Join the 2020 Local Foods Challenge to make the Southeast Alaska food system more resilient

Are you ready for a challenge?

Food is not just about what we eat. It’s also about where it comes from and the connections it creates between people and places along the way.

Join us on a journey to explore and transform Southeast Alaska’s food system by being part of the 2020 Local Foods Challenge. This event is hosted by the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, in collaboration with the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition.

As a participant in this Challenge, you will join others in reshaping and fostering resilience within our local and regional food systems while increasing community wellness for both the short and long-term. We ask you to deepen your involvement in the local food system by cultivating and elevating your personal knowledge, skills, and connection to the local food system within your community.

Here’s how it works:

  • When you sign up, you’ll take a survey to assess your involvement in 10 distinct categories of the local food system.
  • Your challenge from May to September is to deepen your connection to the local food system by increasing your level of engagement for each category.
  • The more levels you go, the more resilient our food system will be in September and beyond.
  • At the end of the challenge, we will tally the progress of all of the challengers to discover how much we collectively shifted our food system’s resilience.
  • Participants will receive a certificate of completion and a digital guide with tips for how to stay involved in the local food system all year long.

To help you on this local food journey, we will connect you to resources related to all 10 categories, and we will share stories to inspire and celebrate our successes.

The Local Foods Challenge is about building a community of Southeast Alaskans who care about local foods. We will share knowledge, resources, place-based advice, and best practices across our unique region.

Together we will forge a resilient, prosperous, and healthy Southeast Alaska. Click this link to sign up for the Challenge.

Celebrate local farmers and gardeners on Alaska Agriculture Day on Friday, May 15

Alaskans can support local agriculture by celebrating Alaska Agriculture Day on Friday, May 15, by seeking out and purchasing products produced in Alaska, and by educating young people about the vital role agriculture plays in our economy.

Governor Mike Dunleavy issued a proclamation commemorating the day in recognition of the importance of agriculture to the daily life of all residents, and in appreciation for all farmers and producers in the state of Alaska.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, however, the Division of Agriculture will not be able to mark the event with a public gathering as in previous years. Instead, the Division invites Alaskans to visit the http://www.buyalaskagrown.com/ webpage for information on where to find farmers markets, stores and retailers that support the “Alaska Grown” program and where they can buy directly from farmers, growers and producers around the state.

Alaskans are also invited to visit the Alaska Grown Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/dnr.alaskagrown/ where they may read the division’s Alaska Agricultural Day post thanking Alaska farmers for always being there, and for working hard to feed and supply Alaskans, even during difficult times.

Members of the public are encouraged to like the post, to leave a comment supporting Alaska farmers, and to share the post with the hashtags #stillfarming and #thankafarmer for a chance to win an Alaska Grown gift basket.

In Sitka, you can celebrate Alaska Agriculture Day by starting a food garden (even a couple of containers on your deck can provide you with potatoes, carrots or greens). Teachers are encouraged to offer a lesson plan or two about the importance of agriculture in Alaska and in Sitka. Here’s a link to an article about how Sitka was Alaska’s original garden city back in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Also, the Sitka History Minute feature on KCAW-Raven Radio has had several episodes about agriculture in Sitka (click here to listen to a feature about the potato in Sitka, click here to listen to a feature about the Sitka Agricultural Station, and click here to listen to a feature about the cows of Iris Meadows).

There are a few smaller commercial farms in Sitka, including St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm (where the Sitka Local Foods Network grows produce to sell at the Sitka Farmers Market), Middle Island Gardens, Down-to Earth Gardens, and Anam Cara Family Garden. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, we will host a greatly scaled back Sitka Farmers Market this summer, with people using the Salt and Soil Marketplace website to order produce from St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm and Middle Island Gardens during the week (Tuesday through Thursday), then pick up the produce on Saturdays. Details are still being finalized, but more info can be found at this link.

City and Borough of Sitka makes free compost and mulch available May 20 to home gardeners

For the second straight year, the City and Borough of Sitka Department of Public Works is making free compost and mulch available to Sitka gardeners.

The Public Works Department has been making compost from its grass and other garden clippings in recent years, and also has a big pile of mulch from its landscaping projects. The two piles are stored near the Kimsham ball fields near Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School. The compost and mulch is available on a first-come, first-served basis from Wednesday, May 20, until it runs out.

While the compost does not have food waste in it, there is a chance it might have weeds. The compost and mulch is not for commercial use, and only for home gardeners. No dumping is allowed, and users are requested to keep the area clean so it is safe for others. Once the compost and mulch is gone, the program will end until next spring.

The compost and mulch are the result of regular Public Works Department landscaping work. The piles may vary each year, depending on city operations. The piles will be restocked each April-May, pending the city’s spring maintenance program, and will occur about the time spring mowing starts.

For more information about the program, contact the Public Works Department at 747-1806 or at publicworks@cityofsitka.org.

Check out the May 2020 edition of the Sitka Local Foods Network newsletter

The Sitka Local Foods Network just sent out the May 2020 edition of its monthly newsletter. Feel free to click this link to get a copy.

This month’s newsletter includes short articles about an update on the Sitka Farmers Market and our contingency plans for the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, a #GivingTuesdayNow fundraiser on May 5, a fundraiser to help us build a new high tunnel at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm, an invitation to join our board of directors, and an opportunity to sponsor us for 2020. Each story has links to our website for more information.

You can sign up for future editions of our newsletter by clicking on the newsletter image in the right column of our website and filling in the information. If you received a copy but didn’t want one, there is a link at the bottom of the newsletter so you can unsubscribe. Our intention is to get the word out about upcoming events and not to spam people. We will protect your privacy by not sharing our email list with others. Don’t forget to like us on Facebooklike our Sitka Farmers Market page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter (@SitkaLocalFoods).

Help the Sitka Local Foods Network provide local produce to low-income Sitkans on #GivingTuesdayNow

As the world deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, many nonprofits have seen their funding reduced due to event cancelations and venue closures. The Sitka Local Foods Network is one of them. That’s why we’re participating in #GivingTuesdayNow on May 5, a special global day of unity to help nonprofits during this time of crisis. We have created an online #GivingTuesdayNow fundraiser on our MightyCause donation page, and hope you will help.

Normally, #GivingTuesday takes place on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving, and the Sitka Local Foods Network has hosted five #GivingTuesday fundraisers. The regular #GivingTuesday fundraiser will be Dec. 1, 2020, and we expect to have our usual fundraiser during the holiday season. But #GivingTuesdayNow is a special event to help nonprofits during COVID-19.

So what does this mean for the Sitka Local Foods Network?

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sitka Local Foods Network is having to dramatically scale back the 13th season of the Sitka Farmers Market, which will reduce our our operations budget for the year. The Sitka Farmers Market is one of our biggest fundraisers, and this summer we will be reduced to two produce vendors and won’t have our other usual vendors selling breads, jams and jellies, arts and crafts, and prepared foods.

But our mission is to increase the amount of locally harvested and produced foods into the diets of Southeast Alaskans. So that means we will be selling fresh, local produce we grow at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm. But to reduce the risk of spreading the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, we will be limiting our customer contact. We will use an online ordering portal so people order $20 or $40 boxes of produce during the week and then pick them up on Saturdays.

Due to our switch to an online sales portal, we won’t be able to accept and match SNAP and WIC benefits like normal. We still want to get fresh, local produce into the hands of low-income Sitka residents, so we are trying to come up with a plan for this, even if it means we have to use our general fund to cover the costs of giving a $20 box of produce to WIC/SNAP beneficiaries. We hope this fundraiser will help us cover the costs of providing this produce to low-income Sitkans. You can learn more about our plans at our website, http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org, or you can contact Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham at sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com or 623-7660.

Another update about the 2020 Sitka Farmers Market and our contingency plans

It’s May and we are still living in unusual times, with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and COVID-19 disease outbreak keeping many of us sheltered in place. The pandemic has scuttled some of our plans for the 2020 Sitka Farmers Market season, and we’re trying to adapt to our changing world so we can host something this year. We gave Sitka an update on our plans in late March, and now it’s time for another update.

We are still finalizing plans, but it doesn’t look as if we’ll be able to host a full Sitka Farmers Market this summer. Our regular venue, Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall, is still closed, and even if we could use the building current state mandates limit what we can do. While the state considers farmers markets to be essential businesses, the state is limiting markets to food sales only and not allowing arts and crafts (about 65-70 percent of our vendors). We’d love to hold a regular market, but under the current situation we just can’t. We love serving as an incubator for small businesses and a community gathering place, so we hope to return to having a full market next summer.

So where does that leave us for the 2020 summer? The Sitka Local Foods Network, as usual, is growing fresh produce at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm. Our produced-growing operation has a Certified Naturally Grown designation, showing our commitment to sustainable agriculture, and we built a second high tunnel this spring to extend our growing season.

We think giving Sitka residents access to healthy, local food is critical to our food security, and we still plan to sell produce this summer. It’s in our mission, and we plan to do it. Since we are losing our market manager of the past three years (Nina Vizcarrondo) to Coast Guard relocation, we hired two co-managers to replace her — Ariane Martin Goudeau and Nalani James. Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham also will assist with the markets, and Laura Schmidt has been our lead gardener at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm for about a decade.

Right now our plan is to use an online sales portal, Salt and Soil Marketplace based in Juneau, where people will order a box of produce during the week, pay for it online, and then pick it up on Saturday. We plan to sell a $20 box of produce that will feature four selected veggies that are currently in season, and a $40 box which will include additional veggies. We also may sell selected individual veggies when we have an abundance beyond what we’d put in the boxes. In order to simplify things this year, we will not carry our usual Alaska Grown products this summer. We plan to work with Middle Island Gardens, which will sell its produce on Salt and Soil Marketplace and have its own delivery pick-ups at the same time and location.

We are still trying to finalize our agreement on dates and times with our proposed venue, and that will be announced once it’s confirmed. We are negotiating with a centralized outdoor venue, and our proposed hours are from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. We hope to hold our first pick-up on June 20, and then every Saturday in July, August, and September.

Due to health and safety concerns from the COVID-19 outbreak, things will look different on market Saturdays. We are trying to minimize contact as much as possible, and all of our volunteers will wear gloves and masks and we ask all of our customers to also wear masks. We have been attending several workshops on how to safely run a market, and we decided simplicity and safety was our priority this year. That’s why there will only be two vendors — the Sitka Local Foods Network and Middle Island Gardens — this year and all of our produce will be pre-sold before Saturday, so customers can get in and out as quickly as possible and we don’t have to handle cash or checks.

We will ask customers to drive up to our pick-up location, and wait in their cars (with engines turned off) until our greeters get their names and then gets their orders so they can be placed in their vehicle. There will be no at-market sales, so please stay with your vehicles and don’t come up to our tables. If you bike or walk, we will ask you to maintain proper social distancing until we can bring you your order. The first half-hour we are open will be designated for seniors and those with high-risk health issues, so they can get in and out before the big rush. Periodically, we may stop what we’re doing so everybody can wash their hands and reglove, and we can wipe down our tables. We want to make this safe for our customers and our volunteers.

One of our biggest issues is how we will be able to make sure our produce gets into the hands of lower-income Sitka residents. Normally we accept SNAP Alaska Quest EBT cards and WIC farmers market nutrition vouchers, but unless something changes soon we’re not allowed to use those methods if we use an online sales portal. We are trying to come up with a solution, and that may mean we have WIC/SNAP beneficiaries send us an email or call a special phone number to receive a free $20 box of produce every other week. Since we won’t get reimbursed by the state, we’ll cover the costs from our general fund. This will only be for the Sitka Local Foods Network produce.

We still have a few things to work out, so we will will provide another update as those details are confirmed. If you have any questions, feel free to call Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham at 623-7660 or email sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com.