City planner launches new working group to examine food security in Sitka and Alaska

Did you know Alaska is one of the top five most food insecure states in the nation? Sitka chief planner Michael Scarcelli is launching a new group to change that, especially in Sitka which Scarcelli considers “food insecure.”

“I know there has already been a great amount of exceptional work done in regards to local and regional food security reports and efforts,” Scarcelli wrote in an email. “The focal point of this discussion is to include:

  • “A brief overview of that work
  • “How food has been addressed in past and current comprehensive planning documents in relation to economy, socio-culture, community health, and environmental topics
  • “A discussion about the opportunities, strengths, challenges, and gaps within Sitka now
  • “How the Planning and Community Development programs can create incentives and remove barriers to help the community better provide food security, while also promoting the public health and safety of all Sitkans.
  • “A focus on opportunities for every day food security: lowering costs of food and increasing access to healthy food for the community at large
  • “Planning for the low-risk, but high impact catastrophic food emergency (including syncing Comprehensive Plan, Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plans, and Local Emergency Plans and efforts)
  • “Consensus building on final recommendations”

This informal working group will collaborate with me to draft some suggestions and information to a future Planning Commission discussion on the topic and may include suggestions for zoning changes, conditional uses and development standards for horticulture and agriculture, as well as a suggestion for how to better prepare for a catastrophic or major event that would impact food security in terms of long-range hazard mitigation planning.

In an interview, Scarcelli said in addition to a cataclysmic event that impacts food security (such as a tsunami), there are everyday events such as rising fuel costs or late barges that impact food security in Sitka. After he graduated from law school, Scarcelli bought a farm where he grew heirloom vegetables in Michigan, so he has practical experience in food issues. He thinks increasing the amount of food produced in Sitka is a win to the triple-bottom line. There are advantages to Sitka in the use of renewable energy, a shorter distance for the food to travel, better health to the community, and new jobs.

“One area I am specifically asking for help on is bringing a range of citizens to the table that offer different viewpoints, expertise, skills, and business perspectives,” Scarcelli wrote. “If you know of someone or a group that has an interest in this topic, please forward this invite. Included in this email are individuals that indicated interest in this group, chair and liaison to the Planning Commission, chair and liaison to the local emergency planning commission, and various business owners I felt may have an interest in the topic.”

In his email, Scarcelli included copies of six different local, regional and statewide food security reports that all can be found at this link on this website (scroll down), https://sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org/documents/. He makes special note of the 2014 Sitka Community Food Assessment Indicators Report.

Scarcelli has yet to set a time for the group’s first meeting, but he did include a Doodle poll with a few possibilities to try to find the time that works best for the most people. For more information, contact Scarcelli at 747-1815 or michael.scarcelli@cityofsitka.org.

• Sitka Local Foods Network receives Strengthening Organizations grant from the Alaska Community Foundation

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Alaska CF headerThe Sitka Local Foods Network is one of 15 nonprofits in Alaska — two from Sitka — to earn a “Strengthening Organizations Program” grant from the Alaska Community Foundation.

The 15 grants totaled $75,353, with both Sitka organizations winning $4,600. The Island Institute, which partnered with the Sitka Local Foods Network to produce the Sitka Community Food Assessment Indicators Report in 2014, is the other Sitka organization to be awarded a grant.

The grant-winners “were recognized for their initiative in building internal structures to enhance capacity. Grant proposals ranged from requests for leadership development support, funding for staff to attend conferences, financial management training, digitizing collections for website purposes, and much more,” according to an Alaska Community Foundation press release.

The Sitka Local Foods Network applied for the grant to take a step toward the next level as a growing organization. It plans to use the grant to create a formal fundraising and business plan, with the intent to start putting money aside to hire a part-time staff person to take over some of the group’s day-to-day duties from the volunteer board of directors. Other than a few select positions which are contracted out, such as the Sitka Farmers Market manager and St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm lead gardener, the organization is entirely operated by volunteers.

“That is not sustainable in the long run,” Sitka Local Foods Network Board President Lisa Sadleir-Hart told the Daily Sitka Sentinel. “We have to start thinking about staffing in the long run, and that requires capital. We’re moving in that direction.” She also said the grant will help the network become “more strategic in how we use precious volunteer energy.”

The Sitka Local Foods Network will work with consultants from the Foraker Group, an organization that provides support and training to Alaska nonprofit organizations, to develop the fundraising and business plan. The grant was written by Matthew Jackson, the board vice-president.

The Alaska Community Foundation’s Strengthening Organizations Program is unique in the funding it makes available to nonprofits, as it focuses on internal capacity building, rather than programs or outreach. This program awards capacity building grants up to $10,000, with typical awards ranging from $3,000-$5,000, to 501(c)(3) nonprofits or equivalent organizations, which may include tribes, schools, churches and local government agencies and programs.

Applications are accepted on an ongoing basis and the next deadline is Sept. 1. The Alaska Community Foundation program staff strongly encourages interested applicants to submit drafts for review a minimum of two weeks before the deadline. For more information or to apply, visit The Alaska Community Foundation at http://alaskacf.org/grants or call (907) 274-6705.

• Please remember those people in Sitka in need during this Thanksgiving season

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As we approach Thanksgiving, many families are gathering their supplies for the traditional feast. But there are a lot of people in Sitka who are struggling just to put food on the table.

In Sitka, the Salvation Army serves as the USDA-designated food bank and distribution point for commodity food. Maj. Turnie Wright (who teams up with his wife, Maj. Evadne Wright to run the local Salvation Army) said there are many items the Sitka Salvation Army can use to keep up with Sitka’s growing hunger needs. He said they served 77 meals at the soup kitchen the other day. You can learn more about Sitka’s growing number of people who need food assistance in the Sitka Community Food Assessment Indicators Report released in April 2014 (note, the number of people using the Salvation Army food bank and soup kitchen already is much higher than the numbers listed in the report).

Here’s a list:

  • gloves/mittens, hats, and coats (especially kids sizes)
  • sample-size toiletry kits
  • diapers (all sizes)
  • vegetables (canned, if possible, due to limited freezer space, or fresh for the soup kitchen)
  • cereals (avoid the sugar-laden junk masquerading as cereal)
  • peanut butter
  • potted meat (spreadable, such as Libby’s)
  • Ramen noodles
  • powdered milk
  • canned meats (such as chicken, salmon, Spam, etc.)
  • pork and beans
  • soups
  • spaghetti and other pasta
  • spaghetti sauce
  • fish (any type, frozen is preferred for the soup kitchen and canned for the food bank)
  • wild game (for the soup kitchen)
  • six-packs of Ocean Spray or other juices
  • bottled water/tea
  • raisins (preferably in the snack boxes)

Maj. Turnie Wright said the Salvation Army can break down bulk sizes of different foods for the food bank. He also said they accept grocery gift cards from the local stores and Costco. In addition, they can work with people who are taking their vehicles to Juneau on the ferry and have room to bring stuff back from the Southeast Food Bank or Costco (this helps Salvation Army avoid freight charges). Finally, when you design your garden this year, don’t forget to Plant A Row For The Hungry.

The Salvation Army is one of several food assistance programs in Sitka, with others being centered around local churches, the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, and Sitkans Against Family Violence. The Salvation Army will assist the Sitka Tlingít and Haida Community, Sitka Tribe of Alaska, and the Alaska Native Brotherhood/Alaska Native Sisterhood to host the annual community Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, Nov. 27, at ANB Founders Hall. Doors open at 1 p.m., and food will start being served at 2 p.m. until it runs out (probably about 4 p.m.). Volunteers are needed, and donations of side dishes and desserts are appreciated (call Rachel Moreno at 738-6595 for details on the dinner).

For more information about how to help with the Salvation Army food bank and soup kitchen, contact Maj. Turnie Wright at 738-5854.

• ‘Building Food Security in Alaska’ report released during Alaska Food Festival and Conference

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The release of a new report, “Building Food Security in Alaska,” was one of the highlights of the recent Alaska Food Festival and Conference (Nov. 7-9 at the University of Alaska Lucy Anchorage Cuddy Center). This is one of the first comprehensive statewide food security reports compiled for Alaska.

The report was written by Ken Meter and Megan Phillips Goldenberg of the Crossroads Resource Center in Minneapolis, which has done six in-depth statewide food assessments over the past five years and 14 statewide food assessments overall. The report was commissioned by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, with collaboration from the Alaska Food Policy Council.

The Crossroads Resource Center website provides this summary of the report:

Like most other states, Alaska imports about 95 percent of the food it purchases. Yet this state is more distant from prevailing food production regions than other states. Alaskans feel a special sense of vulnerability. Despite a rich history in dairy and cattle production, most of these foods are now imported. Much of the arable farmland has been paved over by development. Moreover, Alaskans who wish to purchase some of the $3 billion of seafood harvested from its ocean waters typically have no choice but to buy through Seattle vendors.

Still, farms produce a rich variety of crops and livestock. Direct sales from farmers to household consumers run at 13 times the national average, amounting to one of every six dollars farmers earn selling food to humans. Lettuce, peppers, and cucumbers are available year-round from indoor farms. Chickens are grown inside greenhouses that rely upon surplus heat from nearby buildings.

In no other state is harvesting wild foods as important. Subsistence and personal use hunters bring in an estimated $900 million worth of salmon, caribou, moose, foraged greens and berries, and other foods. Yet even here, hunters and gatherers face special challenges: a decline of hunting skills, weakening ice, changing migrations, and radioactive fallout.

Our study, written by Ken Meter and Megan Phillips Goldenberg, offers practical steps for building a more reliable food supply by growing, storing, and marketing more Alaska-grown food to Alaskans. Commissioned by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

Copies of the full 180-page report and a shorter executive summary and recommendations are linked below. In addition, most of the presentations and panel discussions from the Alaska Food Festival and Conference can be found here. This link includes a keynote presentation by Sitka Local Foods Network Board President Lisa Sadleir-Hart about the experience of compiling the Sitka Community Food Assessment, plus Sitka residents Keith Nyitray of the Sitka Food Co-op and Gordon Blue of the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust participated in panel discussions about food cooperatives and community-based fisheries, respectively.

In addition, earlier this year two locally focussed food assessments were released. Copies of the Sitka Community Food Assessment Indicators Report (released in April 2014) and the Southeast Alaska Food System Assessment (released in February 2014) can be found in the Documents section of our website.

• Building Food Security in Alaska, Executive Summary and Recommendations, by Ken Meter and Megan Phillips Goldenberg (released November 2014)

• Building Food Security in Alaska, by Ken Meter and Megan Phillips Goldenberg (released November 2014)

• Sitka Community Food Assessment Indicators Report helps define Sitka’s food culture

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SitkaCommunityFoodAssessmentLogoThe Sitka Community Food Assessment Indicators Report was released on Monday, and the findings will help guide future food system planning in Sitka.

A 2012 Sitka Health Summit project, the Sitka Community Food Assessment has examined where Sitka residents get their food, what types they eat, what they grow, what they hunt and fish for, where they shop, what type of access people have to healthy food, and other questions about Sitka’s food supply. The findings of the food assessment will help Sitka improve its food security.

After Sitka residents chose the Sitka Community Food Assessment as a project at the September 2012 Sitka Health Summit, the work group received a grant to hire a coordinator and contract with a data person. A revised version of a questionnaire from a similar project on the Kenai Peninsula was posted online, available at the library, and discussed in focus groups, with more than 400 residents answering the 36 questions. In November 2013, some of the initial data was presented at the Sitka Food Summit, where about 60 residents discussed the results and noted any further research that needed to be done. Since then, the work group, in partnership with The Island Institute and others, fine-tuned the data before writing and editing the indicators report.

“We hope the Sitka Community Food Assessment Indicators Report can guide future food system planning and plant seeds for innovative responses that will strengthen Sitka’s food landscape,” project coordinator Lisa Sadleir-Hart wrote in the 26-page document’s introduction. “The Sitka Community Food Assessment Indicators Report uncovers many weaknesses in our food system as well as some incredible assets that define Sitka’s food culture — a rich ecosystem filled with nutritious gems from the land and sea plus a generous spirit of sharing with our neighbors. Now that we’ve defined the current foodscape in Sitka, let’s work together to build a more resilient food system that can deeply nourish the entire community for generations to come.”

The Sitka Community Food Assessment Indicators Report opens with Sitka’s demographics and several Sitka food facts. It then features data about how many people in Sitka hunt, fish, gather, and/or grow their own food, as well as some barriers. Next is information about where people in Sitka shop for their food, followed by how many people in Sitka are on some form of food assistance. The report also includes information about food in the schools, and local food manufacturing.

The findings will be presented to the community during an upcoming meeting of the Sitka Assembly, and the report will be posted online here (see below) and on The Island Institute’s website.

• Sitka Community Food Assessment Indicator Report (April 14, 2014, opens as PDF file)