Alaska Sea Grant hosts program, COVID-19 Economic Relief for Alaska’s Small Seafood Businesses

The Alaska Sea Grant program will host a free online program, COVID-19 Economic Relief for Alaska’s Small Seafood Businesses, from noon to 1 p.m. on Friday, April 24.

The CARES Act was created to provide economic relief to those affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In this webinar, we will cover provisions for small businesses through the Small Business Administration (SBA) and local unemployment offices, CARES Act tax provisions, and economic relief through the State of Alaska. The presentation will be followed by a Q&A.

Alaska Sea Grant is a trusted source of information and assistance for Alaska fishermen and seafood businesses, through the FishBiz Project. Join us for a presentation and discussion on Zoom with our experts from around the state. Free online registration is required at this link.

Sitka Tribe of Alaska, USDA Forest Service Sitka Ranger Station will plant Tlingít potato garden on Earth Day

SITKA, Alaska – The USDA Forest-Service Sitka Ranger District and Sitka Tribe of Alaska will join forces for the fourth consecutive year to educate people about Tlingít potatoes (also called Maria’s potatoes) and plant a crop of potatoes. The community is invited to participate in a web-based educational program on April 22, 2020. USDA Forest Service staff, the tribe, and tribal citizens will share how to grow Tlingít potatoes, and share the biology, history, and cultural aspects of these interesting root vegetables.

Separate from the education event, Tongass National Forest employees will, this year, plant the potatoes themselves. Since 2017, the Sitka Ranger District has provided a sunny plot of land to serve as the shared potato garden and provided the seed potatoes to plant the garden. In previous years, the Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program, the gardening class from Pacific High School, and Sitka community volunteers have assisted on the project.

“Because of the limited window for planting and the need to keep people safe and healthy, we decided that a virtual event, followed by one or two employees planting the bed, was our best plan of action for 2020,” Sitka District Ranger Perry Edwards said. “By teaching people through a web-based event, even more people can learn how to grow and sustain an easily grown, very productive traditional food.”

The virtual educational event is happening from 1:30-2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 22, which is Earth Day. Attendees should use a computer or tablet, and are encouraged to sign in a few minutes early using their full name. Organizers will use a Teams meeting at https://tinyurl.com/tlingitpotatoes for both video and audio. Organizers suggest using the button: “join in on the web instead” once they have connected to the Teams meeting. For more information, contact Michelle Putz at 907- 747-2708 or email michelle.putz@usda.gov.

Tlingít potatoes have been present in Tlingit gardens for more than 200 years. The potatoes originate from Mexico or Chile, and were a trade item in Southeast Alaska in the early 1800s.

Alaska Sea Grant to host class, Introduction to Starting and Operating a Seafood Direct Marketing Business 2020

The Alaska Sea Grant program is hosting Introduction to Starting and Operating a Seafood Direct Marketing Business, which is a five-session online workshop for those considering or currently involved in direct marketing of seafood in Alaska. Topics include:

  • regulations
  • marketing
  • business planning
  • quality
  • discussion with direct marketers

Presenters include seafood marketing and quality specialists, regulatory officials, and experienced direct marketers. The workshop, limited to 20 participants, will be conducted online via Zoom and take place over five sessions. Sessions will be held in the evenings of April 20, 22, 24, 27, and 29. Each 2–3 hour session will begin at 5:30pm, and will consist of lecture and discussion. Prior to each session, registrants will receive class materials and instructions to log in. The class will conclude on April 29 with an open discussion with invited direct marketers.

Due to the limited number of seats, priority will be given to residents of Alaska. If you live outside Alaska but wish to participate, instead of registering, please contact Gabe Dunham (at this link) to be added to the space-available interest list. The class costs $135.

The Garden Show returns to KCAW-Raven Radio spring programming lineup for 29th year

For 29 years, Mollie Kabler and Kitty LaBounty have taken to the KCAW-Raven Radio airwaves during the spring months to broadcast The Garden Show.

This year, with the coronavirus affecting shows, the Garden Show will have a regular 9:30-10 a.m. slot on Fridays, starting on Friday, April 10. Kitty has a regular music show (Hometown Brew) from 2-4 p.m. on Thursdays, and sometimes in the past the half-hour Garden Shows 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 each have been gardening in Sitka for more than 29 years, 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. Kitty currently is helping teach an online Alaska Master Gardeners class in Sitka.

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

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

Sitka-based community supported fisheries programs give back to the community

These are tough times, with an outbreak keeping people at home and closing many businesses. It’s also been a tough time for some fisheries, with unusual season closures and reduced catch limits.

Two community supported fisheries (CSF) programs based in Sitka — Alaskans Own Seafood and Sitka Salmon Shares — are doing what they can to give back to the community to try and help ease the strain. The Alaskans Own Seafood program is targeting struggling families, while Sitka Salmon Shares is looking to help struggling families and fishermen.

Similar to a community supported agriculture (CSA) program, where people buy shares from a local farmer to help forward-fund a season of crops and receive monthly boxes of produce in exchange, people sign up to buy subscription boxes from a CSF program so they receive a monthly box of selected fish based on what’s in season. The Alaskans Own program distributes its CSF boxes in Sitka, Juneau, Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Seattle. The Sitka Salmon Shares program takes its CSF boxes to several Midwest states, such as Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and others.

The Alaskans Own Seafood program, operated by the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, is partnering with Seafood Producers Cooperative so people can go to the Alaskans Own website for people to donate to cover a box of IQF (individually quick frozen) fillets delivered to the doors of Sitka’s families in need. Boxes are $30 and weigh approximately 10 pounds. Families will be identified through partnering Sitka wellness and aid programs. The donating person can specify a family to receive the box or allow families in need to be identified through mutual aid programs such as SAFV (Sitkans Against Family Violence) and other programs, such as the Sitka Mutual Aid — COVID-19 page on Facebook. The SAFV shelter is happy to take weekly donations.

ALFA and SPC are covering costs and will adjust as appropriate. Additional funding support for this program is welcomed.
“This past week we launched a seafood donation program.  We are delivering seafood to families in need every Thursday afternoon,” ALFA executive director Linda Behnken wrote in an email. “The three-dollar-per-pound contribution covers processing and door to door distribution — the fish is donated. Seafood is being delivered via an electric car.”

On Friday, April 10, Sitka Salmon Shares donated 100 pounds of salmon collars to the Salvation Army food bank and soup kitchen in Sitka and plans to donate a few hundred more pounds that we have in the freezer to them and other local causes over the coming weeks, Sitka Salmon Shares chief fisheries officer Kelly Harrell wrote in an email. “We are also going to make a cash contribution to Sitka Mutual Aid, and will provide free processing of fish for our fishermen who want to donate fish to local causes over the season.”

“In terms of support for our fleet, we have worked with our fishermen to set minimum prices for their harvest that the company will not go below this season, and will work to stay above those prices as much as possible,” Harrell added. “This provides our fleet with assurance that no matter how far the dock price dives due to the impacts of COVID-19, they will be paid a certain amount for what they deliver to the company. For our first loads of halibut this season, the price we are paying has been 33-42% above the prevailing Sitka dock price in the last few weeks. We’ve also recently launched the Sitka Salmon Shares Fishermen’s Fund which is a creative way to generate extra income for our fleet that is not tied to their harvest or dock prices.
“We are diverting a portion of the company’s 1 Percent to the Wild Fund (which provides contributions to small-scale fisheries and conservation causes) to the Fishermen Fund and are also generating revenue into the fund through the sales of “Alaska Fishermen Keep America Fed” t-shirts designed by local Sitka fleet member Allie Spurlock and through an online “Fisheries of the United States” course (taught by Sitka Salmon Shares co-founder and president Nic Mink) that we will offer to our members and the general public in May,” Harrell said. “All the proceeds from the fund will be evenly split across our 22 Sitka and Kodiak-based fleet members offering what we hope will be a meaningful bump in their season’s income.”

As you build your 2020 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, 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.

With all of the jobs lost because of the COVID-19 coronavirus quarantines in 2020, 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 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)