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.
“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.
The 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.”
The 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.
We 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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).