Spruce Root, Sustainable Southeast Partnership, other groups to host 2021 Kelp and Oyster Farming Workshop

Spruce Root, the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, and other organizations are offering a free, online workshop that will provide tools and training for Alaska Natives in Southeast Alaska interested in starting kelp, oyster, or multi-species ocean farms. The workshop will begin on the evening of Thursday, March 18, and continue with day-long sessions on Friday and Saturday, March 19-20. The workshop will be delivered using Zoom.

This workshop is co-hosted by Spruce Root, Sustainable Southeast Partnership (SSP), Ecotrust, GreenWave, the Organized Village of Kake (OVK), the Native American Agriculture Fund, and the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation (AFDF).

The program is free, but space is limited to 24 participants –– selected through an application process. Project partners at Spruce Root will review applications and select participants based on the thoughtfulness of responses to application questions. The application period closes on Feb. 19. Selected applicants will be notified by Feb. 26.

Topics covered include:

  • an overview of kelp and oyster harvest and cultivation, and field identification of seaweed species
  • logistics of collecting, growing, and purchasing seed
  • farm site evaluation and planning, leasing, and permitting
  • farm design and build out
  • harvesting and processing techniques, and quality handling
  • business planning and farm financing
  • and more.

Information and instruction will be provided by GreenWave, Alaska Sea Grant, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Alaska Department of Fish & Game, Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, Spruce Root, The Native Conservancy, and others. 

All interested Southeast Alaska residents are invited to apply, however, priority will be given to Southeast Alaska Native residents.

Participants will need access to the internet and a computer, tablet, or smartphone in order to participate in the sessions and view presentations and panel discussions. 

Following the workshop, participants may be eligible for one-on-one mentoring and, pending safety and travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, participation in farm tours and other hands-on activities at a later date. Participants will be expected to attend and complete the workshop to be eligible for mentoring and hands-on activities.

Materials, final workshop times, and other workshop information will be distributed to selected participants prior to the technical workshops.

If you have questions about this program, you can contact Aaron Ferguson (aaron@spruceroot.org) or Lindsay Olsen (lindsay@greenwave.org). Click this link for the online application.

New guide helps Alaska commercial fishermen find markets for their fish

A new publication is targeting Alaska commercial fishermen and processors who want to find markets for their fish.

The guide is a new fisheries business support tool that we are hoping you will help to share called: Resource Guide for Fishermen Interested in Direct Marketing, Alternative Marketing, and Community Supported Fisheries. The guide can be accessed online on the Salt and Soil Marketplace website at https://www.saltandsoilmarketplace.com/vendor-resources, and is also attached as a PDF.

The guide was developed by Kelly Harrell (who now works as chief officer of fisheries and sustainability for Sitka Salmon Shares) on behalf of the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition (SAWC) and Ecotrust, with support from the USDA Local Foods Promotion Program. The guide is intended to draw together a diverse array of information and tools that exist to help direct marketers/CSFs get started and succeed.

“The Local Foods Program at SAWC aims to localize our food system by supporting local food producers whose food lands on the tables of Southeast Alaskans,” said Jennifer Nu, local foods project director for SAWC and food sustainability catalyst for the Sustainable Southeast Partnership. “Kelly Harrell led the effort to understand the unique challenges and needs of direct market fishermen and determine ways to contribute to the success of their businesses. The guide is a comprehensive resource directory of a wide variety of tools for direct marketers and similar seafood businesses. Fishermen can use it to quickly find resources, organizations, and networks. We have already heard from a fisherman in Petersburg who said he wishes he had this resource available to him when he started his business years ago.”

• Resource Guide for Fishermen Interested in Direct Marketing, Alternative Marketing, and Community Supported Fisheries

USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program awards two major grants to Alaska food projects

Two Alaska food projects were among 52 nationally to share in $13.4 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program announced this past weekThe competitive grants work to increase domestic consumption of, and access to, locally and regionally produced foods, and to develop new market opportunities for food production operations serving local markets.

Homer-based Cook Inletkeeper was awarded $403,334 to relaunch the Alaska Farmers Market Association and provide a support network for farmers and market managers. Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) won $91,141 to promote the benefits of flash-frozen seafood and marketing for rural seafood producers.

ALFA will provide support for consumer education on the environmental and quality benefits of purchasing frozen seafood, as well as to expand markets for and access to locally-caught seafood. ALFA has been working to study and change American attitudes towards frozen seafood since the 2009 launch of its Community Supported Fishery (CSF) program, Alaskans Own. Alaskans Own provides high quality, frozen seafood to customers in Alaska and the Lower 48.

“Many Alaskans are used to putting up seafood for the winter in their own freezers, and understand the high quality of carefully handled flash-frozen fish,” said Linda Behnken, Executive Director of ALFA.“However, many Americans hold onto the stereotype that fresh is always better than frozen when it comes to seafood. We have been working to show consumers why choosing frozen can be a better choice for quality — and for the environment.”

According to Ecotrust, a conservation organization based in Portland, “23 percent of seafood at supermarkets never makes it the dinner plate and goes to waste.” Frozen seafood often has increased quality and freshness, can reduce waste, and has a lower carbon footprint.

ALFA and community-based fishing partners at Port Orford Seafood and Real Good Fish worked with Ecotrust, Oregon State University, Seafood Analytics, and the Oregon Food Innovation Lab to compare consumer reactions to seafood in a blind taste test. The study allowed consumers to compare “frozen” and “fresh” seafood. The study utilized a new device, created by Seafood Analytics, that uses an electric current to measures freshness.

The results, according to Ecotrust, were telling; “not only did consumers prefer the frozen fish, but the flash-frozen products also rated higher in quality and freshness, as measured by the CQR (Certified Quality Reader).”

With these results in hand and support from USDA, ALFA will create a multi-media toolkit to help seafood producers, processors, and sellers share information on the advantages of flash frozen seafood, helping to establish or diversify their businesses. It will also provide training to producers and fishermen on using the CQR tool to develop quality assurance programs. ALFA will also work with partners at the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust launch a market-place portal where users can find and purchase local seafood and other sustainably-sourced goods.

The other Alaska grant, to Cook Inletkeeper, will help relaunch the Alaska Farmers Market Association, which was dormant for several years until this spring. The Sitka Local Foods Network submitted a letter of support for this grant proposal, which will provide some support to the Sitka Farmers Market.

“It’s an amazing step forward for local food programs in Alaska,” said Robbi Mixon, Local Foods Director at Cook Inletkeeper and Director of the Homer Farmers Market. “These new funds will be focused on market and producer sustainability, helping markets throughout the state assist participating producers, as well as the markets’ outreach to consumers.”

The project will recreate the Alaska Farmers Market Association, a statewide collaboration, with a targeting pilot effort across the Kenai Peninsula, will identify farmers’ market producer needs and provide specific trainings and support for those networks. The Alaska Farmers Market Association will also provide funding for market manager and farmer trainings, annual statewide conferences, and shared marketing, while collecting baseline data on a number of market metrics.

“Increasing food security and reducing food miles are vitally important to the sustained well-being of our communities around the state,” Mixon said. Mixon also manages the Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage Food Hub, a program of Cook Inletkeeper that provides an online market for 100 percent local foods and crafts. Mixon said, “95 percent of Alaska’s food is currently imported. Purchasing local food supports farms, increases our region’s food security, protects the environment, creates jobs and boosts the local economy.”

Since its creation in 2002, FMPP funding has assisted local producers to grow their businesses by helping them connect directly with the shoppers at farmers markets, roadside stands and through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. During that time, the number of farmers markets in America has more than doubled from 3,137 to over 8,684 today. FMPP grantees report an average 27 percent increase in vendor sales since receiving their grant, and 94 percent report an increase in first-time market customers.