As you build your 2018 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 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 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 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!” 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, 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.

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.

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 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)

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Like what we do? Please join our board of directors or volunteer with us

The 2017 Sitka Local Foods Network board of directors and St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm lead gardener. Back row, from left, Tiffany Justice (treasurer), Ben Timby (secretary), Sam Pointer (director) and Charles Bingham (president/communications director). Front row, from left, Nina Vizcarrondo (co-secretary/farmers market manager), Laura Schmidt (lead gardener), Jennifer Carter (vice president).

Are you enjoying the fresh local veggies at the Sitka Farmers Market this summer? Did you take any of our garden education classes this spring? Are you concerned about increasing access to local food for all Sitka residents?

Please consider joining the board of directors for the Sitka Local Foods Network to help us pursue our mission to increase the amount of locally produced and harvested food in the diets of Southeast Alaskans. We need more board members in order to keep running our programs.

Board members help direct the Sitka Local Foods Network, a non-profit that promotes the harvest and use of local food in Sitka. In addition to setting the focus of the group during our monthly meetings, board members also serve on at least one committee supporting at our three main projects of the Sitka Farmers Market, St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm, and garden education and mentoring. We also hope to help with the Sitka Community Gardens project as we look for a new location now that Blatchley Community Garden has been closed. In addition, some board members have supported other local foods projects in Sitka, such as the Sitka Kitch, Let’s Grow Sitka, the Sick-A-Waste compost project, the Sitka Community Food Assessment project, Sitka Fish-To-Schools, other school education projects and more.

To apply for a spot on the board, please fill out the application linked below and submit it to sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.org. For more information, please email us. Please note this is a working board, and our group is evolving and maturing as we try to raise funds to hire staff. Board terms are for three years, with three seats up for reapplication each winter.

We also are looking to increase our pool of volunteers who will help out during the various projects hosted by the network each year (no formal application needed, just send us your name/contact info and what types of projects you enjoy). We need volunteers to help with the upcoming Sitka Farmers Market, helping our lead gardener at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm, and helping us teach gardening classes or working with our garden mentor program families.

The next regular Sitka Local Foods Network board meeting is from 7-9 p.m. on Wednesday, April 18, at the Southeast Alaska Independent Living (SAIL) office, 504 Lake Street, Suite C (NOTE: The meeting date was changed from April 11 due to the illness of a couple of our board members). The board usually meets once every 4-6 weeks. Please note, we will sometimes move our meetings to avoid conflicts with board member schedules, venue schedules and to insure a quorum. All of our board meetings are open to the public.

Click here for a copy of the Sitka Local Foods Network board of directors job description. Click here for a copy of the board application.

UAF Cooperative Extension Service offers Certified Food Protection Manager class by videoconference Feb. 22 in Sitka

Thursday, Feb. 8, is the registration deadline for a certified food protection manager workshop being taught on Thursday, Feb. 22, by University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service. This is an all-day statewide class that will be offered by videoconferencing to Delta Junction, Fairbanks, Juneau, Palmer and Sitka.

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 5:30 p.m. (with a half-hour lunch), and participants will take a computer-based exam at the end of the class. The reason the deadline is two weeks before the class is to guarantee course materials reach all the students in time for the class. The cost is $200, and the course will be taught by Julie Cascio of Palmer. Students can register here.

The Sitka videoconference for the class will take place in Room 106 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, or Melissa Clampitt at (907) 745-3551 or mrclampitt@alaska.edu. Note, this class is taught in English but textbooks are available in Korean, Chinese and Spanish, just contact Julie or Melissa at least three weeks before the class.

Also, the ServSafe book ($70) and certification exam ($75) 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.

Sitka Farmers Market ranked as top market in Alaska in annual Farmers Market Celebration

The results are in, and the Sitka Farmers Market ranks as the top market in Alaska and among the leaders nationally in the American Farmland Trust’s ninth annual Farmers Market Celebration.

This summer the Sitka Local Foods Network hosted seven markets, and one of our goals was to rebuild the market by increasing the number of vendors, launching a kid vendor program, and adding new Alaska Grown products to our farm stand. Nina Vizcarrondo was the market manager, and Charles Bingham was the assistant manager.

The Sitka Farmers Market ranked No. 1 in Alaska in all five categories — People’s Choice, Focus on Farmers, Healthy Food for All, Pillar of the Community, and Champion for the Environment. Sitka also ranked among the top 50 markets nationally in several categories, earning Best Of Class honors.

Nationally, the top three markets finished in the same 1-2-3 order in all five categories. The top market was Winter Gardens Farmers Market of Winter Gardens, Fla., followed by Charlottesville City Market of Charlottesville, Va., and Williamsburg Farmers Market of Williamsburg, Va.

Shoppers were encouraged to use Instagram and join the local food community in saving farmland with their forks, as part of AFT’s “#OnMyFork” social media campaign. Supporters are encouraged to post pictures or videos of their farmers market to Instagram using the hashtag #OnMyFork. We asked people who posted anything about the Sitka Farmers Market to please tag our Sitka Local Foods Network page on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/SitkaLocalFoodsNetwork, tag our Sitka Farmers Market page on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/SitkaFarmersMarket, and/or share it on our Twitter page, https://www.twitter.com/SitkaLocalFoods. Please use the hashtags #SitkaLocalFoodsNetwork and #SitkaFarmersMarket if you share a photo.

In past Farmers Market Celebrations, sponsored by the American Farmland Trust, the Sitka Farmers Market has been at or near the top among the Alaska rankings. In 2015, the Sitka Farmers Market was the top Alaska market in this contest. In 2016, the Sitka Farmers Market earned Best In Class honors in the contest after finishing second among Alaska markets and cracking the top 50 nationally in a couple of categories.

UAF Cooperative Extension Service offers Certified Food Protection Manager class by videoconference Oct. 3 in Sitka

Tuesday, Sept. 19, is the registration deadline for a certified food protection manager workshop being taught on Tuesday, Oct. 3, by University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service. This is an all-day statewide class that will be offered by videoconferencing to Delta Junction, Fairbanks, Juneau, Palmer and Sitka.

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 5:30 p.m. (with a half-hour lunch), and participants will take a computer-based exam at the end of the class. The reason the deadline is two weeks before the class is to guarantee course materials reach all the students in time for the class. The cost is $200, and the course will be taught by Julie Cascio of Palmer. Students can register here.

The Sitka videoconference for the class will take place in Room 106 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, or Melissa Clampitt at (907) 745-3551 or mrclampitt@alaska.edu. Note, this class is taught in English but textbooks are available in Korean, Chinese and Spanish, just contact Julie or Melissa at least three weeks before the class.

Also, the ServSafe book ($70) and certification exam ($75) 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.

Scenes from the seventh and last Sitka Farmers Market of the 2017 summer

TABLE OF THE DAY — Southeast Alaska Independent Living (SAIL) Jesuit Volunteer Clare Kelly, center, presents the Table of the Day award to Dawn McMaster, left, and Maren Tucker, right, of Latitude 57 Smoothies, Coffee and More during the seventh Sitka Farmers Market of the summer on Sept. 9 at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall. The Latitude 57 smoothie truck is a work-skills program of Youth Advocates of Sitka, selling smoothies, lattés, and other drinks this summer. Dawn and Maren received a couple of Sitka Local Foods Network t-shirts, some Inga’s Spice Rub, some carrots, and a box of Sweet Sisters Caramels. This was the last Sitka Farmers Market of the 2017 summer. But, don’t forget to mark your calendars for the 23rd annual Running of the Boots costumed fun run fundraiser on Saturday, Sept. 23, at the Totem Square park, which this year benefits the Sitka Local Foods Network and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska. For more information, go to the Sitka Local Foods Network website at http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org. We also have a Sitka Farmers Market page on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/SitkaFarmersMarket.

It was raining hard when we held our seventh and final Sitka Farmers Market of the 2017 summer season on Saturday, Sept. 9, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall (235 Katlian Street), but we still had a decent crowd.

While our cold weather this spring slowed down some of our produce production this year, we are starting to get some decent crops in. We also have had several other local produce vendors at the market. We also had about three dozen vendors at the market (between those inside ANB Founders Hall and those outside in the Baranof Island Housing Authority parking lot) so there was a nice variety of items being sold. Vendors sold harvested foods (such as chaga tea and traditional medicinal tinctures), homemade baked goods, banana-Nutella crepes, hot seafood dishes, fresh smoothies, reindeer hot dogs, blackcod tips, arts and crafts, and home-baked bread. We also had an expanded selection of Alaska Grown products at the Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand.

This was the last Sitka Farmers Market of the 2017 summer season, and we hope you enjoyed the markets this year. Don’t forget to like our new Sitka Farmers Market page on Facebook.

Also, mark your calendars for the 23rd annual Running of the Bootscostumed fun run fundraiser, which will take place on Saturday, Sept. 23, and this year will benefit the Sitka Local Foods Network and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska. More details on the Running of the Boots will be posted in the near future.

A slideshow of scenes from the seventh Sitka Farmers Market is posted below.

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Scenes from the sixth Sitka Farmers Market of the 2017 summer

TABLE OF THE DAY — Sitka Farmers Market Manager Nina Vizcarrondo, left, and Sitka Conservation Society Jesuit Volunteer Sean Mackinson, right, present the Table of the Day award to the Suminski family of Sweet Sisters Caramels (from left, Greta Terry, Mary and Lydia Suminski) during the sixth Sitka Farmers Market of the summer on Sept. 2 at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall. The Suminskis sold a variety of home-made caramels. They received a couple of Sitka Local Foods Network t-shirts, some Inga’s Spice Rub, and some Alaska Flour Company chocolate chip-barley cookie mix. There is one Sitka Farmers Market left this summer, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9, at the ANB Founders Hall (235 Katlian St.). Also, don’t forget to mark your calendars for the 23rd annual Running of the Boots costumed fun run fundraiser on Saturday, Sept. 23, at the Totem Square park, which this year benefits the Sitka Local Foods Network and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska. For more information, go to the Sitka Local Foods Network website at http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org. We also have a new Sitka Farmers Market page on Facebook.

It was sunny when we held our sixth Sitka Farmers Market of the 2017 summer season on Saturday, Sept. 2, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall (235 Katlian Street), but we still had a decent crowd even though we had some competition with the Labor Day holiday.

While our cold weather this spring slowed down some of our produce production this year, we are starting to get some decent crops in. We also have had several other local produce vendors at the market. We also had about three dozen vendors at the market (between those inside ANB Founders Hall and those outside in the Baranof Island Housing Authority parking lot) so there was a nice variety of items being sold. Vendors sold harvested foods (such as chaga tea and traditional medicinal tinctures), homemade baked goods, banana-Nutella crepes, hot seafood dishes, fresh smoothies, reindeer hot dogs, blackcod tips, arts and crafts, and home-baked bread. We also had an expanded selection of Alaska Grown products at the Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand.

The last Sitka Farmers Market of the summer takes place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9, at the ANB Founders Hall. To learn how to be a vendor at the market, contact market manager Nina Vizcarrondo at (907) 738-9301 (new number) or assistant manager Charles Bingham (907) 623-7660, or email us at sitkafarmersmarket@gmail.com. We also have a new kids vendor program at the market for young entrepreneurs age 12 or younger. Don’t forget to like our new Sitka Farmers Market page on Facebook.

Also, mark your calendars for the 23rd annual Running of the Boots costumed fun run fundraiser, which will take place on Saturday, Sept. 23, and this year will benefit the Sitka Local Foods Network and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska. More details on the Running of the Boots will be posted in the near future.

A slideshow of scenes from the sixth Sitka Farmers Market is posted below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.