As you build your 2019 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 (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 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)

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Sitka Health Summit planning day set for Thursday, Oct. 4

The 12th annual Sitka Health Summit planning day is planned for 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 4, in Room 229 on the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus. All ideas and people are welcome, and lunch is provided.

Participants will brainstorm, evaluate and select two community wellness goals to pursue over the next year, and then plan steps to launch the new initiatives. The two chosen community wellness goals will be eligible for $2,000 in seed money. This year’s theme is “Working Toward an Equitable Future.”

There have been several food-related Sitka Health Summit community wellness goals over the years, such as starting a local foods/farmers market, compiling the Sitka Community Food Assessment, planting fruit trees around town, launching the Fish to Schools program, starting the Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen, and more. Other past Sitka Health Summit community wellness goals include building an ADA-accessible community playground and becoming a more walk-friendly and bike-friendly community, among other projects. In 2017, Sitka residents chose reducing Sitka’s carbon emissions and starting a series of trauma-informed community conversations as the two Sitka Health Summit projects.

“The Sitka Health Summit planning day provides a great chance to turn a good idea into a practical goal that has funding and support,” said Doug Osborne, Sitka Community Hospital health promotion director. “For 12 years, the motto has been all ideas and all people are welcome. If you can’t make it, but would like to submit an idea for consideration, please call me at 747-0373 so it can be shared on the big day.”

The Sitka Health Summit is coordinated and funded by a coalition of local groups that includes the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC), Sitka Community Hospital, Sitka Conservation Society, Sitka Counseling and Prevention Services, and the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus. Additional support is provided by the State of Alaska Division of Public Health-Section of Public Health Nursing, Southeast Radiation Oncology Center, White’s Pharmacy, the Sitka Food Co-Op, ALPS Federal Credit Union, Sitka Vision Center, Dr. Marley’s Family Dentistry, the Sitka Community Hospital Foundations, and the Sitka Health Summit Coalition.

For more information about the Sitka Health Summit, contact Loyd Platson at 747-3636, or go to the website at http://www.sitkahealthsummit.org or the Sitka Health Summit page on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/SitkaHealthSummit.

Scenes from the community conversation about our food with food systems expert/author Mark Winne

This past week, noted food systems/food policy expert and author Mark Winne was in Sitka to research his new book, tentatively called “Food Town, USA,” about the local food systems of seven communities around the country.

During his time in Sitka, Mark visited the Sitka Farmers Market, the Sitka Food Co-op, the Sitka Kitch, and several food businesses around town. He also helped lead a community conversation about our food on Wednesday, July 11, at the Sitka Public Library, a free event co-sponsored by the Sitka Local Foods Network and the Sitka Food Co-op.

This event was moderated by Doug Osborne, health promotion director at Sitka Community Hospital and a former Sitka Local Foods Network board member. It also featured a brief history of Sitka’s food system from current Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham and an introduction to the Sitka Food Co-op by manager Keith Nyitray.

Those in attendance then had a chance to discuss Sitka’s food system, to find strengths and weaknesses. They also broke into small groups to discuss where they wanted for Sitka’s food system in the future.

A slideshow of scenes from the event is posted below. A PDF version of the brief history of Sitka’s food system also is posted below.

• A Story About Food In Sitka (opens as 13.5 MB PDF file, originally a much larger PowerPoint presentation)

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Food policy/food systems expert and author Mark Winne coming to Sitka to research new book

Nationally recognized food policy/food systems expert and author Mark Winne will be in Sitka from July 6-13 to do research on a new book, tentatively called “Food Town, USA,” where he examines the local food systems of eight to 10 small communities around the country.

“I’ll be visiting what may be America’s best little food town for research,” Mark wrote about Sitka on his website.

As part of his stay in Sitka, Mark will visit the Sitka Farmers Market, the Sitka Kitch, Sitka Food Co-Op, and a variety of local food businesses in town. He also will be part of a free community discussion about food from 6-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 11, at the Sitka Public Library. This event is co-hosted by the Sitka Local Foods Network and Sitka Food Co-Op and moderated by Doug Osborne.

Mark’s career in food policy and food systems spans 40 years. From 1979 to 2003, Mark was the executive director of the Hartford Food System, a Connecticut nonprofit food organization. He is the co-founder of the now-closed Community Food Security Coalition where he also worked as the food policy council program director from 2005-12. During his time with the Community Food Security Coalition, he did some work to help get the Alaska Food Policy Council up and running.

He was a Kellogg Foundation Food and Society Fellow, a Johns Hopkins School of Public Health Visiting Scholar, and a member of the U.S. Delegation to the 2000 Rome Conference on Food Security. As a writer on food issues, Mark’s work has appeared in the Washington Post, The Nation, Sierra, Orion, and Yes!, to name a few. He is the author of three books — Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of PlentyFood Rebels, Guerrilla Gardeners, and Smart Cookin’ Mamas; and Stand Together or Starve Alone: Unity and Chaos in the U.S. Food System, which was released at the end of 2017. All three books are published by Beacon Press.

Through his own firm, Mark Winne Associates, Mark speaks, trains, and writes on topics related to community food systems, food policy, and food security. He also serves as senior advisor to the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health. He now lives in Santa Fe, N.M.

In an email he sent to various members of Sitka’s food community, Mark wrote:

“Food continues to become a larger but not fully acknowledged force in the lives of American communities. From health and nutrition, to food security, to economic development, to the simple need for a good quality of life, food can define a community’s identity as well as determine who benefits and who doesn’t. I am going to tell “stories” about eight to 10 small to mid-size cities and regions for whom a ‘food scene,’ a food consciousness, a sense of commitment to those who do not benefit from a growing prosperity, and an expanding number of local ‘food system’ stakeholders are on display if not actually working collaboratively. I want to know about the history of each community’s food evolution, what its key moments might have been, and who has played timely roles. The purpose of the story I’m telling about these places, which I am not claiming are exceptional, is to stress that food is a “bigger deal” than we think, and that if you take it seriously, food will not only lift up our quality of life, it will ensure that everyone can enjoy a better quality of life. I am selecting places that are not Berkeley, Boulder, or Brooklyn, but are understated and often overlooked.”

For more details about the community discussion about food on July 11, contact Charles Bingham at 623-7660 or charleswbingham3@gmail.com

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

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

This month’s newsletter includes brief items about how you can support the SLFN through the Pick.Click.Give. program, an invitation to join us at our annual meeting and potluck dinner on Jan. 28, info about the 2018 sponsorship program for businesses and individuals, 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.

Sitka Local Foods Network to host annual meeting and potluck on Sunday, Jan. 28

The Sitka Local Foods Network will host its annual meeting and potluck dinner from 5-7 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 28, at the Sitka Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall (408 Marine St., parking off of Spruce Street).

Participants are encouraged to bring a dish featuring local foods to share, and please bring your own utensils (note, this is a non-alcoholic event). This event is a good event to attend for people who want to learn more about the Sitka Local Foods Network and what we do around town. We also hope to have a silent auction, where people can bid on various gardening and food items (donations are welcome).

Attendees will hear about project updates, plus the current board will vote on by-law changes. We will introduce our new board members for 2017, and we will confirm the election of our officers. We also have a couple of openings on our board, and people wanting to learn more about joining can click this link for info and applications.

Individuals interested in learning more about the Sitka Local Foods Network can email sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com to learn about our projects and volunteer opportunities.

Cross boundaries at the 11th annual Sitka Health Summit on Oct. 11-13

The 11th annual Sitka Health Summit will be October 11-13 at various locations around Sitka.

​​Justin Rivas, MPH, MIPA, from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute will be leading two workshops and then providing facilitation for the planning days. All the events are free and open to the public.

The summit opens with the boundary spanning leadership workshop from 10:30 a.m. to noon, on Wednesday, Oct. 11, in Room 229 at the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus. This interactive workshop comes from the Center for Creative Leadership and is based on the book Boundary Spanning Leadership by Chris Ernst.

For a diverse group of stakeholders to effectively cross boundaries and work together, partners must first define and understand the lines that differentiate them. You must be able to clearly see group boundaries before you can span them. This important step is often skipped in forming new partnerships. Throughout this class five types of universal boundaries will be examined and deconstructed with the goal of improving teamwork and, ultimately, results.

The next event is a presentation by Rivas on health equity and the impact income, race and geography has on health outcomes. This event takes place from 6:30-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 11, at the Sitka Public Library. Information and case studies about public health efforts to understand and address disparities, while promoting access and equity for all, will be shared and discussed.

This year we’ve expanded the Sitka Health Summit planning day into a day and a half of planning community wellness projects. They will take place from 1-4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 12, and from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 13, in Room 229 at the UAS Sitka Campus. For lunch during Friday’s events, Chef Edith Johnson of Our Town Catering will prepare a lunch with locally caught coho salmon and a locally grown kale and mixed-green salad with a champagne vinaigrette.

All ideas and all people are welcome to brainstorm, evaluate, select two inspiring health goals that will promote equity and well-being in Sitka. Each of the newly selected initiatives receives $2,000 in start-up funds, initial facilitation services, technical assistance, and a letter of support. Some of the past community initiatives include the Sitka Farmers Market, Sitka Kitch, Fish to Schools, Hames Athletic and Wellness Center, Sitka Community Playground, and earning Bicycle Friendly Community and Walk Friendly Communities designations, among other projects.

Sponsors for this year’s Health Equity themed Summit include the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC), Sitka Community Hospital, Sitka Conservation Society, Sitka Counseling, White’s Inc./Harry Race Pharmacy, Southeast Radiation Oncology Center, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services-Section of Public Health Nursing, the University of Alaska Southeast-Sitka Campus, and the Sitka Health Summit Coalition.

For more information or to save your spot at any the three events, contact Doug Osborne at 747-0373 or dosborne@sitkahospital.org or Holly Marban at 966-8938 or holly.marban@searhc.org. Doug and Holly also are requesting people RSVP for the events, to help planning.

Please email them and let them know if you plan to attend the Wednesday morning workshop with Justin Rivas at UAS Sitka Campus (Event A), the health equity presentation Wednesday night at Sitka Public Library (Event B), and/or the Sitka Health Summit Planning Days on Thursday and Friday at UAS Sitka Campus (Event C).