Another update about the 2021 Sitka Farmers Market and our plans for a safe event

We’re not ready to take vendor registrations yet, but the Sitka Local Foods Network is closer to having its plans set for our 14th season of the Sitka Farmers Market. We do have dates and a location now, but we have to rewrite our vendor agreements to discuss our new COVID-19 reality and we’re waiting to hear if we received a grant that will help us reduce our vendor fees.

Right now we are looking at hosting eight markets, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, July 3, July 17, July 31, Aug. 7, Aug. 21, Aug. 28, Sept. 11, and Sept. 18, on the plaza outside the museum end of Harrigan Centennial Hall. This year’s market will be entirely outdoors to limit the spread of COVID-19, and we still will need people to mask up.

Last year we were able to host a very scaled back market, using the Salt and Soil Marketplace online ordering system during the week and having customers pick up their produce on Saturdays. This year we plan to have a hybrid format, where some produce will be posted online during the week for early ordering and then pick-up at the market, with regular day-at-market sales also taking place where people pick and choose what veggies they want to buy while at the market. In addition, in our non-market weeks we plan to have a small-scale online sales program with either a delivery or pick-up service planned (we are still deciding how this will work).

Now that vaccines are available and more people in Sitka are becoming vaccinated, we feel like we can do more this year such as allow socializing and having more people around. At the same time we have COVID-19 and its variants in our midst, so we still plan to require masks and hand-washing to help prevent the spread.

Our main reason for holding the market outside is because we worry being inside puts too many people on top of each other and probably isn’t safe. We still need to work out our configuration for the plaza outside Harrigan Centennial Hall, so we know how many booths we can support, but we should be able to have people use the benches around the outside of the building. Vendors will need to provide a two-foot-by-six-foot table, but there is an overhang so most booths should be protected from the rain. There are a limited number of electrical outlets outside, for those booths needing power.

We also should be able to host food trucks, which can park next to the plaza with their windows facing the building (most of them have already done this at other events). If you are planning to cook food at the market, your booth will have to be at least 10 feet away from any of the overhangs, so they will need to set up a table and 10×10 farmers market/event tent (about $115-$120 at Sitka True Value) on the plaza. They also will need to provide their own small camp stove or BBQ grill for cooking, and may need a generator for power since we can’t have long cords creating a trip hazard.

We have big plans to grow even more produce than before at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden. Last year, we bought a second high tunnel so we can extend our growing season and have a little help with climate control. That worked so well, we bought a third high tunnel this winter and we’re already planting veggies inside it.

Laura Schmidt has been our lead gardener for more than 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. St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm has received a Certified Naturally Grown designation the past two years.

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. One aspect of the market is it serves as a business incubator, a place for people to try out a new business, and we lost that last year when we had to scale things back to just our produce vendors.

We are excited to bring the market back to Sitka, and hope people enjoy our eight markets this summer. The full markets will allow non-produce vendors to participate, and maybe even some arts-and-crafts vendors.

Since we will have to increase the space between booths around the market, we will have some space limitations. The Sitka Local Foods Network’s main focus is on local food, so food booths who book by a certain date will have priority, with arts-and-crafts booths filling leftover open spaces. We want to be able to involve as many vendors as possible, so hopefully we’ll be able to fit everybody in the space without making it too crowded.

We are working with state WIC and SNAP programs to see if we can accept benefits every week, or only when we have our larger markets. Our goal is to provide fresh local produce to all residents, especially those low-income residents who might not be able to afford it. Anyway, we still are trying to finalize details and hope to have an update soon.

If you have any questions, feel free to call Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham at 623-7660 or email Nalani James will be our Sitka Farmers Market manager this year. We will need volunteers to help set up and take down the market each week, and to sell produce at the Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand.

Celebrate National Farmers Market Week this week with the Sitka Farmers Market

It’s National Farmers Market Week on Aug. 2-8 this year. You can celebrate by ordering produce from the Sitka Farmers Market and picking it up from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Aug. 8, at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm (located behind St. Peter’s By The Sea Episcopal Church, 611 Lincoln Street). Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you will need to order your produce from 5 p.m. Tuesday through 8 p.m. Thursday using the Salt and Soil Marketplace website, and then picking it up on Saturday at St. Peter’s.

This is the 13th summer of Sitka Farmers Markets, but the pandemic is forcing us to run a very scaled back operation. To limit the handling of cash, we went to an online ordering system (Salt and Soil Marketplace) where people order all of their produce during the week and then pick it up on Saturday. Since our usual venue was still closed when we were planning, we had to switch to an outdoors venue with limited space so our main vendors are produce vendors.

The theme for this year’s National Farmers Market Week is #FarmersMarketsAreEssential. When the pandemic hit, there were worries farmers markets would be closed even though they play a vital role in local food security. This article from March 19 in Civil Eats discusses some of the struggles to keep farmers markets open and labeled as essential businesses. In Alaska, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced in April that farmers markets were considered essential businesses, but they would be limited this year to just food vendors (no arts and crafts). This announcement came during the Alaska Farmers Market Association annual meeting and conference, which was online this year.

But at least we are able to be open and sell locally grown produce this year. You can learn more about how we’re operating this year at this link. The link includes information about how we are handling WIC and SNAP benefits this year. Basically there are two main produce vendors — the Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand and Middle Island Gardens — selling produce each week. There are a couple of other Salt and Soil Marketplace vendors in Sitka — Raincoast Flowers sells cut flowers and distributes them at St. Peter’s most weeks, Anam Cara Family Garden sells jams and jellies and distributes them from their home, and Spinning Moon Apothecary sells teas and herbal tinctures and distributes them from their storefront.

“We really miss having the full market and the community connections it provides, but we’re just happy to be able to be able to get locally grown produce into the hands of Sitka residents,” Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham said. “The Sitka Farmers Market is more than a market for local produce, and we usually have local seafood, cottage foods products, baked goods, arts and crafts, and more. It’s been a place to incubate small food businesses. The Sitka Local Foods Network mission is to increase the amount of locally produced and harvest food in the diets of Southeast Alaskans, and so we have to go back to supporting the food part of our mission this year. Hopefully we’ll be back to a normal market again next summer.”

By moving our market outside this year, we’re hoping to reduce the risk of spreading the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes COVID-19. All of our volunteers are wearing masks and gloves, and we ask that customers please wear masks or stay in their cars if you are not wearing a mask. Our greeters will bring your order to you, so you can put it into your own box or tote bags (please return out baskets).

For more information, contact or, or call our Sitka Farmers Market phone at 738-7310. You also can sign up for our weekly Sitka Farmers Market newsletter that comes out on Tuesday afternoons with info about what produce is available by clicking on the Sitka Farmers Market logo in the right column of the Sitka Local Foods Network website,