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

The Sitka Farmers Market ranked as the top market in Alaska, 25th in the Pacific region and 104th nationally during the American Farmland Trust‘s Farmers Market Celebration voting that ended earlier this week. This was the 12th year of the contest.

This is the fourth straight year the Sitka Farmers Market has been the top market in Alaska, and sixth time in seven 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.

“This year, with COVID-19, we had to greatly scale back the market and make significant changes, such as stripping down to just produce vendors, using an online ordering system during the week followed by Saturday morning pick-up events at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm,” said Charles Bingham, board president of the Sitka Local Foods Network, which sponsors the Sitka Farmers Market. “Our main goal was to safely distribute locally grown produce without spreading the coronavirus. I’m glad we were able to do that.”

Sitka Farmers Market co-managers Nalani James, left, and Ariane Goudeau carry a farmers market sign to the curb in front of St. Peter’s By The Sea Episcopal Church.

This year the People’s Choice Award (the only national award) went to the Clarksville Downtown Farmers Market in Clarksville, Tenn., earning the market a $1,000 prize. Second place and $500 went to the Charlottesville City (Va.) Market, while third place and $250 went to the Boise (Idaho) Farmers Market. Rounding out the top-five markets in the standings were the 3rd Street Farmers Market in Tompkinsville, Ky., in fourth place, and the Napa (Calif.) Farmers Market in fifth place. Last year’s People’s Choice Award went to the Troy (N.Y.) Waterfront Farmers Market, which finished seventh nationally this summer.

The top market in the Pacific region was the Boise (Idaho) Farmers Market; followed by the Napa (Calif.) Farmers Market in second place; the Moscow (Idaho) Farmers Market in third place; the Vancouver (Wash.) Farmers Market in fourth place; and the Kaka’ako Farmers Market of Honolulu, Hawai’i in fifth place (last year’s Pacific region winner).

The other regional winners included the Tuscarawas Valley Farmers Market of Dover, Ohio, in the Midwest; the Ligonier (Penn.) Country Market in the Northeast; the Clarksville (Tenn.) Downtown Farmers Market in the Southeast; and the Grand Prairie (Texas) Farmers Market in the Southwest.

St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm lead gardener Laura Schmidt, left, and Sitka Farmers Market co-managers Ariane Goudeau, center, and Nalani James with baskets of produce ready for pick-up.

There wasn’t a list of Alaska standings posted, but checking individual market pages showed the Sitka Farmers Market in first place for the state, the South Anchorage I Farmers Market in second place, and the Homer Farmers Market in third place.

“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,” Bingham said. “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 for the second year this summer.

Andrea Fraga of Middle Island Gardens, left, and Brooke Schafer of Raincoast Flowers with some of their products.

This year the last Sitka Farmers Market order period was Sept. 15-17 and last pick-up day was Sept. 19. Due to COVID-19, the 26th annual Running of the Boots fun run fundraiser won’t take place in late September (we usually had a farm stand at that event, which raised money for the Sitka Local Foods Network and Youth Advocates of Sitka last year).

The Sitka Local Foods Network hopes to be able to return to a full market, or a hybrid with some pre-orders and some market-day sales, next year.

“We really missed having all of the booths this year, and the feel of a real community gathering instead of just a quick pick-up of your order,” Bingham said. “One of the nice things about hosting the market is it serves as a business incubator for smaller cottage foods and arts/crafts businesses, and those folks lost a market this summer.”

Voting open in 12th annual American Farmland Trust Farmers Market Celebration

The voting period for the 12th annual American Farmland Trust Farmers Market Celebration is open and people can go online and support their favorite farmers markets through Sept. 20. This year, the top farmers market wins $1,000, with second place receiving $500.

Last year, the Sitka Farmers Market was the top market in Alaska and finished ninth in the Pacific region. The Sitka Farmers Market has been the top vote-getter in Alaska for the past three years, and five of the past six year. 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 on June 22 this year.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are several major changes to the Sitka Farmers Markets this year. We have a greatly scaled back market with two new co-managers (Ariane Goudeau and Nalani James), a switch to an online ordering system, a new pick-up event location, and new health and safety protocols to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Click this link to hear a KCAW Morning Interview with Sitka Local Foods Network president Charles Bingham discussing the changes.

Basically, this year people create Sitka accounts using the Salt and Soil Marketplace online portal, http://www.saltandsoilmarketplace.com, and order their produce from 5 p.m. on Tuesday through 8 p.m. on Thursday each week from July through September. We will have a weekly pick-up event (with Middle Island Gardens) from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm (behind St. Peter’s By The Sea Episcopal Church, 611 Lincoln Street). All of our sales this year will be done online, and no sales will happen at the pick-up events on Saturday. In addition, all of our volunteers will be wearing masks and gloves and we ask you to wear masks and stay with your cars when you arrive at the pick-up event while one of our greeters brings you your order.

Click this link to learn more about some of the changes this year, and click this link to see some photos from our June 20 pick-up event. Click this link to sign up for our weekly Sitka Farmers Market newsletter that comes out on Tuesday afternoons and lets people know what’s available each week.

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.

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.