Scenes from the first Sitka Farmers Market of the 2020 summer

Thank you to everybody who helped us test our new procedures for the Sitka Farmers Market on Saturday, June 20. There is no market this weekend (June 27), but we will hold produce pick-up days every Saturday in July, August and September this summer.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, we’re having to change a lot of our operation this year, and Saturday gave use a chance to see how things will work out. We have a greatly scaled back market this summer, due to state mandates and space limitations. Right now, we have converted to a market where people order produce online, then pick it up on Saturday.

We will take a break this week (June 27), but then we will have market pick-up days every Saturday in July (4, 11, 18, 25), August (1, 8, 15, 22, 29), and September (5, 12, 19, 26). We will open up our online ordering portal on the Salt and Soil Marketplace website, http://www.saltandsoilmarketplace.com, from 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 30, until it closes at 8 p.m. on Thursday, July 2. Our next pick-up time is from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, July 4, at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm (located by the See House behind St. Peter’s By The Sea Episcopal Church, 611 Lincoln Street). This is where we grow most of our produce for the Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand.

“We wish we could have a regular farmers market, but we’re glad we’re able to at least do this, get fresh, local produce into the hands of Sitka residents,” said Charles Bingham, board president of the Sitka Local Foods Network which is hosting its 13th season of Sitka Farmers Markets. “We miss the camaraderie and vendors of a normal market, and we hope to be able to go back to that next summer. In the meantime, it is what it is, and we’re trying to make the best of the situation.”

On June 20, we had the Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand and Middle Island Gardens as vendors, but there may be additional vendors using Salt and Soil Marketplace that will sell food products in Sitka later this summer. Most of those vendors will distribute their products at our pick-up days, although they may not be physically present.

We expect to start taking WIC farmers market coupons and SNAP Alaska Quest EBT cards beginning with the July 4 pick-up day. Thanks to grants from the White E, Sitka Legacy Fund and The Alaska Community Foundation, people using WIC and SNAP benefits will be able to use $5 of their benefits to receive a $20 small basket of produce from the Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand. Since you won’t be able to use Salt and Soil Marketplace, you will need to call our Sitka Farmers Market phone at 738-7310 or email us at sitkafarmersmarket@gmail.com to reserve your basket, You will need to bring one WIC coupon or your Alaska Quest card to the pick-up site so we can process your order. There is a limit of one small basket of produce per family per week for WIC/SNAP benefits.

Due to COVID-19, we are trying to minimize exposure as much as possible. This means using the online format to reduce our handling of cash and checks. It also means all of our volunteers are gloved and masked (and our request that you also mask up). When you arrive to pick up your produce, we ask you park in one of the parking spaces at the top of the hill and turn off your engine. We will get your name and bring you your produce basket so you can transfer the produce into your own tote bag or box (we do need our plastic baskets back).

A slideshow of scenes from the first market is posted below.

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Sitka Local Foods Network prepares for 13th year of Sitka Farmers Markets

It’s the 13th season of the Sitka Farmers Market, and already it may seemed jinxed with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Sitka Local Foods Network will host another season of markets this summer, but due to the outbreak, special state regulations for the outbreak, new health and safety rules, and a need to get produce to people for food security there will be several changes to the markets this year. This article will attempt to detail some of those changes, so customers can navigate the new system.

The produce sold by the Sitka Local Foods Network at the Sitka Farmers Market is grown at the St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden. We have a new high tunnel this year, and our produce has a Certified Naturally Grown designation.

Probably the biggest thing people will notice is this year it’s not a full market. State COVID-19 rules are limiting our vendors (no arts and crafts) this summer, plus we don’t have the same amount of space for other vendors since our usual location of the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall wasn’t open when we had to plan.

That means we will host a greatly scaled back market this season. We will use an online ordering portal, we will have new health and safety rules, and we will meet at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm (located behind St. Peter’s By The Sea Episcopal Church, 611 Lincoln St.). This is where our lead gardener, Laura Schmidt, has been growing our market produce for the past decade. We also have two new market co-managers in Ariane Goudeau and Nalani James, since we lost our previous manager, Nina Vizcarrondo, to Coast Guard relocation.

“We are disappointed we won’t be able to host a full market this year,” Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham said. “We really enjoy the feeling of community we get when we have all of the vendors, and it’s great seeing their interactions with customers. Being a business incubator was one reason for hosting the market. But our main reason for hosting the market is getting fresh, locally grown produce to Sitka residents, so we wanted to continue doing that. We had to simplify a lot this year, and we ask people to please bear with us as we adjust to the changes.”

This year, the markets will only feature our two regular produce vendors — the Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand and Middle Island Gardens. Both of us will be selling our produce using the Salt and Soil Marketplace website, http://www.saltandsoilmarketplace.com, so we can minimize our handling of cash and checks. Our online ordering period will be from 5 p.m. on Tuesday through 8 p.m. on Thursday, with our produce delivery from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm.

One good change this year is we plan 14 market pick-up days this summer, which is twice our usual seven markets a summer. We will host a soft opening on Saturday, June 20, with limited produce availability (this is our earliest opening ever). Then we plan pick-up days on every Saturday in July (4, 11, 18, 25), August (1, 8, 15, 22, 29), and September (5, 12, 19, 26). We are launching a weekly Sitka Farmers Market newsletter that will be sent out on Tuesday afternoons and will list what’s available that week and remind people about how to order. Click the link in the right column on our website to sign up for the newsletter.

In order to order produce using the Salt And Soil Marketplace, customers will need to create a free Sitka-based account on the website. The website may mention a fee, but there is no fee for Sitka this year. Make sure you are logged into your account when you order, and click the Confirm button after you have finished your order so it registers in the system. Not clicking Confirm is a common mistake for new customers. If you need help using the online ordering system, call Ariane at 738-5015 and she can provide assistance.

A sampling of the produce that might be in an early season small box of produce for $20 this summer.

This year, the Sitka Local Foods Network is selling pre-selected farmer’s choice produce baskets with a variety of seasonal produce. Our first markets will feature our small baskets for $20 (about $25 worth of produce), and later, about mid-July, we will add our large baskets for $40. The small baskets typically will contain 4-5 varieties of produce, and early in the season that might be lettuce or salad mix, a second green such as kale or chard, rhubarb, and either onions, garlic, etc. The large baskets will include 2-3 additional varieties of produce when they become available.

We occasionally will have special items available when we have an abundance. For example, for the first week (June 20 delivery) we plan to have 10 small farmer’s choice produce baskets available for $20 and 10 special rhubarb baskets available for $20. There will be a limited number of salad bags with washed lettuce and flowers ($7), baggies of basil ($4) and bunches of broccoli raab ($4).

We also have about 30 of our 2019 Sitka Farmers Market tote bags available at $10 each, and we will have our 2020 Sitka Local Foods Network tote bags featuring our new logo available for $12 each when they arrive in Sitka. Because of our need to simplify the market, we will not be selling our usual Alaska Grown value-added products this summer.

We have about 30 of our 2019 Sitka Farmers Market tote bags available for $10 each until they run out.

Another change we’re having to make this year is how we handle WIC and SNAP clients. Current Alaska WIC and SNAP rules don’t allow for online sales, so we’ve been working with state officials to try and find a way to still provide produce to WIC and SNAP clients this year. In past years, we have accepted WIC farmers market coupons and Alaska Quest SNAP electronic benefits transfers at our SLFN farm stand. We also have matched up to $20 in benefits through a grant from the White E for produce bought from the SLFN farm stand. There is a limit of one small basket of produce per family per week for WIC/SNAP benefits.

“Finding a way to get fresh, local produce into the hands of WIC and SNAP clients has been our biggest challenge this year,” Bingham said. “We have several people on our board who have been WIC and/or SNAP clients, so we know how important it is for our lower-income residents to have access to this produce. That’s one reason we pursued grants and are willing to dig into our own general fund to help pay for this service.”

Early on, the Sitka Local Foods Network thought it would have to provide the produce using our general fund, since we wouldn’t be able to get the state reimbursement. But there have been some recent changes to make it easier. The Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand now will be able to accept WIC farmers market coupons and a match. We are able to do this because of the White E grant, and two new COVID-19 grants from the Sitka Legacy Fund and The Alaska Community Foundation.

This summer we will provide one small $20 basket of produce for one $5 WIC coupon. For SNAP clients, we will need to run their Alaska Quest EBT cards for $5 for one small basket of produce. Note, we only accept the Alaska cards, not those from other states, and the client has to have their WIC coupon or SNAP card with them when they pick up their produce on Saturday. Due to limited produce availability on June 20, we will start working with WIC/SNAP clients for our July 4 pick-up day and those following.

Since we can’t run these benefits using the Salt and Soil Marketplace, WIC and SNAP clients will need to call our Sitka Farmers Market phone at 738-7310 or email us at sitkafarmersmarket@gmail.com to place your order. We then will reserve your basket, which you will pick up on Saturday and pay for with your WIC/SNAP benefits.

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, there will be several health and safety changes this summer.

“In order to host the market, we need to make sure we protect the health and safety of our volunteers and customers,” Bingham said. “Some of these rules are mandated by the state, and others are good common sense to protect against the spread of the coronavirus. These practices include masks and gloves, having a hand-washing station, and social-distancing, which all have been proven to be effective in reducing the spread.”

All volunteers will be wearing masks and gloves, and we ask customers to also wear masks. When they arrive at the parking lot, please park your car, turn off your engine and wait in the car. A greeter will meet you and get your name, then will bring your basket to you. Then you can open your door and put the produce in your own tote bag or box you brought from home (or purchased from us). Then place your basket at the front of your parking spot and slowly drive away.

If you are riding your bike or walking to pick up your produce, you will be pointed to a taped mark on the pavement to stand while we get your order. Please wait there until we bring it to you, then put it in your own tote or box. Due to the online ordering system, we will not be able to offer the Bicycle Benefits discount this year. We ask people who feel sick or have a fever to stay home and ask a family member or friend to pick up their orders, so we reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

We thank Sitka for its support, and look forward to seeing you briefly each Saturday this summer. For more details about the markets and changes, please contact Charles Bingham at 623-7660 or sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com.

White E awards Sitka Local Foods Network 2020 grant to match SNAP/WIC produce sales

Sitka White Elephant Shop (White E) volunteer Tom Brown, left, presents Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham with a check for $1,500 to use for matching SNAP/WIC benefits at the 2020 Sitka Farmers Market.

The Sitka White Elephant Shop (aka, the White E thrift shop) awarded the Sitka Local Foods Network with a $1,500 grant during its 2020 grant cycle. In 2018, the White E awarded the Sitka Local Foods Network $1,000. The amount was increased to $1,500 in 2019.

The grant will be used to provide matching funds for SNAP and WIC beneficiaries who purchase produce at the Sitka Farmers Market and other events where the SLFN sells produce, such as at the Running of the Boots. The Sitka Local Foods Network began providing SNAP matching dollars for the first $20 of produce purchases at the markets several years ago when there was a state grant, but in 2017 those state grant funds ran out and we used our Sitka Local Foods Network general fund to match the produce purchases.

The White E grants, starting in 2018, have helped us continue the matching program. We also started matching the $5 WIC farmers market produce coupons in 2017, using our general fund (in 2019, we were the only farmers market in the state authorized to match WIC coupons). If the senior farmers market coupons are finally distributed in Southeast Alaska in 2020, our intention is to match those as well.

We grow most of the produce sold at the Sitka Farmers Market locally at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden, and our satellite gardens around town. St. Peter’s Fellowship holds a Certified Naturally Grown designation, which means we follow healthy and sustainable practices while growing our produce, including limited use of chemical fertilizers. The Sitka Farmers Market also is on the Certified Naturally Grown’s Guide To Exceptional Markets.

“Our mission is to increase the amount of locally produced and harvested food in the diets of Southeast Alaskans, but buying local produce can be difficult for people on food assistance programs,” Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham said. “Local produce can be fresher and tastier than barged-in produce from the Lower 48, and it doesn’t lose its nutritional value during transit. Our matching funds help get more healthy local produce into the diets of lower-income residents of Sitka. A lot of people don’t realize how much income inequality there is in Sitka, and according to the Sitka Community Food Assessment Indicators Report released in 2014, there were 1,410 people and 766 families receiving SNAP benefits in Sitka during 2013. That’s about one out of six Sitka residents who need extra access to this healthy local produce.”

The White E made several grants during the 2020 grant cycle, but a complete list wasn’t available. The Sitka Local Foods Network thanks the White E for its support. The White E noted that it donated about $25,000 less this year than in previous years because sales are down. The White E is encouraging people to donate quality used clothes, toys, and other items to sell so it can raise the amount of contributions it makes to local nonprofits again next year.

Like what we do? Now you or your business can sponsor the Sitka Local Foods Network in 2020

The Sitka Local Foods Network in recent years created a sponsorship program to help promote our mission, and Sitka businesses and individuals are welcome to join for 2020. The goal of the sponsorship program is to make the projects we undertake (Sitka Farmers Market, St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm, gardening education, etc.) more sustainable.

“Sitka has a precarious position when it comes to food security, and the Sitka Local Foods Network is trying to improve our food security through our mission to increase the amount of locally harvested and produced foods in the diets of Southeast Alaskans,” Sitka Local Foods Network president Charles Bingham said. “Sponsors of the Sitka Local Foods Network are working with an organization and a farmers market that values local food and businesses, fun, premium quality goods and experiences.”

In recent years, the Sitka Local Foods Network has hosted seven Sitka Farmers Markets during the summer (from July to September). We haven’t set our 2020 dates yet, but we anticipate we will have seven markets again this summer. In addition, we grow most of the local produce sold at the markets at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden and a couple of other locations in town. We also offer a variety of garden education classes in the spring. One way we ensure fresh, local produce is available to lower-income Sitkans is through our matching program for WIC and SNAP beneficiaries (the first $20 spent on produce at the market), courtesy of a grant from the Sitka White Elephant Shop.

In 2018 we launched a new food business innovation contest to inspire food entrepreneurs in Sitka, and continued the program in 2019. We also host the annual Running of the Boots costumed fun run fundraiser, the past two years in partnership with Youth Advocates of Sitka. In addition, we support other local food projects in Sitka, such as the Fish to Schools lunch program and the Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen.

There are four levels of sponsorship available, and each has its own set of perks.

  • Grower ($2,500-plus) — We’ll hang your banner at ANB Hall during the Sitka Farmers Markets, include your logo and company name prominently in our merchandise and advertisements, and thank you on our social media and web pages. If appropriate for the Sitka Farmers Market, you may set up a free promotional booth.
  • Harvester ($1,000-$2,499) — We’ll hang your banner at ANB Hall during the Sitka Farmers Markets and include your logo and company name in our merchandise and advertisements.
  • Planter ($250-$999) — Your banner will hang at ANB Hall during the Sitka Farmers Markets.
  • Friend ($50-$249) — You are listed on our online sponsor page.

We have limited space for banners at the Sitka Farmers Markets, so please contact us before May 1 to guarantee your spot. To learn more about the sponsorship program, click the link below for details and a registration form. For more information, contact Charles Bingham at (907) 623-7660 or by email at charleswbingham3@gmail.com, or email us at sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com.

• 2020 Sitka Local Foods Network sponsorship program details and registration form

How to use WIC coupons, Alaska Quest SNAP cards or credit/debit cards at the 2019 Sitka Farmers Market

Have you ever come up a bit short of cash while shopping at the Sitka Farmers Market? Well, there are other payment methods you can use.

The Sitka Farmers Market was the first market in Southeast Alaska to accept the Alaska Quest EBT (electronic benefits transfer) cards for people on SNAP (formerly called food stamps). We also accept WIC farmers market coupons. In both cases, we match up to the first $20 for produce purchased with WIC or Quest benefits, thanks to a generous grant from the Sitka White Elephant Shop (aka, the White E). The Sitka Farmers Market is the only farmers market in Alaska authorized to match WIC farmers market coupons.

While many of our vendors have attachments on their cellphones that allow them to run credit or debit card transactions, sometimes it’s hard to get an Internet signal in the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall. That’s why we sell tokens (wooden nickels) at our Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand that people can use like cash with vendors at the market.

Here is a short primer on how to use each type of transaction:

WIC Farmers Market Coupons

WIC Farmers Market Coupons may only be used at the Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand, usually found outside in the parking lot by Baranof Island Housing Authority.

Present your coupons, and we will match the value up to $20 for produce (so $20 in WIC coupons gives you $40 in value). Our WIC matching program is for produce only and does not include our Alaska Grown products, due to WIC restrictions.

Alaska Quest Cards (SNAP Electronic Benefits Transfer)

Bring your Alaska Quest card to the Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand booth, found outside in the BIHA parking lot.

We swipe your card and give you wooden nickels (tokens) for the value you think you will spend on produce, Alaska Grown products, bread, jams or jellies, or other food that is not meant to be eaten at the market. You can use your wooden nickels at the SLFN farm stand, and with certain vendors that have signed agreements to accept SNAP wooden nickels (ask us which vendors have signed agreements when you swipe your card). The Sitka Local Foods Network will match up to $20 for produce purchased with SNAP benefits at the SLFN farm stand. While you can use your SNAP Alaska Quest card to purchase packaged Alaska Grown items at the SLFN farm stand, we do not have a match for those products (only the produce).

No cash change will be given for people using SNAP wooden nickels (available in $1 and $5 increments). If you have leftover wooden nickels at the end of the market, take them back to the SLFN farm stand that same day and we will credit them back to your SNAP account. This credit must be done at the same market, and can not be held until the next market.

Credit/Debit Cards

While some of our vendors can run credit/debit cards at their booths, there are many that can’t. If you are low in cash and want to run your credit/debit card to buy something at the market, stop by the Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand and we will run your credit/debit card and give you wooden nickels in $5 or $10 increments.

You can then spend your credit/debit card wooden nickels like cash with many of the vendors at the market (most booths will have a sign saying they accept credit/debit card wooden nickels). Credit/debit card tokens may be used for food and non-food items, and customers may receive cash as change.

Please note, these wooden nickels look similar to the SNAP wooden nickels, but the credit/debit card wooden nickels are allowed to have cash as change.

White E awards Sitka Local Foods Network 2019 grant to match SNAP/WIC produce sales

Charles Bingham of the Sitka Local Foods Network, left, and Donna Donohoe and Jessica Christianson of Friends of Sitka Circus Arts, right, pose with White Elephant Shop (White E) volunteer Cheryl Call, second from left, after receiving 2019 grant checks from the White E.

The Sitka White Elephant Shop (aka, the White E thrift shop) awarded the Sitka Local Foods Network with a $1,500 grant during its 2019 grant cycle. In 2018, the White E awarded the Sitka Local Foods Network $1,000.

The grant will be used to provide matching funds for SNAP and WIC beneficiaries who purchase produce at the Sitka Farmers Market and other events where the SLFN sells produce, such as at the Running of the Boots. The Sitka Local Foods Network began providing SNAP matching dollars for the first $20 of produce purchases at the markets a few years ago when there was a state grant, but in 2017 those grant funds ran out and we used our Sitka Local Foods Network general fund to match the produce purchases. We also started matching the $5 WIC farmers market produce coupons in 2017, using our general fund. We grow most of the produce at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden, and our satellite gardens around town.

“Our mission is to increase the amount of locally produced and harvested food in the diets of Southeast Alaskans, but buying local produce can be difficult for people on food assistance programs,” Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham said. “Our matching funds help get more healthy local produce into the diets of lower-income residents of Sitka. A lot of people don’t realize how much income inequality there is in Sitka, and according to the Sitka Community Food Assessment Indicators Report released in 2014, there were 1,410 people and 766 families receiving SNAP benefits in Sitka during 2013. That’s about one out of six Sitka residents who need extra access to this healthy local produce.”

The White E made several grants during the 2019 grant cycle, but a complete list wasn’t available. The Sitka Local Foods Network thanks the White E for its support.

White E awards Sitka Local Foods Network grant to match SNAP/WIC produce sales

Sitka White Elephant Shop (aka, the White E) volunteer Samantha Skultka, center, presents grant checks on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018, to Sitka Historical Society executive director Hal Spackman, left, and Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham. (Photo by Susan Brown)

The Sitka White Elephant Shop (aka, the White E) awarded the Sitka Local Foods Network with a $1,000 grant during its 2018 grant cycle.

The grant will be used to provide matching funds for SNAP and WIC beneficiaries who purchase produce at the Sitka Farmers Market and other events where the SLFN sells produce, such as at the Running of the Boots or at our table on Chelan Produce weeks. The Sitka Local Foods Network began providing SNAP matching dollars for the first $20 of produce purchases at the markets a few years ago when there was a state grant, but last year those grant funds ran out and we used our general fund to match the produce purchases. We also started matching the $5 WIC farmers market produce coupons last year, using our general fund. We grow most of the produce at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden, and our satellite gardens around town. St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm is part of the USDA’s The People’s Garden program.

“Our mission is to increase the amount of locally produced and harvested food in the diets of Southeast Alaskans, but buying local produce can be difficult for people on food assistance programs,” Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham said. “Our matching funds help get more healthy local produce into the diets of lower-income residents of Sitka. A lot of people don’t realize how much income inequality there is in Sitka, and according to the Sitka Community Food Assessment Indicators Report released in 2014, there were 1,410 people and 766 families receiving SNAP benefits in Sitka during 2013. That’s about one out of six Sitka residents who need extra access to this healthy local produce.”

The White E made several grants during the 2018 grant cycle, but a complete list wasn’t available. The Sitka Local Foods Network thanks the White E for its support.