Celebrate local farmers and gardeners on Alaska Agriculture Day on Friday, May 15

Alaskans can support local agriculture by celebrating Alaska Agriculture Day on Friday, May 15, by seeking out and purchasing products produced in Alaska, and by educating young people about the vital role agriculture plays in our economy.

Governor Mike Dunleavy issued a proclamation commemorating the day in recognition of the importance of agriculture to the daily life of all residents, and in appreciation for all farmers and producers in the state of Alaska.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, however, the Division of Agriculture will not be able to mark the event with a public gathering as in previous years. Instead, the Division invites Alaskans to visit the http://www.buyalaskagrown.com/ webpage for information on where to find farmers markets, stores and retailers that support the “Alaska Grown” program and where they can buy directly from farmers, growers and producers around the state.

Alaskans are also invited to visit the Alaska Grown Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/dnr.alaskagrown/ where they may read the division’s Alaska Agricultural Day post thanking Alaska farmers for always being there, and for working hard to feed and supply Alaskans, even during difficult times.

Members of the public are encouraged to like the post, to leave a comment supporting Alaska farmers, and to share the post with the hashtags #stillfarming and #thankafarmer for a chance to win an Alaska Grown gift basket.

In Sitka, you can celebrate Alaska Agriculture Day by starting a food garden (even a couple of containers on your deck can provide you with potatoes, carrots or greens). Teachers are encouraged to offer a lesson plan or two about the importance of agriculture in Alaska and in Sitka. Here’s a link to an article about how Sitka was Alaska’s original garden city back in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Also, the Sitka History Minute feature on KCAW-Raven Radio has had several episodes about agriculture in Sitka (click here to listen to a feature about the potato in Sitka, click here to listen to a feature about the Sitka Agricultural Station, and click here to listen to a feature about the cows of Iris Meadows).

There are a few smaller commercial farms in Sitka, including St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm (where the Sitka Local Foods Network grows produce to sell at the Sitka Farmers Market), Middle Island Gardens, Down-to Earth Gardens, and Anam Cara Family Garden. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, we will host a greatly scaled back Sitka Farmers Market this summer, with people using the Salt and Soil Marketplace website to order produce from St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm and Middle Island Gardens during the week (Tuesday through Thursday), then pick up the produce on Saturdays. Details are still being finalized, but more info can be found at this link.

Another update about the 2020 Sitka Farmers Market and our contingency plans

It’s May and we are still living in unusual times, with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and COVID-19 disease outbreak keeping many of us sheltered in place. The pandemic has scuttled some of our plans for the 2020 Sitka Farmers Market season, and we’re trying to adapt to our changing world so we can host something this year. We gave Sitka an update on our plans in late March, and now it’s time for another update.

We are still finalizing plans, but it doesn’t look as if we’ll be able to host a full Sitka Farmers Market this summer. Our regular venue, Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall, is still closed, and even if we could use the building current state mandates limit what we can do. While the state considers farmers markets to be essential businesses, the state is limiting markets to food sales only and not allowing arts and crafts (about 65-70 percent of our vendors). We’d love to hold a regular market, but under the current situation we just can’t. We love serving as an incubator for small businesses and a community gathering place, so we hope to return to having a full market next summer.

So where does that leave us for the 2020 summer? The Sitka Local Foods Network, as usual, is growing fresh produce at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm. Our produced-growing operation has a Certified Naturally Grown designation, showing our commitment to sustainable agriculture, and we built a second high tunnel this spring to extend our growing season.

We think giving Sitka residents access to healthy, local food is critical to our food security, and we still plan to sell produce this summer. It’s in our mission, and we plan to do it. Since we are losing our market manager of the past three years (Nina Vizcarrondo) to Coast Guard relocation, we hired two co-managers to replace her — Ariane Martin Goudeau and Nalani James. Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham also will assist with the markets, and Laura Schmidt has been our lead gardener at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm for about a decade.

Right now our plan is to use an online sales portal, Salt and Soil Marketplace based in Juneau, where people will order a box of produce during the week, pay for it online, and then pick it up on Saturday. We plan to sell a $20 box of produce that will feature four selected veggies that are currently in season, and a $40 box which will include additional veggies. We also may sell selected individual veggies when we have an abundance beyond what we’d put in the boxes. In order to simplify things this year, we will not carry our usual Alaska Grown products this summer. We plan to work with Middle Island Gardens, which will sell its produce on Salt and Soil Marketplace and have its own delivery pick-ups at the same time and location.

We are still trying to finalize our agreement on dates and times with our proposed venue, and that will be announced once it’s confirmed. We are negotiating with a centralized outdoor venue, and our proposed hours are from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. We hope to hold our first pick-up on June 20, and then every Saturday in July, August, and September.

Due to health and safety concerns from the COVID-19 outbreak, things will look different on market Saturdays. We are trying to minimize contact as much as possible, and all of our volunteers will wear gloves and masks and we ask all of our customers to also wear masks. We have been attending several workshops on how to safely run a market, and we decided simplicity and safety was our priority this year. That’s why there will only be two vendors — the Sitka Local Foods Network and Middle Island Gardens — this year and all of our produce will be pre-sold before Saturday, so customers can get in and out as quickly as possible and we don’t have to handle cash or checks.

We will ask customers to drive up to our pick-up location, and wait in their cars (with engines turned off) until our greeters get their names and then gets their orders so they can be placed in their vehicle. There will be no at-market sales, so please stay with your vehicles and don’t come up to our tables. If you bike or walk, we will ask you to maintain proper social distancing until we can bring you your order. The first half-hour we are open will be designated for seniors and those with high-risk health issues, so they can get in and out before the big rush. Periodically, we may stop what we’re doing so everybody can wash their hands and reglove, and we can wipe down our tables. We want to make this safe for our customers and our volunteers.

One of our biggest issues is how we will be able to make sure our produce gets into the hands of lower-income Sitka residents. Normally we accept SNAP Alaska Quest EBT cards and WIC farmers market nutrition vouchers, but unless something changes soon we’re not allowed to use those methods if we use an online sales portal. We are trying to come up with a solution, and that may mean we have WIC/SNAP beneficiaries send us an email or call a special phone number to receive a free $20 box of produce every other week. Since we won’t get reimbursed by the state, we’ll cover the costs from our general fund. This will only be for the Sitka Local Foods Network produce.

We still have a few things to work out, so we will will provide another update as those details are confirmed. If you have any questions, feel free to call Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham at 623-7660 or email sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com.

An update about the 2020 Sitka Farmers Market and our contingency plans

Usually the Sitka Local Foods Network has announced the dates of the summer’s Sitka Farmers Market by now. But, as most of you are aware, these are not ordinary times.

We had been making our usual plans, and even had dates we planned to announce about now, but with the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak we had to go into wait-and-see mode. We even hired two new people to coordinate the Sitka Farmers Market this year — Ariane Martin Goudeau and Nalani James — because we’re losing our market manager of the past three years, Nina Vizcarrondo, to Coast Guard relocation.

Even though we’re in wait-and-see mode, the SLFN feels it does need to update the community.

First, we had big plans to grow even more produce than before at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden. We bought a second high tunnel, which has been erected on the site, so we can extend our growing season and have a little help with climate control. Laura Schmidt has been our lead gardener for about a decade, and deserves a lot of respect for how much produce she grows on the small patch of land we have access to behind St. Peter’s By The Sea Episcopal Church. We thank St. Peter’s for allowing us to continue growing food for the community on its property.

Regardless of whether we hold the Sitka Farmers Market or not, we will grow produce this summer at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm. Sitka’s food security needs more local food, so we plan to find ways to get the food into the community, somehow, someway.

If all things were normal, our plan was to hold seven Sitka Farmers Markets again this summer for our 13th season. Our tentative dates are from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, July 4, July 25, Aug. 8, Aug. 15, Aug. 29, Sept. 5, and Sept. 19, all at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall.

The Sitka Farmers Market is about local food, but it’s so much more. It’s about community and providing local entrepreneurs with a place to sell their products. We really enjoy seeing everybody come together to see their neighbors and friends at the market. That’s a big reason we want to host the market, if it’s possible.

But we don’t know when our shelter-in-place orders are going to end and we can start returning to normal. We are researching alternative ways to get our fresh produce into the hands of Sitka residents. We want to provide fresh produce, but also need to be conscious of everybody’s health during an outbreak.

That may mean going to an online portal, such as the Salt and Soil Marketplace out of Juneau, which has been expanding into Sitka and other towns in Southeast Alaska. Middle Island Gardens, Gimbal Botanicals, and a couple of other Sitka businesses have used Salt and Soil Marketplace, so it’s not a new concept. How it works for Sitka is vendors post their products online, and from Tuesday through Thursday Sitka residents go online and order what they want, with a delivery usually on Saturday.

This is great and relatively easy, except you lose the community aspect of the market when it’s online. Also, the Sitka Farmers Market serves as a business incubator, and we lose that when we can’t have a market.

There’s another thing we lose, and that’s the ability to accept WIC farmers market coupons and SNAP Alaska Quest EBT cards, which is how we get local produce into the hands of lower-income Sitkans. We are still trying to work that problem out. We want to get fresh local produce into this part of the community, because Sitka has some major inequality with about one in every six residents on some form of food assistance program. Our mission is “to increase the amount of locally harvested and produced food into the diets of Southeast Alaskans,” so we have to make sure we include getting food to lower income people.

We will come up with a plan of some sort to make sure we do get produce into the hands of all Sitkans, but we have to be conscious of not spreading the coronavirus. It may mean we donate produce to a local food bank for distribution, or we donate some produce to WIC/SNAP beneficiaries and skip the normal reimbursement we’d get from the state. We have our White E grant to match WIC/SNAP benefits, so we can use that grant to help distribute the food, and absorb some of the loss through our general fund. It’s within our mission, and we can afford to do it for a few months.

Ideally, we will host our Sitka Farmers Markets as normal. But these are unusual times. We will look at what’s happening in mid-May, and we will make a further announcement then as to what our plans are. Hopefully we will be recruiting vendors for our market. If not, we will start setting up an account so people can order produce online.

If you have any questions, feel free to call Sitka Local Foods Network board chairman Charles Bingham at 623-7660 or email sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com.

Sitka Local Foods Network hosts third annual Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest

A sampling of food products grown, manufactured or processed in Sitka in recent years.

Do you think you have a great idea for a food business or product from Sitka? Do you grow food, fish for food, or cook food in Sitka? The Sitka Local Foods Network is hosting the third annual Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest in an effort to spark local food entrepreneurs so we can make more local food available to residents and visitors. The contest entry deadline is March 6.

This contest will provide two $1,500 kicker prizes — one for established food businesses and one for start-up businesses (no older than two years) — to help entrepreneurs launch or expand their food businesses. The contest is open to food businesses and individuals making and selling food products in Sitka, Alaska. All food business ideas must be geared toward getting more locally grown, harvested and/or produced food into the Sitka marketplace through sales in grocery stores, the Sitka Food Co-Op, the Sitka Farmers Market, restaurants, or individual marketing (such as a community supported agriculture/CSA or community supported fisheries/CSF program).

“The Sitka Local Foods Network’s mission is to get more locally harvested and produced food into the diets of Southeast Alaskans,” said Charles Bingham, Sitka Local Foods Network board president. “For the past decade we’ve offered a entrepreneurs a chance to sell their produce, bread and fish at the Sitka Farmers Market, grown produce to sell at the market through St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm, and provided a garden education program to residents. We think this contest is the next step toward getting more local food into the Sitka marketplace.”

Last year, we gave $1,500 prizes to Brittany Dumag of the Castaway food cart in the start-up business category and to Tamara Kyle of Sitka Sauers in the established business category. We also gave a special $250 award to 12-year-old Abigail Ward who entered her Sitka Seasonings business. Brittany made Cuban pork sandwiches (using pork from North Pole) and other food to sell at various places in Sitka, including the Sitka Farmers Market. Tamara planned to ramp up her fermented foods business, but she ended up having some health issues that prevented her from completing her project and she ended up refunding most of her prize money. Abby made spice blends for seafood and other meats, which she sold at the first two Sitka Farmers Markets and at other venues.

In our inaugural contest in 2018, we gave a $1,500 prize to Hope Merritt of Gimbal Botanicals in the established business category. We had no entrants in the start-up business category, so no prize was awarded in 2018. Hope used her prize money to hire two interns to help her harvest seaweed and kelp and to help produce her products.

Participants in this contest are eligible and encouraged to enter other food business innovation contests, such as the Path To Prosperity or Symphony of Seafood contests. All participants retain the proprietary rights to their products and ideas. This contest is open to new and existing food businesses in Sitka. Student businesses (such as those fostered by Junior Achievement or similar programs) are welcome.

There is a small $25 entry fee for this contest. All participants (business and individual) must complete and submit our contest entry form by 5 p.m. on Friday, March 6, 2020 (by snail mail so it arrives before the deadline to Sitka Local Foods Network, Food Business Innovation Contest Entries, 408-D Marine Street, Sitka, Alaska, 99835, or by email with the Subject Line of “Food Business Innovation Contest Entries” to sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com). Submitting a business plan (up to 20 pages) is recommended, but not required.

Our entry form will have room for you to describe your food business idea in a few paragraphs, but submitting a business plan will give you more room to outline your plans for funding and marketing the idea and will help your overall score. Judging will be based on how your food business idea provides new local food options in Sitka, how novel is your food business idea, how feasible is your food business (can it make a profit and be sustainable), and how professional is your presentation. At some time in late March or early April, the Sitka Local Foods Network may host a pitch presentation, where judges will interview the contest entrants and try samples of the food products. Our judging panel will score your presentation and entry form based on how your idea has a measurable impact on providing local food in Sitka (25%), has the potential for commercialization (25%), provides new employment in Sitka (25%) and fills a need in the Sitka marketplace (25%).

In 2020 we are making some changes to the rules. First, each entry now MUST include a sample, itemized budget showing how the business owner plans to use the prize money. Second, each prize winner will sign a winner’s agreement contract before receiving the prize money that lists a series of benchmarks toward getting the product/service to market that need to be met by a certain date or else all or part of the prize money will need to be refunded to the Sitka Local Foods Network.

If we find additional sponsors, we may add additional prizes and categories (such as fish or farm). Depending on the number of entries and interest of the participants, we may host a reception where contestants can demonstrate their products to Sitka residents. If the reception happens, there will be a chance for people to vote on their favorite products with the winner receiving the People’s Choice Award (this will be separate than the two main prizes selected by our judging panel). We are hoping to find a sponsor for the People’s Choice Award. Note, if our panel of judges determine there isn’t a worthy entrant in one or both categories, then the Sitka Local Foods Network reserves the right not to award a prize. Marijuana edibles are not eligible for the contest.

• Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest Entry Form 2020

New guide helps Alaska commercial fishermen find markets for their fish

A new publication is targeting Alaska commercial fishermen and processors who want to find markets for their fish.

The guide is a new fisheries business support tool that we are hoping you will help to share called: Resource Guide for Fishermen Interested in Direct Marketing, Alternative Marketing, and Community Supported Fisheries. The guide can be accessed online on the Salt and Soil Marketplace website at https://www.saltandsoilmarketplace.com/vendor-resources, and is also attached as a PDF.

The guide was developed by Kelly Harrell (who now works as chief officer of fisheries and sustainability for Sitka Salmon Shares) on behalf of the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition (SAWC) and Ecotrust, with support from the USDA Local Foods Promotion Program. The guide is intended to draw together a diverse array of information and tools that exist to help direct marketers/CSFs get started and succeed.

“The Local Foods Program at SAWC aims to localize our food system by supporting local food producers whose food lands on the tables of Southeast Alaskans,” said Jennifer Nu, local foods project director for SAWC and food sustainability catalyst for the Sustainable Southeast Partnership. “Kelly Harrell led the effort to understand the unique challenges and needs of direct market fishermen and determine ways to contribute to the success of their businesses. The guide is a comprehensive resource directory of a wide variety of tools for direct marketers and similar seafood businesses. Fishermen can use it to quickly find resources, organizations, and networks. We have already heard from a fisherman in Petersburg who said he wishes he had this resource available to him when he started his business years ago.”

• Resource Guide for Fishermen Interested in Direct Marketing, Alternative Marketing, and Community Supported Fisheries

Brittany Dumag, Tamara Kyle, Abigail Ward win prizes in Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest

Brittany Dumag leans out one of the windows of her food trailer business, called Castaway, that will serve Cuban pork sandwiches with beans and rice.

One winner is opening a food cart so she can sell Alaska-raised pork sandwiches. Another will use her prize to jump start her sauerkraut business. And another is making seasoning mixes to sell at the Sitka Farmers Market and outside Harrigan Centennial Hall this summer.

Tamara Kyle of Sitka Sauers poses with some of her sauerkraut and her two children at a 2017 Sitka Farmers Market.

This year’s winners of the second annual Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest are Brittany Dumag and her food cart, Castaway, in the start-up business category (younger than two years); Tamara Kyle of Sitka Sauers in the established business division; and Abigail Ward, age 12, who won a special youth business award. The Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest awarded a $1,500 prize each to Dumag and Kyle, while Ward won $250.

The contest is sponsored by the Sitka Local Foods Network as a way to encourage Sitka entrepreneurs to start businesses using food from Sitka or Alaska. It also is meant to promote better food security with more locally made food products.

“We were pleased with the response this year, five times as many applications as last year,” Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham said. “We hope our prizes help these businesses grow and become successful and sustainable. We also want to see our other entrants come back for next year’s contest. And we hope all of our entrants have booths at this year’s Sitka Farmers Market.”

Dumag’s food cart is her first business venture, but others in her family have run businesses. Dumag, her husband, and others started with a bare trailer, and built it from a 4×8-foot flat trailer to a 6×12-foot trailer with walls, a kitchen, a skylight, and more. She plans to be at all of the Sitka Farmers Markets this summer, and she is talking with a couple of places in town to park the trailer, which she hopes to open on June 1.

Even though she has yet to open, Dumag has had to change her plans. She originally planned to make rockfish tacos, but the cost was too high and she had difficulty finding rockfish. So she decided to start with Cuban pork sandwiches with rice and beans (the pork is from Dream Acres Farm in North Pole), and hopes to add the rockfish tacos after she has her business up and running.

“I want to feed local families,” Dumag said. “I want to source what I can locally.”

Tamara Kyle has been making sauerkraut for several years, but with two toddlers she hasn’t been able to make it on a consistent basis. Her sauerkraut takes five weeks to ferment, so she has to be thinking ahead about her plans when she makes it.

“This is going to jump-start it,” Kyle said. “I’m going to get the right machinery and get an apprentice, so my sauerkraut will be more consistently available.”

Abigail Ward sells cupcakes and herbs at her youth booth at a 2018 Sitka Farmers Market.

Kyle makes two types of sauerkraut — her classic with organic cabbage and pink Himalayan sea salt and another with caraway dill seasonings. Eventually, she’d like to add local beets, local carrots, and even local salt, if the price is right.

Ward has been a regular youth vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market for the past two years, selling a variety of products while her parents and sister ran a table next to her. Her business will be to make two seasoning mixes — one for red meat/venison and one for seafood — which she plans to sell at the farmers market and with the youth vendor tables in front of Harrigan Centennial Hall when cruise ships are in town.

“The contest prize money will help to improve and expand my business from a hobby to an official business,” Ward wrote on her entry form.

Ward, who splits time between Washington state and Sitka, was the only entrant to include product samples with her entry form. She said her spice mixes are meant to enhance locally harvested seafood and venison, and she hopes to eventually make her own sea salt and grow her own rosemary for the mixes.

Sitka Local Foods Network hosts second annual Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest

A sampling of current food products grown, manufactured or processed in Sitka

Do you think you have a great idea for a food business or product from Sitka? Do you grow food, fish for food, or cook food in Sitka? The Sitka Local Foods Network is hosting the second annual Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest in an effort to spark local food entrepreneurs so we can make more local food available to residents and visitors.

This contest will provide two $1,500 kicker prizes — one for established food businesses and one for start-up businesses (no older than two years) — to help entrepreneurs launch or expand their food businesses. The contest is open to food businesses and individuals making and selling food products in Sitka, Alaska. All food business ideas must be geared toward getting more locally grown, harvested and/or produced food into the Sitka marketplace through sales in grocery stores, the Sitka Food Co-Op, the Sitka Farmers Market, restaurants, or individual marketing (such as a community supported agriculture/CSA or community supported fisheries/CSF program).

“The Sitka Local Foods Network’s mission is to get more locally harvested and produced food into the diets of Southeast Alaskans,” said Charles Bingham, Sitka Local Foods Network board president. “For the past decade we’ve offered a entrepreneurs a chance to sell their produce, bread and fish at the Sitka Farmers Market, grown produce to sell at the market through St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm, and provided a garden education program to residents. We think this contest is the next step toward getting more local food into the Sitka marketplace.”

In 2018, we gave a $1,500 prize to Hope Merritt of Gimbal Botanicals in the established business category. We had no entrants in the start-up business category, so no prize was awarded. Hope used her prize money to hire two interns to help her harvest seaweed and kelp and to help produce her products.

Participants in this contest are eligible and encouraged to enter other food business innovation contests, such as the Path To Prosperity or Symphony of Seafood contests. All participants retain the proprietary rights to their products and ideas. This contest is open to new and existing food businesses in Sitka. Student businesses (such as those fostered by Junior Achievement or similar programs) are welcome.

There is a small $25 entry fee for this contest. All participants (business and individual) must complete and submit our contest entry form by 5 p.m. on Friday, April 5, 2019 (by snail mail so it arrives before the deadline to Sitka Local Foods Network, Food Business Innovation Contest Entries, 408-D Marine Street, Sitka, Alaska, 99835, or by email with the Subject Line of “Food Business Innovation Contest Entries” to sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com). Submitting a business plan (up to 20 pages) is recommended, but not required.

Our entry form will have room for you to describe your food business idea in a few paragraphs, but submitting a business plan will give you more room to outline your plans for funding and marketing the idea and will help your overall score. Judging will be based on how your food business idea provides new local food options in Sitka, how novel is your food business idea, how feasible is your food business (can it make a profit and be sustainable), and how professional is your presentation. At some time about the third week of April, the Sitka Local Foods Network will host a pitch presentation where judges will interview the contest entrants and try samples of the food products. Our judging panel will score your presentation and entry form based on how your idea has a measurable impact on providing local food in Sitka (25%), has the potential for commercialization (25%), provides new employment in Sitka (25%) and fills a need in the Sitka marketplace (25%).

If we find additional sponsors, we may add additional prizes and categories (such as fish or farm). Depending on the number of entries and interest of the participants, we may host a reception where contestants can demonstrate their products to Sitka residents. If the reception happens, there will be a chance for people to vote on their favorite products with the winner receiving the People’s Choice Award (this will be separate than the two main prizes selected by our judging panel). We are hoping to find a sponsor for the People’s Choice Award. Note, if our panel of judges determine there isn’t a worthy entrant in one or both categories, then the Sitka Local Foods Network reserves the right not to award a prize. Marijuana edibles are not eligible for the contest.

• Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest Entry Form 2019