An update about the 2021 Sitka Farmers Market and our plans for a safe event

Usually the Sitka Local Foods Network has announced the dates of the summer’s Sitka Farmers Market by now. But, as most of you are aware, these are not ordinary times as we enter the second year of our COVID-19 reality. Our intention is to have our 14th season of Sitka Farmers Market events this summer, but they still may look a bit different than what we’ve had in the past. While our details aren’t finalized, we wanted to provide an update to the community about our plans for the summer.

Last year we were able to host a very scaled back market, using the Salt and Soil Marketplace online ordering system during the week and having customers pick up their produce on Saturdays. This year we hope to expand back closer to our normal market format with more vendors, but also having some weeks where we just do an online order and pick-up service.

Now that vaccines are available and more people in Sitka are becoming vaccinated, we feel like we can do more this year such as allow socializing and having more people around. At the same time we have COVID-19 and its variants in our midst, so we still plan to require masks and hand-washing to help prevent the spread.

We also plan to hold our event at an outdoor location TBA, since being inside puts too many people on top of each other and probably isn’t safe. We hope to be able to announce an outside location downtown in the next week or two. We hope to announce our dates and vendor prices when we announce the location.

For vendors, since we will be out in an open field, you will need to provide your own table, chairs, and a 10×10 farmers market/event tent (which run about $115-$120 at Sitka True Value). Being outside, we won’t have access to electricity, so vendors may need a generator for power, or a small camp stove or BBQ grill if you’re cooking at the market.

We have big plans to grow even more produce than before at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden. Last year, we bought a second high tunnel so we can extend our growing season and have a little help with climate control. That worked so well, we bought a third high tunnel this winter and it’s being erected at the garden this spring.

Laura Schmidt has been our lead gardener for more than a decade, and deserves a lot of respect for how much produce she grows on the small patch of land we have access to behind St. Peter’s By The Sea Episcopal Church. We thank St. Peter’s for allowing us to continue growing food for the community on its property. St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm has received a Certified Naturally Grown designation the past two years.

The Sitka Farmers Market is about local food, but it’s so much more. It’s about community and providing local entrepreneurs with a place to sell their products. We really enjoy seeing everybody come together to see their neighbors and friends at the market. That’s a big reason we want to host the market. One aspect of the market is it serves as a business incubator, a place for people to try out a new business, and we lost that last year when we had to scale things back to just our produce vendors.

Our tentative plans for 2021 are to hold markets from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays at least once every other week from late June to September. This will allow non-produce vendors to participate, and maybe even some arts-and-crafts vendors. On alternate weeks, we will do something similar to last year, where people order produce from Tuesday afternoon to Thursday night using the Salt and Soil Marketplace, with a pick-up event or possible delivery from 10 a.m. to noon on the Saturdays when we don’t have a regular market.

Since we will have to separate booths around the market, we will have some space limitations. The Sitka Local Foods Network’s main focus is on local food, so food booths who book by a certain date will have priority, with arts-and-crafts booths filling leftover open spaces. We want to be able to involve as many vendors as possible, so hopefully we’ll be able to fit everybody in the space without making it too crowded.

We are working with state WIC and SNAP programs to see if we can accept benefits every week, or only when we have our larger markets. Our goal is to provide fresh local produce to all residents, especially those low-income residents who might not be able to afford it. Anyway, we still are trying to finalize details and hope to have an update soon.

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.

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