• Southeast Alaska Commercial Growers Conference to take place Feb. 27-March 1 in Petersburg


Bo Varsano and Marja Smets of Farragut Farm in Petersburg will host the inaugural Southeast Alaska Commercial Growers Conference from Feb. 27 through March 1 in Petersburg. This conference is made possible by the USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program and the Petersburg Economic Development Council.

FarragutFarmProduceStandatIngas“The Southeast Alaska Commercial Growers Conference is an opportunity for the commercial vegetable and flower producers of Southeast Alaska to get together and exchange ideas and techniques, with the purpose of improving and expanding local agricultural production,” Bo Varsano said. “Commercial agriculture in Southeast Alaska is still minimal, but is rapidly expanding with new growers starting up every year. While there are many uniquely specific challenges to growing in our region, few fully developed and publicized strategies currently exist for the new grower to follow. In light of this, gathering with other growers to share our experiences and ideas may be the best way to aid the growing agricultural movement in Southeast Alaska.”

FarragutFarmMarjaInGreenhouseIt’s not too late to sign up to participate, so please take a look and let us know if you have any questions or if you are interested in joining the fun. If the travel and lodging costs are dissuading you from participating, please remember that we can arrange a home-stay for anyone (contact us by Jan. 18 to arrange home-stays) and we still have one travel stipend ($200) to hand out to someone in need.

A few things to consider:

  • This conference is open to commercial farmers, aspiring farmers, as well as anyone in the general public who is interested in the local agriculture industry.
  • Participants are responsible for their own breakfasts and lunches.
  • Friday’s dinner will be prepared by KFSK, our local radio station. This meal is a fundraising event for the station, and a suggested donation will be requested.
  • Saturday’s dinner will be a communal dinner, jointly prepared for and shared by all conference participants at the venue.
  • There is no fee to attend, however, we will be asking for a minimal donation from each participant to cover the cost of venue rental and Saturday evening’s dinner.

Several regional farmers and industry specialists have volunteered to give presentations relevant to the issues and challenges faced by Southeast Alaska growers.  The following topics will be addressed:

We will begin the conference with a brief “show and tell” session. All conference participants will be asked to give a short (under 10 minutes) introduction including a description of their farm, their farming aspirations, or their involvement in the farming industry.

We especially encourage sharing photos of your operation. If you choose to do so, please bring those photos on a memory stick in JPEG format (in the largest original format). That is the ONLY photo format that we can guarantee will work with our computer.

We hope to see you all in February, and again, please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions. The best way to reach us is by email, at farragutfarm@gmail.com.

Please print up the attached documents (which include a conference agenda and a map of Petersburg showing the locations for the conference) and bring them with you when you come.

• 2015 Southeast Alaska Commercial Growers Conference Agenda

• Map of Petersburg

• Buying local food during a Southeast Alaska summer

Sitka Local Foods Network Board Vice President Cathy Lieser distributes "Alaska Grown" bumper stickers during the July Fourth parade in Sitka (Photo by Heike Hüttenkofer)

Sitka Local Foods Network Board Vice President Cathy Lieser distributes “Alaska Grown” bumper stickers during the July Fourth parade in Sitka (Photo by Heike Hüttenkofer)

Sitka Local Foods Network Board Vice President

I am cooking on a boat throughout Southeast Alaska this summer, so on May 5, I planted seeds in my garden, covered it with bird netting and wished it well until my return. The text from my friend read, “the weeds are winning,” luckily I have an herb garden on the boat.

I have been on the hunt for local food in the towns where we provision. It was a late spring, so early on I watched plots greening up and took mental notes. There was kale and rhubarb in Tenakee, with one grower who sells on Friday — The Party Time Bakery — which uses local produce for delicious meals. We bought a rhubarb-berry pie fresh out of the oven and took it back to the boat.

In Juneau, we stocked up at Pinkies Fish Market where the mission is to create a local food economy by sourcing local seafood and other farm fresh items. I toured the Jensen-Olson Arboretum (click here for Facebook page) with Merrill Jensen while he shared about their process toward having a certified virus-free Tlingít potato. The Wild Oven sourdough bakery found me sampling chewy and flavorful loaves that I found out got better with age. At the Second Saturday Market, I bought greenhouse-fresh basil picked that morning.

I barely missed the first Sitka Farmers Market on July 6, but did raid my garden for spinach, kale, lettuce, corn salad and miner’s lettuce. I thank those who watered for me during the hot month of June. Our next boat destination was Petersburg, where I finally arrived on a day where two growers were selling.

The Garden, which participates in the Alaska Grown program, is an abundant oasis of organic produce in the middle of town. Tonna Parker has turned a family lot into a production powerhouse using French intensive methods. For the last four years she has sold direct to the community, just stop by on a Tuesday or Saturday to see what she has available. I bought cucumbers and snap peas that did not make it home, I snacked while Tonna gave me a tour. She has beautiful raised beds, chickens, ducks and compact greenhouses where she is able to grow an astounding variety. Winter squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, bok choi, kale, corn salad, arugula, carrots, beans, peas, berries, eggs, the abundance went on and on.

I was incredibly inspired by her approach toward finding varieties that thrive in her micro climate, ones that are tough and aggressive growers. She trials open-pollinated varieties and saves her own seed for many of her plantings. Freely sharing her knowledge, Tonna said she would happily work herself out of a job, she just wants folks to grow local and reap the benefits.

Farragut Farm makes the trip into Petersburg by boat to sell direct twice a month. Marja Smets and Bo Varsano had beautiful, tender and sweet produce for sale. Radishes nearly the size of golf balls, collards, kale, chard, green onions, carrots, garlic scapes, edible flowers, pea shoots, peas, Napa cabbage, turnips, beets, and lettuce. Wow, to have root crops and full-sized heads of Romaine lettuce and cabbage this early on is a testament to dedicated growing. I had heard that Farragut sells to charter boats and indeed I can place an order via email to be picked up one hour on either side of the high tide in Farragut Bay. They will row and deliver to the boat.

If you love fresh flowers, Craig Olson and Deb Hurley of the Flower Farm run a flower CSA.  For a $100 subscription they deliver six bouquets a summer.  Stunning dahlia, snapdragon, campanula, linaria, veronica, delphinum, and ageratum to name a few.  They grow in three hoophouses and three heated greenhouses that were funded with a $20,000 grant from the Petersburg Development Fund. Planting starts on Jan. 9, and 60 percent of their sales are in veggie and flower bedding plants.

Inga’s Galley (click here for Facebook page) is the Petersburg reinvention of Sitka’s late-but-beloved Two Chicks on a Kabob Stick food cart. Amyee Peeler (one of the Two Chicks from Sitka) sources local produce whenever she can, and of course all of the seafood is local.

Unfortunately, the The Market In Petersburg was not happening on the Friday while I was in town, but I hope to hit it on July 19.

I’ll keep looking over the next two months wherever we dock, I am heartened to see folks committed to growing and sourcing the best food in Southeast. If you know of anyone that I’ve missed leave me a note at sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com (put “Attention Cathy” in the subject line).

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