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 Local Foods Network prepares for 13th year of Sitka Farmers Markets

It’s the 13th season of the Sitka Farmers Market, and already it may seemed jinxed with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Sitka Local Foods Network will host another season of markets this summer, but due to the outbreak, special state regulations for the outbreak, new health and safety rules, and a need to get produce to people for food security there will be several changes to the markets this year. This article will attempt to detail some of those changes, so customers can navigate the new system.

The produce sold by the Sitka Local Foods Network at the Sitka Farmers Market is grown at the St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden. We have a new high tunnel this year, and our produce has a Certified Naturally Grown designation.

Probably the biggest thing people will notice is this year it’s not a full market. State COVID-19 rules are limiting our vendors (no arts and crafts) this summer, plus we don’t have the same amount of space for other vendors since our usual location of the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall wasn’t open when we had to plan.

That means we will host a greatly scaled back market this season. We will use an online ordering portal, we will have new health and safety rules, and we will meet at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm (located behind St. Peter’s By The Sea Episcopal Church, 611 Lincoln St.). This is where our lead gardener, Laura Schmidt, has been growing our market produce for the past decade. We also have two new market co-managers in Ariane Goudeau and Nalani James, since we lost our previous manager, Nina Vizcarrondo, to Coast Guard relocation.

“We are disappointed we won’t be able to host a full market this year,” Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham said. “We really enjoy the feeling of community we get when we have all of the vendors, and it’s great seeing their interactions with customers. Being a business incubator was one reason for hosting the market. But our main reason for hosting the market is getting fresh, locally grown produce to Sitka residents, so we wanted to continue doing that. We had to simplify a lot this year, and we ask people to please bear with us as we adjust to the changes.”

This year, the markets will only feature our two regular produce vendors — the Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand and Middle Island Gardens. Both of us will be selling our produce using the Salt and Soil Marketplace website, http://www.saltandsoilmarketplace.com, so we can minimize our handling of cash and checks. Our online ordering period will be from 5 p.m. on Tuesday through 8 p.m. on Thursday, with our produce delivery from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm.

One good change this year is we plan 14 market pick-up days this summer, which is twice our usual seven markets a summer. We will host a soft opening on Saturday, June 20, with limited produce availability (this is our earliest opening ever). Then we plan pick-up days on every Saturday in July (4, 11, 18, 25), August (1, 8, 15, 22, 29), and September (5, 12, 19, 26). We are launching a weekly Sitka Farmers Market newsletter that will be sent out on Tuesday afternoons and will list what’s available that week and remind people about how to order. Click the link in the right column on our website to sign up for the newsletter.

In order to order produce using the Salt And Soil Marketplace, customers will need to create a free Sitka-based account on the website. The website may mention a fee, but there is no fee for Sitka this year. Make sure you are logged into your account when you order, and click the Confirm button after you have finished your order so it registers in the system. Not clicking Confirm is a common mistake for new customers. If you need help using the online ordering system, call Ariane at 738-5015 and she can provide assistance.

A sampling of the produce that might be in an early season small box of produce for $20 this summer.

This year, the Sitka Local Foods Network is selling pre-selected farmer’s choice produce baskets with a variety of seasonal produce. Our first markets will feature our small baskets for $20 (about $25 worth of produce), and later, about mid-July, we will add our large baskets for $40. The small baskets typically will contain 4-5 varieties of produce, and early in the season that might be lettuce or salad mix, a second green such as kale or chard, rhubarb, and either onions, garlic, etc. The large baskets will include 2-3 additional varieties of produce when they become available.

We occasionally will have special items available when we have an abundance. For example, for the first week (June 20 delivery) we plan to have 10 small farmer’s choice produce baskets available for $20 and 10 special rhubarb baskets available for $20. There will be a limited number of salad bags with washed lettuce and flowers ($7), baggies of basil ($4) and bunches of broccoli raab ($4).

We also have about 30 of our 2019 Sitka Farmers Market tote bags available at $10 each, and we will have our 2020 Sitka Local Foods Network tote bags featuring our new logo available for $12 each when they arrive in Sitka. Because of our need to simplify the market, we will not be selling our usual Alaska Grown value-added products this summer.

We have about 30 of our 2019 Sitka Farmers Market tote bags available for $10 each until they run out.

Another change we’re having to make this year is how we handle WIC and SNAP clients. Current Alaska WIC and SNAP rules don’t allow for online sales, so we’ve been working with state officials to try and find a way to still provide produce to WIC and SNAP clients this year. In past years, we have accepted WIC farmers market coupons and Alaska Quest SNAP electronic benefits transfers at our SLFN farm stand. We also have matched up to $20 in benefits through a grant from the White E for produce bought from the SLFN farm stand. There is a limit of one small basket of produce per family per week for WIC/SNAP benefits.

“Finding a way to get fresh, local produce into the hands of WIC and SNAP clients has been our biggest challenge this year,” Bingham said. “We have several people on our board who have been WIC and/or SNAP clients, so we know how important it is for our lower-income residents to have access to this produce. That’s one reason we pursued grants and are willing to dig into our own general fund to help pay for this service.”

Early on, the Sitka Local Foods Network thought it would have to provide the produce using our general fund, since we wouldn’t be able to get the state reimbursement. But there have been some recent changes to make it easier. The Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand now will be able to accept WIC farmers market coupons and a match. We are able to do this because of the White E grant, and two new COVID-19 grants from the Sitka Legacy Fund and The Alaska Community Foundation.

This summer we will provide one small $20 basket of produce for one $5 WIC coupon. For SNAP clients, we will need to run their Alaska Quest EBT cards for $5 for one small basket of produce. Note, we only accept the Alaska cards, not those from other states, and the client has to have their WIC coupon or SNAP card with them when they pick up their produce on Saturday. Due to limited produce availability on June 20, we will start working with WIC/SNAP clients for our July 4 pick-up day and those following.

Since we can’t run these benefits using the Salt and Soil Marketplace, WIC and SNAP clients will need to call our Sitka Farmers Market phone at 738-7310 or email us at sitkafarmersmarket@gmail.com to place your order. We then will reserve your basket, which you will pick up on Saturday and pay for with your WIC/SNAP benefits.

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, there will be several health and safety changes this summer.

“In order to host the market, we need to make sure we protect the health and safety of our volunteers and customers,” Bingham said. “Some of these rules are mandated by the state, and others are good common sense to protect against the spread of the coronavirus. These practices include masks and gloves, having a hand-washing station, and social-distancing, which all have been proven to be effective in reducing the spread.”

All volunteers will be wearing masks and gloves, and we ask customers to also wear masks. When they arrive at the parking lot, please park your car, turn off your engine and wait in the car. A greeter will meet you and get your name, then will bring your basket to you. Then you can open your door and put the produce in your own tote bag or box you brought from home (or purchased from us). Then place your basket at the front of your parking spot and slowly drive away.

If you are riding your bike or walking to pick up your produce, you will be pointed to a taped mark on the pavement to stand while we get your order. Please wait there until we bring it to you, then put it in your own tote or box. Due to the online ordering system, we will not be able to offer the Bicycle Benefits discount this year. We ask people who feel sick or have a fever to stay home and ask a family member or friend to pick up their orders, so we reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

We thank Sitka for its support, and look forward to seeing you briefly each Saturday this summer. For more details about the markets and changes, please contact Charles Bingham at 623-7660 or sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com.