Sitka Kitch to host online class on starting a cottage foods business

Learn what the basics of starting and running a cottage foods business as Sarah Lewis teaches students how to Start a Cottage Foods Business from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 15, via Zoom.

This class is a fundraiser for the Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen, and also is designed to help vendors prepare for the upcoming Sitka Farmers Markets hosted by the Sitka Local Foods Network.

Sarah Lewis — the home, health and family development agent for the Juneau office of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service — will teach this class by videoconference from Juneau. Students will learn about state laws regarding home food businesses, and get ideas for businesses you might take to the Sitka Farmers Market or local trade shows. The first hour will be spent discussing rules and regulations, and the second part of the class will be for questions and answers.

The class fee is $10, and the funds go to the Sitka Kitch. Class space is limited, so register early. The registration deadline for this class is 11 p.m. on Monday, June 13. The Sitka Local Foods Network is offering students of this class half off their Sitka Farmers Market vendor fee for the first market of the season where they host a table. Representatives from the Sitka Local Foods Network/Sitka Farmers Market and (hopefully) the Sitka food safety office of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation are planning to attend so they can answer any questions potential cottage foods business owners may have.

Register online at https://sitkakitch.eventsmart.com/ (click on class title) and pre-pay using credit/debit cards or PayPal. To pre-pay by cash or check, contact Kylee Jones of the Sitka Conservation Society at 907-747-7509 or info@sitkawild.org to arrange payment. For more information about the class, contact Jasmine Shaw at the UAF Cooperative Extension Service Sitka District Office at 907-747-9440.

The Sitka Kitch is supported in partnership by Sitka Conservation Society with UAF Cooperative Extension Service. These classes are fundraisers for the Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen.

UAF Cooperative Extension Service offers Certified Food Protection Manager class by videoconference May 9-10 in Sitka

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service will teach a certified food protection manager workshop on Monday and Tuesday, May 9-10. This is a two-day statewide class that will be offered by videoconferencing to Fairbanks, Palmer, Juneau, and Sitka, plus other locations that may arrange for the class.

A certified food protection manager (CFPM) is responsible for monitoring and managing all food establishment operations to ensure that the facility is operating in compliance with food establishment regulations.

A CFPM is knowledgeable about food safety practices and uses this knowledge to provide consumers with safe food, protect public health and prevent food-borne illnesses. Alaska regulations require food establishments to have at least one CFPM on staff.

This course takes place from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and participants will take a proctored computer-based exam at the end of the second day of class. The reason the registration deadline is two weeks before the class is to guarantee course materials reach all the students in time. The cost is $200, and the course will be taught by Julie Cascio of Palmer. Students can register here, and the registration deadline is Monday, April 25 (note, if anybody in Sitka wants to take the class and it’s past the deadline, contact Jasmine Shaw at the number below).

The Sitka videoconference for the class will take place in a room TBA at the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus. To learn more, contact Jasmine Shaw at the Sitka District Office of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service at 747-9440, or contact Julie Cascio at (907) 745-3677 (Palmer number) or jmcascio@alaska.edu. Note, this class is taught in English but textbooks are available in Korean, Chinese and Spanish, just contact Julie at least three weeks before the class.

Also, the ServSafe book ($70) and certification exam ($85) now are available online, if people want to order the book and study independently without taking the class. Just go to this website and purchase the book and exam items.

Alaska Farmers Markets Association to host free virtual summit on April 8

HOMER, Alaska (March 29, 2022) — The Alaska Farmers Markets Association will host its 2022 virtual summit from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, April 8. The theme is “Gather and Grow.” This event is free, but pre-registration is required.

“Whether you have run a market for 10 years or are just in the planning stages, the Alaska Farmers Markets Association is open to anyone interested in learning more about Alaska’s farmers markets, CSAs (community supported agriculture programs), farm stands, and food hubs,” said AFMA director Robbi Mixon, who recently was named to the board of directors for the national Farmers Market Coalition. “Grow your network and learn from market managers, farmers, government officials, and more.”

The keynote speakers this year are Mat-Su Health Foundation President/CEO Elizabeth A. Ripley and Dr. Gail Meyers, co-founder of Farms to Grow, Inc. Other presentations and discussion panels will be on how to keep farmers markets safe and the public healthy, why a census of agriculture matters for food security in Alaska, National Farmers Market Week (Aug. 7-13) events, a lunch-and-learn on ranked-choice voting, farmers market evaluation and data collection, food access programs, and more.

Conference sponsors include Cook Inletkeeper, the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service, and MarketLink (a program of the National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition). The Farmers Market Coalition will assist with some presentations and discussion panels. Funding for the summit was provided by a 2021-24 Farmers Market Promotion Program grant from the USDA.

To learn more about the conference and to register, go to https://www.alaskafarmersmarkets.org/2022-alaska-farmers-market-summit-april-8th/. For more information, contact Alaska Farmers Market Association Director Robbi Mixon at 907-235-4068, Ext. 23, or info@alaskafarmersamarkets.org.

National Young Farmers Coalition to start chapter in Alaska

Alaska leads the nation in agricultural growth and there’s no sign of it slowing down. The average age of a producer in Alaska is 2.5 years younger compared to the national average age. Alaska leads the nation in the percent of new and beginning producers. Almost half – 46 percent – of the state’s farmers have 10 years or fewer of farm experience.

With help and support from the Alaska Farmers Market Association, we are launching an Alaska chapter of the National Young Farmers Coalition (http://www.youngfarmers.org), a national nonprofit whose mission is to “…shift power and change policy to equitably resource our new generation of working farmers.” The chapter will serve beginning and young farmers/ranchers in Alaska. The goal is to have representation from each Alaska region and from every agricultural sector. 

We are collecting individual information, such as contact information, farm types, experience, demographics, and interest levels for participating in the chapter in order to identify the chapter’s direction, trends, and insights that can help bring the group together. You can take the survey at this link.

We will keep your answers confidential and all results produced will be anonymous.

Feel free to contact Kyra Harty at 907-235-4068, ext 20, or email her at Kyra@AlaskaFarmersMarkets.org if you have any questions or would like more information.

As you build your 2022 garden this spring, don’t forget to Plant A Row For The Hungry

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article first appeared on this site in April 2010. It is repeated with some updates because much of the information remains current and newsworthy.)

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 (which recently changed its name to the Garden Communicators International) that has its roots 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 (also known as Plant A Row or PAR). In 2002, the Garden Writers Association Foundation (now Garden Communicators International) 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 a 2010 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 20 million pounds of food (about 80 million meals, as of 2020) have been donated by American gardeners. 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!” Lowenfels is the author of Teaming With Microbes, written with Wayne Lewis. He released a second book, Teaming With Nutrients, as a follow-up to his first book, and in 2017 released a third book, Teaming With Fungi, as a second follow-up book.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2019 one out of every nine 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 35.2 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. The demand has grown with the Covid-19 pandemic

According to the 2014 Sitka Community Food Assessment Indicators Report, about one in six people in Sitka is food insecure. In 2013, there were 1,410 Sitkans (out of a population of about 9,000) and 766 families receiving food assistance (SNAP, aka food stamps). There also were 229 individuals who received food pantry assistance from the Salvation Army and 7,243 meals served through its lunch soup kitchen in 2013, and that number has grown substantially since then.

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 2009 interview 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.

With all of the jobs lost because of the COVID-19 coronavirus quarantines in 2020-22, this year there will be even more people who need food assistance. It will be more important than ever to help get extra produce into our local food banks and soup kitchens.

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 ArmySitkans 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, school lunches and other programs.

People who participate in the Alaska SNAP (food stamp) program can use their Alaska Quest Cards to purchase produce and fish at the Sitka Farmers Market and other farmers markets around the state. People who participate in the  WIC (Women, Infants, Children) supplemental food program (operated in Southeast Alaska by the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium or SEARHC) also can use special farmers market vouchers to buy fresh vegetables at the Sitka Farmers Market and other farmers markets in Alaska (this is part of the national WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program). The Sitka Local Foods Network matches up to $20 for produce purchased using WIC or SNAP benefits at the Sitka Farmers Market.

The Sitka Local Foods Network also takes donations of local produce to sell at the Sitka Farmers Markets, and all proceeds are used to help pay for SLFN projects geared toward helping more people in Sitka grow and harvest local food. For more information, contact the Sitka Local Foods Network board members at sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com.

• Plant A Row informational brochure (2017)

UAF Cooperative Extension Service offers Certified Food Protection Manager class by videoconference March 30-31 in Sitka

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service will teach a certified food protection manager workshop on Wednesday and Thursday, March 30-31. This is a two-day statewide class that will be offered by videoconferencing to Fairbanks, Palmer, Juneau, and Sitka, plus other locations that may arrange for the class.

A certified food protection manager (CFPM) is responsible for monitoring and managing all food establishment operations to ensure that the facility is operating in compliance with food establishment regulations.

A CFPM is knowledgeable about food safety practices and uses this knowledge to provide consumers with safe food, protect public health and prevent food-borne illnesses. Alaska regulations require food establishments to have at least one CFPM on staff.

This course takes place from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and participants will take a proctored computer-based exam at the end of the second day of class. The reason the registration deadline is two weeks before the class is to guarantee course materials reach all the students in time. The cost is $200, and the course will be taught by Julie Cascio of Palmer. Students can register here, and the registration deadline is Wednesday, March 16.

The Sitka videoconference for the class will take place in a room TBA at the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus. To learn more, contact Jasmine Shaw at the Sitka District Office of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service at 747-9440, or contact Julie Cascio at (907) 745-3677 (Palmer number) or jmcascio@alaska.edu. Note, this class is taught in English but textbooks are available in Korean, Chinese and Spanish, just contact Julie at least three weeks before the class.

Also, the ServSafe book ($70) and certification exam ($85) now are available online, if people want to order the book and study independently without taking the class. Just go to this website and purchase the book and exam items.

AARP Alaska, UAF Cooperative Extension Service team up to teach five-class garden series online

Join AARP Alaska and the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service for a free, five-part virtual series on gardening, from starting seeds to cooking with home-grown herbs (and more). Each event will feature a different speaker and new topic, so you can join one or all.

You can register to receive the meeting link or watch live at the scheduled time on the AARP Facebook page.

Gardening: How to Successfully Start Seeds at Home 

Wednesday, March 30, 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Join Glenna Gannon from the Cooperative Extension Service in this workshop and demonstration to learn the basics of starting seeds at home in Alaska. You will learn which start-up supplies are necessary and the simple techniques to successfully start your own seeds. The benefit of starting your own seeds is that you can choose varieties that work well for your specific growing conditions, choose from a much wider selection of varieties that are often not found at your local nursery, and save money on plant starts year after year once you’ve made the initial investment in seed starting supplies. 

Register at https://aarp.cventevents.com/event/bdfeeeba-3fe9-42ef-81a4-dc45c722bccf/regProcessStep1

Gardening: Container Gardening

Wednesday, April 6, 11 a.m.to 12 p.m.  

Join Gina Dionne from the Cooperative Extension Service in this workshop to learn about container gardening, which has become very popular, and for good reason! In this class, you will learn how to make creative use of container gardens to allow you to grow your own food on a sunny deck, windowsill and other non-traditional spaces. 

Register at https://aarp.cventevents.com/event/9628b88c-e896-4b45-b8c6-2b6059414e07/regProcessStep1

Gardening: Growing and Cooking with Herbs 

Wednesday, April 13, 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Join Heidi Rader from the Cooperative Extension Service in this workshop to learn what herbs grow well in Alaska. Which ones come back (perennials) and which ones should you plant year after year? Which ones are easy to start from seed and which ones are easiest to grow from transplants or cuttings? Once you’ve started your herb garden, how do you use them in your everyday cooking? Learn about classic flavor combinations. 

Register at https://aarp.cventevents.com/event/7fa5e549-1f28-4646-bab2-0992473d89ec/regProcessStep1

Gardening: Growing Vegetables in Alaska 

Wednesday, April 20, 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Join Steve Brown from the Cooperative Extension Service in this workshop to learn how growing bountiful veggies is very easy if you know the tips of the Far North. This presentation will show you the secrets behind planning, planting, season extension, fertilization and pest control. 

Register at https://aarp.cventevents.com/event/6dcf11b6-bcb3-47bd-99d1-c8f2974f862b/regProcessStep1

Gardening: Love to Garden but Aches and Pains Getting in the Way? 

Wednesday, April 27, 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Join Art Nash from the Cooperative Extension Service to talk about accessible gardening ideas. Barriers to growing can come from injuries when we are young or normal pains as we grow older. Yet there are adaptations in how we plan out growing areas, modify the growing area or use altered tools. This session will look at various build-outs and alterations that can hopefully help as you age in place — in the garden.

Register at https://aarp.cventevents.com/event/4936d781-3866-4fbd-aed7-1d0e3a891764/regProcessStep1

Southeast Alaska Master Gardeners Association to host Weedy Wednesdays in March

The Southeast Alaska Master Gardeners Association will host a series of Zoom classes on gardening in Southeast Alaska starting in March.

The Weedy Wednesdays classes will be taught online from noon to 1 p.m., and will be archived for people who missed them. A brief presentation will be given, followed by a panel of Master Gardeners available to answer questions related to the presentation or general gardening.

The class dates and their topics are:

  • March 16 — Spuds 101
  • March 23 — Seed Starting
  • March 30 — Prepping a New Garden
  • April 6 — Transplanting

Please submit questions ahead of time to info@seak-mastergardeners.org. Please make any accommodation requests related to a disability seven business days in advance. To register, please visit https://bit.ly/3LV4ioE.

Division of Agriculture offers micro-grants to improve food security in Alaska

PALMER, Alaska – As part of a continuing effort to improve food security for Alaskans, the Alaska Division of Agriculture is offering $2 million in micro-grants to individuals and organizations who want to grow and preserve their own food.

The grants are being offered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Micro-Grants for Food Security Program (MGFSP). This is the second year the grants have been offered in Alaska. In 2021, the Division of Agriculture received more than 1,000 proposals for funding and awarded more than $1.6 million to 234 grantees (Including several in Sitka). 

“The last two years have taught Alaskans the importance of increasing local production of food and storage capabilities,” Alaska Division of Agriculture Director David W. Schade said, referring to supply chain issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are fortunate to offer another opportunity to apply for the micro-grants in 2022. We have worked with USDA to simplify the process and expand the opportunity for more Alaskans to receive funding.” 

The grant application period opened on Monday, Feb. 14, and closes at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 30. 

Individuals can apply for up to $5,000 and qualifying organizations can apply for up to $10,000. The grants are for one year and can be for anything from building a greenhouse to growing a garden to buying a freezer to fencing in livestock. Preference is given to individuals and groups in Alaska’s most vulnerable areas in terms of food security. 

“We will prioritize funding of grants for projects that affect our most food-insecure areas and increase local food production and storage.” Schade said. 

The Micro-Grants for Food Security program is part of the 2018 Farm Bill that created a special program for Alaska, Hawaii and the U.S. Territories for improvements to food security. The program helps individuals and organizations increase the quantity and quality of locally grown food in food insecure communities through small-scale, agricultural-related projects. Qualifying projects may include small-scale gardening, small-scale herding and livestock operations, and/or expanding access to food, safe food storage, and knowledge of food security. 

The program has undergone several changes, which will increase the opportunities for more Alaskans to participate and reduce the challenges of the reimbursement process and reporting for those receiving grants. 

“I am pleased that the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service has approved Alaska’s new streamlined, simple process for grant projects, as many grant programs are difficult for many of our rural residents to use,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said. “Food security is a high priority of my administration and support of this program continues my administration’s efforts to move Alaska toward greater food independence”. 

More detailed information on the micro-grants can be accessed at the Division of Agriculture website. For questions not addressed on the website refer to the Alaska Grown Facebook LIve events. You may also submit questions with Micro-grants 2022 in the subject line to dnr.ag.grants@Alaska.gov. 

Applications must be submitted electronically via the Division of Agriculture SmartSimple application portal. Instructional videos for how to submit the application can be found at Alaska Grown – YouTube

Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit to host virtual farm tours on Feb. 26

The 2022 Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit may have been postponed until 2023, due to Covid-19, but there’s still a way for Southeast growers to connect this month. The Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit will host virtual farm tours from 9 a.m. to just past noon on Saturday, Feb,. 26, via Zoom. This will be a relaxed and informal event.

“Whether you are a farmer, gardener, agricultural industry professional, or local food enthusiast, this event is for you,” event organizers Bo Varsano and Marja Smets of Farragut Farm near Petersburg wrote in an email. “Everyone is welcome to ‘Zoom in’ on a snapshot of what agriculture looks like in Southeast Alaska today. Three regional farmers — Ivy Patch Produce in Wrangell, Foundroot in Haines and St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm in Sitka — will be sharing photos and stories of their farming operations, with plenty of time allotted for questions from the audience.”

After a welcome and introduction from 9-9:30 a.m., Katherine Ivy of Ivy Patch Produce in Wrangell will give a talk and show photos of her operation from 9:30-10:15 a.m. Leah Wagner and Nick Schlosstein of Foundroot in Haines will present from 10:15-11 a.m. After a short break from 11-11:10 a.m., Laura Schmidt of St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm (operated by the Sitka Local Foods Network) will speak from 11:10-11:55 a.m. There will be closing remarks at noon.

“The 2022 Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit has been postponed until February 2023,” Bo and Marja wrote. “If you were planning on attending that event, this is a great opportunity to touch base and make connections in the meantime.”

To register and get the Zoom link, click this link. To learn more about the Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit, click this link.