Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit postponed until 2023 due to Covid-19

The 2022 Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit, originally scheduled for Feb. 25-27 in Petersburg, has been postponed until the last weekend of February 2023 due to the Omicron variant of Covid-19, organizers Bo Varsano and Marja Smets wrote in an email.

“This was an extremely difficult choice; we want nothing more than to gather and share with you all this winter, however, we feel that no matter what mitigation strategies we implement, a conference that brings together folks from around Southeast Alaska and beyond for a long weekend of indoor activities runs too great of a risk of becoming a super-spreader event,” wrote Varsano and Smets, who run Farragut Farm near Petersburg.

The Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit started in 2015 in Petersburg, and was followed by events in 2017 in Haines and 2019 in Sitka. The 2021 Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit was postponed to 2022 because of Covid, and now it’s been postponed again to 2023.

People who already had registered for the 2022 summit will receive full refunds. They are asking 2022 sponsors if they can hold the donations for the 2023 rescheduled event.

“We feel strongly about the value of keeping this an in-person event, so we hope to reschedule the SEAK Farmers Summit for the last weekend in February in 2023, as long as our primary grant funding will allow for the extension. We will keep you all posted!” Varsano and Smets wrote. “In the meantime, we are working on pulling together a fun Zoom evening event to maintain connection within the community of growers and supporters, so keep your eye out for more details via email soon. … Sorry for the bad news, but you know what they say … ‘third time’s a charm!'” 

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).

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).

Revived Sitka Compost Project Team to host virtual meeting on Friday, Nov. 12

A revived Sitka Compost Project Team will hold a virtual meeting at 4 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 12, via Zoom.

The Sitka Conservation Society is serving as a nonprofit umbrella for the Sitka Compost Project Team. The project team is being led by Caitlin Woolsey, Elizabeth Borneman, Norm Campbell, and Doug Osborne.

Large-scale composting has long been a goal in Sitka, and it was selected as a top goal at the 2011 Sitka Health Summit Planning Day. That led to the Sick-A-Waste group, which did some preliminary work on a community composting plan.

The recent revival of interest in composting led to the Sitka Health Summit contributing $500 to the composting project. The Sitka Health Summit is keen on seeing this happen (in addition to the current goals of ending homelessness and reviving community schools.)

One reason why there is some urgency to this project revival is Sitka has a 45-foot EcoDrum industrial compost unit in town (similar to the photo), and we want to keep it here in town. The person who brought the unit to Sitka no longer lives in Alaska, and the unit must be moved from its current location. We’re trying to keep it from being barged elsewhere.

Also, the city ships a lot of waste that could be composted to the Lower 48, and having a community compost program can reduce how much waste the city ships south. Good compost makes great garden soil, which can be worth its weight in gold in a rain forest community where a lot of nutrients are washed out of the soil due to the moisture. Having access to fresh compost will make it easier for more Sitka gardeners to grow their own food, which will improve food security in town.

The compost project could use people power. It seems like a simple idea; however it’s got a lot of complexity and needs a variety of things: land, brown material, a place for finished compost, etc. Norm Campbell has been leading the charge and has lots of good ideas.

The Sitka Health Summit hosted a Pardee RAND School of Public Policy Fellow named Zhan Okuda-Lim this summer-fall. He is working up a final report for composting in Sitka which was the focus of his work. Zhan will have his final report ready to present on Friday, Nov. 12 (reports are posted below the Zoom info). After going over his slide deck, Zhan can answer questions. After that we can all discuss next steps.

All are welcome – anyone in town who is interested in seeing us composting more in Sitka.

Topic: Composting

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• Sitka Compost Project Team final presentation, Nov. 12, 2021

• Sitka Compost Project Team final report, Nov. 11, 2021

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.

UAF Cooperative Extension Service to host online food preservation workshops

Winter Is Coming, which means it’s time for another series of classes from the Extension Kitchen.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service is offering a series of nine Food Preservation Workshops during the months of October and November by Zoom. The classes will be taught from the home of Home, Health, and Family Development Extension Agent Sarah Lewis from the Juneau District Office of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service, and the classes are available to anybody with an online connection (but they are targeted toward people in Alaska). Even though she’s based in Juneau, Sarah is on the Sitka Kitch advisory team.

The classes are from 5:30-7 p.m. on Tuesdays, starting Oct. 5. They cost $10 each, and at the end of each class one participating student will win a $20 gift certificate to a local store that sells canning equipment, plus one student will win a free entry into another class in the series. Students can register for the individual classes in the series at this link, http://bit.ly/extensionworkshops.

The class dates and topics are:

  • Oct. 5 — Create a food secure pantry
  • Oct. 12 — Canning fruits and berries
  • Oct. 19 — Preserving herbs
  • Oct. 26 — Dehydrating vegetables
  • Nov. 2 — Cooking mixes and sourdough starter
  • Nov. 9 — Making and canning pickles
  • Nov. 16 — Canning meat and vegetables
  • Nov. 23 — Making jerky
  • Nov. 30 (bonus class) — Pressure canning spaghetti sauce

For more information, contact Sarah at sarah.lewis@alaska.edu or 1-907-523-3280, Ext. 1. You also can contact the UAF Cooperative Extension Service in Fairbanks toll-free at 1-877-520-5211.