Alaska Legislature removes barriers for community seed sharing

The seed library at the John Trigg Ester Library, just outside Fairbanks.

Gardeners and community members can now participate in local seed exchanges and opportunities for seed sharing without onerous regulations on the books.  House Bill 197, sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Johnston (R-Anchorage, Girdwood, Indian) passed the Senate unanimously on Wednesday (April 18), after receiving bipartisan support last week in the House.

Over the last several years, community seeds libraries, such as the one at the John Trigg Ester Library just outside Fairbanks, have been springing up organically around the state, offering opportunities for gardeners to share seeds and stories of growing great Alaskan plants. To encourage these libraries to flourish and allow more Alaskans to participate in this time-honored tradition, House Bill 197 removes regulatory barriers for community seed saving and sharing.

“I was intrigued when this idea was brought to me by community members” Rep. Johnston said. “It didn’t make sense that such homegrown, community-centric activity would be regulated in the same way as commercial operations.”

The labeling requirements for noncommercial seed sharing will now be the seeds’ common name, information on the seed library, and a label denoting any toxic treatment of the seeds. Additionally, the seed library must display the statement, “Not authorized for commercial use and not classified, graded, or inspected by the State of Alaska.” Currently there are more than two pages of requirements for seeds that are shared within the state.

“Improving community unity, access to healthy produce and decreasing food insecurity have brought the Legislature together, and I’m pleased to see the bill get so much support,” Rep. Johnston said.

House Bill 197 now heads to Gov. Bill Walker for his signature.

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As you build your 2018 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 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 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 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 an 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 14 million pounds of food have been donated. 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, one out of every eight 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 33 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.

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.

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 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)

Check out the April 2018 edition of the Sitka Local Foods Network newsletter

The Sitka Local Foods Network just sent out the April 2018 edition of its monthly newsletter. Feel free to click this link to get a copy.

This month’s newsletter has short articles that include the announcement of spring gardening classes, a deadline reminder about the Pick.Click.Give. donation program, an update on the deadline for our new Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest, information about our sponsorship program, 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 new Sitka Farmers Market page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter (@SitkaLocalFoods).

Sitka Local Foods Network education committee announces its 2018 spring garden classes

Want to learn how to grow your own food? Are you new to Sitka and want to learn what veggies grow in our town? The Sitka Local Foods Network education committee has a list of free 2018 spring garden classes that can help you learn what to do and when to do it so you have a healthy garden.

This spring, most of our classes will take place from 6:30-8 p.m. on Thursdays at the Sitka Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall (408 Marine Street, parking off Spruce Street). Each week will feature a different topic, and all classes are free (donations to the Sitka Local Foods Network will be accepted). The class schedule is as follows:

  • Starting A Cottage Foods BusinessSaturday, April 14, 1-3 p.m., Sitka Kitch (505 SMC), taught by Sarah Lewis, in partnership with UAF Cooperative Extension Service and Sitka Kitch, $10 class fee (half-off first market date vendor fee at Sitka Farmers Market, pre-register online at http://sitkakitch.eventsmart.com (click on class title).
  • Gardening in Sitka 101April 19, taught by Michelle Putz and Jennifer Carter.
  • Greenhouse GardeningApril 26, 6-7:30 p.m., taught by Andrea Fraga.
  • Growing Potatoes in SitkaMay 3, taught by Kathy Kyle.
  • Container GardeningMay 10, taught by Charles Bingham.

For more information about the classes, contact Charles Bingham at 623-7660 or charleswbingham3@gmail.com. Other classes may be added at a later date if we find volunteers to teach them. If you are a Sitka gardener who wants to teach a class, contact Charles at the info above.

Don’t forget to file your PFD applications with Pick.Click.Give. donations

Where has the time gone? We’re already almost into March 2018, and March is the last month for people to apply for their 2018 Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend. As usual, Alaskans can share their wealth with a variety of Alaska nonprofits, including the Sitka Local Foods Network, through the PFD’s Pick.Click.Give. program.

This is the fourth year the Sitka Local Foods Network will participate in the Pick.Click.Give. program, which allows people to donate in $25 increments to their favorite statewide and local 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations when they file their PFD applications from Jan. 1 through March 31. We missed 2017 due to a clerical snafu, but we’re back in the program for 2018.

When you choose to donate part of your PFD to the Sitka Local Foods Network, you support the Sitka Farmers Market, St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm, education programs about growing and preserving food, the Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen, Sitka Community Gardens, matching dollars at the Sitka Farmers Market for SNAP/WIC beneficiaries, the sustainable use of traditional foods, the Sitka Community Food Assessment, the Sitka Food Summit, and a variety of other projects designed to increase access to healthy local foods in Sitka.

Did you forget to make your Pick.Click.Give. donations when you filed for your PFD this year? Don’t worry, you can still add or change your Pick.Click.Give. donations through Aug. 31 when you go back into your online application (you will need to have your My.Alaska.gov information handy to log into the application). You can’t file your PFD application after the March 31 deadline, but if you filed for your PFD before the deadline you have until Aug. 31 to modify your Pick.Click.Give. donations.

In 2017 Alaskans contributed $2.7 million to 668 Alaska nonprofit organizations, and more than $18.5 million has been donated since the program started in 2009. Some Alaskans choose to donate to just one group, while others may spread several donations around to many groups. There now are more than 600 total 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations participating in Pick.Click.Give. for 2017 (including multi-location nonprofits), including 23 from Sitka. In 2017, Alaskans donated $100,500 to Sitka-based nonprofits.

To encourage more Alaskans to donate through the Pick.Click.Give. program, the Double Your Dividend contest has been revised to encourage philanthropy. Anybody who makes a non-anonymous Pick.Click.Give. donation to at least one of the registered nonprofits will be entered into a contest where five lucky Alaskans will win a second PFD check for their favorite participating Pick.Click.Give. nonprofit (or it can be split between a couple of nonprofits). The winners no longer receive a second PFD for themselves, just one to donate to an organization. The winners will be announced in October, about the time the PFDs start hitting bank accounts.

So how do you make a donation to the Sitka Local Foods Network through the Pick.Click.Give. program? First, go fill out your Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend application at http://pfd.alaska.gov/. When you get to the section of the application asking if you want to participate in Pick.Click.Give. Charitable Contributions program, click on the PCG link and search for the Sitka Local Foods Network. You also can look for us by using the town search for Sitka.

The Pick.Click.Give. program is available only to people who file their PFD applications online, and not to those who file by mail. Even though you can’t file a new PFD application after March 31, you can go back into your application and update your Pick.Click.Give. donations through Aug. 31 each year.

You still can donate to the Sitka Local Foods Network if you aren’t from Alaska or aren’t eligible for a 2018 PFD. To donate, send your check to the Sitka Local Foods Network, 408D Marine St., Sitka, Alaska, 99835. You also can donate online by going to our online fundraising page on Razoo.com, and clicking the Donate button to make an online contribution. Please let us know if you need a receipt for tax purposes. For more information about donating, you can send an email to sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com.

Thank you for supporting our mission of promoting and encouraging the growing, harvesting and eating of local foods in Sitka and Southeast Alaska.

Check out the February 2018 edition of the Sitka Local Foods Network newsletter

The Sitka Local Foods Network just sent out the February 2018 edition of its monthly newsletter. Feel free to click this link to get a copy.

This month’s newsletter has short articles about our new Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest, a request for volunteer gardening instructors this spring, a reminder about the Pick.Click.Give. donation program, information about our sponsorship program, 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 new Sitka Farmers Market page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter (@SitkaLocalFoods).

Sitka Local Foods Network seeks volunteer instructors for spring garden education classes

Are you an experienced Sitka gardener who wants to share your knowledge with the community? The Sitka Local Foods Network is looking for a few volunteer instructors to teach garden education classes this spring.

Classes typically last about 1 1/2 to two hours, and they can cover a variety of Sitka garden topics. In past years we’ve had people teach classes such as Sitka Gardening 101, How to Extend Your Garden Season, How to Grow Potatoes, How to Grow Rhubarb, How to Grow Fruit Trees, How to Grow Garlic (this class was in the fall), How to Raise Chickens, How to Container Garden, How to Compost, and more. Last year we even had a class on Cottage Food Business Basics (with the help of the Juneau office of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service) to help vendors prepare for the Sitka Farmers Markets.

Most of the classes tend to be low-key, and the class sizes have ranged from 2-35 depending on the topic. Some classes have been hands-on (with students planting starts in trays), while others have been lectures or group conversations. It depends on the instructor and class. A few classes have been taught at people’s home gardens, but we also have hosted others at the Sitka Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall (Thursday nights work best for this venue). Most of our classes are offered for free, except for a couple that had a small supply fee. If you need help preparing a lesson plan, the UAF Cooperative Extension Service provides a variety of free and low-cost publications on Alaska gardening topics that can be downloaded from the Publications part of its website.

If you are available to teach a course or two, please contact Charles Bingham at 623-7660 or charleswbingham3@gmail.com so we can build a schedule.