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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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.).

Building a Local Food System: Andrea Fraga and Middle Island Organic Produce

MiddleIslandOrganicProduceAndreaFragaKalebAldred

Andrea Fraga, left, and partner Kaleb Aldred, hosted their Middle Island Organic Produce booth at the July 16 Sitka Farmers Market.

(Editor’s Note: The Sitka Local Foods Network’s Bulldog on Baranof intern this summer, Claire Chang, is writing the Building a Local Food System series of articles about Sitkans working to improve food security. This is the fourth article of the series.)

WP_20160704_11_00_23_ProAndrea Fraga grew up in Hawaii and lived in Oregon for 10 years before she moved to Sitka. While in Oregon, she met a friend from Sitka who invited her to visit, and after her third trip she decided to embrace the rainy weather and move here. Sitka’s tremendous opportunities for subsistence appealed to her desire to become more self-sufficient. “I had been really interested in leading more of a subsistence lifestyle for a while” Fraga said.

Fraga lives on Middle Island with her partner, Kaleb Aldred. They started with a small garden on the beach, and then established a garden with a greenhouse behind their home. They have since expanded to a lot due south of their house. “We had always lusted to have that space as an ideal garden spot,” she said.

Creating the “small farm or large garden” on Middle Island was not an easy task. They had to cut down trees and rent a machine to pull the stumps out. When they tried to dig the stumps out by hand, removing one stump took a whole week. The machine that removed the stumps compacted the soil, so they then had to dig a trench and fill it with gravel to provide the boggy field with adequate drainage. “I never thought I’d be someone to say, ‘Yeah, let’s cut down all the trees,’ but it’s necessary if you want to garden here,” Fraga said. Removing trees created a sunnier space and also has enabled Fraga to plant fruit trees along the perimeter of her garden.

MiddleIslandOrganicProduceKalebAldredAndreaFragaWithCustomersOn occasion, Fraga sells vegetables at the Sitka Farmers Market through their Middle Island Organic Produce stand. She and Aldred hope to grow garlic commercially one day, although they are well aware that “weather and crop failure coalesce and can slow plans down.”

Currently, they have planted about a quarter of their garden in garlic so that they can harvest enough to plant a larger area in the future. Seed garlic costs about $25 dollars a pound from most sources, so generating seed on site will help save a significant amount of money. Fraga said growing garlic commercially makes sense because deer and slugs do not eat it and it is not highly perishable. Furthermore, unlike most garden vegetables she plants in the spring, garlic goes in the ground in the fall, so she can distribute her labor throughout the year.

At a commercial growers conference last spring, Fraga learned about using plastic mulch on garlic to control moisture levels and minimize weeds. The infrared- transmitting plastic transmits heat wavelengths of sunlight that warm the soil and absorbs the wavelengths that plants require for photosynthesis, so weeds cannot grow beneath it. Fraga has begun using the plastic mulch on her own garden this year.

Having farmed in Oregon where one can cultivate a wider variety of plants with greater ease than in Sitka, Fraga does find adapting to Sitka’s weather challenging. Living on an island also has its challenges. For example, in the fall and winter, storms and darkness can restrict travel to and from town. However, Fraga views these challenges as small tradeoffs that allow her to live and garden in a “beautiful, quiet place away from all the noises and distractions of town” and where she is “more in touch with the environment.”

WP_20160707_18_03_42_ProExperiencing beauty is, in large part, what Fraga finds so appealing about subsistence. She explained that gardens, berry thickets, and areas where she forages for mushrooms and seaweed are all beautiful places to spend time. For her, gardening “is just such a beautiful process.” She appreciates the exercise and fresh air involved in gardening, as well as the taste and nutritional value of fresh food. Fraga especially appreciates when she can refer to her dinner as a “Middle Island meal” because all of its components, apart from perhaps the fish,” came from the island that is her home. “It’s really satisfying to eat something that’s entirely grown or harvested yourself.”

Fraga is also a part of a gardening group that meets at one member’s garden every week to work there together. “It’s really great because garden projects that seem daunting end up being fun when you have people to work with,” Fraga said.

For those who find the prospect of starting a garden daunting, Fraga recommends “starting small and simple.” For example, one could begin by growing hearty plants like kale and potatoes that do not require extremely fertile soil. Learning about wild edibles also intimidates many people. Fraga took a class on mushroom identification through University of Alaska Southeast, but she also pointed out one can learn by reading field guides and talking with individuals who willing to share their knowledge on the subject. Gardening and foraging “are really rewarding,” she said. “They don’t have to be discouraging.”

For questions about her garden on Middle Island, contact Andrea Fraga at 738-5135.

Building a Local Food System: Dave Nuetzel and Blatchley Community Gardens

DaveNuetzelMemorialGardenKathySwanberg

Dave Nuetzel, right, helps build a memorial garden bed for longtime Blatchley Community Gardens supporter Kathy Swanberg.

(Editor’s Note: The Sitka Local Foods Network’s Bulldog on Baranof intern this summer, Claire Chang, is writing the Building a Local Food System series of articles about Sitkans working to improve food security. This is the third article of the series.)

BlatchleyCommunityGardenSignDave Nuetzel has held the role of lead gardener at Blatchley Community Gardens since 2007. Nuetzel grew up outside of Cleveland, and he toured around the country on a two-year road trip after he graduated from college. At the end of the trip, he wound up in Anchorage. In 2005, he followed his partner, who came to Sitka to work at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, and he has lived here ever since. With a background in special education, he originally worked for the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC), and he now works for Southeast Alaska Independent Living (SAIL).

The Blatchley Community Gardens, located behind Sitka’s middle school on what used to be a gravel terrace, started in 2000 as a project of Sitka Community Schools. When Sitka Community Schools lacked the staff to run the garden, Nuetzel took on his role as lead gardener. This year the garden has transitioned from Sitka Community Schools to become a program of Blatchley Middle School. The community garden consists of about fifty garden plots, approximately 6-by-12-feet each. It is personal-use garden, although it does contain a few communal plots of plants such as mint, rhubarb, and flowers. Gardeners pay for the square footage of a plot, and Nuetzel explained that the community garden particularly appeals to people who live in apartments, on boats, or in houses with yards that receive little sunlight.

MiddleOfBlatchleyCommunityGardenAs someone who “has always liked to fix things and learn new skills,” Nuetzel had small gardens when he was growing up, as well as in college. In addition to his personal plots at the Blatchley Community Gardens, Neutzel says that he has “basically cultivated his whole yard.” Any areas around his house where he is not growing vegetables or flowers contain salmonberry, blueberry, or raspberry plants. Gardening appeals to Nuetzel’s desire to strive for self-sufficiency; he also fishes and forages for beach asparagus for subsistence.

LeaveProduceAloneSignBlatchleyCommunityGardenNuetzel explained that, as lead gardener of Blatchley Community Gardens, maintaining a unified vision for the garden has posed a challenge. At the community garden, each plot represents the gardener’s individual approach to cultivation. Some gardeners devote themselves to experimentation, and they use their plots as a space for attempting to grow one type of vegetable that they have never succeeded in cultivating before. Others are committed to growing a wide variety of plants that they know will yield an ample harvest. Furthermore, gardeners choose to amend the soil in unique ways; while one might opt for buried salmon carcasses, kelp, and ground-up shells, another might rely more heavily on compost and coffee grounds.

An even larger challenge that Nuetzel has faced in his role is coordinating the management of common plots. Dividing up the responsibility of caring for a plot of chard, for example, becomes difficult when gardeners travel schedules and family obligations interfere. Furthermore, trying to ensure that everyone has equal to the resources of common plots, such as the apples from a communal apple tree, can be tricky.

BlatchleyCommunityGardenPicnicTableAndBedsNevertheless, Nuetzel appreciates Blatchley Community Gardens as a space where he and others can experience the tangible results of physical labor. Regular visits to the garden allow him to appreciate how well one can grow food for oneself when one puts in the effort. Nuetzel believes that gardening has grown more popular in Sitka in recent years. He has seen new gardens emerge in yard, and in the future, he would like to see new community gardens established in town. As gardening in the community becomes more popular, he wishes that more people would view gardening as a basic need, not just a hobby.

CherryBlossomsBlatchleyCommunityGarden“At one time, producing food was a requirement for life,” Nuetzel said. “Now, people think that gardening is only something you do if you have lots of ‘extra’ time. But if you provide people with a little bit of guidance and get them invested in the process of gardening, they will value it and treat it like something that is necessary.”

To learn more about Blatchley Community Gardens, go to the Facebook page or contact Dave Nuetzel at community.garden@hotmail.com.

Celebrate local farmers and gardeners on Alaska Agriculture Day on Tuesday, May 3

AlaskaGrownImpact

AgDayProclamationMay32016Alaskans will celebrate Alaska Agriculture Day on Tuesday, May 3. 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.

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

  • Join the 49,005 people who “like” the Alaska Grown Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/dnr.alaskagrown and learn about the exciting things Alaskans are producing around the state.
  • Contact your local agriculture groups/chapters (such as FFA, Farm Bureau, Agriculture in the Classroom etc.) to see if they are hosting an event in your area.
  • Sign up for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program at a local farm.
  • Buy and incorporate Alaska Grown products into your meals.
  • If you are a farmer, consider asking a local school if you can visit a classroom to educate children about your operation and Alaska agriculture.
  • Visit and thank a local farmer in person. To find a farm near you, check the Alaska Grown Source Book at http://dnr.alaska.gov/ag/sourcebook/sourcebookindex2014.html.

ak ag day flyerIn 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, click here to listen to a Sitka History Minute feature about the potato in Sitka from KCAW-Raven Radio).

During the growing season, please support the Sitka farmers and production gardeners listed in the Alaska Grown Source Book (chief contact in parentheses) — Anam Cara Family Garden (Lisa Sadleir-Hart), Blatchley Community Gardens (David Nuetzel), Down To Earth U-Pick Garden (Lori Adams), Finn Island Farm (Keith Nyitray), Sprucecot Gardens (Judy Johnstone), and St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm (Laura Schmidt). There also are a few Sitka farms and production gardens not listed in the Alaska Grown Source Book, such as 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, which start on July 2 this summer.

• Celebrate local farmers and gardeners on Alaska Agriculture Day on Tuesday, May 5

04.22.15 Alaska Agriculture Day

Alaskans will celebrate Alaska Agriculture Day on Tuesday, May 5. 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.

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

  • Join the 34,278 people who “like” the Alaska Grown Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/dnr.alaskagrown and learn about the exciting things Alaskans are producing around the state.
  • Contact your local agriculture groups/chapters (such as FFA, Farm Bureau, Agriculture in the Classroom etc.) to see if they are hosting an event in your area.
  • Sign up for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program at a local farm.
  • Buy and incorporate Alaska Grown products into your meals.
  • If you are a farmer, consider asking a local school if you can visit a classroom to educate children about your operation and Alaska agriculture.
  • Visit and thank a local farmer in person. To find a farm near you, check the Alaska Grown Source Book at http://dnr.alaska.gov/ag/sourcebook/sourcebookindex2014.html.

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 (also, click here to listen to a Sitka History Minute feature about the potato in Sitka from KCAW-Raven Radio).

During the growing season, please support the Sitka farmers and production gardeners listed in the Alaska Grown Source Book (chief contact in parentheses) — Anam Cara Family Garden (Lisa Sadleir-Hart), Blatchley Community Gardens (David Nuetzel), Down To Earth U-Pick Garden (Lori Adams), Finn Island Farm (Keith Nyitray), Sprucecot Gardens (Judy Johnstone), and St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm (Lisa Sadleir-Hart or Laura Schmidt). There also are a few Sitka farms and production gardens not listed in the Alaska Grown Source Book, such as Sea View Garden (Linda Wilson), The Sawmill Farm (Bobbi Daniels) and Welsh Family Forget-Me-Not Garden (Florence Welsh). Many of these farms and gardens will be vendors during the Sitka Farmers Markets, which start on July 4 this summer.

• Blatchley Community Gardens to host a memorial for Kathy Swanberg on Friday, May 24

Blatchley Community Gardens entrance

Blatchley Community Gardens entrance

The Blatchley Community Gardens and Blatchley Middle School will host a memorial for Kathy Swanberg in the community garden behind the school at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, May 24.

A bench built by Blatchley teachers will be dedicated in her honor. Family and friends are invited to attend, and a short reception will follow in the library.

Kathy Swanberg passed away in November 2012. She was the longtime secretary at the middle school and a gardener in the community gardens.

To learn more about the memorial and Blatchley Community Gardens, contact Dave Nuetzel at 738-8732 or community.garden@hotmail.com, or go to the Blatchley Community Gardens’ Facebook page.