To say it’s been a wild and uncertain year would be an understatement. The pandemic lockdown started just as markets and farmers around Alaska were preparing for a busy summer growing season. Would markets be allowed to open? What would farmers do with all their products? Will there be a demand for local food? So many questions, and very little time to get answers…
We began working with the state in early March to declare markets as essential, consulting with states in the lower 48 to create best practices protocol for safely operating. The Alaska Farmland Trust created some amazing graphics for our markets to use free of charge. The graphics were so popular that they made their way around the nation!
We worked with conference partners FRESH to seamlessly transition our third semi-annual Alaska Farmers Market Conference in early April to a virtual event, which drew in over 225 people from around the state and beyond. This is a four-times increase in participation compared to our in-person registrations, revealing a bright spot in virtual gathering: removing financial barriers and carbon emissions associated with travel.
In addition, we collaborated with the Alaska DEC Food Safety and Sanitation Program and the Alaska Food Policy Council to host a workshop on pandemic market food safety and operations. We also held weekly Market Community Chats, with the help of Matanuska Experimental Farm and Homer & Kenai Soil and Water Conservation Districts, on topics ranging from electronic payments, SNAP benefits, and virtual farmers markets.
Despite the challenges brought by the pandemic, in 2020 the Alaska Farmers Market Association counted more markets in operation than ever – 53 in total, with most citing great participation, and in some cases, farmers with bigger sales than normal. Even those that didn’t make their anticipated sales, reported on average 80% of their normal yearly sales of local foods.
The pandemic has helped shed light on our dysfunctional industrial food system. From unprotected farmworkers and food processors to transportation delays and tremendous food wastes, and skyrocketing food insecurity, our globalized food system’s inequitable and unsustainability has been laid bare. Localized farmers markets and food hubs offer communities a chance at local control of their own food security and more diverse place-based economies… all of which create resilience.
In addition to providing outreach materials and operational support, the Alaska Farmers Market Association (AFMA) attended the AK Legislative Fly-in in Juneau this past February to advocate on behalf of farmers and food access. We also offered testimony to the USDA in support of rural farmers’ markets and local and regional food systems. We provided a total of $15,000 to markets around the state to support marketing efforts and covid19 adaptations. AFMA was also awarded an AK Division of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant, which will be used to create an AK Farmers Market Toolkit for Market Vendors, another resource aimed at creating resources our markets can use. Stay tuned for more information on this and our upcoming Spring 2021 AFMA Summit!
Many thanks to the USDA for our 2017 Farmers Market Promotion Program grant for funding our operations the last three years. The Alaska Farmers Market Association is a project of Cook Inletkeeper’s Local Food Program.