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 sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com or sitkafarmersmarket@gmail.com, 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, http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org.

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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