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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The Garden Show returns to KCAW-Raven Radio spring programming lineup for 26th year

For 26 years, Mollie Kabler and Kitty LaBounty have taken to the KCAW-Raven Radio airwaves during the spring months to broadcast The Garden Show.

This year there’s a major change to the show, as the show doesn’t have a designated time slot and so will be a pop-up show as they fit episodes around their travel plans and the radio station schedule. In past years the show aired from April through June, or longer into the summer if work schedules permit. Kitty has a regular music show (Hometown Brew) from 2-4 p.m. on Thursdays, and many of the half-hour Garden Shows may take place during her program.

Garden Show topics include timely tasks for gardening in Southeast Alaska, taking on-air questions, and themes around basic and more advanced gardening of vegetables, flowers, fruit, trees, etc. For example, on the pop-up show on Thursday, May 6, Kitty interviewed Keith Nyitray of Finn Island Farm about the vegetables and plant starts he grows in the Kasiana Islands near Sitka.

Mollie and Kitty each have been gardening in Sitka for more than 26 years, and they also have significant gardening experience from their childhoods in Wisconsin (Mollie) and Oregon (Kitty). They both are certified as Master Gardeners, after completing the class series offered by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service.

To call the show with gardening questions, call 747-5877 and ask to be connected to the show.

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: Keith Nyitray of Finn Island Farm and the Sitka Food Co-Op

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(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 first article of the series.)

As owner of Finn Island Farm and general manager of the Sitka Food Co-Op, Keith Nyitray is committed to improving access to quality, affordable food on a local level.

DSCN0863Born in the Bronx and raised on Long Island, Nyitray arrived in Alaska after college in 1979 to pursue mountaineering. He has had his fair share of rugged adventures, including a 10-month, 1,500 mile solo expedition across the Arctic Brooks Range that he wrote about for National Geographic in 1993. When he arrived in Sitka for the first time 17 years ago, the town’s “wonderful community” inspired him to stay.

Nyitray says he learned to garden “at his grandfather’s knees.” He operates his farm and lives on Finn Island, located three miles from Sitka in the Kasiana Islands. On about 2,000 square feet of garden space, he produces plant starts and vegetables, and he also maintains a greenhouse and raises chickens.

Compared to other gardens in Sitka, one of the biggest advantages of the farm’s location on an island is what Nyitray calls the “270 degrees of sun” his garden receives. Annually, he sells 5,000 to 6,000 plant starts to True Value, to private individuals, and through the Sitka Food Co-Op. He sells most of his mature vegetables — such as green beans, zucchini, lettuce, beets, broccoli, English cucumbers, and peppers — through private trades and through the co-op.

KeithNyitrayRobertBainesExplainSitkaFoodCoOpNyitray helped establish the Sitka Food Co-Op in 2011 to help meet the needs of the community. “A lot of people were struggling financially at the time,” Nyitray said, “and food prices were going up and down.”

According to Nyitray, the co-op provides Sitkans access to organic, healthy food at lower prices than local markets. Co-op members make purchases through food distributors online, and the bulk orders are shipped to Sitka as freight on barges. Organic apples purchased through the co-op, for example, cost half as much as organic apples at the grocery stores in Sitka. In addition, the co-op provides individuals with unique dietary needs, especially families with children who have allergies, with access to a wider variety of foods than local markets.

What started as a cooperative of 13 families now has more than 220 members, and sales are projected to exceed $260,000 this year. Nyitray explained that the “slow growth approach” has allowed the organization to keep membership fees at affordable levels while including as many community members as possible.

SitkaFoodCoOpKeithNyitrayMany co-ops, often in big cities or areas with large universities nearby, raise significant capital to open a retail storefront before going into operation. In contrast, the Sitka Food Co-Op does not yet have a retail store, and Nyitray describes the Sitka co-op as a “hybrid between a non-profit buyers club and a for-profit co-op.” This model, which prioritizes the co-op’s connection with the community, is consistent with Nyitray’s belief in “food for people, not for profit.”

The success of the Sitka Food Co-Op has even inspired other rural Alaskan communities, such as Petersburg and Kodiak, to ask Nyitray about starting their own co-ops. Nyitray is excited about supporting these new co-ops, as one of the “seven cooperative principles,” a set of ideals for the operation of cooperatives, is “cooperation between cooperatives.”

Nyitray describes his roles on Finn Island Farm and with the Sitka Food Co-Op as “the most rewarding jobs or positions he has ever had.” He views his work as an embodiment of the saying, “think globally, act locally.” In working toward food security in Sitka, Nyitray has been able to see “definite, positive, immediate results.”

IMG_9866For instance, Nyitray says the competition from the co-op has already led some local grocery stores to reduce some of their prices. Having previously been involved in politics, he finds these results especially gratifying. “In politics, the work was very challenging, but not always very rewarding. You could work really hard, but rarely see results.”

He also enjoys the relationships with community members that he forms through his work. “When people purchase stuff from you they are actually saying thank you,” he explains. “They appreciate the service and the quality of food and the savings. It’s very social. I know everyone by name.”

In the future, Nyitray hopes the Sitka Food Co-Op will be able to include even more members and eventually open a retail store. A retail store helps reach more people in the community who are not members of the co-op and allows shoppers to use food stamps and other forms of food assistance as payment. As he works to serve community, Nyitray will continue to enjoy some of the smaller perks of his job. “I like the organic oranges that I get,” he says, “because I like the juice.”

To learn more about Finn Island Farm, contact Keith Nyitray at knyitray@yahoo.com. To learn more about the Sitka Food Co-Op, contact Nyitray at sitkafoodcoop@gmail.com, or visit the co-op website at http://sitkafoodcoop.org.

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

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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.

• Sitka Food Co-op, Sitka Local Foods Network make plant starts available on co-op delivery days

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IMG_9869The Sitka Local Foods Network and Sitka Food Co-op are teaming up to make garden starts available for Sitka food gardeners.

Plant starts from Finn Island Farm and other Sitka gardeners will be available for sale or swap on the next two Sitka Food Co-op delivery days, from 4:30-7 p.m. on Monday, May 4 and May 18, at the Sitka First Presbyterian Church, 505 Sawmill Creek Road. (NOTE: Due to a late-arriving barge, the May 4 pick-up day has been postponed until May 5.)

Finn Island Farm will be bringing the following starts — red Romaine lettuce, Tuscan kale, snap peas, sweet bell pepper, basil, Waltham broccoli, dark green zucchini, English cucumbers, pickling cucumbers, dark red and bulls blood beets, tomatoes (a large variety), and more.

The sale of these plant starts helps benefit the Sitka Local Foods Network, and we thank the Sitka Food Co-op for the opportunity to sell them on their delivery pick-up days. The plant starts are from Sitka gardeners and are of plants that do well in Sitka’s climate.

For more information, contact Keith Nyitray of the Sitka Food Co-op at sitkafoodcoop@gmail.com or go to http://sitkafoodcoop.org/

• 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.