(NOTE: The following letter to the editor appeared in the Friday, Dec. 9, 2011, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)
Many in Sitka are feeling squeezed not only by rising fuel costs, but also by escalating food costs. The September 2011 Alaska Food Cost Survey, conducted by University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service, calculated Sitka’s weekly food cost for a family of four as $198.41. This is a 44-percent increase since 2006, when the same market basket cost was $138.14. Sitka’s food costs are 57 percent higher than in Portland, Ore., 37 percent more than in Anchorage and 30 percent more than in Juneau.
Feeding America 2011 statistics report that 11.7 percent of Sitka’s borough is “food insecure.” This translates to 1,030 Sitkans and other Baranof Islanders who sometimes are completely without a source of food on a regular basis.
Kids Count Alaska 2009-2010 reports that 46 percent of Sitka’s school age children and youth live in families receiving some form of public assistance i.e., Denali KidCare, food stamps, or Alaska Temporary Assistance. This is a 10-percent increase since 2007.
Alaska behavioral risk factor data from 2009 show that only 23 percent of Alaskans consume the recommended five fruits and vegetables each day and only 17 percent of adolescents eat five daily servings of fruits and vegetables. One of the primary reasons for this low intake is inadequate access to affordable, quality produce.
These combined statistics paint a picture of increasing vulnerability when it comes to securing nutritious food on a regular basis. In the nutrition and public health world, this tenuous access to healthy food is known as food insecurity. So, how can Sitka, collectively and creatively, respond to food insecurity? Sitka can respond by INCREASING ACCESS TO AFFORDABLE LOCAL FOOD.
The Sitka Local Foods Network is working towards improving access to nutritious, local foods through five interconnected strategies. Together, these five strategies can move Sitka toward a more food-secure future. They are:
- Promoting traditional and customary food gathering and preservation.
- Developing the Let’s Grow Sitka gardening campaign to assist Sitkans in learning to grow some of their own food.
- Growing the number of community gardens to augment the garden behind Blatchley Middle School. The 4-year-old St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm is a recent example.
- Coordinating regular Sitka Farmers Markets during the summer growing and gathering seasons.
- Creating a community greenhouse and promoting commercial greenhouses to increase year-round access to local fruits and vegetables.
If you are interested in supporting this effort, please commit to one of the following actions:
- Attend the Let’s Grow Sitka extravaganza as part of Artigras from noon-3pm on March 11, 2012, at the ANB Hall to learn how to grow your own food
- Volunteer to work at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm this spring or the Sitka Farmers Market this summer
- Support the Sitka Farmers Market which begins July 7, 2012, and runs every other Saturday morning through Sept. 15, 2012.
- Mail a tax-deductible, year-end contribution to the Sitka Local Food Network at 408-D Marine Street, Sitka, AK 99835.
Together, we can make food security a reality in Sitka.
Sitka Local Foods Network Board and Friends
(Lisa Sadleir-Hart, Charles Bingham, Kerry MacLane, Doug Osborne, Ellen Frankenstein, Maybelle Filler, Robin Grewe)