Throughout the country, farmer's markets aim to encourage people to eat more locally harvested foods. Along the way, they hope to promote healthier diets and strengthen communities.
Organizers see a number of reasons why farmer's markets are important. Doug Osborne, health educator at the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) in Sitka, named three main ones: health, sustainability and community.
Healthy foods, healthy communities
During the Sitka Health Summit held this spring, the idea of a farmer's market came up in a brainstorming session. A vibrant farmer's market featuring fresh fish and local produce ended up being the most popular idea brought up in the summit, which aimed to create a healthy community and improve the quality of life for Sitkans.
"The quality of produce is just so much better if you can grow it locally," said Linda Wilson, co-coordinator of the Sitka market. "The nutritional quality is higher and (local produce) will stay fresh longer."
Wilson hopes the farmer's markets will encourage everyone, especially young people, to develop healthier diets.
Much of the food found at farmer's markets is organically grown, but even if it's not, Alaskans-grown produce is less likely to be sprayed with pesticides, said Alison Arians with the South Anchorage farmer's market.
Food not only loses its freshness in transit: the transit itself requires burning fossil fuels. This translates into a large carbon footprint, and a strong environmental motive to eat foods that don't require a long journey to market.
In Alaska, where food often travels by barge or plane, communities that can become more sustainable and self-sufficient will also help protect themselves in the event of global or national food shortages.
"Not to be an alarmist but we're pretty separated from the breadbasket of the country," Arians said. "The big thing is that if we don't support our farmers now and make sure they're there in the future, we're not going to have any local food supply... We're not going to have any backups in times of crisis."
Juneau's upcoming farmer's market is being organized by the public outreach committee of the Juneau Commission on Sustainability as a way to encourage residents to become more aware of where their food comes from.
"We'll never be totally independent, said Catherine Fritz, a member of the committee and one of the market organizers, "The intention is not to cut ourselves off from the rest of the world. The intention is to become more aware (of where our food comes from)."
Bringing communities together
Of course, farmer's markets are not only about being healthy, self-sufficient and green: organizers hope that regular markets will become fun community gatherings.
In addition to food, farmers markets feature have local artists and artisans, musicians and information booths sponsored by various organizations. The Sitka farmers markets have arts and crafts for kids. At Juneau's first farmer's market, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will demonstrate how to clean and preserve deer and fish in a tent outside the Juneau Arts and Culture Center.
Linda Wilson said that ever since Sitka's post office moved out the road, there hasn't been a true community gathering place in town. She hopes the farmer's market can fill that gap.
"(The farmer's market) it's also a place to bring people together," Wilson said. "We want to rebuild the community spirit."
Organizers in Sitka and Juneau hope that their first markets will encourage people to start thinking about the next growing season.
"We're trying to get people trained and ready to grow some stuff for next year," Wilson said. The Sitka Sentinel reported recently on a resident who replaced her garden's ornamentals with vegetable and fruit plants so that she would be able to bring more to the markets next year. Nearly every vender space was filled for Sitka's first market, and most of the vendors signed up to participate all three weekends.
Alison Arians is working to establish an association of Alaskan farmer's markets to share ideas and secure federal funding. In the meantime, market organizers and participants can look to the success of the markets in Gustavus and Haines for inspiration. Both markets began in 2006 and have become popular Saturday morning events.
The Haines farmer's market, regularly attracts 250 or 300 people, according to John White, who started the market with his wife Sid Moffatt after being inspired by markets in the Lower 48.
"There's been a really good response," White said. "I think it's definitely catching on. ... People are going to be getting more and more conscious as it's so expensive to ship things up here."
Upcoming farmer's markets in Southeast
Sitka: Farmer's markets will take place on Aug. 23 and 30 from 10 am - 1pm at the ANB Hall and adjacent parking area. For more information on the market and the Sitka Health Summit, visit www.sitkahealthsummit.org
Juneau: The annual Harvest Fair will be held Aug. 23 from 9 am - 2:30 pm at the community garden, located off Montana Creek road.
Juneau's first community-wide farmer's market will take place Aug. 30 from 9 am - 2pm at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center (the former armory). Visit http://sustainablejuneau.blogspot.com/ for additional information.
Haines: the final farmer's market of the year will be Aug. 30 at the fairgrounds
Gustavus: The Gustavus Farmer's Market is held at the City Park by Salmon River Bridge on the Gustavus Road on Saturday mornings from 9 am - 1 pm. It opens on Memorial Day weekend and closes on Labor Day weekend.