Preserving Traditions and Fresh Food in Southeast Alaska

From foodtank.com, by Sarah Small
Preserving Traditions and Fresh Food in Southeast Alaska

The Sitka Local Food Network seeks to improve the health and diets of the Sitka Alaska community through fresh local foods and education programs. For the past seven years, the organization has been supplying fresh produce to the Sitka Farmers' Market from their community gardens. The cooking and food preservation classes create a lasting impact by enabling individuals to preserve locally sourced food so that it lasts throughout the winter. 

Food Tank had the opportunity to speak with Charles Bingham, Board Member and Communications Director at Sitka Local Foods Network.

Food Tank (FT): How do you contribute to creating a better food system?

Charles Bingham (CB): The Sitka Local Foods Network's mission is to increase the amount of locally produced and harvested foods in the diets of Southeast Alaskans. Our start came from the 2008 Sitka Health Summit, where Sitkans decided they wanted to see a local food market for fresh veggies and fish and more opportunities for community gardens/greenhouses. That year we launched the Sitka Farmers’ Market and built the St. Peter's Fellowship Farm communal garden. We also have an education component with our garden mentoring program and other gardening and food preservation classes. In addition, we have worked on Sitka Health Summit projects related to compiling a Sitka Community Food Assessment, composting, planting fruit trees around town, building a community commercial kitchen, getting more local fish in school lunches, etc.

FT: What is a project, program, or result you are most proud of?

CB: The Sitka Farmers Market and St. Peter's Fellowship Farm projects are our biggest accomplishments, since they happened shortly after the 2008 Sitka Health Summit. The Sitka Health Summit took place in April, and within the next month we connected with St. Peter's By The Sea Episcopal Church about some land behind the church to build the communal garden and we started building and planting in May. St. Peter's Fellowship Farm is where we grow fresh veggies to sell at the Sitka Farmers’ Market, which we launched in August 2008. In addition to supplying fresh veggies to sell at the Sitka Farmers’ Market, St. Peter's Fellowship Farm and its satellite gardens also grow food for school lunch programs and for local hunger/food security programs. We accept WIC and SNAP benefits at the Sitka Farmers’ Market, and we've seen several backyard gardens start growing enough produce so they too can sell at the markets.

FT: What are your goals for 2015 and beyond?

CB: Our goals for 2015 are to maintain and expand our offerings in our three focus areas -- the Sitka Farmers Market, St. Peter's Fellowship Farm, and education. Since the Sitka Farmers’ Market doesn't start until July, we are working on securing new and returning vendors for the summer. Our lead gardener at St. Peter's Fellowship Farm has been with us for about five years now and she has increased the amount of food grown each year, especially since we've been able to add a couple of satellite gardens. In 2014, we started a garden mentoring program with two first-time gardening families, and this year those two families are back for a second year and we have four new first-year families. This was in addition to a series of basic gardening classes. We also are working with the Sitka Kitch commercial kitchen to offer cooking and food preservation classes

FT: In one sentence, what is the most important thing eaters and consumers can do today to support a more sustainable food system?

CB: One of the biggest things we need to do is reconnect people to the food system, so they realize that food doesn't really come in neat styrofoam packages at the grocery store.

FT: How can individuals become more involved in your organization?

CB: People can go to our website, or send an email to connect with us. We always need volunteers to help at the Sitka Farmers’ Market and/or St. Peter's Fellowship Farm. We also need volunteers willing to help teach gardening or food preservation classes. People also can donate to our organization by going to our website and clicking on our Donate page (we are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, so let us know if you need a receipt for tax purposes). Alaskans can make a contribution through the Pick.Click.Give. Program when they file for their Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend.

Download the 2015 Good Food Org Guide HERE.

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