Since moving to Alaska eleven years ago, I’ve had amazing opportunities to wear a lot of different hats. For eight years I worked for Cook Inletkeeper, engaging here in Homer and around the state on efforts to help build and support healthy, vibrant communities. Last year, as I started looking to move on and focus on our farm and design business, one of my ‘swan song’ grant proposals to the USDA was funded. The proposed project was to develop an online ‘Food Hub’ for our community, run as a pilot for two years with funding then hopefully successful enough to exist on its own into the future. I’m writing about it here because I’m passionate and excited about marketing and access to local flowers and food. I live in a fishing community (both sport & commercial), the self-proclaimed ‘Halibut Capital of the World’, and yet you can’t really buy local seafood at the grocery store. We have the highest density of USDA-funded high tunnels in the country, but precious few market outlets for this aspiring cottage industry of small scale farmers.
Around the country, food hubs are all the rage. Although they come in many flavors, ours - the Kenai Peninsula Food Hub - is essentially a weekly online farmers market. Robbi is our Food Hub Manager (she’s also our Farmers Market Manager and director of the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival) and we’ve worked with farmers, customers and community partners throughout the region to start us off on the right foot. It’s a straightforward process: As a producer, I log in to our website weekly and update what I have available (including a price, photo and description). I have two days for my updates – then it’s the customers’ turn! From Friday through Monday at 10PM anyone can log in and fill up their carts with locally grown flowers, food, household goods and crafts. Late Monday night all producers receive an emailed ‘pick ticket’ – it outlines exactly what I sold and to whom. I have Tuesday to harvest and arrange, and then Wednesday I bring in my flowers. This year our food hub operated on Wednesdays out of the Kachemak City Community Center. The community gave us a good deal on the rental, it’s a large indoor space with ample parking, and they have plenty of tables available for use. Through the dedication of some volunteers and the Kenai Soil & Water Conservation District, we were also able to run a food hub location up in the Central Peninsula (Kenai/Soldotna) area.
Throughout this winter, in addition to working on planning for our farm, I’ll continue to work with Robbi and all of our community partners and other local farmers to help continue developing our capacity to not only grow but to market and sell our flowers, vegetables, fish and other locally-grown and created products. Around the country, we’re in the middle of an incredible small farm and local/slow food/flower movement. It’s inspiring to work with such a vibrant community in Southcentral Alaska to figure out how best to translate that movement into sustainable small farms throughout the region.