City and Borough of Sitka makes free garden soil available

Surplus soil material is being offered to community members starting May 9 in the back parking area of Kimsham Athletic Fields, follow to the end of Kashevaroff Street.

It is a product of seasonal grounds maintenance operations. The soil pile is marked with signage and is self-serve. Tools and equipment for loading the soil are not provided.

Check out the May 2022 edition of the Sitka Local Foods Network newsletter

The Sitka Local Foods Network just sent out the May 2022 edition of its monthly newsletter. Feel free to click this link to get a copy.

This month’s newsletter includes short stories about the winners of the fifth annual Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest, a notice that vendor registration for the 2022 Sitka Farmers Market is open, an update about how you can support the Sitka Local Foods Network by buying a t-shirt or hoodie from our online store, information about our 2022 sponsorship programs, and an invitation to join our board of directors. 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).

Vendor registration open for 2022 Sitka Farmers Markets

Sitka Farmers Market Manager Nalani James, left, St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm Lead Gardener Laura Schmidt, center, and Sitka Local Foods Network Board Treasurer Amanda Anjum at the Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand during a July 2021 Sitka Farmers Market.

Vendor registration is open for the 2022 Sitka Farmers Markets. This 15th annual community event is hosted by the Sitka Local Foods Network, a nonprofit working to improve Sitka’s food security. The online vendor registration page, http://sitkafarmersmarket.wordpress.com, is live and ready for vendors to sign up and pre-pay for their spots.

This summer, the Sitka Local Foods Network is hosting seven markets from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays — July 2, July 16, July 30, Aug. 13, Aug. 27, Sept. 10, and Sept. 24 — at Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall (235 Katlian Street), where we held our first 12 years of markets. All vendors will pay $40 per market, regardless of whether you have a table or a food truck. We have a special rate of $240 for vendors who register for all seven markets before the first market happens, which means you get one market free. Vendors can register for one or two markets, or all seven. We also have youth vendor program for ages 14 and younger, which is $20 for all seven markets (please let us know ahead of time which specific markets you plan to attend).

The Sitka Farmers Market is a community event hosted by the Sitka Local Foods Network, whose mission is to increase the amount of locally produced and harvested food in the diets of Southeast Alaskans. Our focus is on local — fresh produce, fish, baked goods, prepared foods, cottage foods, arts and crafts — and all products must be made in Alaska (preferably in Sitka or Southeast Alaska, cooked foods may use non-local foods so long as the food is cooked on site). Since our mission is geared toward food security and our space is limited this year, if we have too many vendors try to register our food booths will have a higher priority over arts and crafts.

After having to relocate for two years due to COVID-19, we are back to our roots this year for our 15th season of markets. We will have indoor and outdoor spaces. Since COVID-19 is still around, we will require masks inside the ANB Hall when Sitka is at the Moderate or High risk levels. While most people now are vaccinated against the coronavirus, there still are people who aren’t vaccinated and there are periodic hot spots when the illness flares up. We don’t want the market to be a place that spreads the coronavirus. Even with our outside booths, we encourage vendors and customers to wear masks, to use hand sanitizer, and to avoid bunching up while giving others six feet of space.

Please read the market vendor rules and responsibilities document linked below. All vendors using this site to register for the market will be held to these rules. We ask all vendors to register by the Thursday morning before the markets where they intend to sell. Unless you specify you want to be outside, we will try to find room for you indoors. We are not selling half-tables this year because we need social-distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Vendors can pay using PayPal or credit/debit card. When you get to the Payment options, click PayPal and it should give you the option of using a PayPal account or four different types of cards (Visa, MasterCard, AmEx, Discover). If you prefer to pay by cash or check, contact Charles Bingham at 907-623-7660. We will provide a $35 refund for cancellations, but to get the refund you are required to let us know before Wednesday of the week of your registered market that you can’t make it. This is $5 less than the $40 table fee since we are billed for transaction fees and other expenses. There is no refund if you don’t let us know until after Wednesday.

Nalani James is the Sitka Farmers Market manager this summer (she’s on the left in the photo above). Laura Schmidt (center in photo) is our lead gardener at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm, where the Sitka Local Foods Network grows most of the produce it sells at the market. Charles Bingham is the assistant market manager and the president of the Sitka Local Foods Network.

For questions about the market, email us at sitkafarmersmarket@gmail.com or call (907) 623-7660. More details about the market will be posted on the Sitka Local Foods Network website, http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org, and shared on its Facebook pages — https://www.facebook.com/SitkaLocalFoodsNetwork and https://www.facebook.com/SitkaFarmersMarket — and on Twitter, https://www.twitter.com/SitkaLocalFoods.

• 2022 Sitka Farmers Market Vendor Rules and Responsibilities

Alaska Food Policy Council seeks members for its Alaska Food System Network

The Alaska Food Policy Council wants organizations and individuals to please join its Alaska Food System Network map. It only takes a few minutes to set up your profile, then you can find connections.

You can join by clicking this link, https://www.akfoodpolicycouncil.org/regional-food-system-participate

Individuals and organizations may add their own profile to our growing network of state-wide food systems assets. Our mapping goal is to clearly show where our food knowledge, skill sets, and tangible resources (like storage and processing) exist across the state.

This could include work in the food supply chain, education, aid and access, production, harvest, knowledge bearing, and more. By joining the statewide network, with some context about how you work in food, you are contributing to a state-wide directory of assets that will be publicly shared.

Joining the network also helps the Alaska Food Policy Council know who is doing what in the state, so we can better connect people with appropriate resources when we receive an inquiry. 

This is part of an 18-month USDA Regional Food System Partnership planning grant coordinated by the Alaska Food Policy Council. The next step will be part of an implementation grant to take the results of all of of the local/regional asset-mapping sessions and use them to build a 10-year state food security plan.

The Sitka Local Foods Network hosted one of the 12-14 regional nodes in this project, which included an asset-mapping workshop on Feb. 19. In Sitka, we hope to use some of the information and connections gathered in today’s workshop to improve our local food security. We also hope to use the information to possibly update the 2014 Sitka Community Food Assessment Indicators Report, which gave us a lot of baseline planning data that now is nearly a decade old.

UAF Cooperative Extension Service offers April gardening workshops in Sitka

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service has added two new April classes to a series of in-person gardening workshops in Sitka that started in March.

Two classes have been announced for the end April, one on building a colorful container of flowers and another on using soil amendments. More classes for May may be announced later. The classes have various costs, but materials are provided. Masks are required for indoor classes. Space is limited on all classes, so register early.

The classes scheduled so far are:

  • Create Some Color With Garden Ventures — Thursday, April 17, 6-7 p.m.; Penny Brown, owner of Garden Ventures Nursery, will lead a hands-on workshop for how to design your own planter full of colorful flowers. She will also give a short presentation on the topic. This class is $30 and takes place at Garden Ventures, 4013 Halibut Point Road. You can register here.
  • Soil Amendments and Rototiller Fun — Saturday, April 23, 10-11:30 a.m.; In this workshop you will learn what you can to help build soil nutrition, revitalize garden beds with depleted soil, make a little fertilizer to take home, and try your hand at a rototiller. This workshop is taught by Kitty LaBounty and Andrea Fraga at a location TBA. The cost is $10. You can register here.

For more information and to register, email jdshaw2@alaska.edu or call 907-747-9440.

The Garden Show returns to KCAW-Raven Radio spring programming lineup for 31st year

For 31 years, Mollie Kabler and Kitty LaBounty have taken to the KCAW-Raven Radio airwaves during the spring months to broadcast The Garden Show.

They’ve already recorded two shows this year, and the Garden Show will have a regular 9:30-10 a.m. slot on Fridays. Since this week is KCAW’s spring pledge drive, the show will take pace from 9-10 a.m. on Friday, April 8. Kitty also has a regular music show (Hometown Brew) from 2-4 p.m. on Thursdays, and in the past the half-hour Garden Shows sometimes took place during her program.

Garden Show topics include timely tasks for gardening in Southeast Alaska, taking on-air questions, and themes around basic and more advanced gardening of vegetables, flowers, fruit, trees, etc. The station’s website has links to previous shows.

Mollie and Kitty have been gardening in Sitka for more than 30 years each, and they also have significant gardening experience from their childhoods in Wisconsin (Mollie) and Oregon (Kitty). They both are certified as Master Gardeners, after completing the class series offered by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service.

To call the show with gardening questions, call 747-5877 and ask to be connected to the show.

Check out the April 2022 edition of the Sitka Local Foods Network newsletter

The Sitka Local Foods Network just sent out the April 2022 edition of its monthly newsletter. Feel free to click this link to get a copy.

This month’s newsletter includes short stories about the about the deadline of the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend application period (and Pick.Click.Give. application) on March 31, an update about how you can support the Sitka Local Foods Network by buying a t-shirt or hoodie from our online store, information about our 2022 sponsorship programs, and an invitation to join our board of directors. 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).

Alaska Farmers Markets Association to host free virtual summit on April 8

HOMER, Alaska (March 29, 2022) — The Alaska Farmers Markets Association will host its 2022 virtual summit from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, April 8. The theme is “Gather and Grow.” This event is free, but pre-registration is required.

“Whether you have run a market for 10 years or are just in the planning stages, the Alaska Farmers Markets Association is open to anyone interested in learning more about Alaska’s farmers markets, CSAs (community supported agriculture programs), farm stands, and food hubs,” said AFMA director Robbi Mixon, who recently was named to the board of directors for the national Farmers Market Coalition. “Grow your network and learn from market managers, farmers, government officials, and more.”

The keynote speakers this year are Mat-Su Health Foundation President/CEO Elizabeth A. Ripley and Dr. Gail Meyers, co-founder of Farms to Grow, Inc. Other presentations and discussion panels will be on how to keep farmers markets safe and the public healthy, why a census of agriculture matters for food security in Alaska, National Farmers Market Week (Aug. 7-13) events, a lunch-and-learn on ranked-choice voting, farmers market evaluation and data collection, food access programs, and more.

Conference sponsors include Cook Inletkeeper, the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service, and MarketLink (a program of the National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition). The Farmers Market Coalition will assist with some presentations and discussion panels. Funding for the summit was provided by a 2021-24 Farmers Market Promotion Program grant from the USDA.

To learn more about the conference and to register, go to https://www.alaskafarmersmarkets.org/2022-alaska-farmers-market-summit-april-8th/. For more information, contact Alaska Farmers Market Association Director Robbi Mixon at 907-235-4068, Ext. 23, or info@alaskafarmersamarkets.org.

National Young Farmers Coalition to start chapter in Alaska

Alaska leads the nation in agricultural growth and there’s no sign of it slowing down. The average age of a producer in Alaska is 2.5 years younger compared to the national average age. Alaska leads the nation in the percent of new and beginning producers. Almost half – 46 percent – of the state’s farmers have 10 years or fewer of farm experience.

With help and support from the Alaska Farmers Market Association, we are launching an Alaska chapter of the National Young Farmers Coalition (http://www.youngfarmers.org), a national nonprofit whose mission is to “…shift power and change policy to equitably resource our new generation of working farmers.” The chapter will serve beginning and young farmers/ranchers in Alaska. The goal is to have representation from each Alaska region and from every agricultural sector. 

We are collecting individual information, such as contact information, farm types, experience, demographics, and interest levels for participating in the chapter in order to identify the chapter’s direction, trends, and insights that can help bring the group together. You can take the survey at this link.

We will keep your answers confidential and all results produced will be anonymous.

Feel free to contact Kyra Harty at 907-235-4068, ext 20, or email her at Kyra@AlaskaFarmersMarkets.org if you have any questions or would like more information.

As you build your 2022 garden this spring, don’t forget to Plant A Row For The Hungry

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article first appeared on this site in April 2010. It is repeated with some updates because much of the information remains current and newsworthy.)

As you start to plan your garden for this spring and summer, don’t forget to Plant A Row For The Hungry. The Plant A Row For The Hungry program (also known as Plant A Row or PAR) is a national campaign by the Garden Writers Association of America (which recently changed its name to the Garden Communicators International) that has its roots in Alaska.

In the cold winter of 1994, Anchorage Daily News garden columnist and former Garden Writers Association of America President Jeff Lowenfels was returning to his hotel after a Washington, D.C., event when he was approached by a homeless person who asked for some money to buy food. Lowenfels said Washington, D.C., had signs saying, “Don’t give money to panhandlers,” so he shook his head and kept on walking. But the man’s reply, “I really am homeless and I really am hungry. You can come with me and watch me eat,” stayed with Lowenfels for the rest of his trip.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels

The encounter continued to bother Lowenfels, even as he was flying back to Anchorage. During the flight, Lowenfels came up with an idea when he started writing his weekly garden column (the longest continuously running garden column in the country, with no missed weeks since it started on Nov. 13, 1976). He asked his readers to plant one extra row in their gardens to grow food to donate to Bean’s Café, an Anchorage soup kitchen. The idea took off.

When Anchorage hosted the Garden Writers Association of America convention in 1995, Lowenfels took the GWAA members to Bean’s Café to learn about the Plant A Row For Bean’s Café program. The Garden Writers Association of America liked the idea, and it became the national Plant A Row For The Hungry campaign (also known as Plant A Row or PAR). In 2002, the Garden Writers Association Foundation (now Garden Communicators International) was created as a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit to manage the Plant A Row For The Hungry program.

“I am not surprised by the growth of PAR,” Lowenfels wrote in a 2010 e-mail to the Sitka Local Foods Network. “It is now in all 50 states and across Canada and there are thousands of variations of the original program — from prison gardens for the hungry to botanical gardens donating their produce from public display gardens. This is because gardeners always share information and extra food, so the idea was a natural.”

It took five years for the program to reach its first million pounds of donated food, but the second million only took two years and the next eight years saw a million pounds of donated food (or more) each year. Since 1995, more than 20 million pounds of food (about 80 million meals, as of 2020) have been donated by American gardeners. Not only that, the program is getting ready to expand overseas to Australia, England and other countries with avid gardeners.

“We have supplied something in the vicinity of enough food for 50 million meals,” Lowenfels wrote in his e-mail. “Gardeners can solve this hunger problem without the government. And we don’t need a tea party to do it! Or chemicals, I might add, as author of a book on organic gardening!” Lowenfels is the author of Teaming With Microbes, written with Wayne Lewis. He released a second book, Teaming With Nutrients, as a follow-up to his first book, and in 2017 released a third book, Teaming With Fungi, as a second follow-up book.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2019 one out of every nine U.S. households experiences hunger or the risk of hunger. Many people skip meals or eat too little, sometimes going an entire day or more without food. About 35.2 million Americans, including 13 million children, have substandard diets or must resort to seeking emergency food because they can’t always afford to buy the food they need. In recent years, the demand for hunger assistance has increased 70 percent, and research shows that hundreds of children and adults are turned away from food banks each year because of lack of resources. The demand has grown with the Covid-19 pandemic

According to the 2014 Sitka Community Food Assessment Indicators Report, about one in six people in Sitka is food insecure. In 2013, there were 1,410 Sitkans (out of a population of about 9,000) and 766 families receiving food assistance (SNAP, aka food stamps). There also were 229 individuals who received food pantry assistance from the Salvation Army and 7,243 meals served through its lunch soup kitchen in 2013, and that number has grown substantially since then.

While many people credit Lowenfels for creating the Plant A Row For The Hungry program, Lowenfels says the real heroes are the gardeners growing the extra food and donating it to local soup kitchens, senior programs, schools, homeless shelters and neighbors. You can hear him pass along the credit to all gardeners at the end of this 2009 interview with an Oklahoma television station (video also embedded below).

“One row. That’s all it takes. No rules other than the food goes to the hungry. You pick the drop-off spot or just give it to a needy friend or neighbor. Nothing slips between the lip and the cup, I say,” Lowenfels wrote in his e-mail.

With all of the jobs lost because of the COVID-19 coronavirus quarantines in 2020-22, this year there will be even more people who need food assistance. It will be more important than ever to help get extra produce into our local food banks and soup kitchens.

For people wanting to Plant A Row For The Hungry in Sitka, there are several places that would love to help distribute some fresh locally grown veggies or berries to those who are less fortunate, such as the Salvation ArmySitkans Against Family Violence (SAFV), local churches, Sitka Tribe of Alaska and other organizations. The food the Sitka Local Foods Network grows at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden goes to the Sitka Farmers Market, school lunches and other programs.

People who participate in the Alaska SNAP (food stamp) program can use their Alaska Quest Cards to purchase produce and fish at the Sitka Farmers Market and other farmers markets around the state. People who participate in the  WIC (Women, Infants, Children) supplemental food program (operated in Southeast Alaska by the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium or SEARHC) also can use special farmers market vouchers to buy fresh vegetables at the Sitka Farmers Market and other farmers markets in Alaska (this is part of the national WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program). The Sitka Local Foods Network matches up to $20 for produce purchased using WIC or SNAP benefits at the Sitka Farmers Market.

The Sitka Local Foods Network also takes donations of local produce to sell at the Sitka Farmers Markets, and all proceeds are used to help pay for SLFN projects geared toward helping more people in Sitka grow and harvest local food. For more information, contact the Sitka Local Foods Network board members at sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com.

• Plant A Row informational brochure (2017)