Save the dates of Nov. 6-7 for the Alaska Food Festival and Conference

HOMER, Alaska (Aug. 5, 2020) — Save the dates of Friday and Saturday, Nov. 6-7, on your calendar as the 2020 Alaska Food Festival and Conference is going virtual this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year the themes are food entrepreneurship and rural and Indigenous food systems.

Hosted by the Alaska Food Policy Council (AFPC), this fifth semi-annual event previously took place in Anchorage in 2014 and 2016, in Fairbanks in 2017 and Homer in 2019. This year, the conference was scheduled for Anchorage before going virtual.

In addition to the Alaska Food Policy Council, this event is co-sponsored by the Alaska Village Initiatives AgAlaska Program, FRESH (the Food Research, Enterprise, and Sustainability Hub of the North), and Alaska Pacific University.

The goals of the conference and festival are to:

  1. increase awareness of Alaska food issues among the general population;
  2. provide training, resources, and networking opportunities to increase involvement in local food issues by community members and decision makers; and
  3. increase connections and build community between the public, Alaska food businesses, NGOs, governmental entities, tribal entities, and others to support local economic development and innovative solutions.

Details for the event are still in the planning stage. But past conferences have included presentations on food systems in Alaska, food security/insecurity, traditional foods, farmers markets, agriculture in Alaska, fisheries, food policy, food waste reduction, and more. We also plan to hold a silent auction featuring food-related items from around the state.

In addition, the annual Alaska Food Hero Awards will be presented, and nominations are accepted at this link until Oct. 5, https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeCIEBs4JK_0b8zThL-hzUEeSbEhG8unwSqz6e_eKT34YzBEw/viewform.

People and organizations interested in presenting about Alaska food topics can submit presentation abstracts by Oct. 5 to https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/RH5RQYN. If you’re interested in sponsoring the event, you can go to this link for more details about our sponsorship tiers, https://www.akfoodpolicycouncil.org/2020-sponsors.

Registration costs $40-$150, depending on the package, and you can register at this link, https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2020-alaska-food-festival-conference-tickets-113138002812. You also can purchase and Alaska Food Policy Council membership at that link.

The keynote speakers will be announced in August, and a tentative conference agenda will be available in October. More details about the conference are available at this link, https://www.akfoodpolicycouncil.org/2020-festival-conference.

For more information about the conference, contact Robbi Mixon at (907) 235-4068, Ext. 23, or director@alaskafoodpolicycouncil.org.

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  • The Alaska Food Policy Council (https://www.akfoodpolicycouncil.org/) is a nonprofit organization whose diverse membership works to engage Alaskans to make positive changes for the state’s food system, and to create a healthier, more prosperous and more secure future for all.
  • Alaska Village Initiatives (https://akvillage.com/) is a non-profit membership-based company dedicated to improving the well-being of rural Alaska communities, families, and individuals. AgAlaska (https://agalaska.net/) affords rural villages support and resources needed to begin community gardening farming and ranching. Information and links provide current grant opportunities, best garden practices, and resource links to government and non-government agencies.
  • FRESH (Food Research, Enterprise, and Sustainability Hub of the North (https://www.freshnorth.org/) works to catalyze the modern food landscape of tomorrow by honoring the living traditions of yesterday and harnessing the innovative spirit of today’s Circumpolar North.
  • Alaska Pacific University (https://www.alaskapacific.edu/) is a small liberal arts college located in Anchorage, Alaska, that emphasizes experiential and active learning. APU, along with the University of Alaska Anchorage, is home to FRESH.

Sitka UAF student Trevor Schoening earns award to study statewide food production in Alaska

Trevor Schoening (Photo courtesy of Trevor Schoening)

University of Alaska Fairbanks natural resources management student Trevor Schoening of Sitka, a junior, recently received a 2018 Spring Project Award from URSA, the Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity program.

The program awards up to $2,500 to students planning to conduct research or pursue creative projects during the spring semester. Twenty UAF students will receive awards this spring.

Schoening said he’s still developing his project and doesn’t want to build up too many expectations, especially since he’s unsure of his outcomes. But he plans to present his findings on April 10 at the UAF Research Day.

According to a UAF School of Natural Resources and Extension (SNRE) press release, Schoening said he hopes to get a better understanding of where food production is taking place around Alaska. He plans to use the directory provided on the Alaska Grown website to find farmers markets and will ask for a list of vendors to contact for production information.

“In short, my principal goal for this project is to gain a deeper spatial understanding of where food is being grown around Alaska, particularly with regard to distribution through farmers markets,” Schoening wrote in an email. “I hope to contact as many producers around the state as possible in order to obtain a sample representative of the state’s food production, and gather information on the physical location in Alaska where the food is produced, what type(s) of food the producer grows, and roughly how much food is grown by the producer annually. Ultimately the goal for the final project is to develop spatial maps (specific maps for different regions of the state) through GIS that display the geographic locations around Alaska where food is being produced for commercial sale at some scale.”

Food producers wanting to contact Schoening about how much food they grew and distributed can contact him by email at tschoening2@alaska.edu.

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.