Celebrate local farmers and gardeners on Alaska Agriculture Day on Tuesday, May 1

Alaskans will celebrate Alaska Agriculture Day on Tuesday, May 1. On this day, Alaskans are encouraged to support local agriculture by seeking out and purchasing products produced in Alaska and educating youth about the vital role that agriculture plays in our economy. This is Alaska’s version of National Ag Day (which took place on March 20 this year, when many parts of Alaska were still thawing out).

Here are a few ideas from the Division of Agriculture on how to celebrate Alaska Agriculture Day:

In Sitka, you can celebrate Alaska Agriculture Day by starting a food garden (even a couple of containers on your deck can provide you with potatoes, carrots or greens). Teachers are encouraged to offer a lesson plan or two about the importance of agriculture in Alaska and in Sitka. Here’s a linkto an article about how Sitka was Alaska’s original garden city back in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Also, the Sitka History Minute feature on KCAW-Raven Radio has had several episodes about agriculture in Sitka (click here to listen to a feature about the potato in Sitka, click here to listen to a feature about the Sitka Agricultural Station, and click here to listen to a feature about the cows of Iris Meadows).

During the growing season, please support the Sitka farmers and production gardeners listed in the 2016-17 Alaska Grown Source Book(chief contact in parentheses) — Anam Cara Family Garden (Lisa Sadleir-Hart), Blatchley Community Gardens (David Nuetzel, this garden closed in 2016 and there is a group seeking a new location for what will be called Sitka Community Gardens, but its 2018 status is unknown), Down To Earth U-Pick Garden (Lori Adams, switched to a CSA in 2017 and no longer is a public u-pick garden), Finn Island Farm (Keith Nyitray, this farm closed), Sprucecot Gardens (Judy Johnstone), and St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm (Laura Schmidt/Sitka Local Foods Network). There also are a few Sitka farms and production gardens not listed in the 2016-17 Alaska Grown Source Book, such as Beyond Leafy LLC (Jimmy and Leslie Kranz), Middle Island Gardens (Andrea Fraga/Kaleb Aldred), and Welsh Family Forget-Me-Not Garden (Florence Welsh).

Many of these farms and gardens will be vendors during the Sitka Farmers Markets this summer. The Sitka Farmers Markets take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on seven Saturdays — July 7, July 21, Aug. 4, Aug. 11, Aug. 25, Sept. 1, and Sept 15 — at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall (235 Katlian St.). There will be a Sitka Farmers Market vendor meeting from 6:30-8 p.m. on Thursday, May 17, at the Sitka Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall (408 Marine Street, parking off Spruce Street) where rules and responsibilities will be discussed.

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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)

Celebrate local farmers and gardeners on Alaska Agriculture Day on Tuesday, May 2

Alaskans will celebrate Alaska Agriculture Day on Tuesday, May 2. On this day, Alaskans are encouraged to support local agriculture by seeking out and purchasing products produced in Alaska and educating youth about the vital role that agriculture plays in our economy. This is Alaska’s version of National Ag Day (which took place on March 21 this year, when many parts of Alaska were still thawing out).

Here are a few ideas from the Division of Agriculture on how to celebrate Alaska Agriculture Day:

In Sitka, you can celebrate Alaska Agriculture Day by starting a food garden (even a couple of containers on your deck can provide you with potatoes, carrots or greens). Teachers are encouraged to offer a lesson plan or two about the importance of agriculture in Alaska and in Sitka. Here’s a link to an article about how Sitka was Alaska’s original garden city back in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Also, the Sitka History Minute feature on KCAW-Raven Radio has had several episodes about agriculture in Sitka (click here to listen to a feature about the potato in Sitka, click here to listen to a feature about the Sitka Agricultural Station, and click here to listen to a feature about the cows of Iris Meadows).

During the growing season, please support the Sitka farmers and production gardeners listed in the 2016-17 Alaska Grown Source Book (chief contact in parentheses) — Anam Cara Family Garden (Lisa Sadleir-Hart), Blatchley Community Gardens (David Nuetzel, this garden closed in 2016 and there is a group seeking a new location for what will be called Sitka Community Gardens), Down To Earth U-Pick Garden (Lori Adams, switched to a CSA in 2017 and no longer is a public u-pick garden), Finn Island Farm (Keith Nyitray), Sprucecot Gardens (Judy Johnstone), and St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm (Laura Schmidt/Sitka Local Foods Network). There also are a few Sitka farms and production gardens not listed in the 2016-17 Alaska Grown Source Book, such as Humpback Farm (Peter Williams), Middle Island Organic Produce (Andrea Fraga/Kaleb Aldred), Sea View Garden (Linda Wilson), The Sawmill Farm (Bobbi Daniels), Sitka Seedling Farms (Matthew Jackson) and Welsh Family Forget-Me-Not Garden(Florence Welsh).

Many of these farms and gardens will be vendors during the Sitka Farmers Markets this summer. The Sitka Farmers Markets take place 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.).

• USDA offers cost-share assistance program to help farms get certified as organic

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2000px-USDA_organic_seal.svgWith the growth of the local foods movement in recent years, many consumers are more aware of the health benefits of eating organically grown food. But in Alaska, getting certified as organic is a challenge due to high costs and no accredited certifying agents being in the state.

In an effort to meet the growing demand for organic food, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced two cost-share assistance programs to increase the number of farmers and manufacturers working with organic products. The programs cover three-quarters of the certification costs, up to $750 per category (up to $3,000 total), for each of the four categories of organic food — crops, livestock, processed products, and wild crops.

“The organic industry saw record growth in 2014, accounting for over $39 billion in retail sales in the United States,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The organic certification cost-share programs help more organic businesses succeed and take advantage of economic opportunities in this growing market.”

The USDA Agriculture Marketing Service National Organic Program (NOP) has allocated approximately $11.9 million to participating state departments of agriculture to help defray the costs of organic certification incurred by organic producers and processors. Reimbursements to organic operations will be made under the Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) Certification Cost Share Program or the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP).

The cost-share programs were included in the 2014 Farm Bill. NOCCSP has approximately $11 million available for producers and processors in participating states, U.S. territories and the District of Columbia. AMA has $900,000 for producers in 16 participating states (Alaska is not in the AMA program).

Each state has its own application process, and Barbara Hanson from the Alaska Division of Agriculture in Palmer is Alaska’s contact for the NOCCSP program. She can be contacted at (907) 761-3854 or barbara.hanson@alaska.gov. The program this year is for organic certification costs incurred between Oct. 1, 2014, and Sept. 30, 2015.

Organic certification is important because no food can claim to be organic without the certification, even if it’s grown or processed following organic standards. In Alaska, this has been a challenge because it’s difficult to get a USDA-accredited certifying agent out to our farms and there are none based in our state. So many Alaska farms go without the label. Click this link to learn more about the process for becoming certified as an organic farm.

• 2014 Alaska USDA organic certification cost-share program letter

• 2014 Alaska USDA organic certification cost-share program application

• What Is Organic Certification Fact Sheet

• USDA Organic Cost-Share Programs Information Sheet

• Alaska Food Policy Council asks state legislators to return Farm to School program funds to the budget

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(Editor’s note: The following item is a letter to the editor from the Alaska Food Policy Council sent to several newspapers around Alaska regarding cuts to the Farm to School Program. One of the three signers to the letter is Sitka Local Foods Network Board President Lisa Sadleir-Hart, who also serves on the Alaska Food Policy Council governing board. To learn more about the Alaska Farm to School Program, check out the brochure below or contact Program Coordinator Johanna Herron at 907-761-3870 or johanna.herron@alaska.gov.)

As the legislature continues swinging its scythe at the state budget, one of the programs about to be felled is Farm to School. And in case you don’t have kids that can tell you firsthand the benefits of the program, or if you’re not an Alaska grower that finds a market in supplying school cafeterias with Alaska Grown produce, let us tell you what the Department of Natural Resources, Division of Agriculture, Farm to School Program does: It provides expertise and support for those working to increase the connection of students, teachers, and school food service providers with products grown and produced in Alaska. This connection most commonly happens in the school lunchroom or in a school garden.

Yet, in a state that prides itself in self-reliance, consider these striking facts:

  1. Alaskans spend $1.5 BILLION dollars on imported food each year.
  2. Only 5-10 percent of food consumed is produced or harvested in state, but great swaths of arable land remain uncultivated.
  3. About 15 percent of Alaska households are food insecure.
  4. Alaskans spend about $450 million dollars on treating diet-related medical conditions.
  5. We have a population that is largely disconnected from the food system – most kids can’t tell you what lies beneath the frilly green of a carrot top coming out of the soil.

These figures might sound gloomy, but they highlight the immense opportunity that we have to become healthier, wealthier, and more food secure. What if we spent that $1.5 billion on Alaska Grown products and kept that money in local economies? What if we produced more healthy foods in quantities that could meet the demands of our school cafeterias? What if we provided our children with the tools and knowledge necessary to make healthy food choices and maintain a healthy weight?

WhatIsAlaskaFarmToSchoolWe already have a key mechanism to achieving these goals – it’s the Farm to School Program. The Farm to School Program helps to prioritize getting locally produced, healthy goods into cafeterias; raise a generation of food leaders and smart consumers; and create a large, reliable market for increased in-state food production.

In three short years, the number of Alaska School Districts involved in Farm to School has grown from zero to 68 percent! There’s been an 11-percent increase in school gardens state-wide. One-hundred percent of the school districts are now serving at least one local food item in their meal programs and there’s still tremendous room for growth. In five years, the program has leveraged over $1 million dollars from partner agencies. This is just the shortlist of accomplishments.

All of this and more has been achieved with an annual budget of about $190,000. Talk about bang for your buck! If the legislature eliminates or cuts funding to the Farm to School Program, they aren’t cutting the fat out of the budget. They are cutting the carrots, the potatoes, the greens, and even the local fish out of your children’s lunches, and they’re cutting supports necessary to expand in-state production.

We implore the legislature not to eliminate or reduce the funding for our Farm to School Program. It is an incredibly efficient use of a small amount of funds that has proven itself over the past five years and is one of the shining pillars of a state food system that is becoming stronger, more sustainable, and more resilient. Don’t let the legislature undo our current progress, and don’t let it stand in the way of what more can be done.

Signed,

Liz Snyder, Victoria Briggs, and Lisa Sadleir-Hart
Present and Past Board Co-Chairs, Alaska Food Policy Council (AFPC)

• Alaska Farm to School Brochure

• Southeast Alaska Commercial Growers Conference to take place Feb. 27-March 1 in Petersburg

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Bo Varsano and Marja Smets of Farragut Farm in Petersburg will host the inaugural Southeast Alaska Commercial Growers Conference from Feb. 27 through March 1 in Petersburg. This conference is made possible by the USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program and the Petersburg Economic Development Council.

FarragutFarmProduceStandatIngas“The Southeast Alaska Commercial Growers Conference is an opportunity for the commercial vegetable and flower producers of Southeast Alaska to get together and exchange ideas and techniques, with the purpose of improving and expanding local agricultural production,” Bo Varsano said. “Commercial agriculture in Southeast Alaska is still minimal, but is rapidly expanding with new growers starting up every year. While there are many uniquely specific challenges to growing in our region, few fully developed and publicized strategies currently exist for the new grower to follow. In light of this, gathering with other growers to share our experiences and ideas may be the best way to aid the growing agricultural movement in Southeast Alaska.”

FarragutFarmMarjaInGreenhouseIt’s not too late to sign up to participate, so please take a look and let us know if you have any questions or if you are interested in joining the fun. If the travel and lodging costs are dissuading you from participating, please remember that we can arrange a home-stay for anyone (contact us by Jan. 18 to arrange home-stays) and we still have one travel stipend ($200) to hand out to someone in need.

A few things to consider:

  • This conference is open to commercial farmers, aspiring farmers, as well as anyone in the general public who is interested in the local agriculture industry.
  • Participants are responsible for their own breakfasts and lunches.
  • Friday’s dinner will be prepared by KFSK, our local radio station. This meal is a fundraising event for the station, and a suggested donation will be requested.
  • Saturday’s dinner will be a communal dinner, jointly prepared for and shared by all conference participants at the venue.
  • There is no fee to attend, however, we will be asking for a minimal donation from each participant to cover the cost of venue rental and Saturday evening’s dinner.

Several regional farmers and industry specialists have volunteered to give presentations relevant to the issues and challenges faced by Southeast Alaska growers.  The following topics will be addressed:

We will begin the conference with a brief “show and tell” session. All conference participants will be asked to give a short (under 10 minutes) introduction including a description of their farm, their farming aspirations, or their involvement in the farming industry.

We especially encourage sharing photos of your operation. If you choose to do so, please bring those photos on a memory stick in JPEG format (in the largest original format). That is the ONLY photo format that we can guarantee will work with our computer.

We hope to see you all in February, and again, please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions. The best way to reach us is by email, at farragutfarm@gmail.com.

Please print up the attached documents (which include a conference agenda and a map of Petersburg showing the locations for the conference) and bring them with you when you come.

• 2015 Southeast Alaska Commercial Growers Conference Agenda

• Map of Petersburg

• Pacific High School wins recognition in 2013 Alaska Farm to School Challenge

Pacific High School student chefs (from left) Allana Carlos, Walter Borbridge, and Justin Tucker

Pacific High School student chefs (from left) Allana Carlos, Walter Borbridge, and Justin Tucker

Pacific High School of Sitka is an Alaska Farm to School Challenge prize-winner after serving a local lunch this October. The meal highlighted coho salmon sourced through the Sitka Conservation Society’s Fish to Schools program along with Sitka-grown produce and biscuits made from Alaska-grown barley flour.

In celebration of National Farm to School Month this October, the Alaska Division of Agriculture presented the 2013 Alaska Farm to School Challenge. The challenge encouraged schools and community members to highlight projects and activities that bring foods produced or grown in Alaska into schools. These projects underlined a broader goal of promoting the benefits of increasing procurement of Alaskan foods for use in schools.

Pacific High School’s cooking class prepared the meal for students, staff and visitors on Oct. 24. The class is part of the alternative high school’s Healthy Lunch, Healthy Lives program, which provides students with the tools and knowledge to incorporate wellness into their everyday lives through culinary arts, nutrition, and gardening education.

For more information on this program or Pacific High School’s efforts to increase sourcing of local products, contact Sarah Ferrency at ferrencys@sitkaschools.org.