Sitka wins top market in Alaska honors for third straight year in American Farmland Trust Farmers Market Celebration

The Sitka Farmers Market was the top market in Alaska and ninth in the Pacific region during the American Farmland Trust‘s Farmers Market Celebration voting that ended earlier this week. This was the 11th year of the contest.

This is the third straight year the Sitka Farmers Market has been the top market in Alaska, and fifth time in six years. The contest uses online voting, but each email address is only allowed to vote once so people can’t stuff the ballot box. Voting opened in June and ended earlier this week.

“We have a small market compared to others around the country, but I’m happy the people who visit our market think enough of it to recommend it in this contest,” said Charles Bingham, board president of the Sitka Local Foods Network which sponsors the Sitka Farmers Market. “We thank everybody who came to one of our markets this summer and supported more local food in Sitka and Southeast Alaska.”

The Sitka Farmers Market also was listed on the Guide To Exceptional Markets from the Certified Naturally Grown program this summer.

This year the People’s Choice Award (the only national award this year) went to the Troy Waterfront Farmers Market of Troy, N.Y. Finishing second in the People’s Choice competition was the Coventry Farmers Market (Conn.), followed by the West Windsor Community Farmers Market (N.J.) in third place, the Charlottesville City Market (Va.) in fourth, and the Williamsburg Farmers Market (Va.) in fifth place.

The top market in the Pacific region was the Kaka’ako Farmers Market of Honolulu, Hawai’i. In second place was the Kailua Town Farmers Market of Kailua, Hawai’i, followed by the Moscow Farmers Market (Idaho) in third, the Olympia Farmers Market (Wash.) in fourth, and the Albany Farmers Market (Ore.).

Sitka was the top Alaska market in ninth place. The other Alaska markets to make the top 50 in the Pacific region were the Homer Farmers Market in 18th place and the Soldotna Saturday Farmers Market in 45th place.

The other regional winners were the Flint (Mich.) Farmers Market in the Midwest, the Troy (N.Y.) Waterfront Farmers Market in the Northeast, the Charlottesville (Va.) City Market in the Southeast, and the City of Dripping Springs (Texas) Farmers Market in the Southwest.

The last Sitka Farmers Market of the summer was on Saturday, Sept. 21, but the Sitka Local Foods Network will have a SLFN farm stand with fresh produce from St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm at the 25th annual Running of the Boots costumed fun run fundraiser on Saturday, Sept. 28, at Totem Square park. Registration opens at 10:30 a.m., the costume contest is about 11, and the race starts at 11:30 a.m. The entry fee is $10 for individuals, $30 for families. This event benefits the Sitka Local Foods Network and Youth Advocates of Sitka.

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Sitka Farmers Market ranks seventh in PNW, first in Alaska, in early standings from the 11th annual American Farmland Trust Farmers Market Celebration

The American Farmland Trust (AFT) released some early standings on Tuesday, Sept. 10, from the 11th annual AFT Farmers Market Celebration, and the Sitka Farmers Market ranks seventh in the Pacific Northwest and first in Alaska.

The Farmers Market Celebration is a contest where supporters cast their votes online for their favorite markets, and the contest runs through Friday, Sept. 20. The Sitka Farmers Market — a project of the Sitka Local Foods Network — was the top market from Alaska in 2018 and 2017, and took second in 2016. During the final 10 days of the contest, we encourage you to go online and recommend the Sitka Farmers Market. The Sitka Farmers Market also is on the Guide To Exceptional Markets from the Certified Naturally Grown program.

This is the first year the contest has compiled regional standings (before there were only national and state rankings). The Moscow (Idaho) Farmers Market is the top market right now in the Pacific Northwest, followed by the Kaka’ako Farmers Market from Honolulu, Hawaii, and the Olympia Farmers Market from Olympia, Wash.

Besides Sitka in seventh place in the PNW, other Alaska markets in the rankings include the Homer Farmers Market (13th) and the Soldotna Saturday Farmers Market (39th).

The last Sitka Farmers Market of the 2019 summer is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall (235 Katlian Street). The Sitka Local Foods Network will host a small farm stand during the 25th annual Running of the Boots costumed fun run fundraiser on Saturday, Sept. 28, at Totem Square Park.

USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program awards two major grants to Alaska food projects

Two Alaska food projects were among 52 nationally to share in $13.4 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program announced this past weekThe competitive grants work to increase domestic consumption of, and access to, locally and regionally produced foods, and to develop new market opportunities for food production operations serving local markets.

Homer-based Cook Inletkeeper was awarded $403,334 to relaunch the Alaska Farmers Market Association and provide a support network for farmers and market managers. Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) won $91,141 to promote the benefits of flash-frozen seafood and marketing for rural seafood producers.

ALFA will provide support for consumer education on the environmental and quality benefits of purchasing frozen seafood, as well as to expand markets for and access to locally-caught seafood. ALFA has been working to study and change American attitudes towards frozen seafood since the 2009 launch of its Community Supported Fishery (CSF) program, Alaskans Own. Alaskans Own provides high quality, frozen seafood to customers in Alaska and the Lower 48.

“Many Alaskans are used to putting up seafood for the winter in their own freezers, and understand the high quality of carefully handled flash-frozen fish,” said Linda Behnken, Executive Director of ALFA.“However, many Americans hold onto the stereotype that fresh is always better than frozen when it comes to seafood. We have been working to show consumers why choosing frozen can be a better choice for quality — and for the environment.”

According to Ecotrust, a conservation organization based in Portland, “23 percent of seafood at supermarkets never makes it the dinner plate and goes to waste.” Frozen seafood often has increased quality and freshness, can reduce waste, and has a lower carbon footprint.

ALFA and community-based fishing partners at Port Orford Seafood and Real Good Fish worked with Ecotrust, Oregon State University, Seafood Analytics, and the Oregon Food Innovation Lab to compare consumer reactions to seafood in a blind taste test. The study allowed consumers to compare “frozen” and “fresh” seafood. The study utilized a new device, created by Seafood Analytics, that uses an electric current to measures freshness.

The results, according to Ecotrust, were telling; “not only did consumers prefer the frozen fish, but the flash-frozen products also rated higher in quality and freshness, as measured by the CQR (Certified Quality Reader).”

With these results in hand and support from USDA, ALFA will create a multi-media toolkit to help seafood producers, processors, and sellers share information on the advantages of flash frozen seafood, helping to establish or diversify their businesses. It will also provide training to producers and fishermen on using the CQR tool to develop quality assurance programs. ALFA will also work with partners at the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust launch a market-place portal where users can find and purchase local seafood and other sustainably-sourced goods.

The other Alaska grant, to Cook Inletkeeper, will help relaunch the Alaska Farmers Market Association, which was dormant for several years until this spring. The Sitka Local Foods Network submitted a letter of support for this grant proposal, which will provide some support to the Sitka Farmers Market.

“It’s an amazing step forward for local food programs in Alaska,” said Robbi Mixon, Local Foods Director at Cook Inletkeeper and Director of the Homer Farmers Market. “These new funds will be focused on market and producer sustainability, helping markets throughout the state assist participating producers, as well as the markets’ outreach to consumers.”

The project will recreate the Alaska Farmers Market Association, a statewide collaboration, with a targeting pilot effort across the Kenai Peninsula, will identify farmers’ market producer needs and provide specific trainings and support for those networks. The Alaska Farmers Market Association will also provide funding for market manager and farmer trainings, annual statewide conferences, and shared marketing, while collecting baseline data on a number of market metrics.

“Increasing food security and reducing food miles are vitally important to the sustained well-being of our communities around the state,” Mixon said. Mixon also manages the Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage Food Hub, a program of Cook Inletkeeper that provides an online market for 100 percent local foods and crafts. Mixon said, “95 percent of Alaska’s food is currently imported. Purchasing local food supports farms, increases our region’s food security, protects the environment, creates jobs and boosts the local economy.”

Since its creation in 2002, FMPP funding has assisted local producers to grow their businesses by helping them connect directly with the shoppers at farmers markets, roadside stands and through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. During that time, the number of farmers markets in America has more than doubled from 3,137 to over 8,684 today. FMPP grantees report an average 27 percent increase in vendor sales since receiving their grant, and 94 percent report an increase in first-time market customers.