Sitka to host community food system asset-mapping workshop on Feb. 19 using Zoom

Over the past year or so, the Sitka Local Foods Network has been working with a dozen other local and regional groups as part of a two-year USDA Regional Food System Partnership grant coordinated by the Alaska Food Policy Council.

As part of this work, the Sitka Local Foods Network will host a community-focussed food system asset-mapping workshop from 1:30-3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 19, using Zoom. The goal of this project is to examine the strengths and weaknesses of the 13 local and regional food systems, then use that knowledge to create a 10-year statewide food security plan. The workshop on Feb. 19 will use an outside facilitator, Lisa Trocchia, who is facilitating all of the regional/local workshops.

“Food security, or insecurity, is a big issue in Alaska and in Sitka,” Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham said. “Hopefully this project will give us some strategies on how to improve Alaska’s food security. We have special challenges in Alaska, with our remoteness and climate, and we see that every time the grocery store shelves are empty or when we go to a village store and can’t find fresh fruit and veggies. If you have concerns about Alaska’s, and Sitka’s, food system, then this workshop is for you.”

Sitka has a bit of an advantage over some of the other communities involved in the project, because in 2014 we released the Sitka Community Food Assessment Indicators Report, which came out of a Sitka Health Summit project. This gave us some baseline data about food security in Sitka. But most of the data is a decade old and is becoming dated. It’s hoped this workshop might inspire discussions that will help us update the report.

We want people from all parts of the Sitka community to attend this meeting — Alaska Native, Filipino, people on public assistance, people who hunt and gather, gardeners, commercial fishermen, people who run food businesses, young people, elders, etc. The broader the diversity in our group, the better our results.

If you are interested in attending, please RSVP by sending an email with the note “food security” in the subject line to sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com. You will receive an email a few days before the event with a Zoom link. Those who can’t attend on Feb. 19 still can participate when there is a statewide survey announced. For more details, contact Charles Bingham at 907-623-7660

Check out the January 2022 edition of the Sitka Local Foods Network newsletter

The Sitka Local Foods Network just sent out the January 2022 edition of its monthly newsletter. Feel free to click this link to get a copy.

This month’s newsletter includes short stories with a notice about the opening of the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend application period (and Pick.Click.Give. application) on Jan. 1, an update about how you can support the Sitka Local Foods Network by buying a t-shirt or hoodie from our online store, information about our 2022 sponsorship programs, and an invitation to join our board of directors. Each story has links to our website for more information.

You can sign up for future editions of our newsletter by clicking on the newsletter image in the right column of our website and filling in the information. If you received a copy but didn’t want one, there is a link at the bottom of the newsletter so you can unsubscribe. Our intention is to get the word out about upcoming events and not to spam people. We will protect your privacy by not sharing our email list with others. Don’t forget to like us on Facebooklike our Sitka Farmers Market page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter (@SitkaLocalFoods).

Saturday’s the day to start filing your 2022 PFD applications with Pick.Click.Give. donations

As 2021 draws to a close, many Alaskans already are thinking about applying for their 2022 Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend check in January. As usual, Alaskans can share their wealth with a variety of Alaska nonprofits, including the Sitka Local Foods Network, through the PFD’s Pick.Click.Give. program.

For the past several years, the Sitka Local Foods Network has participated in the Pick.Click.Give. program, which allows people to donate in $25 increments to their favorite statewide and local 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations when they file their PFD applications from Jan. 1 through March 31.

When you choose to donate part of your PFD to the Sitka Local Foods Network, you support the Sitka Farmers Market, St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm, the Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest, education programs about growing and preserving food, the Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen, Sitka Community Gardens, matching dollars at the Sitka Farmers Market for SNAP/WIC beneficiaries, the sustainable use of traditional foods, the Sitka Community Food Assessment, the Sitka Food Summit, and a variety of other projects designed to increase access to healthy local foods in Sitka.

In 2021 Alaskans contributed $3.04 million to 613 Alaska nonprofit organizations, and more than $30.1 million has been donated since the program started in 2009. Some Alaskans choose to donate to just one group, while others may spread several donations around to many groups. There now are 634 total 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations participating in Pick.Click.Give. for 2022 (including multi-location nonprofits), including 23 from Sitka. In 2021, Alaskans donated $94,575 to Sitka-based nonprofits (note, total includes some nonprofits that are based in multiple cities).

So how do you make a donation to the Sitka Local Foods Network through the Pick.Click.Give. program? First, starting at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 1, go fill out your Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend application at http://pfd.alaska.gov/. When you get to the section of the application asking if you want to participate in Pick.Click.Give. Charitable Contributions program, click on the PCG link and search for the Sitka Local Foods Network. You also can look for us by using the town search for Sitka.

The Pick.Click.Give. program is available only to people who file their PFD applications online, and not to those who file by mail. Even though you can’t file a new PFD application after March 31, you can go back into your application and update your Pick.Click.Give. donations through Aug. 31 each year.

You still can donate to the Sitka Local Foods Network if you aren’t from Alaska or aren’t eligible for a 2022 PFD. To donate, send your check to the Sitka Local Foods Network, 408-D Marine St., Sitka, Alaska, 99835. You also can donate online by going to our online fundraising page on MightyCause.com, and clicking the Donate button to make an online contribution. In addition, there is an online giving page through the PayPal Giving Fund. If you are trying to make nonprofit donations before the end of the 2021 tax year, you can mail in a check or make an online donation. Please let us know if you need a receipt for tax purposes. For more information about donating, you can send an email to sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com.

Thank you for supporting our mission of increasing the amount of locally produced and harvested food in the diets of Southeast Alaskans.

USDA awards Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) with funding to conduct assessment of local seafood security and seafood industry workforce

SITKA, Alaska – The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) is pleased to announce it was selected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to receive $209,100 from a Regional Food System Partnerships (RFSP) grant as part of the Agriculture Marketing Service’s Local Agriculture Marketing Program (LAMP). ALFA was one of 30 projects selected across 24 states to receive an RFSP grant and will use the funding to foster new partnerships around Alaska that help build a more resilient regional food system, specifically when it comes to local seafood access and seafood industry workforce development.

The impacts of Covid-19 highlighted long standing workforce development and food insecurity issues in Alaska. The seafood industry provides the backbone of coastal economies but relies on outside labor for processing, marketing, and shipping. Quarantine requirements led to significant labor shortages and high costs. In addition, currently less than 1 percent of the seafood caught in Alaska stays in Alaska to benefit the local economy. Alaska is one of the top five most food insecure states in the nation. It is estimated 95 percent of the $2 billion of food Alaskans purchase each year is imported, and 14 percent of Alaskans, including 20 percent of children, face food insecurity.

In response to the pandemic and food insecurity in Alaska, in March 2020, the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association formed a statewide coalition of nonprofits, tribal organizations, military organizations, city and boroughs, foundations, fishermen, and seafood processors to address food insecurity and workforce development challenges. The coalition was made possible with funding from Catch Together; a nonprofit that supports innovative conservation endeavors and fishermen-led efforts that address long-term access to local fishery resources. This initiative, which became known as the Seafood Donation Program, provided stipends and workforce support to the seafood industry and deployed $2.5 million to purchase local seafood for distribution, providing more than 630,000 free meals of Alaska seafood to individuals and families facing food insecurity. 

With funding from the USDA, ALFA will develop and implement a two-year assessment that looks at its pilot Seafood Donation Program and the feasibility of potentially continuing and expanding it into an ongoing program. In addition, the assessment will look at current seafood industry workforce development programs and identify gaps and barriers keeping local Alaskans from participating in the seafood industry. The project will culminate with the development of a feasibility study for a ten-year statewide seafood distribution and workforce development plan with emphasis on cultural relevance of seafood and serving marginalized communities. 

“We’re honored to carry this project forward and help lay the groundwork for new projects and programs in Alaska that could help make our communities healthier and more resilient,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. “Thanks to this support from the USDA, we’ll be able to work with a wide range of partners to assess where the biggest needs and opportunities are for ensuring that our local food systems are better prepared for future disruptions such as COVID-19, and that we have the tools in place to encourage local employment in our local seafood industry.”

As a “partnership” grant, ALFA’s project will rely heavily on the engagement of diverse stakeholders and will be guided by a formal steering committee including representatives from Alaska tribes, seafood distributors, national and state philanthropic and foundation leadership, chefs, community, and policy leaders as well as youth representatives. Some of these steering committee members will include founding partners of the Seafood Donation Program, including Sam Schimmel from Kenai, who helped spearhead several salmon distributions to Alaska Native families in the Anchorage and Fairbanks communities. 

“I’m really excited to be part of this project and help create new, locally grown solutions to some very complex problems,” Schimmel said. “We know that these needs are not going away, so this project is an important opportunity for us to all come together, share information, and figure out how we can ensure our Alaska Native communities continue to have access to the native foods that keep us connected to our traditions and to our cultures.”

“There’s no question that Alaska’s seafood industry faces a lot of challenges when it comes to workforce, whether that’s graying of the fleet or lack of new recruitment into the fisheries,” said Norm Pillen, president of Seafood Producers Cooperative in Sitka. “I”m looking forward to seeing what we learn through this project and how it can help advance conversations already underway about the future of Alaska’s seafood industry and our coastal communities.”

The funding is made possible through grant programs administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) as part of the Local Agriculture Marketing Program (LAMP) — the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP), the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP), and the Regional Food System Partnerships (RFSP).

Learn to preserve safe and healthy foods for home use with Sarah Lewis

In Alaska, we preserve a variety of wild harvested meats, vegetables, fruits, and berries to ensure food security and nutrition. Alaskans also preserve their garden harvests for the winter months. 

University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service agent Sarah Lewis will demonstrate how to preserve this bounty by canning, dehydrating, pickling, fermenting, and smoking.

There are important, simple, food safety considerations when preserving food at home. The preservation methods you will learn about (and practice in your own kitchen throughout this course) include water-bath canning, pressure canning, pickling and fermenting vegetables, dehydration, smoking fish, culturing sourdough and yogurt, and making sausage.

Lewis will teach the course online via Zoom, and participants can practice these techniques in their own kitchens. They’ll complete independent online assignments and view videos via the Canvas online course platform, which will open Jan. 10. Zoom classes will be held from 1-4 p.m. on Saturdays, Jan. 15 through Feb. 12. 

The course will use “So Easy to Preserve,” sixth edition, from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. The book is included in the cost of the course and will be mailed to each student. 

Students must have a home kitchen, a computer with a camera, and either a computer microphone or phone service for audio. The cost is $114 per household; fee waivers are available.

Register at bit.ly/PreservingAlaska2022. The registration deadline is Jan. 7. 

For more information, contact Sarah Lewis at sarah.lewis@alaska.edu or 907-523-3280, ext. 1. 

Check out the December 2021 edition of the Sitka Local Foods Network newsletter

The Sitka Local Foods Network just sent out the December 2021 edition of its monthly newsletter. Feel free to click this link to get a copy.

This month’s newsletter includes short stories with a notice about #GivingTuesday on Nov. 30, information about how you can eat some chowder and support the Sitka Local Foods Network from Dec. 1-4, an update about how you can support the Sitka Local Foods Network by buying a t-shirt or hoodie from our online store, information about our 2022 sponsorship programs, and an invitation to join our board of directors. Each story has links to our website for more information.

You can sign up for future editions of our newsletter by clicking on the newsletter image in the right column of our website and filling in the information. If you received a copy but didn’t want one, there is a link at the bottom of the newsletter so you can unsubscribe. Our intention is to get the word out about upcoming events and not to spam people. We will protect your privacy by not sharing our email list with others. Don’t forget to like us on Facebooklike our Sitka Farmers Market page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter (@SitkaLocalFoods).

Check out the November 2021 edition of the Sitka Local Foods Network newsletter

The Sitka Local Foods Network just sent out the November 2021 edition of its monthly newsletter. Feel free to click this link to get a copy.

This month’s newsletter includes short stories with information about our 2022 sponsorship programs, information about how you can support the Sitka Local Foods Network by buying a t-shirt or hoodie from our online store, an announcement about a series of online food preservation workshops from the UAF Cooperative Extension Service, and an invitation to join our board of directors. Each story has links to our website for more information.

You can sign up for future editions of our newsletter by clicking on the newsletter image in the right column of our website and filling in the information. If you received a copy but didn’t want one, there is a link at the bottom of the newsletter so you can unsubscribe. Our intention is to get the word out about upcoming events and not to spam people. We will protect your privacy by not sharing our email list with others. Don’t forget to like us on Facebooklike our Sitka Farmers Market page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter (@SitkaLocalFoods).

Check out the October 2021 edition of the Sitka Local Foods Network newsletter

The Sitka Local Foods Network just sent out the October 2021 edition of its monthly newsletter. Feel free to click this link to get a copy.

This month’s newsletter includes short stories wrapping up the 2021 Sitka Farmers Market season, information about how you can support the Sitka Local Foods Network by buying a t-shirt or hoodie from our online store, an announcement about a series of online food preservation workshops from the UAF Cooperative Extension Service, an invitation to join our board of directors, and information about our 2021-22 sponsorship programs. Each story has links to our website for more information.

You can sign up for future editions of our newsletter by clicking on the newsletter image in the right column of our website and filling in the information. If you received a copy but didn’t want one, there is a link at the bottom of the newsletter so you can unsubscribe. Our intention is to get the word out about upcoming events and not to spam people. We will protect your privacy by not sharing our email list with others. Don’t forget to like us on Facebooklike our Sitka Farmers Market page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter (@SitkaLocalFoods).

Like what we do? Please join our board of directors or volunteer with us

The 2019 Sitka Local Foods Network board of directors, from left, Amanda Anjum, Charles Bingham, Nina Vizcarrondo, Laura Schmidt, Stanley Lopata. We are recruiting new board members for 2022.

Did you enjoy the fresh local veggies at the Sitka Farmers Market this summer? Did you take any of our garden education classes this spring? Are you concerned about increasing access to local food for all Sitka residents?

The Sitka Local Foods Network is holding an open house for potential board members and volunteers from 6-7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 16. Due to COVID-19 coronavirus health concerns and the need to social-distance, we will meet using Zoom online meetings (a meeting link will be sent by email if you contact Charles Bingham at the email address below). This is a good time to learn about what we’re doing and how you can help.

Please consider joining the board of directors for the Sitka Local Foods Network to help us pursue our mission to increase the amount of locally produced and harvested food in the diets of Southeast Alaskans. We need more board members in order to keep running our programs.

Board members help direct the Sitka Local Foods Network, a non-profit that promotes the harvest and use of local food in Sitka. In addition to setting the focus of the group during our monthly meetings, board members also serve on at least one committee supporting at our three main projects of the Sitka Farmers Market, St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm, and garden education. In 2018, we launched the annual Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest to encourage food entrepreneurs in Sitka.

We also hope to help with the Sitka Community Gardens project as we look for a new location now that Blatchley Community Garden has been closed. In addition, some board members have supported other local foods projects in Sitka, such as the Sitka Kitch, Let’s Grow Sitka, the Sick-A-Waste compost project, the Sitka Community Food Assessment project, Sitka Fish-To-Schools, other school education projects and more.

To apply for a spot on the board, please fill out the application linked below and submit it to sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.org. For more information, please email us. Please note this is a working board, and our group is evolving and maturing as we try to raise funds to hire staff. Board terms are for three years, with seats up for reapplication each winter.

We also are looking to increase our pool of volunteers who will help out during the various projects hosted by the network each year (no formal application needed, just send us your name/contact info and what types of projects you enjoy). We need volunteers to help with the upcoming Sitka Farmers Markets, helpers for our lead gardener at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm, and people to teach gardening classes.

The next regular Sitka Local Foods Network board meeting is from 6-7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 16, using Zoom online meetings (email sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com to get a link to join our meeting). The board usually meets once every 4-6 weeks. Please note, we will sometimes move our meetings to avoid conflicts with board member schedules, venue schedules and to ensure a quorum. All of our board meetings are open to the public.

Click here for a copy of the Sitka Local Foods Network board of directors job description. Click here for a copy of the board application.

Tlingít potato harvest Friday honors American Indian Heritage Day and National Public Lands Day

Michelle Putz harvests Tlingít potatoes in 2020.

A short but exciting hands-on celebration will be happening at the Sitka Ranger District Office on Friday, Sept. 24.  The Sitka Ranger District, Sitka Tribe of Alaska, and Pacific High School gardening class will celebrate American Indian Heritage Day (Sept. 24) and National Public Lands Day (Sept 25) by following a time-honored tradition in Sitka – the annual harvest of Tlingít (Maria’s) potatoes.

Forest Service employees, Sitka Tribe employees and volunteers, and student volunteers will get their hands dirty at the USDA Forest Service office as they harvest the potatoes they lovingly planted on Earth Day, April 22. Story-tellers will talk about the traditions behind potatoes and gardening and others will share information on how to care for Tlingít potatoes, as well as their biology, history, and cultural aspects. Participants will also say goodbye to long-time Tongass NEPA Planner and “potato lady,” Michelle Putz, as she assists with her last harvest.

“It could not be more appropriate or humbling than to commemorate these two specific days, meant to honor Native American heritage and volunteerism, with these much-appreciated partners through harvesting a locally important and traditional food,” said Sitka District Ranger, Perry Edwards.

We look forward to holding a planting event next spring that is open to the community. To limit the spread of COVID-19, this year’s celebration will not be open to the public.  In the meantime, those interested in learning more about these interesting potatoes can view the Forest Service video: Tlingit Potato Garden – Culture, Horticulture, Stories, History at https://vimeo.com/416075040.