Sitka Local Foods Network seeks volunteers to help with Sitka Farmers Markets

Are you passionate about local foods? Healthy eating? The environment? Local nonprofits? Come volunteer with us.

The Sitka Local Foods Network seeks a few good volunteers to assist us with the Sitka Farmers Market this summer. The markets are from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on seven Saturdays — July 2, July 16, July 30, Aug. 13, Aug. 27, Sept. 10, and Sept. 24 — at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall (235 Katlian Street).

We need people to help the market manager set up tables and tents, starting about 8:30 a.m., and to help clean up and pack up the market for about an hour after the market ends. We also need people to help sell locally grown produce and Alaska Grown value-added products at the Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand during the market. Other duties include helping us get a count of how many people actually attend the markets and helping customers find their favorite booths.

No experience necessary, but our ideal volunteers will be punctual, passionate, and dependable. Partial shifts are available.

For more details on how to volunteer, contact Sitka Farmers Market manager Nalani James at (808) 778-9888 or assistant manager Charles Bingham at (907) 623-7660, or email us at sitkafarmersmarket@gmail.com. Be sure to include your name, phone, and email contact information and which markets you can assist with, and for how long. Your help is greatly appreciated.

Earn SLFN farm stand vouchers through the Walk, Bike, Win! downtown commuting challenge

Most Sitkans know by now that we’re expecting a record number of cruise ship visitors this summer and to help with the crowds the city is closing part of Lincoln Street on heavy cruise ship passenger days.

To help ease traffic and reduce cars downtown on these heavy cruise ship passenger days, the Walk, Bike, Win! downtown commuter challenge started on May 7 and runs through Sept. 29. As part of the challenge, people log their active transportation trips (walking, biking, etc.) downtown and earn points.

As part of the challenge, people earning 25 points can receive a $15 voucher to use at the Sitka Local Foods Network’s farm stand at the Sitka Farmers Market. You can use the voucher to buy fresh local produce grown in Sitka at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm. You also can use the vouchers to buy any of our Alaska Grown value-added products, such as chocolate from Sitka’s Theobroma Chocolate or Girdwood’s Chugach Chocolates, barley products from Delta Junction’s Alaska Flour Company, kelp salsa products from Juneau’s Barnacle Foods, or kelp pesto or pasta sauce from Ketchikan’s Foraged & Found. There is a limited number of vouchers available.

The Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand usually is located in the BIHA parking lot next to the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall, although we sometimes move it inside if we have a low number of vendors scheduled for that market. The Sitka Farmers Market takes place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on seven Saturdays — July 2, 16, 30, Aug. 13, 27, Sept. 10, and 24 — at ANB Founders Hall (235 Katlian Street). This is the only booth where you can use the vouchers at the market, and the vouchers are only accepted at the market and there is no change. See you at the market.

Sitka Kitch to host online class on starting a cottage foods business

Learn what the basics of starting and running a cottage foods business as Sarah Lewis teaches students how to Start a Cottage Foods Business from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 15, via Zoom.

This class is a fundraiser for the Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen, and also is designed to help vendors prepare for the upcoming Sitka Farmers Markets hosted by the Sitka Local Foods Network.

Sarah Lewis — the home, health and family development agent for the Juneau office of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service — will teach this class by videoconference from Juneau. Students will learn about state laws regarding home food businesses, and get ideas for businesses you might take to the Sitka Farmers Market or local trade shows. The first hour will be spent discussing rules and regulations, and the second part of the class will be for questions and answers.

The class fee is $10, and the funds go to the Sitka Kitch. Class space is limited, so register early. The registration deadline for this class is 11 p.m. on Monday, June 13. The Sitka Local Foods Network is offering students of this class half off their Sitka Farmers Market vendor fee for the first market of the season where they host a table. Representatives from the Sitka Local Foods Network/Sitka Farmers Market and (hopefully) the Sitka food safety office of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation are planning to attend so they can answer any questions potential cottage foods business owners may have.

Register online at https://sitkakitch.eventsmart.com/ (click on class title) and pre-pay using credit/debit cards or PayPal. To pre-pay by cash or check, contact Kylee Jones of the Sitka Conservation Society at 907-747-7509 or info@sitkawild.org to arrange payment. For more information about the class, contact Jasmine Shaw at the UAF Cooperative Extension Service Sitka District Office at 907-747-9440.

The Sitka Kitch is supported in partnership by Sitka Conservation Society with UAF Cooperative Extension Service. These classes are fundraisers for the Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen.

City and Borough of Sitka makes free garden soil available

Surplus soil material is being offered to community members starting May 9 in the back parking area of Kimsham Athletic Fields, follow to the end of Kashevaroff Street.

It is a product of seasonal grounds maintenance operations. The soil pile is marked with signage and is self-serve. Tools and equipment for loading the soil are not provided.

UAF Cooperative Extension Service offers April gardening workshops in Sitka

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service has added two new April classes to a series of in-person gardening workshops in Sitka that started in March.

Two classes have been announced for the end April, one on building a colorful container of flowers and another on using soil amendments. More classes for May may be announced later. The classes have various costs, but materials are provided. Masks are required for indoor classes. Space is limited on all classes, so register early.

The classes scheduled so far are:

  • Create Some Color With Garden Ventures — Thursday, April 17, 6-7 p.m.; Penny Brown, owner of Garden Ventures Nursery, will lead a hands-on workshop for how to design your own planter full of colorful flowers. She will also give a short presentation on the topic. This class is $30 and takes place at Garden Ventures, 4013 Halibut Point Road. You can register here.
  • Soil Amendments and Rototiller Fun — Saturday, April 23, 10-11:30 a.m.; In this workshop you will learn what you can to help build soil nutrition, revitalize garden beds with depleted soil, make a little fertilizer to take home, and try your hand at a rototiller. This workshop is taught by Kitty LaBounty and Andrea Fraga at a location TBA. The cost is $10. You can register here.

For more information and to register, email jdshaw2@alaska.edu or call 907-747-9440.

The Garden Show returns to KCAW-Raven Radio spring programming lineup for 31st year

For 31 years, Mollie Kabler and Kitty LaBounty have taken to the KCAW-Raven Radio airwaves during the spring months to broadcast The Garden Show.

They’ve already recorded two shows this year, and the Garden Show will have a regular 9:30-10 a.m. slot on Fridays. Since this week is KCAW’s spring pledge drive, the show will take pace from 9-10 a.m. on Friday, April 8. Kitty also has a regular music show (Hometown Brew) from 2-4 p.m. on Thursdays, and in the past the half-hour Garden Shows sometimes took 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. The station’s website has links to previous shows.

Mollie and Kitty have been gardening in Sitka for more than 30 years each, 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.

Alaska Farmers Markets Association to host free virtual summit on April 8

HOMER, Alaska (March 29, 2022) — The Alaska Farmers Markets Association will host its 2022 virtual summit from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, April 8. The theme is “Gather and Grow.” This event is free, but pre-registration is required.

“Whether you have run a market for 10 years or are just in the planning stages, the Alaska Farmers Markets Association is open to anyone interested in learning more about Alaska’s farmers markets, CSAs (community supported agriculture programs), farm stands, and food hubs,” said AFMA director Robbi Mixon, who recently was named to the board of directors for the national Farmers Market Coalition. “Grow your network and learn from market managers, farmers, government officials, and more.”

The keynote speakers this year are Mat-Su Health Foundation President/CEO Elizabeth A. Ripley and Dr. Gail Meyers, co-founder of Farms to Grow, Inc. Other presentations and discussion panels will be on how to keep farmers markets safe and the public healthy, why a census of agriculture matters for food security in Alaska, National Farmers Market Week (Aug. 7-13) events, a lunch-and-learn on ranked-choice voting, farmers market evaluation and data collection, food access programs, and more.

Conference sponsors include Cook Inletkeeper, the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service, and MarketLink (a program of the National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition). The Farmers Market Coalition will assist with some presentations and discussion panels. Funding for the summit was provided by a 2021-24 Farmers Market Promotion Program grant from the USDA.

To learn more about the conference and to register, go to https://www.alaskafarmersmarkets.org/2022-alaska-farmers-market-summit-april-8th/. For more information, contact Alaska Farmers Market Association Director Robbi Mixon at 907-235-4068, Ext. 23, or info@alaskafarmersamarkets.org.

National Young Farmers Coalition to start chapter in Alaska

Alaska leads the nation in agricultural growth and there’s no sign of it slowing down. The average age of a producer in Alaska is 2.5 years younger compared to the national average age. Alaska leads the nation in the percent of new and beginning producers. Almost half – 46 percent – of the state’s farmers have 10 years or fewer of farm experience.

With help and support from the Alaska Farmers Market Association, we are launching an Alaska chapter of the National Young Farmers Coalition (http://www.youngfarmers.org), a national nonprofit whose mission is to “…shift power and change policy to equitably resource our new generation of working farmers.” The chapter will serve beginning and young farmers/ranchers in Alaska. The goal is to have representation from each Alaska region and from every agricultural sector. 

We are collecting individual information, such as contact information, farm types, experience, demographics, and interest levels for participating in the chapter in order to identify the chapter’s direction, trends, and insights that can help bring the group together. You can take the survey at this link.

We will keep your answers confidential and all results produced will be anonymous.

Feel free to contact Kyra Harty at 907-235-4068, ext 20, or email her at Kyra@AlaskaFarmersMarkets.org if you have any questions or would like more information.

As you build your 2022 garden this spring, don’t forget to Plant A Row For The Hungry

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article first appeared on this site in April 2010. It is repeated with some updates because much of the information remains current and newsworthy.)

As you start to plan your garden for this spring and summer, don’t forget to Plant A Row For The Hungry. The Plant A Row For The Hungry program (also known as Plant A Row or PAR) is a national campaign by the Garden Writers Association of America (which recently changed its name to the Garden Communicators International) that has its roots in Alaska.

In the cold winter of 1994, Anchorage Daily News garden columnist and former Garden Writers Association of America President Jeff Lowenfels was returning to his hotel after a Washington, D.C., event when he was approached by a homeless person who asked for some money to buy food. Lowenfels said Washington, D.C., had signs saying, “Don’t give money to panhandlers,” so he shook his head and kept on walking. But the man’s reply, “I really am homeless and I really am hungry. You can come with me and watch me eat,” stayed with Lowenfels for the rest of his trip.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels

The encounter continued to bother Lowenfels, even as he was flying back to Anchorage. During the flight, Lowenfels came up with an idea when he started writing his weekly garden column (the longest continuously running garden column in the country, with no missed weeks since it started on Nov. 13, 1976). He asked his readers to plant one extra row in their gardens to grow food to donate to Bean’s Café, an Anchorage soup kitchen. The idea took off.

When Anchorage hosted the Garden Writers Association of America convention in 1995, Lowenfels took the GWAA members to Bean’s Café to learn about the Plant A Row For Bean’s Café program. The Garden Writers Association of America liked the idea, and it became the national Plant A Row For The Hungry campaign (also known as Plant A Row or PAR). In 2002, the Garden Writers Association Foundation (now Garden Communicators International) was created as a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit to manage the Plant A Row For The Hungry program.

“I am not surprised by the growth of PAR,” Lowenfels wrote in a 2010 e-mail to the Sitka Local Foods Network. “It is now in all 50 states and across Canada and there are thousands of variations of the original program — from prison gardens for the hungry to botanical gardens donating their produce from public display gardens. This is because gardeners always share information and extra food, so the idea was a natural.”

It took five years for the program to reach its first million pounds of donated food, but the second million only took two years and the next eight years saw a million pounds of donated food (or more) each year. Since 1995, more than 20 million pounds of food (about 80 million meals, as of 2020) have been donated by American gardeners. Not only that, the program is getting ready to expand overseas to Australia, England and other countries with avid gardeners.

“We have supplied something in the vicinity of enough food for 50 million meals,” Lowenfels wrote in his e-mail. “Gardeners can solve this hunger problem without the government. And we don’t need a tea party to do it! Or chemicals, I might add, as author of a book on organic gardening!” Lowenfels is the author of Teaming With Microbes, written with Wayne Lewis. He released a second book, Teaming With Nutrients, as a follow-up to his first book, and in 2017 released a third book, Teaming With Fungi, as a second follow-up book.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2019 one out of every nine U.S. households experiences hunger or the risk of hunger. Many people skip meals or eat too little, sometimes going an entire day or more without food. About 35.2 million Americans, including 13 million children, have substandard diets or must resort to seeking emergency food because they can’t always afford to buy the food they need. In recent years, the demand for hunger assistance has increased 70 percent, and research shows that hundreds of children and adults are turned away from food banks each year because of lack of resources. The demand has grown with the Covid-19 pandemic

According to the 2014 Sitka Community Food Assessment Indicators Report, about one in six people in Sitka is food insecure. In 2013, there were 1,410 Sitkans (out of a population of about 9,000) and 766 families receiving food assistance (SNAP, aka food stamps). There also were 229 individuals who received food pantry assistance from the Salvation Army and 7,243 meals served through its lunch soup kitchen in 2013, and that number has grown substantially since then.

While many people credit Lowenfels for creating the Plant A Row For The Hungry program, Lowenfels says the real heroes are the gardeners growing the extra food and donating it to local soup kitchens, senior programs, schools, homeless shelters and neighbors. You can hear him pass along the credit to all gardeners at the end of this 2009 interview with an Oklahoma television station (video also embedded below).

“One row. That’s all it takes. No rules other than the food goes to the hungry. You pick the drop-off spot or just give it to a needy friend or neighbor. Nothing slips between the lip and the cup, I say,” Lowenfels wrote in his e-mail.

With all of the jobs lost because of the COVID-19 coronavirus quarantines in 2020-22, this year there will be even more people who need food assistance. It will be more important than ever to help get extra produce into our local food banks and soup kitchens.

For people wanting to Plant A Row For The Hungry in Sitka, there are several places that would love to help distribute some fresh locally grown veggies or berries to those who are less fortunate, such as the Salvation ArmySitkans Against Family Violence (SAFV), local churches, Sitka Tribe of Alaska and other organizations. The food the Sitka Local Foods Network grows at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden goes to the Sitka Farmers Market, school lunches and other programs.

People who participate in the Alaska SNAP (food stamp) program can use their Alaska Quest Cards to purchase produce and fish at the Sitka Farmers Market and other farmers markets around the state. People who participate in the  WIC (Women, Infants, Children) supplemental food program (operated in Southeast Alaska by the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium or SEARHC) also can use special farmers market vouchers to buy fresh vegetables at the Sitka Farmers Market and other farmers markets in Alaska (this is part of the national WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program). The Sitka Local Foods Network matches up to $20 for produce purchased using WIC or SNAP benefits at the Sitka Farmers Market.

The Sitka Local Foods Network also takes donations of local produce to sell at the Sitka Farmers Markets, and all proceeds are used to help pay for SLFN projects geared toward helping more people in Sitka grow and harvest local food. For more information, contact the Sitka Local Foods Network board members at sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com.

• Plant A Row informational brochure (2017)

UAF Cooperative Extension Service to offer gardening workshops in Sitka

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service will offer a series of in-person gardening workshops in Sitka starting in March.

Two classes have been announced for the end of March, one on tree-pruning and one on seed-starting, and more classes for April will be announced later. The classes cost $10 each, with materials provided. Masks are required for indoor classes. Space is limited, so register early.

The classes scheduled so far are:

  • Tree Pruning WorkshopSaturday, March 19, 8:30-10 a.m.; A workshop on pruning fruit trees, demonstration, instruction and a chance to practice are taught by Jud Kirkness. The location will be emailed to registrants.
  • Seed Starting and Seed SwapSaturday, March 26, 10-11:30 a.m.; Kitty LaBounty and Jasmine Shaw lead a hands-on workshop on seed starting on the UAS Sitka Campus. Students will be able to start seeds to take home. All materials will be provided. Students also can take seeds to swap with others.

For more information and to register, email jdshaw2@alaska.edu or call 907-747-9440.