Division of Agriculture offers micro-grants to improve food security in Alaska

PALMER, Alaska – As part of a continuing effort to improve food security for Alaskans, the Alaska Division of Agriculture is offering $2 million in micro-grants to individuals and organizations who want to grow and preserve their own food.

The grants are being offered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Micro-Grants for Food Security Program (MGFSP). This is the second year the grants have been offered in Alaska. In 2021, the Division of Agriculture received more than 1,000 proposals for funding and awarded more than $1.6 million to 234 grantees (Including several in Sitka). 

“The last two years have taught Alaskans the importance of increasing local production of food and storage capabilities,” Alaska Division of Agriculture Director David W. Schade said, referring to supply chain issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are fortunate to offer another opportunity to apply for the micro-grants in 2022. We have worked with USDA to simplify the process and expand the opportunity for more Alaskans to receive funding.” 

The grant application period opened on Monday, Feb. 14, and closes at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 30. 

Individuals can apply for up to $5,000 and qualifying organizations can apply for up to $10,000. The grants are for one year and can be for anything from building a greenhouse to growing a garden to buying a freezer to fencing in livestock. Preference is given to individuals and groups in Alaska’s most vulnerable areas in terms of food security. 

“We will prioritize funding of grants for projects that affect our most food-insecure areas and increase local food production and storage.” Schade said. 

The Micro-Grants for Food Security program is part of the 2018 Farm Bill that created a special program for Alaska, Hawaii and the U.S. Territories for improvements to food security. The program helps individuals and organizations increase the quantity and quality of locally grown food in food insecure communities through small-scale, agricultural-related projects. Qualifying projects may include small-scale gardening, small-scale herding and livestock operations, and/or expanding access to food, safe food storage, and knowledge of food security. 

The program has undergone several changes, which will increase the opportunities for more Alaskans to participate and reduce the challenges of the reimbursement process and reporting for those receiving grants. 

“I am pleased that the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service has approved Alaska’s new streamlined, simple process for grant projects, as many grant programs are difficult for many of our rural residents to use,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said. “Food security is a high priority of my administration and support of this program continues my administration’s efforts to move Alaska toward greater food independence”. 

More detailed information on the micro-grants can be accessed at the Division of Agriculture website. For questions not addressed on the website refer to the Alaska Grown Facebook LIve events. You may also submit questions with Micro-grants 2022 in the subject line to dnr.ag.grants@Alaska.gov. 

Applications must be submitted electronically via the Division of Agriculture SmartSimple application portal. Instructional videos for how to submit the application can be found at Alaska Grown – YouTube

Gov. Mike Dunleavy establishes Alaska Food Security and Independence Task Force

The first of four pages of Administrative Order 331, which creates the task force.

Today (Feb. 9, 2022), Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued Administrative Order 331  (downloads the full four-page document as PDF) establishing the Alaska Food Security and Independence Task Force.

Alaska currently imports 95 percent of its food supplies at a cost of $2 billion per year. The global pandemic triggered supply chain disruptions on the West Coast of the United States that continue to impact the regular delivery of food and other essential goods to Alaska. The 18-member task force will be responsible for recommendations on how to increase all types of food production and harvesting in Alaska, and to identify any statutory or regulatory barriers preventing our state from achieving greater food security.   

“Over the past two years Alaskans have walked into grocery stores and been greeted by row after row of empty shelves,” Gov. Dunleavy said. “One of the lessons the pandemic taught us is how vulnerable Alaska could be if the regularly scheduled shipments of food shipped up from Seattle were to suddenly stop – even a few days. The good news is Alaska has tremendous potential to grow, harvest and catch more nutritious food for in-state consumption. The recommendations from the task force will draw a roadmap for my administration, legislators and Alaska’s food producers to make Alaska more food secure the next time the supply chain is disrupted.”

The task force will have 10 main duties and responsibilities:

  • Provide recommendations that increase the procurement and use of Alaska-sourced foods within state and local agencies, institutions, and schools, including any administrative and statutory changes that are required.
  • Identify barriers that farmers, stock growers, fishermen, mariculture professionals, and others engaged in the growing, harvesting, or raising of food, face when starting a business or getting their products in to the Alaska market. Provide recommendations on how the state can address those obstacles, including through administrative or statutory changes.
  • Assess the levels of wild game and fish harvests in Alaska. Suggest measures that would increase the abundance and harvest of wild game, fish, and food by Alaskans.
  • Recommend a program to assist communities and households impacted by fishery shortfalls and disasters.
  • Identify factors, including regulatory or statutory burdens, that might discourage or prevent locally harvested and produced food from being purchased by federal, state, and local agencies, institutions, and schools.
  • Identify research needed to support and encourage increased consumption and production of Alaska-sourced food within the state.
  • Engage with the public to seek additional input on ways to promote the above listed goals.
  • Assess the need for disaster food caches within the state; and how the caches can be developed utilizing Alaskan-sourced foods.
  • Provide a report and summary of findings and recommendations, including what administrative and statutory changes would be needed to accomplish the recommendations of the task force.
  • The chair of the task force shall report regularly to the office of the governor on activities conducted and issues that arise under this order.

The task force will be made up of 16 voting members. Twelve Alaskans representing a cross section of the state’s farming, mariculture and seafood industries and four state commissioners (Natural Resources, Fish and Game, Environmental Conservation, Military and Veterans Affairs) or their designees will serve on the board. Two ex-officio members from the Alaska House of Representatives and the Alaska State Senate are to be appointed by the Senate President and the Speaker of the House.

The administrative order requests, but does not require, the two legislators be current members of the Alaska Grown Legislative Caucus.

The Task Force will issue a report on its findings and recommendations on or before September 1, 2022.

Celebrate National Farmers Market Week this week with the Sitka Farmers Market

It’s National Farmers Market Week on Aug. 2-8 this year. You can celebrate by ordering produce from the Sitka Farmers Market and picking it up from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Aug. 8, at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm (located behind St. Peter’s By The Sea Episcopal Church, 611 Lincoln Street). Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you will need to order your produce from 5 p.m. Tuesday through 8 p.m. Thursday using the Salt and Soil Marketplace website, and then picking it up on Saturday at St. Peter’s.

This is the 13th summer of Sitka Farmers Markets, but the pandemic is forcing us to run a very scaled back operation. To limit the handling of cash, we went to an online ordering system (Salt and Soil Marketplace) where people order all of their produce during the week and then pick it up on Saturday. Since our usual venue was still closed when we were planning, we had to switch to an outdoors venue with limited space so our main vendors are produce vendors.

The theme for this year’s National Farmers Market Week is #FarmersMarketsAreEssential. When the pandemic hit, there were worries farmers markets would be closed even though they play a vital role in local food security. This article from March 19 in Civil Eats discusses some of the struggles to keep farmers markets open and labeled as essential businesses. In Alaska, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced in April that farmers markets were considered essential businesses, but they would be limited this year to just food vendors (no arts and crafts). This announcement came during the Alaska Farmers Market Association annual meeting and conference, which was online this year.

But at least we are able to be open and sell locally grown produce this year. You can learn more about how we’re operating this year at this link. The link includes information about how we are handling WIC and SNAP benefits this year. Basically there are two main produce vendors — the Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand and Middle Island Gardens — selling produce each week. There are a couple of other Salt and Soil Marketplace vendors in Sitka — Raincoast Flowers sells cut flowers and distributes them at St. Peter’s most weeks, Anam Cara Family Garden sells jams and jellies and distributes them from their home, and Spinning Moon Apothecary sells teas and herbal tinctures and distributes them from their storefront.

“We really miss having the full market and the community connections it provides, but we’re just happy to be able to be able to get locally grown produce into the hands of Sitka residents,” Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham said. “The Sitka Farmers Market is more than a market for local produce, and we usually have local seafood, cottage foods products, baked goods, arts and crafts, and more. It’s been a place to incubate small food businesses. The Sitka Local Foods Network mission is to increase the amount of locally produced and harvest food in the diets of Southeast Alaskans, and so we have to go back to supporting the food part of our mission this year. Hopefully we’ll be back to a normal market again next summer.”

By moving our market outside this year, we’re hoping to reduce the risk of spreading the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes COVID-19. All of our volunteers are wearing masks and gloves, and we ask that customers please wear masks or stay in their cars if you are not wearing a mask. Our greeters will bring your order to you, so you can put it into your own box or tote bags (please return out baskets).

For more information, contact sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com or sitkafarmersmarket@gmail.com, or call our Sitka Farmers Market phone at 738-7310. You also can sign up for our weekly Sitka Farmers Market newsletter that comes out on Tuesday afternoons with info about what produce is available by clicking on the Sitka Farmers Market logo in the right column of the Sitka Local Foods Network website, http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org.