LITTLE HARVEST – First-grader Taylor McCarty, 6, holds up a slightly deformed carrot at the Russian Bishop’s House garden this morning (Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017). Students in Sarah Eddy’s Baranof Elementary School class and other first graders were harvesting the vegetables they planted in the spring when they were in kindergarten. This summer was not good for growing crops said Sitka National Historical Park Ranger Ryan Carpenter. Most of the carrots were only about an inch or so long. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)
(NOTE: The following article appeared in the Daily Sitka Sentinel‘s Weekender section on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. It was written by Sitka Local Foods Network board president and Sitka Kitch advisory team member Charles Bingham, who also took the photos.)
By CHARLES BINGHAM
For the Daily Sitka Sentinel
With a mission to “Educate, Incubate, Cultivate,” the Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen serves a variety of functions to improve food security in Sitka. It’s a classroom, a maker space and a community meeting place.
The Sitka Kitch project was a result of the 2013 Sitka Health Summit and is coordinated by the Sitka Conservation Society. Located inside the First Presbyterian Church (505 Sawmill Creek Road), the Sitka Kitch is best known for the variety of cooking and food preservation classes it regularly hosts.
Right now, registration is open for five classes in a Cooking Around The World series, where a variety of instructors will teach students international dishes from Morocco, Chile, Thailand, Austria (strudel), and Turkey. Registration also is open for a five-class series called “Nourish: Using Food As Medicine For Optimum Health,” taught during National Nutrition Month (March) by Sitka nutritionist Holly Marban.
The Sitka Kitch plans a series of food preservation classes this summer, and may host a cottage foods entrepreneurship class in the future. It also has offered basic culinary skills and Cooking From Scratch classes in recent months. In addition, the Sitka Spruce Tips 4H Club has hosted cooking and food preservation classes for kids at the Sitka Kitch.
The Sitka Kitch offers a full schedule of classes because learning how to cook and preserve your own food allows Sitkans to improve their nutrition and extend their food budgets.
“The Sitka Kitch programming team already has plans underway for a dynamic 2017 Preserving the Harvest series,” said Lisa Sadleir-Hart, a member of the Sitka Kitch advisory team. “In addition to some old time favorites like pickling, jam, jelly and fruit butter classes, the Sitka Kitch team is hoping to offer classes focused on local foods and medicinals like seaweed, devil’s club, rhubarb and rosehips. June will showcase a ‘Clean Out Your Freezer’ class and an ‘Introduction to Food Dehydration’ class as well.”
While it isn’t as well known as the classes, the Sitka Kitch also provides an Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation-certified commercial kitchen for local cottage food entrepreneurs to use as a maker space. One of the businesses that rents the Sitka Kitch (by the hour) is Simple Pleasures, a Sitka company that sells jams, jellies, kelp pickles and other products around the state. In addition, other groups have used the Sitka Kitch as a meeting venue, such as the Sitka Conservation Society, which hosted its 2016 annual meeting in the Sitka Kitch.
“The Sitka Conservation Society is proud of the Sitka Kitch’s work to build community connection and celebrate local, healthy and delicious food,” said Sitka Conservation Society Community Catalyst Chandler O’Connell, another member of the Sitka Kitch advisory team. “We hope that the community kitchen will continue to be a positive space for Sitkans to come together and share their skills.”
The Sitka Kitch has a website where people can learn how to rent the kitchen, http://www.sitkakitch.org/, and a Facebook page which posts class updates and other info, https://www.facebook.com/SitkaKitch. To learn more about and register for classes, go to the online registration page, http://sitkakitch.eventsmart.com/, and click on the class title. You can pay for classes online using credit/debit cards or PayPal, or you can call Chandler or Clarice at the Sitka Conservation Society (747-7509) to arrange a time to pay with cash or check.
Local businesses can sponsor upcoming classes for $300 per class, which helps cover the instructor stipend, facility rental and food/supply costs. Contact Chandler at 747-7509 or email email@example.com for more info.
CABBAGE PATCH KIDS — Baranof Elementary School first-grader Alice Ann Ricketts, 6, carries a cabbage out of the Russian Bishop’s House garden Friday, Sept. 11, 2015. First-graders were harvesting the vegetables they planted last spring when they were kindergartners during the annual event. Teachers and students were planning on making a soup with their harvested vegetables. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson, this photo appeared on Page 1 of the Monday, Sept. 14, 2015, edition)
(This photo appeared on Page 3 of the Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel, and is used here with permission.)
MASTER GARDENER — Gerry Fleming holds up a giant Kohlrabi he grew in his Dodge Circle garden recently. The vegetable weighed nearly six pounds. He also grew a summer squash that weighed more than six pounds, which donated to the Sitka Farmers Market. He said his secret to growing giant vegetables, something he’s done for years, is to talk to the veggies. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo By James Poulson)
The 15 grants totaled $75,353, with both Sitka organizations winning $4,600. The Island Institute, which partnered with the Sitka Local Foods Network to produce the Sitka Community Food Assessment Indicators Report in 2014, is the other Sitka organization to be awarded a grant.
The grant-winners “were recognized for their initiative in building internal structures to enhance capacity. Grant proposals ranged from requests for leadership development support, funding for staff to attend conferences, financial management training, digitizing collections for website purposes, and much more,” according to an Alaska Community Foundation press release.
The Sitka Local Foods Network applied for the grant to take a step toward the next level as a growing organization. It plans to use the grant to create a formal fundraising and business plan, with the intent to start putting money aside to hire a part-time staff person to take over some of the group’s day-to-day duties from the volunteer board of directors. Other than a few select positions which are contracted out, such as the Sitka Farmers Market manager and St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm lead gardener, the organization is entirely operated by volunteers.
“That is not sustainable in the long run,” Sitka Local Foods Network Board President Lisa Sadleir-Hart told the Daily Sitka Sentinel. “We have to start thinking about staffing in the long run, and that requires capital. We’re moving in that direction.” She also said the grant will help the network become “more strategic in how we use precious volunteer energy.”
The Sitka Local Foods Network will work with consultants from the Foraker Group, an organization that provides support and training to Alaska nonprofit organizations, to develop the fundraising and business plan. The grant was written by Matthew Jackson, the board vice-president.
The Alaska Community Foundation’s Strengthening Organizations Program is unique in the funding it makes available to nonprofits, as it focuses on internal capacity building, rather than programs or outreach. This program awards capacity building grants up to $10,000, with typical awards ranging from $3,000-$5,000, to 501(c)(3) nonprofits or equivalent organizations, which may include tribes, schools, churches and local government agencies and programs.
Applications are accepted on an ongoing basis and the next deadline is Sept. 1. The Alaska Community Foundation program staff strongly encourages interested applicants to submit drafts for review a minimum of two weeks before the deadline. For more information or to apply, visit The Alaska Community Foundation at http://alaskacf.org/grants or call (907) 274-6705.
Sitka Local Foods Network uses St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm and Sitka Farmers Market to improve food security in Sitka
During the stormy months of winter, most people in Sitka aren’t thinking about their gardens. But that’s when St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm Lead Gardener Laura Schmidt is trying to figure out which vegetables to plant in which garden bed, starting seeds, and (if the soil isn’t frozen) amending the soil with seaweed and other nutrients to get an early start on the garden.
As the lead gardener since 2011, a contract position with the Sitka Local Foods Network, Schmidt is responsible for growing most of the fresh, local vegetables sold during the Sitka Farmers Markets each summer. She oversees food production at the St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden, located behind St. Peter’s By The Sea Episcopal Church, and at an extension garden located at Pat Arvin’s house.
Schmidt and her volunteer gardeners have about 3,000 square feet in production. Last year they grew about 300 pounds of rhubarb and 100 pounds of kale. “That’s a lot of kale,” Schmidt said. Besides kale and rhubarb, they also grow garlic, onions, potatoes, kohlrabi, cabbage, broccoli, fava beans, spinach, carrots, beets, nasturtiums, zucchini, cucumbers, and more.
“It’s fun to have it all come together. It’s nice to see it turn into food,” Schmidt said. “It’s a fun puzzle because every year is different, and how do we make it more productive.”
Sitka residents will have a chance to celebrate their independence from store-bought and overly processed food at the first Sitka Farmers Market of the summer, which takes place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 4, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall. The other five markets will be on July 18, Aug. 1, Aug. 15, Aug. 29, and Sept. 12.
“It’s very important. People come for the produce. It’s the prime attraction,” Sitka Farmers Market Manager Debe Brincefield said. “We have jams and jellies, bread, fish, and arts and crafts, but people bring their produce bags and are happy to fill them.”
The Sitka Farmers Market and St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm are two of the main projects of the Sitka Local Foods Network, and both projects came out of the second Sitka Health Summit, which took place in April 2008. The first garden beds were built and planted at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm by May 2008, and food grown at St. Peter’s was available for sale at the first Sitka Farmers Market in August 2008. Since then, both projects have been a growing concern.
These two projects came about because many in Sitka were concerned about food security, especially as the country entered a major recession in 2008. It’s estimated about 90-95 percent of the food eaten in Alaska is shipped here from the Lower 48 or foreign countries, and artificially cheap transportation made it easier for people to buy their food from the store than to grow or harvest it themselves, which was the norm in Sitka until the 1950s and 1960s. With so little food being grown locally, Sitka residents worried what might happen if fuel prices went up or if we had a natural disaster that destroyed our ports and/or airport.
There also were worries about how much longer residents could afford store-bought food, especially as Sitka food prices went up 43.6 percent from September 2003 to 2011, according to the Sitka Community Food Assessment Indicators Report (a 2012 Sitka Health Summit project). The report also noted that 1,410 Sitka residents participated in the food stamp program in 2013, about one-sixth of Sitka’s population of about 9,000. Sitka residents redeemed $1,645,702 in food stamp dollars in 2012, an increase of $201,000 from 2011.
The Sitka Farmers Market and St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm are two key elements for improving food security in Sitka, with education about gardening and food preservation being another key element.
“It helps people to connect the food to the market, and hopefully realize the Sitka Local Foods Network is the umbrella organization,” Sitka Local Foods Network Board President Lisa Sadleir-Hart said. “We knew if we had a market, we had to have food to sell. We have a lead gardener in Laura who has grown and expanded the St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm and our extension garden at Pat Arvin’s every year. And we have generous people who donate produce from their gardens for us to sell, such as Jud Kirkness, Linda Wilson and my family.”
To help families struggling with food security, the Sitka Farmers Market became the first farmers market in Southeast Alaska to accept SNAP (food stamps) and WIC nutrition benefits, including the Alaska Quest electronic benefits transfer cards used for SNAP. The Sitka Farmers Market also matches dollars spent on SNAP-approved foods (produce, fish, baked goods, barley products, etc.), which allows Alaska Quest card users to double their purchase by as much as $20 per person per market. That means a family of four with SNAP benefits can be matched up to $80. This year, the Sitka Farmers Market will partner with the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) on a new program where SEARHC beneficiaries with chronic disease are prescribed vouchers for fruits and vegetables.
And the growing is spreading.
“As I was taking a walk around town the other day, I identified three new gardens,” Sadleir-Hart said. “They also have a new garden at the Pioneer Home where they’re growing food.”
For more information about the Sitka Local Foods Network, Sitka Farmers Market and St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm, go to http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn about being a vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, contact Debe Brincefield at email@example.com or call 738-8683.
(Editor’s note: The story above appeared in the Weekender section of the July 2, 2015, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel. It was written by Sitka Local Foods Network board member/communications director Charles Bingham.)
PLANTING A GARDEN: Sitka National Historical Park volunteer gardener Pam Vanderweele helps Baranof Elementary School kindergartner Arianna Moctezuma-Hernandez, 6, plant peas in the Russian Bishop’s House garden on a recent sunny morning. The kindergartners will return to the historical garden in the fall when they are in the first grade to harvest the crops and cook them in a soup. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)