Sitka Ranger District, Sitka Tribe to harvest Tlingit community potato garden

(Photo courtesy of Klas Stolpe/Juneau Empire) Bill Ehlers, assistant gardener at the Jensen-Olson Arboretum in Juneau, holds a Tlingít potato next to some of the potato plant’s flowers.

The community is invited to help harvest the Sitka Ranger District/Sitka Tribe of Alaska Tlingit potato garden and learn scientific and cultural information about the unique crop at 3 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 25, at the USDA Forest Service Sitka Ranger District office, 2108 Halibut Point Road.

Leading Tlingit potato researcher Elizabeth Kunibe will join the group to present information on the biology, history, and cultural aspects Tlingit potatoes. Topics will include harvesting potatoes, learning to store potatoes for seed and for food, preparation for next year’s garden, and the cultural aspects of Tlingit potatoes and native gardening.

The Sitka Ranger District provided the sunny plot of land for the shared potato garden and tended the garden over the summer after volunteers from the Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program, the gardening class from Pacific High School, and others from the community planted the potatoes in April.

Community involvement is needed for the harvest. Participants should come prepared for the weather as all activities will occur outdoors. All of the attendees are asked to wear boots, gardening gloves, and bring hand trowels or shovels. Bringing buckets of kelp to incorporate into the soil after harvesting would be beneficial.

The potatoes will need to be dried and prepared for storage. Many of the potatoes harvested will be saved for next year’s seed potatoes, Depending on the size of the harvest, the group hopes to share the harvest among the volunteers and through the Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program and Social Services.

Tlingit potatoes (sometimes called Maria’s potatoes) have been present in Tlingit gardens for over 200 years. The potatoes originate from Mexico or Chile and were a trade item in Southeast Alaska in the early 1800s.

This work day and educational opportunity will be at the Sitka Ranger District office, located at 2108 Halibut Point Road. For more information, contact Michelle Putz at 907-747-2708 or mputz@fs.fed.us. For interviews and information to be used for publication, contactthe Tongass Public Affairs Officer Paul Robbins at 907-228-6201 or paulrobbins@fs.fed.us.

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Learn how to grow garlic with Andrea Fraga and Kaleb Aldred of Middle Island Gardens

Most gardeners do their planting in the spring. But if you’re growing garlic, the fall is the best time to plant.

The Sitka Local Foods Network education committee will host a free class on growing garlic with Andrea Fraga and Kaleb Aldred of Middle Island Gardens from 6:30-8 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 14, at the Sitka Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall (408 Marine Street, parking off Spruce Street).

Andrea and Kaleb have been selling their locally grown garlic at the Sitka Farmers Market and on Sitka Food Co-Op pick-up days this year. They grow a variety of garlic types, including music, Killarney red, and Georgian crystal.

For more information, contact Andrea or Kaleb at middleislandgardens@gmail.com, or contact Jennifer Carter of the Sitka Local Foods Network at 747-0520 or jlc63@alaska.net.

First-graders harvest the seeds they planted while in kindergarten last spring

LITTLE HARVEST – First-grader Taylor McCarty, 6, holds up a slightly deformed carrot at the Russian Bishop’s House garden this morning (Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017). Students in Sarah Eddy’s Baranof Elementary School class and other first graders were harvesting the vegetables they planted in the spring when they were in kindergarten. This summer was not good for growing crops said Sitka National Historical Park Ranger Ryan Carpenter. Most of the carrots were only about an inch or so long. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Scenes from the sixth Sitka Farmers Market of the 2017 summer

TABLE OF THE DAY — Sitka Farmers Market Manager Nina Vizcarrondo, left, and Sitka Conservation Society Jesuit Volunteer Sean Mackinson, right, present the Table of the Day award to the Suminski family of Sweet Sisters Caramels (from left, Greta Terry, Mary and Lydia Suminski) during the sixth Sitka Farmers Market of the summer on Sept. 2 at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall. The Suminskis sold a variety of home-made caramels. They received a couple of Sitka Local Foods Network t-shirts, some Inga’s Spice Rub, and some Alaska Flour Company chocolate chip-barley cookie mix. There is one Sitka Farmers Market left this summer, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9, at the ANB Founders Hall (235 Katlian St.). Also, don’t forget to mark your calendars for the 23rd annual Running of the Boots costumed fun run fundraiser on Saturday, Sept. 23, at the Totem Square park, which this year benefits the Sitka Local Foods Network and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska. For more information, go to the Sitka Local Foods Network website at http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org. We also have a new Sitka Farmers Market page on Facebook.

It was sunny when we held our sixth Sitka Farmers Market of the 2017 summer season on Saturday, Sept. 2, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall (235 Katlian Street), but we still had a decent crowd even though we had some competition with the Labor Day holiday.

While our cold weather this spring slowed down some of our produce production this year, we are starting to get some decent crops in. We also have had several other local produce vendors at the market. We also had about three dozen vendors at the market (between those inside ANB Founders Hall and those outside in the Baranof Island Housing Authority parking lot) so there was a nice variety of items being sold. Vendors sold harvested foods (such as chaga tea and traditional medicinal tinctures), homemade baked goods, banana-Nutella crepes, hot seafood dishes, fresh smoothies, reindeer hot dogs, blackcod tips, arts and crafts, and home-baked bread. We also had an expanded selection of Alaska Grown products at the Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand.

The last Sitka Farmers Market of the summer takes place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9, at the ANB Founders Hall. To learn how to be a vendor at the market, contact market manager Nina Vizcarrondo at (907) 738-9301 (new number) or assistant manager Charles Bingham (907) 623-7660, or email us at sitkafarmersmarket@gmail.com. We also have a new kids vendor program at the market for young entrepreneurs age 12 or younger. Don’t forget to like our new Sitka Farmers Market page on Facebook.

Also, mark your calendars for the 23rd annual Running of the Boots costumed fun run fundraiser, which will take place on Saturday, Sept. 23, and this year will benefit the Sitka Local Foods Network and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska. More details on the Running of the Boots will be posted in the near future.

A slideshow of scenes from the sixth Sitka Farmers Market is posted below.

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

The 2017 Sitka Local Foods Network board of directors and St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm lead gardener. Back row, from left, Tiffany Justice (treasurer), Ben Timby (secretary), Sam Pointer (director) and Charles Bingham (president/communications director). Front row, from left, Nina Vizcarrondo (co-secretary/farmers market manager), Laura Schmidt (lead gardener), Jennifer Carter (vice president).

Are you enjoying 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?

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 and mentoring. 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 three 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 Market, helping our lead gardener at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm, and helping us teach gardening classes or working with our garden mentor program families.

The next regular Sitka Local Foods Network board meeting is from 6-8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 26, at the Southeast Alaska Independent Living (SAIL) office, 504 Lake Street, Suite C. The board usually meets once a month. Please note, we will sometimes move our meetings to avoid conflicts with board member schedules, venue schedules and to insure 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.

Beyond Leafy LLC grows fresh, local basil for Sitka market using vertical hydroponics

From the outside, it looks like any suburban garage. But inside there’s a 2,000-cubic-foot box where Jimmie and Leslie Kranz are growing fresh, local basil for the Sitka market using a vertical hydroponic greenhouse system.

Their company, called Beyond Leafy LLC, recently started supplying basil to a few Sitka restaurants and also provides it for the Market Center grocery store. Soon, the couple hopes to expand their business so their basil is available at Sea Mart.

“We’ve been brainstorming for years to find a product or service that would serve the people and our community,” Jimmie Kranz said. “The thing about this business is we’re not selling a service or product that people question. We’re selling what most people already have in their refrigerator.”

They also wanted something they could do together, especially since until earlier this year Jimmie was working about 14 hours a day with the Alaska Marine Highway System at the ferry terminal and Leslie was working about 10 hours a day with the Transportation Security Administration at the airport. Jimmie quit his state job in February, and Leslie quit her federal gig in June.

“We like working together,” Leslie Kranz said. “We’re having fun and the reception from the community has been extraordinarily positive.”

In addition to the couple, there are five kids and all except the oldest (Kameron, 32, who runs his own business in Arizona) are involved in the company. Tray, 25, is based in Grenada, but he’s been doing the website and social media for the company and helps with finances. Jake, 22, is a commercial fisherman but spent 3 1/2 months helping Jimmie build the hydroponic towers. The younger two kids, Madi, a 17-year-old senior at Sitka High School, and Kale, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Blatchley Middle School, both help Jimmie and Leslie trim the basil plants and prepare orders. The family also has weekly business meetings.

Beyond Leafy LLC is serving a big need in Sitka. Many restaurants and bars use basil in their food dishes and drinks, and locally grown basil tastes better and is picked at peak freshness (not a week or two early so it can be sent here by barge). When food has to travel long distances it can lose nutrients and flavor. Beyond Leafy also fills a niche found by a previous company in Sitka that provided basil to local restaurants and grocery stores, but switched to growing weed once marijuana was legalized. When the switch to weed happened last year, it left some restaurants scrambling for a new source of local basil.

“The Mean Queen is thrilled to once again have a local basil provider,” said Mary Magnuson, co-owner of the Mean Queen restaurant. “Beyond Leafy provides a very high quality product that graces both pizzas and our signature LA Preppy Martini. There is literally no comparison in the local product and what we can order from our suppliers. We are looking forward to their growth into more items.”

To grow the basil, Jimmie and Leslie take a package of rock wool (A-OK Starter Plugs) and plant seeds into each section square. The seeds grow in trays until they are a couple of weeks old, when their rock wool section squares are broken apart and the pieces of rock wool are inserted into the towers, spaced about 6-8 inches apart.

Each tower features an eight-foot-long piece of four-inch-diameter PVC pipe that has been split vertically so a felt/foam media can be inserted into each piece (the felt/foam media is purchased locally from Ben Franklin). The individual towers can be removed from their spots and moved to another spot (they move the towers every two weeks to chart the progress of their basil plants), or they can be placed on the table in the middle of the box for trimming.

Scattered throughout the box and within each tower section, there are lights connected to a roller system that moves the lights back and forth and up and down so each plant gets what it needs to grow. The light system is on a timer. The roller system helps control the temperature in the box and prevents the basil leaves from being burned by stationary lights, and also means they don’t have to use as many lights as some operations. The vertical hydroponic system also includes a recirculating watering tank and hoses that deliver water to each of the towers.

Jimmie said he designed the family’s system after taking an online university class on vertical hydroponics from Bright Agrotech, which recently was bought out by a company called Plenty that plans to develop larger-scale vertical hydroponic systems.

Jimmie and Leslie usually harvest the basil from 6-9 a.m., and it’s in the stores and restaurants by 10 a.m. From seed to harvest, it usually takes about 8-10 weeks for the basil to reach maturity. Beyond Leafy is selling its basil for $56 a pound or $3.50 an ounce (it takes a lot of basil to make an ounce), which might seem high but Jimmie noted that most restaurants only get about six ounces of usable product out of a pound of basil because of all the stems and other parts. Because they hand-trim their basil it’s all usable product, so Jimmie said the price works out to be about the same.

Right now, Beyond Leafy LLC is growing several types of basil (Genovese, Italian, sweet, purple opal, Thai and lemon), and also experimenting with dill and rosemary. They currently are growing about 10-15 pounds of basil a week, and expect to grow to about 40-50 pounds a week once Sea Mart starts carrying their product.

“Since we started the business it changed our whole mindset, and now we’re thinking more about what we can do for our community,” Jimmie said. “We also are eating more local, healthy food. I’d say basically the four of us still in the house (Jimmie, Leslie, Madi, and Kale) have lost about 100 pounds since we started the business.”

Eventually, they hope to find a warehouse unit to lease so they can expand their operation to include several types of lettuce, kale and chard. In order to help the business grow and expand, the couple set up a GoFundMe site.

“We can’t do it alone,” Jimmie said. “There is a bit of fear when you quit your jobs, cash in your retirements and take your family on a venture like this. But entrepreneurs have to take risks to move forward.”

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Scenes from the fourth Sitka Farmers Market of the 2017 summer

Table of the Day: Sitka Farmers Market manager Nina Vizcarrondo, left, and Sitka Local Foods Network Bulldog On Baranof intern Al Simon, second from left, present the Table of the Day award to Ariane Martin Goudeau (holding baby Elodie Goudeau) and Geoffrey Goudeau of Goudeau’s Good-Doughs during the fourth Sitka Farmers Market of the 2017 summer, held Saturday, Aug. 12, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall. Ariane and Geoffrey sold cookies, bread, and a variety of other baked goods. They received a Sitka Local Foods Network apron loaded with some rhubarb, beets, a Sitka Local Foods Network t-shirt, and an Alaska Grown sticker.

It rained when we held our fourth Sitka Farmers Market of the 2017 summer season on Saturday, Aug. 12, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall (235 Katlian Street), so we moved most of our booths indoors. It also was National Farmers Markets Week, so we had a decent crowd despite some competition from the Sitka Seafood Festival.

While our cold weather this spring means we don’t have as much produce as we like, we still had several local produce vendors at the market (did you see the size of those zucchinis at the Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand?). We also had about three dozen vendors at the market (between those inside ANB Founders Hall and those outside in the Baranof Island Housing Authority parking lot) so there was a nice variety of items being sold. Vendors sold harvested foods (such as chaga tea and traditional medicinal tinctures), homemade baked goods, banana-Nutella crepes, hot seafood dishes, fresh smoothies, reindeer hot dogs, blackcod tips, arts and crafts, and home-baked bread. We also had an expanded selection of Alaska Grown products at the Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand.

The next Sitka Farmers Market takes place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 19, at the ANB Founders Hall. There also are markets scheduled for Sept. 2, and Sept. 9. To learn how to be a vendor at the market, contact market manager Nina Vizcarrondo at (907) 738-9301 (new number) or assistant manager Charles Bingham (907) 623-7660, or email us at sitkafarmersmarket@gmail.com. We also have a new kids vendor program at the market for young entrepreneurs age 12 or younger. Don’t forget to like our new Sitka Farmers Market page on Facebook.

A slideshow of scenes from the fourth Sitka Farmers Market is posted below.

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