Scenes from the Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit held Feb. 15-17

Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit event organizer Jennifer Nu (Juneau), far right, introduces the members of the planning committee after the final session on Sunday. From left are Colin Peacock (Juneau), Lori Adams (Sitka), Joe Orsi (Juneau), Bo Varsano (Petersburg), Marja Smets (Petersburg), Andrea Fraga (Sitka) and Laura Schmidt (Sitka).

The 2019 Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit came to Sitka last week, with events Feb. 15-17 at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp’s Sweetland Hall and downtown at Harrigan Centennial Hall.

Started in 2015 in Petersburg as a way to bring the farmers and commercial food and flower growers in Southeast Alaska together, the Summit provides them with a forum to discuss what works and doesn’t work in their communities. The Summit takes place every other year, and in 2017 it was in Haines.

A variety of small farms around the region made presentations about how they grow food. There also was a vendor showcase and educational talks by farmers from outside the region.

The event was organized by Jennifer Nu and Colin Peacock of the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition out of Juneau, with support from the Sitka Local Foods Network, Sitka Kitch, Sitka Food Co-Op, and other groups.

A slideshow of scenes from the Summit is posted below.

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Produce Safety Alliance Grower Training to take place Feb. 18 in conjunction with Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit

The State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Office of the State Veterinarian is hosting a Produce Safety Alliance Grower Training from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 18, in the Raven Conference Room at the Aspen Suites Hotel in Sitka (210 Lake Street). This course is being held in conjunction with the Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit, which takes place on Feb. 15-17 at various locations around Sitka.

This FDA-approved course satisfies the Grower Training curriculum requirements under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule.

There is no charge for class participants. Funding is provided by an FDA-State of Alaska Cooperative Agreement. Growers will receive a free certificate of attendance for completing the course.

Who should register for this course? Commercial fruit & vegetable growers, farmers market vendors, and all others interested in learning about produce safety, the FDA Produce Safety Rule, and good agricultural practices should attend. Participants will gain a basic understanding of:

  • Microorganisms relevant to produce safety and where they may be found on the farm;
  • How to identify microbial risks, practices that reduce risks, and how to begin implementing food safety practices on your farm; and
  • Requirements of the FDA Produce Safety Rule and how to meet them.

This class covers these seven modules:

  • Introduction to Produce Safety;
  • Worker Health, Hygiene, and Training;
  • Soil Amendments;
  • Wildlife, Domesticated Animals, and Land Use;
  • AgriculturalWater (Part I: Production Water; Part II: Postharvest Water);
  • Postharvest Handling and Sanitation; and
  • How to Develop a Farm Food Safety Plan

This course is being held in conjunction with the Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit, which has early bird registration deals that end on Dec. 31 (after Jan. 1, the price goes up). This event is hosted by the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition and the Sustainable Southeast Partnership.

To register for the course or for more information, contact Barbara Hanson at the DEC Office of the State Veterinarian at (907) 375-8278 or barbara.hanson@alaska.gov.

Early registration deadline is Dec. 31 for Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit in Sitka

The Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit will be in Sitka on Feb. 15-17, and the early registration deadline is Dec. 31. After that, the price goes up.

This event takes place every other year in various locations around Southeast Alaska (2015 in Petersburg, 2017 in Haines), and it provides a chance for farmers and backyard gardeners to meet and learn ways to make their businesses more profitable and efficient. More program details can be found at the event’s main link.

Early bird registration currently is available through Dec. 31 on the summit website at $40 per person, with the price rising to $60 after Jan. 1. This fee does not include meals, which are $100 for all three days if purchased before Dec. 31 and $120 after that. Accommodations are $85 a night in the Sweetland Hall dorms, and details can be found on the summit website.

This year’s summit is being coordinated by the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition out of Juneau (with SAWC local foods coordinator Jennifer Nu being the main contact), and the Sitka Local Foods Network and other Sitka groups are supporting the event. For more information about the summit, contact Jennifer at jennifer@sawcak.org.

The Sitka Local Foods Network has been asked to help coordinate a community potluck or catered local foods dinner on Friday night, and to help provide transportation between the airport or ferry terminal and the summit housing site at Sweetland Hall on the Sitka Fine Arts Camp/old Sheldon Jackson College campus. We will need volunteers to help with these requests. The Sitka Local Foods Network will host a short meeting for Sitka volunteers at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 13, at 1612 Sawmill Creek Road (Laura Schmidt’s house). Please click this link to RSVP for the meeting

For more information about volunteering, contact Sitka Local Foods Network board chairman Charles Bingham at charleswbingham3@gmail.com.

Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit coming to Sitka in February 2019

 

The Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit is scheduled for Friday through Sunday, Feb. 15-17, 2019, in Sitka, with an extra all-day on Feb. 18 for an optional produce grower safety training.

Most of the events at this year’s summit will take place at Sweetland Hall on the Sitka Fine Arts Camp (old Sheldon Jackson College) campus or at Harrigan Centennial Hall. The summit opens at 1 p.m. on Friday, and closes at 5 p.m. on Sunday. Full details can be found on the summit website, https://www.saltandsoilmarketplace.com/farmers-summit/

This event takes place every other year at various locations throughout the region, with the previous events taking place in Petersburg (2015) and Haines (2017).

“This gathering began in 2015 when commercial farmers and producers in Southeast Alaska decided to come together to learn from one another about producing local food in a challenging growing environment and how to bring these products to market,” event organizers posted on their website. “Since then, this summit has met every other year in a different community to reconnect, expand their knowledge, and share their experiences with a growing network of local food producers. The 2019 Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit will be the third annual gathering for current commercial produce growers and for those who would like to explore this potential in our region.”

Friday’s schedule highlights include reports from various growers around Southeast Alaska about what is working and what isn’t working where they are. On Saturday, there will be in-depth presentations on pest disease management, composting in Juneau and Petersburg, farming in Fairbanks, employees and interns, cover crops, and growing gourmet mushrooms. Sunday’s schedule includes more in-depth presentations, as well as side sessions on hydroponics, composting, entrepreneurship/business consulting, and more.

Early bird registration currently is available through Dec. 31 on the summit website at $40 per person, with the price rising to $60 after Jan. 1. This fee does not include meals, which are $100 for all three days if purchased before Dec. 31 and $120 after that. Accommodations are $85 a night in the Sweetland Hall dorms, and details can be found on the summit website.

This year’s summit is being coordinated by the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition out of Juneau (with SAWC local foods coordinator Jennifer Nu being the main contact), and the Sitka Local Foods Network and other Sitka groups are supporting the event. For more information about the summit, contact Jennifer at jennifer@sawcak.org.

The Sitka Local Foods Network has been asked to help coordinate a community potluck or catered local foods dinner on Friday night, and to help provide transportation between the airport or ferry terminal and summit site. We will need volunteers to help with these requests. To help with the Friday night meal or ground transportation, contact Sitka Local Foods Network board chairman Charles Bingham at charleswbingham3@gmail.com.

 

Building a Local Food System: Andrea Fraga and Middle Island Organic Produce

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Andrea Fraga, left, and partner Kaleb Aldred, hosted their Middle Island Organic Produce booth at the July 16 Sitka Farmers Market.

(Editor’s Note: The Sitka Local Foods Network’s Bulldog on Baranof intern this summer, Claire Chang, is writing the Building a Local Food System series of articles about Sitkans working to improve food security. This is the fourth article of the series.)

WP_20160704_11_00_23_ProAndrea Fraga grew up in Hawaii and lived in Oregon for 10 years before she moved to Sitka. While in Oregon, she met a friend from Sitka who invited her to visit, and after her third trip she decided to embrace the rainy weather and move here. Sitka’s tremendous opportunities for subsistence appealed to her desire to become more self-sufficient. “I had been really interested in leading more of a subsistence lifestyle for a while” Fraga said.

Fraga lives on Middle Island with her partner, Kaleb Aldred. They started with a small garden on the beach, and then established a garden with a greenhouse behind their home. They have since expanded to a lot due south of their house. “We had always lusted to have that space as an ideal garden spot,” she said.

Creating the “small farm or large garden” on Middle Island was not an easy task. They had to cut down trees and rent a machine to pull the stumps out. When they tried to dig the stumps out by hand, removing one stump took a whole week. The machine that removed the stumps compacted the soil, so they then had to dig a trench and fill it with gravel to provide the boggy field with adequate drainage. “I never thought I’d be someone to say, ‘Yeah, let’s cut down all the trees,’ but it’s necessary if you want to garden here,” Fraga said. Removing trees created a sunnier space and also has enabled Fraga to plant fruit trees along the perimeter of her garden.

MiddleIslandOrganicProduceKalebAldredAndreaFragaWithCustomersOn occasion, Fraga sells vegetables at the Sitka Farmers Market through their Middle Island Organic Produce stand. She and Aldred hope to grow garlic commercially one day, although they are well aware that “weather and crop failure coalesce and can slow plans down.”

Currently, they have planted about a quarter of their garden in garlic so that they can harvest enough to plant a larger area in the future. Seed garlic costs about $25 dollars a pound from most sources, so generating seed on site will help save a significant amount of money. Fraga said growing garlic commercially makes sense because deer and slugs do not eat it and it is not highly perishable. Furthermore, unlike most garden vegetables she plants in the spring, garlic goes in the ground in the fall, so she can distribute her labor throughout the year.

At a commercial growers conference last spring, Fraga learned about using plastic mulch on garlic to control moisture levels and minimize weeds. The infrared- transmitting plastic transmits heat wavelengths of sunlight that warm the soil and absorbs the wavelengths that plants require for photosynthesis, so weeds cannot grow beneath it. Fraga has begun using the plastic mulch on her own garden this year.

Having farmed in Oregon where one can cultivate a wider variety of plants with greater ease than in Sitka, Fraga does find adapting to Sitka’s weather challenging. Living on an island also has its challenges. For example, in the fall and winter, storms and darkness can restrict travel to and from town. However, Fraga views these challenges as small tradeoffs that allow her to live and garden in a “beautiful, quiet place away from all the noises and distractions of town” and where she is “more in touch with the environment.”

WP_20160707_18_03_42_ProExperiencing beauty is, in large part, what Fraga finds so appealing about subsistence. She explained that gardens, berry thickets, and areas where she forages for mushrooms and seaweed are all beautiful places to spend time. For her, gardening “is just such a beautiful process.” She appreciates the exercise and fresh air involved in gardening, as well as the taste and nutritional value of fresh food. Fraga especially appreciates when she can refer to her dinner as a “Middle Island meal” because all of its components, apart from perhaps the fish,” came from the island that is her home. “It’s really satisfying to eat something that’s entirely grown or harvested yourself.”

Fraga is also a part of a gardening group that meets at one member’s garden every week to work there together. “It’s really great because garden projects that seem daunting end up being fun when you have people to work with,” Fraga said.

For those who find the prospect of starting a garden daunting, Fraga recommends “starting small and simple.” For example, one could begin by growing hearty plants like kale and potatoes that do not require extremely fertile soil. Learning about wild edibles also intimidates many people. Fraga took a class on mushroom identification through University of Alaska Southeast, but she also pointed out one can learn by reading field guides and talking with individuals who willing to share their knowledge on the subject. Gardening and foraging “are really rewarding,” she said. “They don’t have to be discouraging.”

For questions about her garden on Middle Island, contact Andrea Fraga at 738-5135.

Building a Local Food System: Dave Nuetzel and Blatchley Community Gardens

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Dave Nuetzel, right, helps build a memorial garden bed for longtime Blatchley Community Gardens supporter Kathy Swanberg.

(Editor’s Note: The Sitka Local Foods Network’s Bulldog on Baranof intern this summer, Claire Chang, is writing the Building a Local Food System series of articles about Sitkans working to improve food security. This is the third article of the series.)

BlatchleyCommunityGardenSignDave Nuetzel has held the role of lead gardener at Blatchley Community Gardens since 2007. Nuetzel grew up outside of Cleveland, and he toured around the country on a two-year road trip after he graduated from college. At the end of the trip, he wound up in Anchorage. In 2005, he followed his partner, who came to Sitka to work at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, and he has lived here ever since. With a background in special education, he originally worked for the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC), and he now works for Southeast Alaska Independent Living (SAIL).

The Blatchley Community Gardens, located behind Sitka’s middle school on what used to be a gravel terrace, started in 2000 as a project of Sitka Community Schools. When Sitka Community Schools lacked the staff to run the garden, Nuetzel took on his role as lead gardener. This year the garden has transitioned from Sitka Community Schools to become a program of Blatchley Middle School. The community garden consists of about fifty garden plots, approximately 6-by-12-feet each. It is personal-use garden, although it does contain a few communal plots of plants such as mint, rhubarb, and flowers. Gardeners pay for the square footage of a plot, and Nuetzel explained that the community garden particularly appeals to people who live in apartments, on boats, or in houses with yards that receive little sunlight.

MiddleOfBlatchleyCommunityGardenAs someone who “has always liked to fix things and learn new skills,” Nuetzel had small gardens when he was growing up, as well as in college. In addition to his personal plots at the Blatchley Community Gardens, Neutzel says that he has “basically cultivated his whole yard.” Any areas around his house where he is not growing vegetables or flowers contain salmonberry, blueberry, or raspberry plants. Gardening appeals to Nuetzel’s desire to strive for self-sufficiency; he also fishes and forages for beach asparagus for subsistence.

LeaveProduceAloneSignBlatchleyCommunityGardenNuetzel explained that, as lead gardener of Blatchley Community Gardens, maintaining a unified vision for the garden has posed a challenge. At the community garden, each plot represents the gardener’s individual approach to cultivation. Some gardeners devote themselves to experimentation, and they use their plots as a space for attempting to grow one type of vegetable that they have never succeeded in cultivating before. Others are committed to growing a wide variety of plants that they know will yield an ample harvest. Furthermore, gardeners choose to amend the soil in unique ways; while one might opt for buried salmon carcasses, kelp, and ground-up shells, another might rely more heavily on compost and coffee grounds.

An even larger challenge that Nuetzel has faced in his role is coordinating the management of common plots. Dividing up the responsibility of caring for a plot of chard, for example, becomes difficult when gardeners travel schedules and family obligations interfere. Furthermore, trying to ensure that everyone has equal to the resources of common plots, such as the apples from a communal apple tree, can be tricky.

BlatchleyCommunityGardenPicnicTableAndBedsNevertheless, Nuetzel appreciates Blatchley Community Gardens as a space where he and others can experience the tangible results of physical labor. Regular visits to the garden allow him to appreciate how well one can grow food for oneself when one puts in the effort. Nuetzel believes that gardening has grown more popular in Sitka in recent years. He has seen new gardens emerge in yard, and in the future, he would like to see new community gardens established in town. As gardening in the community becomes more popular, he wishes that more people would view gardening as a basic need, not just a hobby.

CherryBlossomsBlatchleyCommunityGarden“At one time, producing food was a requirement for life,” Nuetzel said. “Now, people think that gardening is only something you do if you have lots of ‘extra’ time. But if you provide people with a little bit of guidance and get them invested in the process of gardening, they will value it and treat it like something that is necessary.”

To learn more about Blatchley Community Gardens, go to the Facebook page or contact Dave Nuetzel at community.garden@hotmail.com.

• Scenes from the 2015 Sitka Seafood Festival events held Saturday, Aug. 8

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ssflogo2There were tote races, a parade, a marathon/half-marathon, food booths, live music, canning classes, salmon-head bobbing, halibut-head tossing, the Sitka Highland Games, and scores of other events Saturday during the sixth annual Sitka Seafood Festival at Sheldon Jackson Campus.

There also was nice weather — a little cloudy with light rain for the marathon/half-marathon, followed by warm sunny weather for the tote races, parade, and marketplace events later in the day.

A few scenes from the 2015 Sitka Seafood Festival are in a slideshow below.

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