• As you build your garden, don’t forget to plant a row for the hungry

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 that got its start 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. In 2002, the Garden Writers Association Foundation 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 an 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 14 million pounds of food have been donated. 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 (Teaming With Microbes, written with Wayne Lewis)!”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one out of every eight 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 33 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.

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 interview last year 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.

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 Army (note, the current officers are Capts. Kevin and Tina Bottjen), Sitkans 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, where people who are in the WIC (Women, Infants, Children) supplemental food program can use special farmers market vouchers to buy fresh vegetables.

The Sitka Local Foods Network also takes donations of local produce to sell at the Sitka Farmers Markets, and all proceeds from the Sitka Farmers Markets are used to help pay for Sitka Local Foods Network projects geared toward helping more people in Sitka grow and harvest local food. For more information, contact Sitka Farmers Market coordinators Linda Wilson (lawilson87@hotmail.com) or Kerry MacLane (maclanekerry@yahoo.com).

2010 Plant A Row For The Hungry marketing brochure

2009 Start a local Plant A Row For The Hungry campaign brochure

• Wanton waste of deer meat, a record high herring quota and other local foods stories in the news

Over the past couple of weeks, at least 10 Sitka black tail deer corpses have been found in Sitka with lots of edible meat still on the bone but the prime cuts missing. According to the Anchorage Daily News, state wildlife officials are searching for the hunters, and wanton waste charges may be coming for those involved. There were six deer found off Green Lake Road, then four deer were found near Harbor Mountain Road five days later.

The Sitka Local Foods Network encourages the responsible and sustainable harvesting of traditional subsistence foods, such as deer, but we must respect the resource and use the entire animal. Not only is leaving edible meat in the field wasteful, but the last couple of years have been down years for deer survival and the actions of these wasteful hunters may mean fewer hunting opportunities next year for hunters who need the deer to feed their families. Anyone with information about the cases is asked to call Alaska Wildlife Troopers at 747-3254 or, to remain anonymous, Wildlife Safeguard at 1-800-478-3377.

In other local foods news, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game established a record sac roe herring quota for the 2010 season, a quota of more than 18,000 tons (more than 4,000 tons higher than last year’s then-record quota). The commercial herring fleet is very happy with the higher quota, but KCAW-Raven Radio reports local subsistence gatherers worry that the record quota will harm their ability to gather herring eggs on hemlock branches, a popular subsistence and barter food for local Tlingít and Haida residents. They also worry two straight years of record quotas will hurt the resource, since herring also serves as a key forage food for salmon, halibut, whales, sea lions and other species in the region.

The Juneau Empire reported that the State of Alaska asked for an extension to reply to an inquiry on subsistence management from the federal government. The federal government took over some management of subsistence in Alaska more than a decade ago because state laws weren’t in compliance with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), which calls for a rural preference on subsistence in times of shortage, and the federal government may be expanding its role in subsistence management.

The Anchorage Daily News reported on Alaska pork being ready for the freezer at A.D. Farms, and that pork will be sold at the indoor farmers market at Anchorage’s Northway Mall. The story included a wrap-up of other local foods available at the market, and it had a recipe for crock-pot cod.

Laine Welch’s Alaska fishing column was about how more local fish is appearing in school lunch menus.

The Anchorage Daily News Alaska Newsreader feature reported on several Arctic travelers getting trichinosis from eating undercooked bear meat. The National Post of Canada also had a story on travelers eating undercooked bear meat, while the New York Times had an article about how trichinosis is common in bear meat that isn’t cooked properly.

The Anchorage Daily News had an article about how Alaska’s rhubarb probably first came from Russia.

Miller-McCune magazine had an article about how Alaska’s complex salmon politics can serve as a model for sustainable fisheries elsewhere in the world.

The Alaska Public Radio Network reported on a woman from Aniak, Dee Matter, who has taken freezing her food to a new level. The story also was on APRN’s Alaska News Nightly show.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner had a feature article about Kotzebue hunter and trapper Ross Schafer and the “Eskimo” way of life.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner had an article about a conflict between farmers and hunters over the future of the Delta bison herd.

The Juneau Empire ran a story about glaciers providing an important food source.

Anchorage Daily News garden columnist Jeff Lowenfels wrote about magazine gifts for gardeners.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran an Associated Press article about Monsanto’s role in the business of agriculture, especially the way it squeezes out competitors in the seed industry.

Finally, the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences blog featured an article about a new study about food security challenges in Alaska.

• Sitka film featured in Palmer’s “Local Harvest, Local Food” film festival, a Sitka café featured for using local food and other local foods news

Food Film Fest Poster-2

Join the Palmer Arts Council for its inaugural “Local Harvest, Local Food” film fest from Thursday, Nov. 19, through Sunday, Nov. 22, at the Strangebird Consulting Office in downtown Palmer. “Good Food” screens at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 19; “Fresh” shows at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 20; “Eating Alaska” by Sitka filmmaker Ellen Frankenstein screens at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 21; and “Ingredients” shows at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 22. After the Sunday showing there will be a discussion about women in agriculture with Cynthia Vignetti. Suggested donations are $10-15 for all films except for Sunday, which is free.

A Sitka restaurant, the Larkspur Café, was featured in Capital City Weekly last week. The article talks about the origins of the restaurant, which is located in the same building as KCAW-Raven Radio. It also discusses the restaurant’s use of local foods, including owners Amelia Budd and Amy Kane purchasing produce from the Sitka Farmers Market during the summer.

In other local foods news from around the state, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently announced an expansion to the state’s subsistence halibut fishery to include more rural residents (this includes the Sitka area). The new rules, which take effect on Dec. 4, redefine who qualifies as a rural resident. The previous rules defined rural residents as people living in a rural community or people belonging to a Native tribe with customary and traditional uses of halibut, and the news rules try to catch subsistence halibut users who fell outside the previous definition. Click this link for more information about subsistence halibut regulations and applications.

The Daily Sitka Sentinel has been running a brief announcement from the Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s Kayaaní Commission, which is selling 2010 calendars, CDRoms and field guides about traditional uses of native plants. Here is the information:

Kayaaní Native Plant Publications Available: 2010 Kayaaní Harvest Calendars featuring native plants and their traditional and cultural uses ($16, $2 postage per address); Interactive Ethnobotanical CDRoms with native species, their Tlingít, scientific and common names, and interviews with Elders on the traditional and medicinal uses of plants ($15, $1 postage per address); Ethnobotanical Field Guides ($16, $1 postage per address). We will mail to the addresses of your choice. Order by Dec. 18 for guaranteed delivery before Christmas. Call or e-mail with your order: 907-747-7178, pbass@sitkatribe.org, STA Kayaaní Commission, 456 Katlian. All proceeds will assist the nonprofit Kayaaní Commission in protecting, perpetuating and preserving knowledge of native plants.

The Chilkat Valley News weekly newspaper from Haines featured an article about sixth-graders at Haines School learning how to compost their leftover food (including leftover meat) so it can be used for gardening. The school is working with the Takshanuk Watershed Council to teach the students about composting. The students call their compost project “Marvin” because it’s a living organism.

The Alaska Dispatch recently ran a feature called “Growing Season” that discusses some of the farms in the Matanuska-Susitna valleys that grow local food. The feature includes video clips of harvest time at a couple of the farms featured.

The Mat-Su Frontiersman had a feature called “Chicken U,” which is about raising chickens in Alaska and getting them to produce eggs during the winter months.

The Anchorage Daily News also mentioned Chicken University, which will be one of several presentations at the Alaska Farm Bureau annual meeting on Friday, Nov. 13, at the Millennium Hotel in Anchorage. Other presentations are on growing apples in Alaska and preserving your harvest.

The Anchorage Daily News also had an article about how to get local produce in Anchorage during the winter, either through the Glacier Valley CSA produce boxes from Palmer or the indoor farmers market at the Northway Mall.

Anchorage Daily News garden columnist Jeff Lowenfels wrote a column about how hydroponic gardening is easier and cheaper than ever. The column includes lots of links for people who want to try this method of growing food without soil (by the way, there is a hydroponic garden at McMurdo Station in Antarctica that keeps the scientists there stocked in fresh produce in a land of ice).

Fran Durner’s “Talk Dirt To Me” blog on the Anchorage Daily News site includes a post about how snow can act as mulch for the garden.

The Ester Republic, a monthly publication for the community near Fairbanks, runs periodic articles about sustainability and local food security issues. Some of the articles are linked in the archives, and the editors are working to get more of the past articles on these topics online so more people can enjoy them.

KayaaniCommissionCalendarFront´

• Sitka Local Foods Network gets mentions in Juneau Empire, Daily Sitka Sentinel, Capital City Weekly and on APRN’s Talk of Alaska show

The Sunday edition of the Juneau Empire and Monday edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel (Page 4) both featured a press release about a Sitka Local Foods Network-hosted presentation about “Growing in Sitka and Southeast Alaska: The Food of Today, Tomorrow and 200 Years Ago” that takes place at 5 p.m. this Friday, Oct. 16, at the Kettleson Memorial Library. The presentation is by UAS anthropology student Elizabeth Kunibe of Juneau, who has spent the last six years researching traditional gardens in Southeast Alaska. The presentation also received a write-up in this week’s issue of Capital City Weekly that came out on Wednesday.

Monday’s issue of the Daily Sitka Sentinel also featured a press release about a put-the-garden-to-bed work party the Sitka Local Foods network is hosting from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 17, at the St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm.

On Tuesday, the Alaska Public Radio Network’s statewide call-in show “Talk of Alaska” was about food security and during the show the work of the Sitka Local Foods Network was mentioned. The Talk of Alaska topic on food security was a preview of the Bioneers In Alaska conference this weekend (Oct. 16-18) in Anchorage where food security will be one of the topics. Kerry MacLane, president of the Sitka Local Foods Network, is supposed to travel to Anchorage to participate in the conference.

In addition to the Sitka Local Foods Network mentions, there has been a lot of other local foods news around Alaska this week.

In Sunday’s Juneau Empire, Ginny Mahar (a chef at Rainbow Foods) wrote a column featuring a mac and cheese recipe with king crab. Ginny also writes the Food-G blog, which features a lot of local foods recipes for Southeast Alaska.

Also in Sunday’s Juneau Empire was an article about the Alaska Native Brotherhood/Alaska Native Sisterhood Grand Camp meeting in Juneau and discussion about subsistence fishing rights following the recent arrest of Sen. Albert Kookesh.

In this week’s Capital City Weekly, there is an article from Carla Peterson about the chocolate lily and how to prepare this edible plant for food.

In the Alaska Newsreader blog Wednesday on the Anchorage Daily News Web site was a link to a feature from TheDailyGreen.com, which listed Anchorage ninth among U.S. cities in per capita space given to community gardens. The list (opens as PDF document) was compiled by the Trust for Public Land, and it had a distinct Northwest feel with Seattle ranked No. 1 and Portland, Ore., was No. 2. Click here to learn more about Anchorage’s community gardens program.

In his Anchorage Daily News garden column last week, Jeff Lowenfels wrote about planting garlic now for spring flowers and an August crop.

The Mat-Su Frontiersman recently ran an article about a sustainability project at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Mat-Su College where students were gathering organic spuds.

Finally, while this isn’t about Alaska, you might want to read an article about efforts to preserve our biodiversity so we don’t lose more food plant varieties and why these efforts are important.

• Alaska Local Food Film Festival featured on Alaska Public Radio Network and other local food news

AlaskaLocalFoodFilmFestivalPoster

The Alaska Public Radio Network’s Alaska News Nightly show on Friday night had a feature story about the inaugural Alaska Local Food Film Festival that runs Oct. 2-8 at Anchorage’s Beartooth Theatrepub and Grill. The story included discussion about the movie “Eating Alaska” by Sitka filmmaker Ellen Frankenstein, which will be shown on Sunday and feature a post-movie discussion with Ellen. The feature story link has streaming audio. Here’s a link to more information about the film festival.

Earlier this week, former Fairbanks Daily News-Miner editor Sam Bishop wrote an article about hunting and gathering in the season of the moose hunt. While centered on a September moose hunt Sam took with his parents, the story discusses the role of local foods and how people make their food choices.

Also in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner this week was a letter to the editor from Barry Brown about how to properly take care of the meat after a successful hunt.

Anchorage Daily News garden columnist Jeff Lowenfels writes a column about getting the garden ready for a long winter’s nap.

Finally, an article from a paper in Ontario, Canada — the Peterborough Examiner — about “Yes, they garden in Alaska.” The article is by Joan Harding, a master gardener for Peterborough Gardens, who took a trip through Southeast Alaska where she visited gardens along the way.

• Baranof Elementary students dig up potatoes and other local food stories in the news

Daily Sitka Sentinel screenshot of Baranof Elementary School student picking potatoes

Daily Sitka Sentinel screenshot of Baranof Elementary School student picking potatoes

Monday’s edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel features a photo of Baranof Elementary School first-grader Keaton Kelling, 7, holding up a couple of potatoes he dug up from the Russian Bishop’s House garden on Thursday. First-grade students from Baranof Elementary harvested crops of peas, potatoes, carrots and other vegetables they planted last spring when they were kindergarten students. Most crops did well this year. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Monday's picking potatoes photo from the Daily Sitka Sentinel

Monday's picking potatoes photo from the Daily Sitka Sentinel

There were several other local food stories in Alaska newspapers over the weekend. Here’s a quick rundown.

Click here to read a story from Sunday’s Juneau Empire that features an Alaskanized version of a recipe for “salmon maritako,” a stew made by Spanish fishermen. The article is by Ginny Mahar, a chef at Rainbow Foods who also writes the Food-G blog. Many of the recipes Ginny posts on her blog include local, Southeast Alaska ingredients.

Click here to read an article from Sunday’s Fairbanks Daily News-Miner about a University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service project at the Fairbanks Experimental Farm where they are using high-tunnel greenhouses to grow more apples and berries in northern climates. Click here to go directly to the UAF Cooperative Extension Service project page.

Click here to read Wednesday’s Anchorage Daily News gardening column by Jeff Lowenfels about now being the time to prepare plants for winter. Most of the column deals with flowers, but he does have some info about preparing tomato plants for the winter at the end of the column.

Click here to read an Associated Press story posted on the Anchorage Daily News Web site on Monday about how hoop houses (a low-cost type of greenhouse that uses plastic on a frame) are extending the growing season for urban farmers in northern climates. The version of the story on the ADN site didn’t have any photos of the hoop houses, so click here to see a version with photos.

Click here to read a transcript from National Public Radio of a story about two Walmart truckers who drive 2,600 miles one way from an Oregon warehouse to Alaska each week to deliver produce to Alaska stores. That’s a long way to transport a piece of lettuce or a carrot we can grow in Alaska, and that distance doesn’t include how far the produce had to travel to get to the Oregon warehouse before being trucked to Alaska. The story originated from the Alaska Public Radio Network, which has the story in streaming audio on its site.

Finally, click here for a humorous column from the July 2009 Field and Stream by Scott Bestul comparing the taste of Grade A Choice Holstein beef vs. wild venison when both are prepared the same way. This isn’t really a local story, but deer hunting season is coming soon in Southeast Alaska.

• Alaskans love their giant vegetables and other stories in the news

This is the time of year when Alaska has two state fairs in progress — in Palmer and in Fairbanks — and it’s also the time of year when people bring out the record-setting vegetables they’ve grown. This year is no exception, and there are several stories in the news about huge veggies grown in Alaska.

Click here to read an Anchorage Daily News story about the record-setting 125.9-pound cabbage grown by Steve Hubacek of Wasilla. This cabbage not only broke the Alaska state record, but also qualified for entry in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Click here to see an Anchorage Daily News video of the great pumpkin weigh-off between Dale Marshall of Anchorage and current state record-holder J.D. Megchelsen of Nikiski. Marshall’s winning pumpkin weighed 594 pounds.

Click here to read an article from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner about monster vegetables entered in the Alaska Feed Co. vegetable contest at the Tanana Valley State Fair in Fairbanks.

Click here to read Anchorage Daily News photographer Fran Durner’s “Talk Dirt To Me” blog entry about colorful Alaska State Fair flowers.

Click here to read an article about invasive weeds by Anchorage Daily News garden columnist Jeff Lowenfels.

Click here to see a Capital City Weekly photo package from the second annual Juneau Farmers Market and Local Food Festival held last Saturday. Click here to see a larger photo gallery posted on the Capital City Weekly online site.

Click here to read a letter to the editor in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner about Alaska’s bountiful harvest of berries this summer.

• Two garden columns of interest in the Anchorage Daily News

Thursday’s issue of the Anchorage Daily News featured two garden columns of interest for people interested in local foods in Sitka. While written for the Anchorage audience, a lot of the information can be used here in Sitka.

Click here to read the garden column by Jeff Lowenfels, which discusses the importance of making a photo record of your garden so you can plan for future years. Lowenfels is a member of the Garden Writers Association Hall of Fame.

Click here to read Anchorage Daily News photographer Fran Durner’s “Talk Dirt To Me” blog post about a family in Clam Gulch (on the south end of the Kenai Peninsula) that lives off the grid but still has three greenhouses full of heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, peppers and other vegetables. There are lots of great photos guaranteed to make you hungry.

• Gardening column reminds us time to harvest food is now

Anchorage Daily News garden columnist Jeff Lowenfels, a member of the Garden Writers Association Hall of Fame, in his column on Wednesday reminded us that the time to begin harvesting our vegetable gardens starts now. We don’t want to let any food go to waste on the ground. If we don’t want the food, there are others who do.

In his column, Lowenfels tells us which plants to harvest and how to do it, with special tips for broccoli, Kohlrabi, cauliflower, carrots and others. While geared toward the Anchorage audience, the column is worth a read for Sitka gardeners.

On a side note, Lowenfels is the garden columnist who first suggested the “Plant a Row for the Hungry” campaign, which encourages gardeners to plant an extra row or two of food that will be donated to local homeless shelters or food banks. He raised the idea in his column as a way to help out Bean’s Cafe, an Anchorage soup kitchen, and the Garden Writers Association liked the idea so well that they made it a national effort.

Click here to read the Anchorage Daily News gardening column by Jeff Lowenfels about the time to harvest is now

Click here to learn about the Garden Writers Association’s “Plant a Row for the Hungry” campaign