Samia Savell of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to be in Sitka to meet with growers

Samia Savell of the Juneau office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture‘s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will be in Sitka on Friday, June 23, to meet with local food growers about her program’s services. She currently is setting up one-on-one meetings from 4-6 p.m. on Friday afternoon at the Sitka Public Library study room.

Among the services provided by the USDA NRCA’s Alaska program is nutrient management to improve soil quality, irrigation system design, energy conservation, and possibly funding for high tunnels if it will improve crop condition and varieties (the high tunnel program is geared toward conserving resources and is offered through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program).

If you are interested in learning more about the programs and how you can work with the USDA NRCA, or setting up a meeting, please contact Samia at (907) 586-7220, Extension 100, or email her at samia.savell@ak.usda.gov.

Looking for volunteers to help us get St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden ready

The Sitka Local Foods Network is creating a pool of volunteers to help us get the St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden and our satellite gardens ready to grow food for the summer.

St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm is located behind St. Peter’s By The Sea Episcopal Church (611 Lincoln St.). This communal garden is where we grow most of the produce sold at the Sitka Farmers Markets during the summer. St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm is recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s The People’s Garden program. The People’s Garden works across USDA and with partners to start and sustain school gardens, community gardens, urban farms, and small-scale agriculture projects in rural and urban areas with the mission of growing healthy food, people and communities.

If you want to help us prepare the garden for planting, amend soil, clean up the garden, and plant seeds, contact St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm lead gardener Laura Schmidt at 738-7009 to let her know about your availability. During the spring, Laura usually is working in the garden most week days, and she’s looking for a couple of assistants each day instead of hosting a big work party on the weekends.

USDA awards $496,840 grant to Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition to develop a food hub network

SLFNBoothOnionsCarrots

logo_southeast-alaska-watershed-council_15Farmers and fishermen in Southeast Alaska will soon be able to expand their markets through a recent grant to the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition and its partners from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The grant was part of more than $56 million in local and community food system and organic research grants announced on Sept. 28. This was the only project from Alaska to receive funding.

The grant award is for $496,840, with a match of $178,327, and it will be used to sell and distribute local foods throughout the region over the next three years.  This is the grant description posted with the list of grant winners in the Local Food Promotion Program:

Localizing the Food System in Southeast Alaska: Building Markets and Supply Award

In Southeast Alaska, a more reliable food supply and improved access to local food are critical to self‐reliance and community resiliency. The vast majority of food consumed in Southeast Alaska is shipped in by barge or plane thus increasing its cost and decreasing its nutritional value. The Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition (SAWC) and its diverse partners propose to increase the consumption of, access to, and production of Southeast Alaska (SEAK) local foods. This will be accomplished by developing new market opportunities using a food hub model. Through a two‐part approach, SAWC and partners will; 1) provide critical training, technical assistance, and business development services to local food entrepreneurs; and 2) increase the consumption of and access to locally produced products through the development of the Southeast Alaska Food Hub Network (SEAK‐FHN).

The Southeast Alaska Watershed Council is working with Haa Aaní, the Sustainable Southeast Partnership and the Takshanuk Watershed Council (Haines) to develop the regional food hub, which they hope will improve food security in the region while also developing new food-related businesses.

TraysOfSalmonPortionsAccording to a post on the Southeast Alaska Watershed Council website, “In Southeast Alaska, improved access to local foods and a more reliable food supply are critical components of self-reliance and community resiliency. Residents of the region’s rural communities face high and rising costs of living, a declining state economy, and dependence upon air and water transport for delivery of basic commodities including food and petroleum products. According to a report commissioned by the Alaska Dept. of Health and Social Services, 95 percent of the food purchased in Alaska is imported, often shipped through extensive supply chains arriving by truck, airplane, and barge.

“The high cost of imported foods and lengthy supply chain make Southeast Alaska communities vulnerable to unforeseen disruptions in larger national food and transport systems, and send local dollars outside of the state. Many communities throughout the region have begun prioritizing the development of a localized food system to promote economic development, increase food security, and bolster the resiliency of Southeast Alaska communities.”

savethedateIn an interview with KSTK-FM radio in Petersburg, SAWC Executive Director Angie Flickinger said the system would be based on an online marketplace, allowing producers such as existing farms in Haines and Petersburg to sell their products throughout the region. The Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition is based in Wrangell and has member community watershed coalitions in Haines, Skagway, Juneau and on Prince of Wales Island.

“And we would allow consumers to go on there and purchase foods,” Flickinger said. “We would set distribution centers where we would aggregate those foods and either ship them out, or set up a date where folks from the community could come and pick up those foods.”

Flickinger said the coalition hopes to build two distribution centers in Juneau and Haines. Both distribution centers will have cold-storage facilities, and will be certified by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation for food safety. The project also will help host the second biannual Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit on Feb. 24-27, 2017, in Haines.

Flickinger told KSTK that this idea was sparked from a feasibility study the Takshanuk Watershed Council did last year examining the market for local foods in Haines.

“So that kind of helped spawn this concept where we thought if we combined a lot of these producers who are based throughout the region, we could create a bigger market and make it more accessible.”

As you build your garden this spring, don’t forget to Plant A Row For The Hungry

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article first appeared on this site in April 2010. It is repeated because much of the information remains current and newsworthy.)

As you start to plan your garden for this spring and summer, don’t forget to Plant A Row For The Hungry. The Plant A Row For The Hungry program (also known as Plant A Row or PAR) is a national campaign by the Garden Writers Association of America that has its roots in Alaska.

In the cold winter of 1994, Anchorage Daily News (now called the Alaska Dispatch News) garden columnist and former Garden Writers Association of America President Jeff Lowenfels was returning to his hotel after a Washington, D.C., event when he was approached by a homeless person who asked for some money to buy food. Lowenfels said Washington, D.C., had signs saying, “Don’t give money to panhandlers,” so he shook his head and kept on walking. But the man’s reply, “I really am homeless and I really am hungry. You can come with me and watch me eat,” stayed with Lowenfels for the rest of his trip.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels

The encounter continued to bother Lowenfels, even as he was flying back to Anchorage. During the flight, Lowenfels came up with an idea when he started writing his weekly garden column (the longest continuously running garden column in the country, with no missed weeks since it started on Nov. 13, 1976). He asked his readers to plant one extra row in their gardens to grow food to donate to Bean’s Café, an Anchorage soup kitchen. The idea took off.

When Anchorage hosted the Garden Writers Association of America convention in 1995, Lowenfels took the GWAA members to Bean’s Café to learn about the Plant A Row For Bean’s Café program. The Garden Writers Association of America liked the idea, and it became the national Plant A Row For The Hungry campaign (also known as Plant A Row or PAR). In 2002, the Garden Writers Association Foundation was created as a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit to manage the Plant A Row For The Hungry program.

“I am not surprised by the growth of PAR,” Lowenfels wrote in an e-mail to the Sitka Local Foods Network. “It is now in all 50 states and across Canada and there are thousands of variations of the original program — from prison gardens for the hungry to botanical gardens donating their produce from public display gardens. This is because gardeners always share information and extra food, so the idea was a natural.”

It took five years for the program to reach its first million pounds of donated food, but the second million only took two years and the next eight years saw a million pounds of donated food (or more) each year. Since 1995, more than 14 million pounds of food have been donated. Not only that, the program is getting ready to expand overseas to Australia, England and other countries with avid gardeners.

“We have supplied something in the vicinity of enough food for 50 million meals,” Lowenfels wrote in his e-mail. “Gardeners can solve this hunger problem without the government. And we don’t need a tea party to do it! Or chemicals, I might add, as author of a book on organic gardening!” Lowenfels is the author of Teaming With Microbes, written with Wayne Lewis. He recently released a second book, Teaming With Nutrients, which is a follow-up to his first book.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one out of every eight U.S. households experiences hunger or the risk of hunger. Many people skip meals or eat too little, sometimes going an entire day or more without food. About 33 million Americans, including 13 million children, have substandard diets or must resort to seeking emergency food because they can’t always afford to buy the food they need. In recent years, the demand for hunger assistance has increased 70 percent, and research shows that hundreds of children and adults are turned away from food banks each year because of lack of resources.

According to the 2014 Sitka Community Food Assessment Indicators Report, about one in six people in Sitka is food insecure. In 2013, there were 1,410 Sitkans (out of a population of about 9,000) and 766 families receiving food assistance (SNAP, aka food stamps). There also were 229 individuals who received food pantry assistance from the Salvation Army and 7,243 meals served through its lunch soup kitchen in 2013, and that number has grown substantially since then.

While many people credit Lowenfels for creating the Plant A Row For The Hungry program, Lowenfels says the real heroes are the gardeners growing the extra food and donating it to local soup kitchens, senior programs, schools, homeless shelters and neighbors. You can hear him pass along the credit to all gardeners at the end of this 2009 interview with an Oklahoma television station (video also embedded below).

“One row. That’s all it takes. No rules other than the food goes to the hungry. You pick the drop-off spot or just give it to a needy friend or neighbor. Nothing slips between the lip and the cup, I say,” Lowenfels wrote in his e-mail.

For people wanting to Plant A Row For The Hungry in Sitka, there are several places that would love to help distribute some fresh locally grown veggies or berries to those who are less fortunate, such as the Salvation Army, Sitkans Against Family Violence (SAFV), local churches, Sitka Tribe of Alaska and other organizations. The food the Sitka Local Foods Network grows at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden goes to the Sitka Farmers Market, school lunches and other programs.

People who participate in the Alaska Food Stamp program can use their Alaska Quest Cards to purchase produce and fish at the Sitka Farmers Market and other farmers markets around the state. People who participate in the  WIC (Women, Infants, Children) supplemental food program (operated in Southeast Alaska by the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium or SEARHC) also can use special farmers market vouchers to buy fresh vegetables at the Sitka Farmers Market and other farmers markets in Alaska (this is part of the national WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program).

The Sitka Local Foods Network also takes donations of local produce to sell at the Sitka Farmers Markets, and all proceeds are used to help pay for SLFN projects geared toward helping more people in Sitka grow and harvest local food. For more information, contact the Sitka Local Foods Network board members at sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com.

• 2016 Plant A Row informational brochure

Alaska Growers School provides guidance for Native-run agriculture projects

AK-Growers-School-1

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service is offering the Alaska Growers School this summer for Alaska Native-owned farms and ranches. This training is offered by webinar and is intended for Alaska Native tribes, Alaska Native corporations, or Alaska Natives who are currently farming or ranching or hope to start.

(Photo by Jeff Fay) Meriam Karlsson provides a tour of the greenhouse and hydroponic system near Pike's Waterfront Lodge.

(Photo by Jeff Fay for the UAF Cooperative Extension Service) Meriam Karlsson provides a tour of the greenhouse and hydroponic system near Pike’s Waterfront Lodge.

A total of nine lessons will be offered by webinar and teleconference from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, June 8 to Aug. 10. Those interested should register for CEPD F001 UX1 Alaska Growers School (CRN 51871). The cost of the course is $50, however tuition waivers are available. To apply for a waiver, first you must register, then you can complete the waiver (the link is available on the registration page).

This training is non-credit and will be taught by University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service experts as well as experts from Arizona and Washington who are knowledgeable about Native American farming and ranching policies. This training is intended for Alaska Native tribes, Alaska Native corporations, or Alaska Natives who are currently or hope to start farming or ranching. Representatives or employees of Alaska Native owned corporations (regional or village) are also welcome to participate in the course. The course will address opportunities available to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

There are lots of reasons to think about starting a farm or ranch. With persistent, low oil prices, agriculture could be a diversification strategy. Starting a farm in a remote village could provide fresher, healthier food for a community as well as improved food security. It also could improve local economies by providing job opportunities and keeping more money in a particular community.

This class will provide the nuts and bolts of getting started farming or ranching in Alaska and will specifically address opportunities available to Alaska Native-owned farms and ranches who are considered socially disadvantaged by the USDA. We will showcase successful Alaska Native- and Native American-owned farms and discuss some of the most promising enterprises for Alaska, such as Rhodiola and peonies.

In the Summer 2016 Alaska Growers School, you will:

  • Learn about important considerations for starting or expanding a farm or ranch.
  • Consider opportunities to improve food security in remote Alaska Native villages
  • Learn about business mapping and how to choose a business structure
  • Establish your vision, goals, values, and strengths.
  • Assess your resources, skills, and motivations for farming.
  • Understand and learn how to manage the risks of starting or expanding a farm in remote Alaska.
  • Learn about other training opportunities, technical assistance, and resources.
  • Connect and learn with other Alaska Native and Native American growers.

The course will be offered using, Blackboard Collaborate.

Please contact the UAF Cooperative Extension Service for any questions about the Alaska Growers School.

This material is based upon work supported by the Office of Advocacy and Outreach, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award # 59-2501-15-045. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

• USDA offers cost-share assistance program to help farms get certified as organic

Carrots2

2000px-USDA_organic_seal.svgWith the growth of the local foods movement in recent years, many consumers are more aware of the health benefits of eating organically grown food. But in Alaska, getting certified as organic is a challenge due to high costs and no accredited certifying agents being in the state.

In an effort to meet the growing demand for organic food, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced two cost-share assistance programs to increase the number of farmers and manufacturers working with organic products. The programs cover three-quarters of the certification costs, up to $750 per category (up to $3,000 total), for each of the four categories of organic food — crops, livestock, processed products, and wild crops.

“The organic industry saw record growth in 2014, accounting for over $39 billion in retail sales in the United States,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The organic certification cost-share programs help more organic businesses succeed and take advantage of economic opportunities in this growing market.”

The USDA Agriculture Marketing Service National Organic Program (NOP) has allocated approximately $11.9 million to participating state departments of agriculture to help defray the costs of organic certification incurred by organic producers and processors. Reimbursements to organic operations will be made under the Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) Certification Cost Share Program or the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP).

The cost-share programs were included in the 2014 Farm Bill. NOCCSP has approximately $11 million available for producers and processors in participating states, U.S. territories and the District of Columbia. AMA has $900,000 for producers in 16 participating states (Alaska is not in the AMA program).

Each state has its own application process, and Barbara Hanson from the Alaska Division of Agriculture in Palmer is Alaska’s contact for the NOCCSP program. She can be contacted at (907) 761-3854 or barbara.hanson@alaska.gov. The program this year is for organic certification costs incurred between Oct. 1, 2014, and Sept. 30, 2015.

Organic certification is important because no food can claim to be organic without the certification, even if it’s grown or processed following organic standards. In Alaska, this has been a challenge because it’s difficult to get a USDA-accredited certifying agent out to our farms and there are none based in our state. So many Alaska farms go without the label. Click this link to learn more about the process for becoming certified as an organic farm.

• 2014 Alaska USDA organic certification cost-share program letter

• 2014 Alaska USDA organic certification cost-share program application

• What Is Organic Certification Fact Sheet

• USDA Organic Cost-Share Programs Information Sheet

• As you build your garden this spring, don’t forget to Plant A Row For The Hungry

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article first appeared on this site in April 2010. It is repeated because much of the information remains current and newsworthy.)

As you start to plan your garden for this spring and summer, don’t forget to Plant A Row For The Hungry. The Plant A Row For The Hungry program (also known as Plant A Row or PAR) is a national campaign by the Garden Writers Association of America that has its roots in Alaska.

In the cold winter of 1994, Anchorage Daily News (now called the Alaska Dispatch News) garden columnist and former Garden Writers Association of America President Jeff Lowenfels was returning to his hotel after a Washington, D.C., event when he was approached by a homeless person who asked for some money to buy food. Lowenfels said Washington, D.C., had signs saying, “Don’t give money to panhandlers,” so he shook his head and kept on walking. But the man’s reply, “I really am homeless and I really am hungry. You can come with me and watch me eat,” stayed with Lowenfels for the rest of his trip.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels

The encounter continued to bother Lowenfels, even as he was flying back to Anchorage. During the flight, Lowenfels came up with an idea when he started writing his weekly garden column (the longest continuously running garden column in the country, with no missed weeks since it started on Nov. 13, 1976). He asked his readers to plant one extra row in their gardens to grow food to donate to Bean’s Café, an Anchorage soup kitchen. The idea took off.

When Anchorage hosted the Garden Writers Association of America convention in 1995, Lowenfels took the GWAA members to Bean’s Café to learn about the Plant A Row For Bean’s Café program. The Garden Writers Association of America liked the idea, and it became the national Plant A Row For The Hungry campaign (also known as Plant A Row or PAR). In 2002, the Garden Writers Association Foundation was created as a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit to manage the Plant A Row For The Hungry program.

“I am not surprised by the growth of PAR,” Lowenfels wrote in an e-mail to the Sitka Local Foods Network. “It is now in all 50 states and across Canada and there are thousands of variations of the original program — from prison gardens for the hungry to botanical gardens donating their produce from public display gardens. This is because gardeners always share information and extra food, so the idea was a natural.”

It took five years for the program to reach its first million pounds of donated food, but the second million only took two years and the next eight years saw a million pounds of donated food (or more) each year. Since 1995, more than 14 million pounds of food have been donated. Not only that, the program is getting ready to expand overseas to Australia, England and other countries with avid gardeners.

“We have supplied something in the vicinity of enough food for 50 million meals,” Lowenfels wrote in his e-mail. “Gardeners can solve this hunger problem without the government. And we don’t need a tea party to do it! Or chemicals, I might add, as author of a book on organic gardening (Teaming With Microbes, written with Wayne Lewis)!” (Lowenfels recently released a second book, Teaming With Nutrients, which is a follow-up to his first book).

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one out of every eight U.S. households experiences hunger or the risk of hunger. Many people skip meals or eat too little, sometimes going an entire day or more without food. About 33 million Americans, including 13 million children, have substandard diets or must resort to seeking emergency food because they can’t always afford to buy the food they need. In recent years the demand for hunger assistance has increased 70 percent, and research shows that hundreds of children and adults are turned away from food banks each year because of lack of resources.

While many people credit Lowenfels for creating the Plant A Row For The Hungry program, Lowenfels says the real heroes are the gardeners growing the extra food and donating it to local soup kitchens, senior programs, schools, homeless shelters and neighbors. You can hear him pass along the credit to all gardeners at the end of this 2009 interview with an Oklahoma television station (video also embedded below).

“One row. That’s all it takes. No rules other than the food goes to the hungry. You pick the drop-off spot or just give it to a needy friend or neighbor. Nothing slips between the lip and the cup, I say,” Lowenfels wrote in his e-mail.

For people wanting to Plant A Row For The Hungry in Sitka, there are several places that would love to help distribute some fresh locally grown veggies or berries to those who are less fortunate, such as the Salvation Army, Sitkans Against Family Violence (SAFV), local churches, Sitka Tribe of Alaska and other organizations. The food the Sitka Local Foods Network grows at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden goes to the Sitka Farmers Market, school lunches and other programs.

People who participate in the Alaska Food Stamp program can use their Alaska Quest Cards to purchase produce and fish at the Sitka Farmers Market and other farmers markets around the state. People who participate in the  WIC (Women, Infants, Children) supplemental food program (operated in Southeast Alaska by the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium or SEARHC) also can use special farmers market vouchers to buy fresh vegetables at the Sitka Farmers Market and other farmers markets in Alaska (this is part of the national WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program).

The Sitka Local Foods Network also takes donations of local produce to sell at the Sitka Farmers Markets, and all proceeds are used to help pay for SLFN projects geared toward helping more people in Sitka grow and harvest local food. For more information, contact SLFN President Lisa Sadleir-Hart or one of the other board members at sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com.

• 2012 Plant A Row For The Hungry marketing brochure

• 2009 Brochure on how to start a local Plant A Row For The Hungry campaign