The Sitka Local Foods Network is kicking off its 12th season of markets from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 6, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall (235 Katlian Street). We rebuilt some of the vitality of the market over the last couple of years, and now we’re hoping to build on that momentum.
“We learned a lot over the past couple of years, and we hope we’ve been able to move on from our mistakes and make the markets better,” said Sitka Local Foods Network president Charles Bingham, who is assisting Sitka Farmers Market manager Nina Vizcarrondo for the third year.
“We regained a lot of the vendors we lost in 2016, and that brought back a lot of the community-gathering-place feel to the market. We still want to see more local food producers at the market, but we know now we need to develop those outside the market, which is one reason we launched the Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest in 2018. We want the market to be a great way to connect with neighbors and support local entrepreneurs.”
New this year is the Bicycle Benefits program, where people who ride their bikes to the market and show their Bicycle Benefits helmet stickers can get 20 percent off produce at the Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand at the Sitka Farmers Market. The Sitka Local Foods Network also has applied for a Certified Naturally Grown status for St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden, where most of the produce sold at the SLFN farm stand is grown.
Other new innovations started in 2017 included a kids vendor program for youth ages 12 and younger, and new Alaska Grown food products for sale at the Sitka Local Foods Network’s farm stand. Both are continuing in 2019. In addition to freshly grown produce from the St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden, there will be Alaska Flour Company barley products from Delta Junction, Evie’s Brinery fermented foods from Anchorage, Barnacle Foods kelp salsa and kelp pickles from Juneau, Bridge Creek Birch Syrup from Homer, and Chugach Chocolates from Girdwood.
We also have fish vendors back this season. There still is a focus on local and Alaska food products, with the Alaska Grown products being a way to inspire Sitka food entrepreneurs to try making new food items locally. The more local products we have, the more the money circulates in Sitka’s economy.
“Come support your community at our farmers markets,” Vizcarrondo said. “By working toward Sitka’s food sovereignty, shopping local reduces our food miles. Food doesn’t get any fresher than this.”
The first Sitka Farmers Market of the season takes place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 6, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall (235 Katlian St.). The other markets this summer take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, July 27, Aug. 10, Aug. 17, Aug. 31, Sept. 7, and Sept. 21, at ANB Founders Hall. The markets feature a variety of locally grown produce, seafood, cottage foods, a hot lunch, locally made arts and crafts, live music and fun.
The Sitka Farmers Market was the first market in Southeast Alaska to accept Alaska Quest (SNAP) electronic benefits transfers (EBT) and WIC farmers market coupons. We have a matching program where SNAP and WIC clients can double up to $20 of their benefits in local produce. We are the only farmers market in the state authorized to match WIC farmers market coupons. The past two years we received grants from the Sitka White Elephant Shop (the White E) to help with the matching program.
“In recent years we’ve been proud to welcome Alaska Quest EBT and WIC shoppers at the market, and the last two years the White E has helped us match those produce benefits,” Bingham said. “It is so important to make sure local food is accessible to everyone, not just the wealthy.”
The April 2008 Sitka Health Summit planted the seeds for the Sitka Farmers Market, as Sitka residents chose starting a local foods market as one of their community wellness initiatives for the year. About the same time, St. Peter’s By The Sea Episcopal Church was looking for a way to put some recently cleared land behind the church’s See House into use for a community project. St. Peter’s offered to lease the land to the group that became the Sitka Local Foods Network for $1 a year, and in May 2008 a group of Sitka residents built raised garden beds and planted a variety of crops. Later that summer, there was enough produce grown at St. Peter’s to supply our first three Sitka Farmers Markets starting in August 2008.
There were five markets in 2009, followed by six markets each year from 2010-15 and now seven markets since 2016. Led by lead gardener Laura Schmidt, the production of local produce at St. Peter’s has grown each year, and there now are satellite gardens, such as one on land owned by Pat Arvin. Most of the food grown at St. Peter’s and the satellite gardens is sold at the Sitka Farmers Market, but there has been enough for the Sitka Local Foods Network to also have a table when Chelan Produce is in town and to sell to local school lunch programs and restaurants. The money raised helps support the Sitka Local Foods Network, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, in its mission “to increase the amount of locally produced and harvested food in the diets of Southeast Alaskans.”
To learn more about the Sitka Farmers Market and how you can become a vendor or volunteer, contact Nina Vizcarrondo at (907) 738-9301 or Charles Bingham at 623-7660, or email us firstname.lastname@example.org. The Sitka Local Foods Network website, http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org/, has more info on the markets and links to vendor rules and registration forms. In addition to vendors, we always need volunteers to help us set up and take down the market and to sell food at the SLFN farm stand.
The Sitka Local Foods Network receives sponsorship funding from the Alaska Comprehensive Cancer Partnership, the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC), the Sitka White Elephant Shop (the White E), the Sitka True Value, Harry Race Pharmacy, ALPS Federal Credit Union, Sea Mart, Market Center, and a host of individuals.
Also, don’t forget to vote for the Sitka Farmers Market in the 11th annual American Farmland Trust Farmers Market Celebration. The Sitka Farmers Market was the top market from Alaska in 2017 and 2018.