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.

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).

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.

Southeast Alaska Gardener Conference goes online from April 15 through May 8

Registration is open for the 2020 Southeast Alaska Gardener Conference, which takes place online using Zoom meetings this year. The conference is co-hosted by Southeast Alaska Master Gardeners Association the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service, and the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service.

This virtual conference brings together gardeners for two presentations by area garden experts on each of eight nights from 6-8 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays from April 15 through May 8. For a schedule, click the link below or go to https://www.seak-mastergardeners.org/index.html. The conference is free, but registration is required by going to this link and filling out the form.

Presentation topics include:

  • Wednesday, April 15, 6-6:45 p.m. — Patterns on the Land: Sustainable Landscape Design for Southeast Alaska, David Lendrum and Margaret Tharp, owners of Landscape Alaska
  • Wednesday, April 15, 7-7:45 p.m. — Growing Fruit Trees in High Tunnels, Rob Bishop of Alaska Apple Trees
  • Friday, April 17, 6-6:45 p.m. — Raised Beds, Ed Buyarski owner of Ed’s Edible Landscapes
  • Friday, April 17, 7-7:45 p.m. — Unique and Flavorful Rhubarb: Preliminary Research Results, ​David Love
  • Wednesday, April 22, 6-6:45 p.m. (Earth Day) — Panel Discussion: Growing Produce for Juneau a Worthy Endeavor a Fool’s Errand, Joe Orsi owner of Orsi Organic Produce (moderator), Bob Trousil, Sharon Fleming, Joel Boss, John Kraypek, Colin Peacock, Sarah Lewis
  • Wednesday, April 22, 7-7:45 p.m. (Earth Day) — Panel Discussion: Growing Crops “Undercover”: High Tunnel and Greenhouse Experiences, Joe Orsi (Moderator), Ed Buyarski, David Love, Will Murray and Eli Wray
  • Friday, April 24, 6-6:45 p.m. — All About the Basil (and Other Fabulous Herbs), Sarah Lewis-UAF/CEST
  • Friday, April 24, 7-7:45 p.m. — Climate Trends Affecting Gardeners; The Science and Mystique of Weather Forecasting in Southeast Alaska, NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE /NOAA
  • Wednesday, April 29, 6-6:45 p.m. — Integrated Weed Management for the Master Gardener, Geno Graziano
  • Wednesday, April 29, 7-7:45 p.m. — Yard and Garden Insects, Jessie Moan
  • Friday, May 1, 6-6:45 p.m. — Earth Worms-Garden Good Guys or Eco Invaders, Darren Snyder
  • Friday, May 1, 7-7:45 p.m. — Gardening for Pollinators-The Birds, The Bees and The Beetles, Deb Rudis
  • Wednesday, May 6, 6-6:45 p.m. — New and Exciting, Classic and Applicable, Fascinating Developments in the World of Horticulture, Dave Lendrum and Margaret Tharp, owners of Landscape Alaska
  • Wednesday, May 6, 7-7:45 p.m. — Exploring the World for Hardy Rhododendron, Steve Hootman
  • Friday, May 8, 6-6:45 p.m. — The Wow Factor; Beyond being Pretty! Growing and Using Edible Flowers, Patricia Hartman
  • Friday, May 8, 7-7:45 p.m. — Grow Your Own Soil, Samia Savell

Click below for a description of the presentations and presenter biographies.

• FINAL 2020 Southeast Alaska Gardener Conference presentations

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

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

This month’s newsletter includes short articles about the winners of the Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest, this week’s deadline to apply for the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend and Pick.Click.Give. donations, an update on the Sitka Farmers Market and our contingency plans for the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, 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).

Levi Adams, Andrew Jylkka win $1,500 prizes in third annual Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest

Andrew Jylkka of Southeast Dough Company baked sourdough bread in Wrangell before moving to Sitka earlier this year.

Levi Adams of Forage and Farm holds white and rainbow chanterelle mushrooms he harvested

One winner plans to cultivate mushrooms. The other is a baker who is selling bread and fermented foods to Sitka residents. Congratulations to Levi Adams of Forage and Farm and Andrew Jylkka of Southeast Dough Company, who won the two $1,500 prizes in the third annual Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest.

“We had some really good entries this year, but these two rose to the top,” said Charles Bingham, board president of the Sitka Local Foods Network, which sponsors the contest. “Even with the coronavirus outbreak, Andrew is actively baking and selling his bread. Levi is still getting his business started, but his entry was the most thoroughly written and researched, by far, of any we’ve received in the three years we’ve hosted the contest. The Sitka Local Foods Network’s mission is to increase the amount of locally harvested and produced foods into the diets of Southeast Alaskans, so we hope our prizes encourage local food entrepreneurs here in Sitka.”

The Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest has $1,500 prizes for each of two categories, start-ups (less than two years old) and existing businesses. This year all of the entries were in the start-up category, but since Andrew already was baking and selling bread and had a history of baking in Wrangell, his entry was moved to the existing business category so there could be two awards. “We felt both entries were deserving of awards,” Bingham said.

In his entry, Levi wrote, “My business will provide the opportunity for Sitkans to experience the healthful and flavorful addition of fresh and dried wild and cultivated mushrooms, both native and exotic to their daily routines. Forage and Farm will strive to meet the growing demand for culinary and medicinal fungi in the community by foraging fresh wild mushrooms in the warm seasons and bringing them to market at the Sitka Food Co-op, as well as distributing through an independent CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) program (Levi’s mother, Lori Adams, operates the Down To Earth Gardens CSA in Sitka). In the colder seasons, cultivated mushrooms will be provided.”

With several scouting trips under his belt, Levi said he is waiting for commercial harvest permits from the USDA Forest Service and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (state forests). While waiting for the permits, Levi said he plans to gather red alder and hemlock logs so he can cultivate mushrooms on his family’s property. He also is looking to purchase refrigerator and dehydrator equipment to store and process the mushrooms.

“With funds obtained from the Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest I will redouble my efforts toward cultivation. I hope to bring a large number of diverse and nutritious mushroom species to the market as soon as possible,” Levi wrote. “Nothing supercharges my sense of purpose like applying permaculture principles to foraging and farming, and understanding that I can leverage those efforts to enrich and enliven my community. For partnering with me in this, the Sitka Local Foods Network has my deep gratitude and respect.”

Since moving to Sitka, Andrew has been baking about 50 loaves for Sitka Food Co-op deliveries and also selling through social media. He also was scheduled to teach a Sitka Kitch class on baking brioche before the coronavirus forced its postponement. In addition to baking his bread, Andrew has been making sauerkraut and kimchi to sell.

“Southeast Dough Company does not aim to just make a good loaf of bread,” Andrew wrote in his entry. “The goal here is to continue building on the positive food culture that exists in Sitka and strengthen the foundations of our community. I have a strong belief that good food brings people together and allows them an avenue to connect to one another that they may otherwise not find. My chosen medium for this product is bread. The mixing of water, flour, salt, and yeast has been at the heart of society for millennia and the breaking of bread is symbolic of neighbors coming together to build lasting connections.”

Andrew currently is using his home kitchen to bake his bread, and he estimated he could ramp up production to 400 loaves a week in his current kitchen. But he really wants to move into a larger commercial kitchen and possibly hire an assistant.

“This prize will help me take the next step to move out of my home kitchen and into a commercial space. I’m excited to be able to offer my products more consistently to the members of this community,” Andrew wrote. “I would love to participate in the farmers market, and I understand that everything is a waiting game right now so no worries there. I also need to make some decisions as to when I chose to expand with everything that’s going on.”

Last year’s winners were Brittany Dumag of Castaway (food cart with Cuban pork sandwiches using Alaska pork) and Tamara Kyle of Sitka Sauers (fermented foods), with a special youth winner award for Abigail Ward of Sitka Spices (meat and fish rubs). In 2018, the winner was Hope Merritt of Gimbal Botanicals (beach greens and local teas).