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

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.

We had been making our usual plans, and even had dates we planned to announce about now, but with the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak we had to go into wait-and-see mode. We even hired two new people to coordinate the Sitka Farmers Market this year — Ariane Martin Goudeau and Nalani James — because we’re losing our market manager of the past three years, Nina Vizcarrondo, to Coast Guard relocation.

Even though we’re in wait-and-see mode, the SLFN feels it does need to update the community.

First, we had big plans to grow even more produce than before at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden. We bought a second high tunnel, which has been erected on the site, so we can extend our growing season and have a little help with climate control. Laura Schmidt has been our lead gardener for about 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.

Regardless of whether we hold the Sitka Farmers Market or not, we will grow produce this summer at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm. Sitka’s food security needs more local food, so we plan to find ways to get the food into the community, somehow, someway.

If all things were normal, our plan was to hold seven Sitka Farmers Markets again this summer for our 13th season. Our tentative dates are from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, July 4, July 25, Aug. 8, Aug. 15, Aug. 29, Sept. 5, and Sept. 19, all at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall.

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, if it’s possible.

But we don’t know when our shelter-in-place orders are going to end and we can start returning to normal. We are researching alternative ways to get our fresh produce into the hands of Sitka residents. We want to provide fresh produce, but also need to be conscious of everybody’s health during an outbreak.

That may mean going to an online portal, such as the Salt and Soil Marketplace out of Juneau, which has been expanding into Sitka and other towns in Southeast Alaska. Middle Island Gardens, Gimbal Botanicals, and a couple of other Sitka businesses have used Salt and Soil Marketplace, so it’s not a new concept. How it works for Sitka is vendors post their products online, and from Tuesday through Thursday Sitka residents go online and order what they want, with a delivery usually on Saturday.

This is great and relatively easy, except you lose the community aspect of the market when it’s online. Also, the Sitka Farmers Market serves as a business incubator, and we lose that when we can’t have a market.

There’s another thing we lose, and that’s the ability to accept WIC farmers market coupons and SNAP Alaska Quest EBT cards, which is how we get local produce into the hands of lower-income Sitkans. We are still trying to work that problem out. We want to get fresh local produce into this part of the community, because Sitka has some major inequality with about one in every six residents on some form of food assistance program. Our mission is “to increase the amount of locally harvested and produced food into the diets of Southeast Alaskans,” so we have to make sure we include getting food to lower income people.

We will come up with a plan of some sort to make sure we do get produce into the hands of all Sitkans, but we have to be conscious of not spreading the coronavirus. It may mean we donate produce to a local food bank for distribution, or we donate some produce to WIC/SNAP beneficiaries and skip the normal reimbursement we’d get from the state. We have our White E grant to match WIC/SNAP benefits, so we can use that grant to help distribute the food, and absorb some of the loss through our general fund. It’s within our mission, and we can afford to do it for a few months.

Ideally, we will host our Sitka Farmers Markets as normal. But these are unusual times. We will look at what’s happening in mid-May, and we will make a further announcement then as to what our plans are. Hopefully we will be recruiting vendors for our market. If not, we will start setting up an account so people can order produce online.

If you have any questions, feel free to call Sitka Local Foods Network board chairman Charles Bingham at 623-7660 or email sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com.

UAF Cooperative Extension Service to host online Master Gardener class for Sitka

The Sitka Master Gardener training— originally scheduled to start on Wednesday, March 25, and then postponed due to coronavirus precautions — will become distance-delivered and start on Monday, March 30.

Participants will meet from 6-8:30 p.m. on Mondays with the Juneau Master Gardeners class, through May 11. Because the Juneau training has already begun, additional classes will be scheduled online for Sitka participants at 6 p.m. on Wednesdays from April 1-22 to make up some of the hours missed. There also is one class session from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, April 25.

The session will provide basic and practical horticultural training on a wide range of topics, including how to design, plant and maintain successful gardens in Southeast Alaska. The classes will follow the Alaska Master Gardener program coordinated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service.

The UAF Cooperative Extension Service will host the session and the additional classes via Zoom webinar. The Juneau class is taught by Extension agent Darren Snyder, experts, and other Extension agents and staff. The Sitka additions will be organized by Extension assistant Jasmine Shaw and University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus biology professor Kitty LaBounty. Those also will be available by Zoom, through home internet.

Participants will commit to providing at least 40 hours of volunteer service to their communities within a year of completing the class. Trainees will be provided opportunities to share their skills with the community through various service projects and other venues.

Registration and additional details are available at http://bit.ly/SitkaMG. The $300 fee includes an Alaska gardening manual (Alaska’s Sustainable Gardening Handbook) and a $150 deposit that will be refunded if service hours are completed within a year. For more information, contact Jasmine Shaw at jdshaw2@alaska.edu.

UAF Cooperative Extension Service offers free online gardening classes

The Kenai District Office of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service is offering a series of free online gardening classes.

These classes start on Thursday, March 19, and continue through May 21. You can find out more and register at this link. All of the classes start at 5:30 p.m., with most of the classes being on Thursdays and the other classes on Tuesdays.

Due to the COVID-19 coronavirus, UAF Cooperative Extension Service offices are closed to the public, so hopefully this online class series will help gardeners get their fix as they build their gardens this spring and summer. The link above also include access to some national online gardening classes.

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

The Sitka Local Foods Network just sent out the March 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 Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend and Pick.Click.Give. deadlines, the Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest deadline on March 6, a fundraiser to help us build a new high tunnel at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm, an invitation to join our board of directors, an update on Sitka Kitch Winter Baking Series classes and a fundraiser event, and an invitation 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).

Like what we do? Please join our board of directors or volunteer with us

The 2019 Sitka Local Foods Network board of directors, from left, Amanda Anjum, Charles Bingham, Nina Vizcarrondo, Laura Schmidt, Stanley Lopata. We are recruiting new board members for 2020.

Did you enjoy the fresh local veggies at the Sitka Farmers Market this summer? Did you take any of our garden education classes this spring? Are you concerned about increasing access to local food for all Sitka residents?

The Sitka Local Foods Network is holding an open house for potential board members and volunteers from 5:30-7:15 p.m. on Wednesday, June 10. Due to COVID-19 coronavirus health concerns and the need to social-distance, we will meet using Zoom online meetings (a meeting link will be sent by email if you contact Charles Bingham at the email address below). This is a good time to learn about what we’re doing and how you can help.

Please consider joining the board of directors for the Sitka Local Foods Network to help us pursue our mission to increase the amount of locally produced and harvested food in the diets of Southeast Alaskans. We need more board members in order to keep running our programs.

Board members help direct the Sitka Local Foods Network, a non-profit that promotes the harvest and use of local food in Sitka. In addition to setting the focus of the group during our monthly meetings, board members also serve on at least one committee supporting at our three main projects of the Sitka Farmers Market, St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm, and garden education. In 2018, we launched the annual Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest to encourage food entrepreneurs in Sitka.

We also hope to help with the Sitka Community Gardens project as we look for a new location now that Blatchley Community Garden has been closed. In addition, some board members have supported other local foods projects in Sitka, such as the Sitka Kitch, Let’s Grow Sitka, the Sick-A-Waste compost project, the Sitka Community Food Assessment project, Sitka Fish-To-Schools, other school education projects and more.

To apply for a spot on the board, please fill out the application linked below and submit it to sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.org. For more information, please email us. Please note this is a working board, and our group is evolving and maturing as we try to raise funds to hire staff. Board terms are for three years, with seats up for reapplication each winter.

We also are looking to increase our pool of volunteers who will help out during the various projects hosted by the network each year (no formal application needed, just send us your name/contact info and what types of projects you enjoy). We need volunteers to help with the upcoming Sitka Farmers Markets, helpers for our lead gardener at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm, and people to teach gardening classes.

The next regular Sitka Local Foods Network board meeting is from 5:30-7:15 p.m. on Wednesday, June 10, using Zoom online meetings (email sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com to get a link to join our meeting). The board usually meets once every 4-6 weeks. Please note, we will sometimes move our meetings to avoid conflicts with board member schedules, venue schedules and to ensure a quorum. All of our board meetings are open to the public.

Click here for a copy of the Sitka Local Foods Network board of directors job description. Click here for a copy of the board application.

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

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

This month’s newsletter includes short articles about our annual meeting and potluck dinner, the Pick.Click.Give. program being open for 2020, the Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest application period being open, a fundraiser to build a second high tunnel at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm, an invitation to join our board of directors or volunteer for us, information about upcoming Sitka Kitch classes and a fundraising dinner, and an update on our sponsorship program. 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).

Foundroot, Village Coffee Company win $25,000 each in 2019 Path to Prosperity business development contest

Nick Schlosstein, left, and Leah Wagner of Foundroot seed company man their farm stand in Haines. Foundroot was one of the 2019 winners of the Path to Prosperity business development competition.

Two Southeast Alaska businesses — Foundroot seed company of Haines and Village Coffee Company of Yakutat — recently were selected as winners of the 2019 Path to Prosperity economic development contest. As winners, Foundroot and Village Coffee Company were awarded $25,000 each for consulting and technical services. The winners were announced on Feb. 5, during the 2020 Mid-Session Summit hosted by Southeast Conference in Juneau.

Foundroot is an open-pollinated seed company run by Leah Wagner and Nick Schlosstein in Haines that sells vegetable, herb, and flower seeds proven for Alaskan growing conditions. On their small sustainable farm in Haines, Foundroot is growing seed varieties that are adapted to Alaska’s climatic challenges and have sent seeds to over 65 different communities throughout the state. Teaching their customers how to save their own seeds and supporting their gardening and farming endeavors is integral to the company’s philosophy. Foundroot’s mission is for all Alaskans to feel confident growing food, no matter the scale, and fostering self-reliance and a deeper sense of food security for us all.

Justyne Wheeler of Village Coffee Company in Yakutat. Village Coffee Company was one of the two 2019 winners of the Path to Prosperity competition.

Village Coffee Company is a drive-thru espresso shop in Yakutat run by Justyne Wheeler that serves custom coffee drinks and homemade pastries crafted from locally-sourced ingredients, including fresh salmonberry upside down cake and spruce tip tea. In the small community of Yakutat, Village Coffee Company has found itself serving many regulars, who oftentimes drive up in 4x4s or forklifts to get their daily cup. Village Coffee Company works closely with the community to be as environmentally sustainable as possible. They provide coffee grinds for composting; use compostable stir-sticks, cups, and packaging; and source locally when possible.

These two companies were chosen from 13 finalist businesses from Southeast Alaska (including the Sitka Food Co-Op and M/V Adak Short- and Long-Term Rentals from Sitka) that participated in the Path to Prosperity’s Business Boot Camp in September in Juneau. They were chosen from 43 businesses from 12 Southeast Alaska communities that applied for the 2019 Path to Prosperity contest.

The following businesses were selected as 2019’s finalists:

  • Business Name, Applicant, Location
  • Alaska Costal Seaweed, Theresa Abbas, Juneau
  • Around the Bay Lodging, Susan Ritchie, Wrangell
  • Foundroot, Leah Wagner and Nick Schlosstein, Haines
  • Gale Force Gardens, Stephanie Jurries, Craig
  • Jellyfish Donuts, Brianna Krantz, Ketchikan
  • Kaawu Shellfish Co., Anthony Lindoff, Hoonah
  • Kootéeyaa Koffee House, Lee Wallace, Saxman
  • M/V Adak Short- and Long-Term Rentals, Brendan and Rachel Jones, Sitka
  • Sagebrush Dry Gear, John Peterka, Kake
  • Sitka Food Co-Op, Keith Nyitray, Sitka
  • Tamico, Inc., Carrie J. K. Martinsen, Petersburg
  • Tommaso Shellfish, James Greeley, Whale Pass
  • Village Coffee Co., Justyne Wheeler, Yakutat

An aerial view of the gardens at Foundroot.

At Boot Camp, the finalists learn about triple-bottom-line principles, worked with mentors, and received one-on-one counseling on how to develop their business models and plans. Following this intensive business training weekend, the finalists spent two months working with Spruce Root business coaches to create thorough business plans and pitch videos to be submitted to the judges. The winners are selected based on the feasibility, social impact, and environmental sustainability of their businesses.

Path to Prosperity is run by Spruce Root, Inc., and is made possible through a partnership with The Nature Conservancy and the Sustainable Southeast Partnership. Since the first competition in 2013, Path to Prosperity has received over 300 applications from Southeast Alaskan small business owners and entrepreneurs across 22 communities. The program has trained 89 finalists at Business Boot Camp and awarded 15 winners $510,000 to build their businesses. All of the participants have been trained in the “triple bottom line” approach to building a business by learning to measure their profitability as well as the environmental and social impacts of their business. Previous competition winners include Skyaana Coffee Co. (Klawock), Barnacle Foods (Juneau), The Salty Pantry (Petersburg), Port Chilkoot Distillery (Haines), Icy Straits Lumber (Hoonah), and others.

The Village Coffee Company trailer.

Spruce Root is an Alaska Native-run CDFI (Community Development Financial Institution) that provides local entrepreneurs with access to business development and financial resources in the form of loan capital, business coaching, workshops, and competitions. Together these programs support both new and existing businesses in Southeast Alaska and empower business owners through increased self-sufficiency.

Applications for the 2020 Path to Prosperity competition will open on April 1 and will close on May 31. This year there will be a focus on minority-run businesses.

To learn more about Path to Prosperity or Spruce Root’s other services (such as small business loans), visit their website at www.spruceroot.org or email grow@spruceroot.org.