Alaskans invited to join the new $5 Alaska Grown, Five Month Challenge

Starting Wednesday, June 1, the Alaska Division of Agriculture is launching a brand-new $5 Alaska Grown, Five Month Challenge to support the growth of Alaska’s agriculture industry.

From June through October, Alaskans are encouraged to spend $5 per week on Alaska Grown products at their local grocery stores and/or farmers markets. If every Alaskan participates in the challenge, tens of millions of dollars in local purchases could be circulated within local economies rather than sent outside of Alaska. According to the Alaska Farm Bureau, if every Alaskan spent $5 per week on Alaska Grown products, year-round, it would have a $188 million dollar impact.

For the $5 Alaska Grown Challenge, the Division of Agriculture is partnering with dozens of retailers across the state including Carrs-Safeway, Fred Meyer, Wal-mart and SaveUMore. These retailers will be creating specialty Alaska Grown displays in their stores that prominently place and showcase the Alaska Grown products they carry, making it easy for customers to find Alaska Grown products on which to spend $5 per week.

The challenge will run for the five-month period when Alaska Grown products are most available. Each month, new produce and flowers will be introduced into stores as they become seasonally available. Customers can also spend their $5 per week on year-round Alaska Grown products including meat (including fish), fresh eggs and packaged products at their local retailers.

In Sitka, Alaskans can participate by purchasing Alaska Grown produce at the Sitka Farmers Markets. There will be seven Sitka Farmers Markets this summer, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, July 1, July 15, July 29, Aug. 12, Aug. 19, Sept. 2, and Sept. 9, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall (235 Katlian St.). In addition, there are several growers in town, and you can find out more about them in the Alaska Grown Source Book.

“Why buy Alaska grown?” the Alaska Farm Bureau website asks. “Not only are you supporting Alaskans and boosting our economy, you’re also getting a fresher, tastier, more nutritious product. In a blind taste test, 82 percent of Alaskans surveyed could taste the difference between products grown here and those shipped up. Adults and kids say Alaska grown is sweeter, fresher-tasting and crispier.”

• Taste of Alaska White Paper (taste tests of Alaska vs. Lower 48 produce from 2011 Alaska State Fair in Palmer)

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• Sitka Farmers Market earns top ranking from Alaska in American Farmland Trust’s Farmers Market Celebration

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FARMMARKETCELEB_LOGO_DThank you to everybody who supported the Sitka Farmers Market in the seventh annual American Farmland Trust‘s Farmers Market Celebration, which ended on Wednesday, Sept. 23.

Your votes helped the Sitka Farmers Market rank as the top farmers market in Alaska in all five categories — People’s Choice, Focus on Farmers, Healthy Food For All, Pillar of the Community, and Champion for the Environment. We ranked 49th nationally in Champion of the Environment, 55th in People’s Choice, 57th in Healthy Food For All, 57th in Pillar of the Community, and 58th in the Focus on Farmers categories.

SitkaFarmersMarketSignIf you’re not familiar with the American Farmland Trust’s Farmers Market Celebration, you can learn more here. The Sitka Local Foods Network hosted six Sitka Farmers Markets this summer — on Saturdays, July 4, July 18, Aug. 1, Aug. 15, Aug. 29, and Sept. 12, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall.

While our markets are over for the summer, the Sitka Local Foods Network will host a fresh produce booth from 10 a.m. to noon this Saturday, Sept. 26, downtown near St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral at our 21st annual Running of the Boots fundraiser.

• What you put on your fork matters in seventh annual Farmers Market Celebration

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What you put on your fork matters. That’s the message behind American Farmland Trust’s seventh annual Farmers Market Celebration. The celebration calls on shoppers to help identify the cream of the crop — the best of America’s farmers markets — and in Alaska we think that’s the Sitka Farmers Market.

SitkaFarmersMarketSignThe celebration calls on shoppers to help identify the best of America’s farmers markets. The summer-long event launched June 21 and runs through Sept. 23. The first Sitka Farmers Market of the summer is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 4, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall. The other five Sitka Farmers Markets this summer are on Saturdays, July 18, Aug. 1, Aug. 15, Aug. 29, and Sept. 12.

“The Celebration encourages market customers, family farmers, community activists – anyone who believes they’ve got the best farmers market in the country – to endorse their market in four special areas: Focus on Farmers, Healthy Food for All, Pillar of the Community, and Champion for the Environment,” said Susan Sink, American Farmland Trust vice president of development and external relations.

Shoppers are encouraged to use Instagram and join the local food community in saving farmland with their forks, as part of AFT’s “#OnMyFork” social media campaign. Supporters are encouraged to post pictures or videos of their farmers market to Instagram using the hashtag #OnMyFork. If you do post something about the Sitka Farmers Market, please tag our Sitka Local Foods Network page on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/SitkaLocalFoodsNetwork.

“While farmers markets have been growing in popularity, keeping family farmers on farmland remains a nationwide challenge,” Sink says. “Many family farmers are struggling to stay financially afloat and face daily pressure from development to sell their land. Farmers markets provide a wonderful opportunity for family farmers to sell directly to consumers and to help make a living on their land.”

bigcabbagewsFarmers markets have a lot to offer. Beyond the beautiful array of fresh and local food, farmers markets help family farmers thrive, connect us as a community and can be catalysts for both environmental and social good. That is why American Farmland Trust is giving away awards to farmers markets who are the Best in Class in four special areas — Focus on Farmers, Healthy Food for All, Pillar of the Community, and Champion for the Environment.

If you have ever been to the Sitka Farmers Market, you may already know that they are the gold standard for farmers markets in these areas. If you haven’t been to the market before, here are a few reasons why the Sitka Farmers Market deserves to be named one of America’s top markets:

  • Focus on Farmers — The Sitka Local Foods Network, which sponsors the Sitka Farmers Market, has been working with local gardeners and small farmers to increase the amount of locally grown fruits and veggies in Sitka. Not only is locally grown food fresher and better tasting, but it’s better on the environment because it doesn’t have to travel thousands of miles to get to Alaska. The Sitka Farmers Market also is a good place to participate in the $5 Per Week Alaska Grown Challenge to help improve Alaska’s food security.
  • Healthy Food for All — The Sitka Farmers Market was the first farmers market in Southeast Alaska to accept SNAP (food stamps/Alaska Quest cards) and WIC vouchers for people benefitting from those programs. In addition, we have matching dollars of up to $20 per person per market available for SNAP-eligible foods (produce, fish, baked goods, barley products, etc.). This year we are partnering with SEARHC on a program where SEARHC beneficiaries with chronic diseases such as diabetes are prescribed vouchers for fresh produce.
  • Pillar of the Community — The Sitka Farmers Market not only serves as a community gathering place, but it also is a business incubator. It’s a good place for budding entrepreneurs to test ideas and products before going into full production. The Sitka Farmers Market emphasizes local, local, local, which helps put the focus on products from Sitka.
  • Champion for the Environment — It’s estimated that Alaska residents import about 90-95 percent of their food from the Lower 48 or foreign countries. By encouraging people to grow or harvest food locally, we’re cutting down on thousands of miles of transportation costs. That means less fuel is used, and fewer pollutants in the air.

To help shine a light on the Sitka Farmers Market, just go to http://markets.farmland.org/market/sitka-farmers-market/ and recommend our market. In past Farmers Market Celebrations, sponsored by the American Farmland Trust, the Sitka Farmers Market has been at or near the top among the Alaska rankings. Those rankings also helped us crack the recently released 101 Best Farmers Markets in America list compiled by TheDailyMeal.com.

• Sitka Local Foods Network to host six Sitka Farmers Market events in 2015

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Celebrate your independence from store-bought and factory-processed food this year by joining the Sitka Local Foods Network as it hosts the eighth summer of Sitka Farmers Markets in 2015. There will be six markets this year, starting on July 4 and taking place on alternate Saturdays through Sept. 12. The Sitka Farmers Markets give Sitka residents a chance to buy and sell locally produced food and crafts.

The Sitka Farmers Markets take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 4, July 18, Aug. 1, Aug. 15, Aug. 29, and Sept. 12 at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall (235 Katlian St.). The markets feature local seafood (fresh, frozen, and cooked, ready to eat), locally grown and harvested fruits and vegetables, baked goods, locally made jams and jellies, live entertainment and music, local arts and crafts, and a variety of other items gathered or made in Sitka. We emphasize local products and lots of fun. We are the first farmers market in Southeast Alaska to accept WIC coupons and Alaska Quest EBT for SNAP (food stamp) users. Debe Brincefield is the Sitka Farmers Market manager, with Francis Wegman-Lawless serving as assistant manager.

“The Sitka Farmers Market is a great way to connect with community members and support local entrepreneurs,” Sitka Local Foods Network Board President Lisa Sadleir-Hart said. “Spending your dollars locally has a multiplying effect and helps your neighbors. We also encourage Sitkans to join the $5 Per Week Alaska Grown Challenge and support your local producers each week with $5. Dollars spent locally multiply in our community to the tune of about $3 for each dollar spent. So you get great local food and support your neighbors by spending locally.”

The Sitka Farmers Market started as a community wellness project that came out of a health priority planning meeting at the 2008 Sitka Health Summit. The markets are sponsored by the Sitka Local Foods Network, Alaska Native Brotherhood Camp No. 1, Alaska Native Sisterhood Camp No. 4, Baranof Island Housing Authority, the Alaska Farmers Market Association, the Alaska Division of Public Health Cancer Control Program, and the SEARHC Health Promotion and Diabetes Prevention programs.

“As with the past three seasons, we invite Sitkans who participate in food stamps to use their QUEST card at the market and we will match up to $20 per market for each food stamp participant in a household until resources are exhausted,” Sadleir-Hart said. “So for a family of four that could mean up to $80 extra dollars to shop at each market. Additionally, the St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm stand will be working with the SEARHC Health Promotion program to debut a new fruit and vegetable prescription program at the market. SEARHC’s nutritionist will provide eligible beneficiaries with $5 vouchers to use at the farm stand to access local, fresh produce. The farm stand also will accept WIC farmers market and fruits and vegetable vouchers (FVV).”

To learn more about the market and how to be a vendor, contact Sitka Farmers Market Manager Debe Brincefield at 738-8683 or by e-mail sitkafarmersmarket@gmail.com. Vendor rules, registration forms and other info for potential vendors can be found on the Documents page at http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org/.

• Take the $5 Per Week Alaska Grown Challenge and help improve Alaska’s food security

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AlaskaGrown3_GraphicThe Alaska Farm Bureau announces the $5 Per Week Alaska Grown Challenge – a statewide campaign to increase consumer spending on Alaska Grown products with the goal of strengthening local economies and increasing Alaska’s food security.

The Kenai Peninsula Chapter of the Alaska Farm Bureau, in partnership with the Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District and several other local organizations (including the Sitka Local Foods Network), launched the $5 Per Week Alaska Grown Challenge on May 5, in honor of Alaska Agriculture Day. Now the Challenge is going statewide with the help of social media, Alaska Farm Bureau chapters, and local food advocates across the state.

“We’d like to see the state investing in agriculture the way it invests in the resource extraction industries,” said Heidi Chay, district manager of the Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District. “After all, everyone needs to eat, and Alaska is at the end of a very long and vulnerable food chain. The signs of agriculture’s growth potential are all around us. … However, if the state can’t or won’t invest in agriculture the way it should, it’s on Alaskan consumers to take the lead. That’s why the District joined with local partners last month to launch the $5 Per Week Alaska Grown Challenge. We’re calling on Alaskans to invest a small part of their food dollars in the future of Alaskan agriculture, by spending $5 per week per person year-round. Farmers market season is a great time to start.”

Sitka residents will be able to participate in the Challenge by purchasing local veggies at the Sitka Farmers Markets this summer. The markets take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on alternate Saturdays, July 4, July 18, Aug. 1, Aug. 15, Aug. 29, and Sept. 12, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall, 235 Katlian St.

“I’m excited by the prospect of growing local producers pocketbooks with the $5 Per Week Alaska Grown Challenge in Sitka,” said Lisa Sadleir-Hart, Sitka Local Foods Network Board President. “It’s about supporting local foods and your neighbors as well as giving your body the benefit of fresh food. I plan on spending at least $5 a week on local food and doing it at the Sitka Farmers Market makes absolute sense.”

The Challenge calls on Alaskans to spend $5 per week per person on Alaska Grown products year-round. With farmers market season just around the corner, this is the perfect time for Alaskans to commit to investing a portion of their consumer dollars in the future of Alaskan agriculture.

graphic1Agriculture has played an important role in Alaska’s history. Today it is a growing industry with increasing numbers of farms producing food, forage and fiber for local consumers, as well as peonies and rhodiola for sale around the world.

Although farm production is rising, the economic potential of Alaskan farms is far from realized.  More than 95 percent of Alaska’s food is imported, which means that most of our food dollars are leaving the state.

Are Alaska farmers prepared to scale up to meet increasing demand? Yes. According to the Alaska Division of Agriculture, 67 percent of Alaska farmers surveyed indicate that they would increase production if they had more market options. Meanwhile, a warming climate and the rapid adoption of season-extension technologies such as high tunnels are creating more favorable conditions for agriculture.

The Alaska Farm Bureau is calling on every resident in Alaska to join the $5 Per Week Alaska Grown Challenge. If every Alaskan spent $5 per week on Alaska Grown products, year-round, it would have a $188 million dollar impact.

Why buy Alaska grown? Not only are you supporting Alaskans and boosting our economy, you’re also getting a fresher, tastier, more nutritious product. In a blind taste test, 82 percent of Alaskans surveyed could taste the difference between products grown here and those shipped up. Adults and kids say Alaska grown is sweeter, fresher-tasting and crispier.

The $5 Per Week Alaska Grown Challenge isn’t hard. The key, simply enough, is to eat what grows here. You can find a wide variety of produce and value-added products like bread, jam and pickles at farmers markets throughout the summer. Alaska Grown carrots, potatoes, cabbage, milk and barley products (flour, couscous and even pancake mix!) are available year-round in local grocery stores, joined by lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and broccoli during the growing season. Local farms produce meat, poultry, eggs and honey, which are available direct from the farm and at locally-owned retailers. Farmers grow more than just food; Alaska also has cut flower and natural fiber industries with products available. Local restaurants, breweries, distilleries and wineries purchase local products to use in their recipes. And don’t forget our local seafood products.

Not sure where to find Alaska Grown? Check out the $5 Per Week Alaska Grown Challenge website (http://www.alaskafb.org/challenge/) where you will find links to local and statewide resources including the Alaska Grown Source Book, a list of local producers and farmers markets. Be sure to ask for Alaska Grown when you are eating out as well.

Take the challenge: $5 per person per week. You’ll help local farmers, boost the local economy, increase Alaska’s food security, and eat better too. Sign up for the challenge here, http://www.alaskafb.org/challenge.

• Taste of Alaska white paper