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

We’re not ready to take vendor registrations yet, but the Sitka Local Foods Network is closer to having its plans set for our 14th season of the Sitka Farmers Market. We do have dates and a location now, but we have to rewrite our vendor agreements to discuss our new COVID-19 reality and we’re waiting to hear if we received a grant that will help us reduce our vendor fees.

Right now we are looking at hosting eight markets, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, July 3, July 17, July 31, Aug. 7, Aug. 21, Aug. 28, Sept. 11, and Sept. 18, on the plaza outside the museum end of Harrigan Centennial Hall. This year’s market will be entirely outdoors to limit the spread of COVID-19, and we still will need people to mask up.

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 plan to have a hybrid format, where some produce will be posted online during the week for early ordering and then pick-up at the market, with regular day-at-market sales also taking place where people pick and choose what veggies they want to buy while at the market. In addition, in our non-market weeks we plan to have a small-scale online sales program with either a delivery or pick-up service planned (we are still deciding how this will work).

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.

Our main reason for holding the market outside is because we worry being inside puts too many people on top of each other and probably isn’t safe. We still need to work out our configuration for the plaza outside Harrigan Centennial Hall, so we know how many booths we can support, but we should be able to have people use the benches around the outside of the building. Vendors will need to provide a two-foot-by-six-foot table, but there is an overhang so most booths should be protected from the rain. There are a limited number of electrical outlets outside, for those booths needing power.

We also should be able to host food trucks, which can park next to the plaza with their windows facing the building (most of them have already done this at other events). If you are planning to cook food at the market, your booth will have to be at least 10 feet away from any of the overhangs, so they will need to set up a table and 10×10 farmers market/event tent (about $115-$120 at Sitka True Value) on the plaza. They also will need to provide their own small camp stove or BBQ grill for cooking, and may need a generator for power since we can’t have long cords creating a trip hazard.

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 we’re already planting veggies inside it.

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.

We are excited to bring the market back to Sitka, and hope people enjoy our eight markets this summer. The full markets will allow non-produce vendors to participate, and maybe even some arts-and-crafts vendors.

Since we will have to increase the space between 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 Nalani James will be our Sitka Farmers Market manager this year. We will need volunteers to help set up and take down the market each week, and to sell produce at the Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand.