Registration open for Alaska Food Festival and Conference on March 8-9 in Homer

Registration is open for the 2019 Alaska Food Festival and Conference, which takes place on Friday and Saturday, March 8-9, at Land’s End Resort in Homer.

Hosted by the Alaska Food Policy Council (AFPC), this semi-annual event previously took place in Anchorage in 2014 and 2016 and in Fairbanks in 2017. This year, the Alaska Farmers Market Association is co-hosting the conference.

“This event is an amazing opportunity to meet enthusiastic folks from all parts of the Alaska food system to share ideas and dreams from educators to farmers, distillers to oyster growers, and communities from Tyonek to Port Lions to Kotzebue,” said Lorinda Lhotka, a governing board member of the Alaska Food Policy Council and one of the conference organizers. “There is truly something for everyone and when you leave this conference you will be motivated to take action to improve your local food system.”

Conference topics will cover Alaska’s vast and diverse food system. This year’s keynote speakers are Ben Feldman, policy director and interim executive director of the Farmers Market Coalition, and Courtney Long, program coordinator for the Iowa State University Cooperative Extension Service and Outreach/Local Foods Program.

Sessions will include presentations on farmers market issues, food security, policy, production, harvesting, business, education, community, tradition, sovereignty, fermenting, subsistence, growing, and more. Chef demonstrations, hands-on activities, vendor booths, and a Friday night social round out the event.

In conjunction with the Alaska Food Festival and Conference, two other events will take place in Homer during this week. There will be a Produce Safety Alliance Grower Training on Thursday, March 7, to teach commercial food growers how to meet the requirements of the new Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rule. On Sunday, March 10, the Alaska Farmers Market Association will host its annual meeting and planning session.

“The first ever Alaska Farmers Market Association conference in 2017 brought together market organizers from around the state,” said Robbi Mixon, a governing board member of the Alaska Food Policy Council and coordinator of the Alaska Farmers Market Association. “We shared information and ideas, gained knowledge on running successful markets, and most importantly built a statewide community of market managers who support each other. We’ve joined forces with the Alaska Food Policy Council for our next edition, further broadening the experience and connections for Alaska’s farmers, markets, eaters, businesses, non‐profits, academics … really anyone with an interest in building a stronger food system.”

To learn more about this event, go to the conference website at http://www.akfoodpolicycouncil.org/2019-conference. The website has links to draft agendas and information about registration, event sponsorship, being a vendor, being a volunteer, and how to nominate someone for the Alaska Food Heroes Award. There are a limited number of travel scholarships.

We have arranged a 7 percent travel discount with RAVN Alaska, and people should use the code “AKFOODPOLICY” when booking their airfare. We also have a conference rate of 10-15 percent off regular winter rates at Land’s End Resort for people booking their rooms before March 1 and using the code “FARMERS2019.”

For more information about the conference, contact Robbi Mixon at (907) 235-4068, Ext. 23, or robbi@inletkeeper.org.

  • The Alaska Food Policy Council (https://www.akfoodpolicycouncil.org/) is a nonprofit organization whose diverse membership works to engage Alaskans to make positive changes for the state’s food system, and to create a healthier, more prosperous and more secure future for all.
  • The Alaska Farmers Market Association (http://www.alaskafarmersmarkets.org/) is a nonprofit whose mission is to support and promote vibrant and sustainable farmers markets throughout Alaska. AFMA is excited about this opportunity to gather state farmers market organizers and food system leaders together. Market organizers — look for sessions with a focus on farmers markets.
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Scenes from the community conversation about our food with food systems expert/author Mark Winne

This past week, noted food systems/food policy expert and author Mark Winne was in Sitka to research his new book, tentatively called “Food Town, USA,” about the local food systems of seven communities around the country.

During his time in Sitka, Mark visited the Sitka Farmers Market, the Sitka Food Co-op, the Sitka Kitch, and several food businesses around town. He also helped lead a community conversation about our food on Wednesday, July 11, at the Sitka Public Library, a free event co-sponsored by the Sitka Local Foods Network and the Sitka Food Co-op.

This event was moderated by Doug Osborne, health promotion director at Sitka Community Hospital and a former Sitka Local Foods Network board member. It also featured a brief history of Sitka’s food system from current Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham and an introduction to the Sitka Food Co-op by manager Keith Nyitray.

Those in attendance then had a chance to discuss Sitka’s food system, to find strengths and weaknesses. They also broke into small groups to discuss where they wanted for Sitka’s food system in the future.

A slideshow of scenes from the event is posted below. A PDF version of the brief history of Sitka’s food system also is posted below.

• A Story About Food In Sitka (opens as 13.5 MB PDF file, originally a much larger PowerPoint presentation)

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Food policy/food systems expert and author Mark Winne coming to Sitka to research new book

Nationally recognized food policy/food systems expert and author Mark Winne will be in Sitka from July 6-13 to do research on a new book, tentatively called “Food Town, USA,” where he examines the local food systems of eight to 10 small communities around the country.

“I’ll be visiting what may be America’s best little food town for research,” Mark wrote about Sitka on his website.

As part of his stay in Sitka, Mark will visit the Sitka Farmers Market, the Sitka Kitch, Sitka Food Co-Op, and a variety of local food businesses in town. He also will be part of a free community discussion about food from 6-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 11, at the Sitka Public Library. This event is co-hosted by the Sitka Local Foods Network and Sitka Food Co-Op and moderated by Doug Osborne.

Mark’s career in food policy and food systems spans 40 years. From 1979 to 2003, Mark was the executive director of the Hartford Food System, a Connecticut nonprofit food organization. He is the co-founder of the now-closed Community Food Security Coalition where he also worked as the food policy council program director from 2005-12. During his time with the Community Food Security Coalition, he did some work to help get the Alaska Food Policy Council up and running.

He was a Kellogg Foundation Food and Society Fellow, a Johns Hopkins School of Public Health Visiting Scholar, and a member of the U.S. Delegation to the 2000 Rome Conference on Food Security. As a writer on food issues, Mark’s work has appeared in the Washington Post, The Nation, Sierra, Orion, and Yes!, to name a few. He is the author of three books — Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of PlentyFood Rebels, Guerrilla Gardeners, and Smart Cookin’ Mamas; and Stand Together or Starve Alone: Unity and Chaos in the U.S. Food System, which was released at the end of 2017. All three books are published by Beacon Press.

Through his own firm, Mark Winne Associates, Mark speaks, trains, and writes on topics related to community food systems, food policy, and food security. He also serves as senior advisor to the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health. He now lives in Santa Fe, N.M.

In an email he sent to various members of Sitka’s food community, Mark wrote:

“Food continues to become a larger but not fully acknowledged force in the lives of American communities. From health and nutrition, to food security, to economic development, to the simple need for a good quality of life, food can define a community’s identity as well as determine who benefits and who doesn’t. I am going to tell “stories” about eight to 10 small to mid-size cities and regions for whom a ‘food scene,’ a food consciousness, a sense of commitment to those who do not benefit from a growing prosperity, and an expanding number of local ‘food system’ stakeholders are on display if not actually working collaboratively. I want to know about the history of each community’s food evolution, what its key moments might have been, and who has played timely roles. The purpose of the story I’m telling about these places, which I am not claiming are exceptional, is to stress that food is a “bigger deal” than we think, and that if you take it seriously, food will not only lift up our quality of life, it will ensure that everyone can enjoy a better quality of life. I am selecting places that are not Berkeley, Boulder, or Brooklyn, but are understated and often overlooked.”

For more details about the community discussion about food on July 11, contact Charles Bingham at 623-7660 or charleswbingham3@gmail.com

Alaska Food Festival and Conference set for Nov. 3-4 in Fairbanks

Come celebrate Alaska’s bountiful harvest and learn about issues affecting the Alaska food system during the third semi-annual Alaska Food Festival and Conference, on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 3-4, at Pike’s Waterfront Lodge in Fairbanks.

Hosted by the Alaska Food Policy Council (AFPC), this event previously took place in Anchorage in 2014 and 2016 and this year moves to Fairbanks.

Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham is a member of the AFPC governing board (and former SLFN president Lisa Sadleir-Hart is a former member of the AFPC governing board). There also will be a couple of presentations by Sitkans, including Keith Nyitray of the Sitka Food Co-Op, Elizabeth Herendeen of SalmonState, and Mary Smith of Edible Alaska magazine.

The two-day event opens on Friday with a food systems conference featuring a variety of speakers discussing food security, production, business, and community issues, among other topics. On Friday night, there will be a food policy networking event. Saturday features a fun and educational food festival highlighted by Alaska food vendors presenting taste-testing, food demonstrations, and hands-on interactive demonstrations on raising, harvesting, and preparing food. Saturday’s event is family friendly and includes a petting zoo in the afternoon.

“The goals of the conference and festival are to: (1) increase awareness of Alaska food issues among the general population; (2) provide training, resources, and networking opportunities to increase involvement in local food issues by community members and decision makers; and (3) increase connections and build community between the public, Alaska food businesses, NGOs, governmental entities, tribal entities, and others to support local economic development and innovative solutions,” AFPC Co-Chair Lorinda Lhotka said.

Registration is open now, and the cost is $130 for the full conference and festival (including Friday night’s social event) or $60 for the full conference and festival for speakers, volunteers and students. For those wanting to attend specific events, the cost is $105 for the food conference only on Friday, $25 for Friday night’s social event only, or $10 for Saturday’s food festival only (or $40 for a family of four or more). You can sign up and pre-pay for the conference using our online registration page, https://alaskafoodfestivalandconference.eventbrite.com.

For those traveling to Fairbanks for the event, Pike’s Waterfront Lodge has a special conference rate of $75 per night (Nov. 2-5, use event code AKFFC/1102) that must be booked by Thursday, Oct. 19. For lodging details or to make reservations, contact Pike’s Waterfront Lodge at http://www.pikeslodge.com, or call 877-744-2400 (reservations) or
907-456-4500.

For info and a copy of the agenda, go to the AFPC Council conference website at https://www.akfoodpolicycouncil.org/2017-conference/, or contact AFPC Co-Chair Lorinda Lhotka at lorinda.lhotka@alaska.gov, or Samantha Reynolds at 907-452-2185 or sreynolds@investfairbanks.com.

For information about being a vendor at the conference, go to https://www.akfoodpolicycouncil.org/2017-vendors. For information about sponsoring the conference and our sponsor tiers, go to https://www.akfoodpolicycouncil.org/2017-sponsors/.

• 2017 Alaska Food Festival and Conference draft agenda

Sitka Local Foods Network one of 11 Alaska organizations in the 2016 Good Food Org Guide

gfog_1500x900_2

good-food-org-guide-2016The Sitka Local Foods Network is one of 11 Alaska food organizations included in the Food Tank and James Beard Foundation‘s 2016 Good Food Org Guide, released on Oct. 17. This year’s third annual guide expands on last year’s second list and is more than triple the size of last year’s inaugural offering.

According to the Food Tank website, ‘This definitive guide highlights nonprofit organizations that are doing exemplary work in the United States in the areas of food and agriculture, nutrition and health, hunger and obesity, and food justice. Only nonprofit, scholarly, and municipal initiatives have been selected in order to spotlight efforts that are focused on community building and engagement, advocacy, and service.”

The guide is meant to be a definitive resource that highlights the exemplary work non-profit organizations in the United States are doing on food and agriculture, nutrition and health, hunger and obesity, and food justice.

In addition to the Sitka Local Foods Network, the other Alaska groups included in the guide for the third straight year are the Alaska Food Coalition, the Alaska Food Policy Council, the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, and Kids’ Kitchen, Inc of Anchorage. Making the guide for the second year are the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust/Alaskans Own Seafoods of Sitka, the Southeast Soil and Water Conservation District of Juneau, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service, and Alaska Community Agriculture of Fairbanks. New to the guide this year are the Alaska Farmland Trust of Palmer and the Calypso Farm and Ecology Center of Fairbanks.

You can view the online version of the 2016 Good Food Org Guide by clicking this link, or you can download a hard copy of the 2016 Food Org Guide by clicking the link below.

• Food Tank and James Beard Foundation’s 2016 Good Food Org Guide

• Alaska’s potential for increasing agricultural potential immense; hard work, clear vision needed

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(The following is a commentary about increasing Alaska’s access to local food by Alaska Food Policy Council co-chairs Liz Snyder and Victoria Briggs. It originally ran in the Sept. 10, 2015, edition of the Homer News.)

 

If you’ve visited a local farmers market recently, you’ll appreciate the bounty of delicious, healthy food that Alaska can produce when cultivated by knowledgeable, dedicated hands.

The prospects for increasing this bounty are immense. To take full advantage of our agricultural potential, we will need political will, consumer advocacy, recruitment and education of new farmers, financial support and incentives and a long-term vision. This vision, of course, will also need to take into account the changing climate in which Alaska farmers grow our food.

Imagine a glacier that retreats, then expands for several years, only to retreat again, repeating this process over and over. Such has been the history of agriculture in Alaska. We’ve experienced several booms and busts of both enthusiasm and productivity since the early 1900s.

Booms were the result of such things as co-development with gold mining, collaboration with local businesses, federal support of farming settlements and agricultural innovations. Busts came when challenges (that still exist today) got the better of farmers — the temptation to grow too big too fast, unsustainable and mismanaged support mechanisms, high costs and resulting debt; competition from the Lower 48, infrastructure designed for resource development instead of agriculture, inexperience and being far from home, a lack of replacements for retiring farmers, and, of course, climate.

Today, farmers and consumers are enjoying a boom of interest and enthusiasm around local foods. While it’s true that we send about 1.9 billion Alaska dollars out of the state each year to import food (which supplements the impressive $900 million worth of subsistence and personal-use foods), the good news is that direct sales between farmers and consumers are strong (13 times greater than the national average), Alaska farmers are notoriously tenacious and innovative, and demand continues to motivate increases in supply.

What we have now is a fantastic opportunity to throw a wrench into the boom/bust cycle, expand on the status quo and ultimately pump about $2 billion into, instead of out of, the Alaska economy each year — in effect, supporting the local farmers we know and love, strengthening our food system, lowering food costs, and increasing food security and resilience.

Of course, strengthening our food system will require both short-term goals and long-term planning. When it comes to climate change and agriculture, we’ve got three courses of action to consider:

  1. reduce our impact;
  2. respond to current changes; and
  3. prepare for future changes.

In the Lower 48, agriculture is a major contributor to climate change with high fossil fuel use (to manufacture pesticides and fertilizers, and to operate machinery) and greenhouse gas emissions from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

In Alaska, however, the relative scales of agriculture and pest pressure are small. Our primary agriculturally related contribution to climate change is through the importation of approximately 95 percent of our food, which requires the burning of fossil fuels to power transport. Just think of the impact we could have if we expanded Alaska agriculture in thoughtful, sustainable ways to simultaneously produce more food and reduce total greenhouse gas emissions.

With respect to responding to current changes in Alaska’s climate and preparing for the future, we have a host of actions that are either already being taken or need to be taken. These actions should use the best natural, economic and social science information available.

Such preparations include the conservation of arable land; crop diversification and expansion into new growing zones; anticipation of changes in water distribution and quality; measures to address changes in pest, disease and invasive species pressures; education and support of new farmers focused on sustainable agricultural development, and construction of weather-resistant food caches and transportation routes.

Of course, in reality there is an even longer list of recommendations that can be made to strengthen Alaska’s food system, but all of these recommendations will need to be made in light of the climate changes we’re experiencing now and those that lie ahead. The Alaska Food Policy Council is dedicated to helping develop, share and advocate for policies that will result in an Alaska food system that is sustainable, resilient and healthy — and we ask our local, state, and federal leaders to tune in to the issues of food security and climate change and make them a priority. The health of our great state depends on it.

Liz Snyder and Victoria Briggs are co-chairs of the Alaska Food Policy Council, or AFPC. To learn more about food security in Alaska, find the following research resources on the AFPC webpage (akfoodpolicycouncil.wordpress.com):

Building Food Security in Alaska (a report commissioned by AFPC).

• A three-part series of articles (Part I, Part II, Part III) on circumpolar agriculture by Stevenson et al. (2014) and

• An article entitled “Food in the Last Frontier” by Snyder and Meter (2015).

• Alaska Food Policy Council asks state legislators to return Farm to School program funds to the budget

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(Editor’s note: The following item is a letter to the editor from the Alaska Food Policy Council sent to several newspapers around Alaska regarding cuts to the Farm to School Program. One of the three signers to the letter is Sitka Local Foods Network Board President Lisa Sadleir-Hart, who also serves on the Alaska Food Policy Council governing board. To learn more about the Alaska Farm to School Program, check out the brochure below or contact Program Coordinator Johanna Herron at 907-761-3870 or johanna.herron@alaska.gov.)

As the legislature continues swinging its scythe at the state budget, one of the programs about to be felled is Farm to School. And in case you don’t have kids that can tell you firsthand the benefits of the program, or if you’re not an Alaska grower that finds a market in supplying school cafeterias with Alaska Grown produce, let us tell you what the Department of Natural Resources, Division of Agriculture, Farm to School Program does: It provides expertise and support for those working to increase the connection of students, teachers, and school food service providers with products grown and produced in Alaska. This connection most commonly happens in the school lunchroom or in a school garden.

Yet, in a state that prides itself in self-reliance, consider these striking facts:

  1. Alaskans spend $1.5 BILLION dollars on imported food each year.
  2. Only 5-10 percent of food consumed is produced or harvested in state, but great swaths of arable land remain uncultivated.
  3. About 15 percent of Alaska households are food insecure.
  4. Alaskans spend about $450 million dollars on treating diet-related medical conditions.
  5. We have a population that is largely disconnected from the food system – most kids can’t tell you what lies beneath the frilly green of a carrot top coming out of the soil.

These figures might sound gloomy, but they highlight the immense opportunity that we have to become healthier, wealthier, and more food secure. What if we spent that $1.5 billion on Alaska Grown products and kept that money in local economies? What if we produced more healthy foods in quantities that could meet the demands of our school cafeterias? What if we provided our children with the tools and knowledge necessary to make healthy food choices and maintain a healthy weight?

WhatIsAlaskaFarmToSchoolWe already have a key mechanism to achieving these goals – it’s the Farm to School Program. The Farm to School Program helps to prioritize getting locally produced, healthy goods into cafeterias; raise a generation of food leaders and smart consumers; and create a large, reliable market for increased in-state food production.

In three short years, the number of Alaska School Districts involved in Farm to School has grown from zero to 68 percent! There’s been an 11-percent increase in school gardens state-wide. One-hundred percent of the school districts are now serving at least one local food item in their meal programs and there’s still tremendous room for growth. In five years, the program has leveraged over $1 million dollars from partner agencies. This is just the shortlist of accomplishments.

All of this and more has been achieved with an annual budget of about $190,000. Talk about bang for your buck! If the legislature eliminates or cuts funding to the Farm to School Program, they aren’t cutting the fat out of the budget. They are cutting the carrots, the potatoes, the greens, and even the local fish out of your children’s lunches, and they’re cutting supports necessary to expand in-state production.

We implore the legislature not to eliminate or reduce the funding for our Farm to School Program. It is an incredibly efficient use of a small amount of funds that has proven itself over the past five years and is one of the shining pillars of a state food system that is becoming stronger, more sustainable, and more resilient. Don’t let the legislature undo our current progress, and don’t let it stand in the way of what more can be done.

Signed,

Liz Snyder, Victoria Briggs, and Lisa Sadleir-Hart
Present and Past Board Co-Chairs, Alaska Food Policy Council (AFPC)

• Alaska Farm to School Brochure