were assisted by their classmates, teacher Jennifer Tulloh said. They will be in sixth grade at Blatchley Middle School this fall.

The boys let student-teacher Julie Jordan know they wanted to start a garden and, with Tulloh’s blessing, Jordan contacted Sitka Local Foods Network board member Jennifer Carter for technical assistance. Jordan designed the garden beds, and her husband, Karl Jordan, had the students in his Blatchley Middle School shop class build the raised garden beds.

“You know, this started as a project for my kids that weren’t interested in band but my whole class got involved in the project,” Tulloh said. “The boys got really into the planting and enjoyed meeting with Jennifer (Carter), who was so giving of her time and resources. They started and followed the garden from beginning to end and took great pride in it.”

“The young men wanted to start a vegetable garden for their school and leave it as a parting legacy before they moved on to middle school,” Carter said. “They learned how to prepare the soil, measure for proper spacing and start their own seedlings. They have planted rhubarb, strawberries, potatoes, peas, lettuce, carrots, kale, onions, and radishes.”

A slideshow of photos of the boys and their garden (taken by Jennifer Carter) can be found below.

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Do you need to test your soil for a better garden? Sometimes you do

simple-plant-deficiency-guideHave you ever planted your garden and even though you’ve had plenty of sunny weather it just doesn’t seem to be growing the way it should? You might need to test your soil to see if you need to replenish some nutrients.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service has several publications and a video that can help you decide if you need to test your soil, and if yes, teach you how. Many gardeners test their soil at the end of the season, so they can amend their soil as needed to prepare for the next spring’s planting. But sometimes you might need to test during the growing season, which is what Sitka Local Foods Network Garden Mentor Program Coordinator Michelle Putz did last year when one of her student’s gardens wasn’t doing very well.

Soil testing is not always necessary,” Michelle said. “If you have several hours of direct sun and your garden is growing beautifully, then you may not need to test your soil. If you have sun but your garden is not doing so well, or if you have brand new soil, it might be worth testing the soil.

“One of our Garden Mentor families in 2015 grew beautiful but tiny plants that were struggling to get bigger, she added. “A simple soil test showed that their soil was low in nitrogen and needed a little acid. Once we added coffee grounds (for acid) and blood meal (for nitrogen), the plants grew substantially. Had we realized that our starting soil was so basic (not acidic enough) and nutrient poor, we could have made adjustments before the growing season and had a much more productive garden.”

In Southeast Alaska, our rain tends to wash a lot of the nutrients out of the soil. This is why it’s almost a requirement for gardeners to amend their soil with seaweed, compost, coffee grounds and other items to replenish the missing nutrients. It also helps to rotate your crops from one garden plot to the next, since different plants draw different nutrients as they grow (for example, potatoes use a lot of nitrogen while tomatoes use a lot of potassium).

To learn more about soil-testing, watch the video at the top of this story and read the three attached files below. The attached files and video will show you how to take a soil sample and how to send it to a lab for testing.

• Soil and Fertilizer Management for Healthy Gardens (UAF Cooperative Extension Service publication, HGA-0338)

• Factors to Consider in Selecting a Soil-Testing Laboratory (UAF Cooperative Extension Service publication, FGV-00045)

• Soil Sampling (UAF Cooperative Extension Service publication, FGV-00044)

Scenes from the Sitka Kitch Cooking From Scratch class Simple Pasta Dishes

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kitch_logo_mainStudents made meatballs; linguine with basil pesto, white clam sauce and cherry tomatoes; and spaghetti alla carbonara during the June 13 Cooking From Scratch series class Simple Pasta Dishes at the Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen, located inside the First Presbyterian Church (505 Sawmill Creek Road). The students also received a recipe and tips on how to make a homemade macaroni and cheese dish (due to time constraints they didn’t actually make the dish), so they don’t have to rely on the chemical feast found in prepared mac and cheese mixes.

SampleBowlOfLinguineWithPestoAndClamSauceThis 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 simple pasta dishes to help people expand their culinary repertoire and extend their food budgets.

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.

PanOfCookedMeatballsWithMarinaraAlso, watch out for upcoming classes from Chef Kathy and Chef Barbara in late July (tentative topic is rabbit), August (tentative topic is quail) and September (tentative topic is mystery basket, bring in items from your garden, pantry or freezer and create a dish).

We’ll post more details on our website, our Facebook page, the Sitka Local Foods Network website and our EventSmart online registration website when they become available. 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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