Editor's note: This article has been updated to add a listing for the Soldotna farmers market on Saturdays.
Here on the peninsula, opportunities to purchase locally sourced food is growing.
Where you can find Alaska-grown produce is growing too. On Friday, the Sterling Community Center began offering a weekly market where locals can sell arts, crafts, produce and more. It will start at 10 a.m. and go until 4 p.m., every Friday until July 27.
Options have expanded as well for patrons of the Alaska Food Hub, an online farmers market. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation approved a waiver earlier this year that will allow cottage foods, such as baked goods, jam, jelly and pickles to be sold. Heidi Chay, District Manager at Kenai Soil & Water Conservation District, said that this is good news
“Those items are always popular at farmers markets,” Chay said.
Restaurants are jumping on the local food train as well. Earlier this month, the Alaska Division of Agriculture released a new app to highlight and promote restaurants that use local products. More 30 restaurants from around the state are featured on the app’s directory with more on the way. The central peninsula had several restaurants featured on the app, including Odie’s Deli, Mykel’s, Lucy’s Market, The Flats Bistro, AK Supper Club, Sunrise Inn Cafe and Bar, the Schnitzel Bomber and Louie’s Steak & Seafood. The app was funded by a $60,000 grant from USDA, in an effort to promote Alaska Grown products.
Kelsey Shields bought Lucy’s Market in Soldotna last year and said they quickly learned how important it is to support small and local businesses.
“I like to offer my customers something unique, whether it is the food that I am making or the products for sale on my shelves,” she said.
Lucy’s Market uses and sells jams and syrups from Alaska Berries, fresh eggs from Henning’s Hen House, honey from Wilderness View Farms, vinegar from Boreal Botanicals, and kelp salsas and pickles from Barnacle, she said.
“I cook with local produce whenever possible, because it is fresh, delicious, and it is important to support local agriculture in order for it to continue to grow,” she said.
Shields said choosing to carry and use products made in Alaska has benefited business by appealing to customers who also value finding locally made products.
The Flats Bistro owner Luke Thibodeau said the restaurant tries to use as much local produce as possible. Last summer, that included locally grown greens, leeks, mushrooms, zucchini, peppers, onions, garlic, herbs, rhubarb, some local apples, tomatoes and some honey, among other items. They also feature Kachemak Bay oysters year-round, as well as other Alaskan seafood options when they are available.
“We choose Alaska-grown because it’s fresher and more flavorful than much of the produce we bring up from the Lower 48,” he said. “We also enjoy the connection with local producers and like to keep as much money within the community as possible.”
Thibodeau said that while his customers probably don’t come specifically for the local flavor, that they appreciate what they do provide.
“There are so many places to find local food these days, not just in summer, but year-round. I encourage everyone to find your nearest, most convenient sources and build them into your regular fresh air and sunshine routine. Get to know your farmers and become a customer they can rely on,” Chay said.
The Kenai Peninsula also has more high-tunnels, an unheated greenhouse that farmers use to extend their season, per capita than anywhere else in the country with more than 400 high tunnels in use as of early last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. In 2012, the Census of Agriculture also showed that 34 percent of Alaskan farms selling directly to consumers were on the Kenai Peninsula.
“People want to know who grew it and how. The relationship with the person who grew and harvested your food matters. We build communities and networks that mutually support small business,” Chay said.
Farmers markets can be found in Homer, Soldotna, Ninilchik and Kenai, throughout the week.
Spots are open for vendors of any size looking to get involved with any farmers market or with the Alaska Food Hub. More information can be found on the Kenai Soil and Water website, kenaisoilandwater.org.