The 2019 Southeast Alaska Farmer's Summit took place this year in Sitka. Bridget LaPenter and her family attended the summit. Check out her blog post about the summit and an unexpected twist on the future of her Farm! 

Slugs are universally awful, and other lessons learned at the Southeast Farmer Summit 2019

by Bridget LaPenter

Put your hand up if you have ever started a farm.

Put your hand up if you have ever thought you wanted to start a farm.

Put your hand up if you enjoy growing your own food.

Finally, put your hand up if you simply enjoy eating local food grown by other people.

If you put your hand up, you should attend the Southeast Farmer Summit in 2021. If your hand is still up, you can put it down now, I can’t see it anyway.

Our family was encouraged to attend the 2019 Southeast Farmer Summit, by our friends at the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, who generously offered us a scholarship to attend. Our family owns and operates an outdoor urban farm and owned a small indoor microgreen growing operation, both located in downtown Juneau. We need all the help we can get when it comes to growing in the Southeast Alaska climate. What better way to learn than from others facing the same challenges? Farming and gardening are life-long learning processes and, let’s face it, we all battle the slugs. 

This year, we were fortunate to learn from a guest speaker who came from as far as Maine - gasp! Eero Ruutila from Johnny’s Seeds shared an overview of his vast experience on small farms throughout the Lower-48. He also presented his perspective on the value of incorporating cover crops, even in the smallest of farms. With limited space for production, there is some temptation to ensure every square foot of land contributes to revenue generation, every year. Ruutila provided several strategies for even the smallest of farms to incorporate cover crops while keeping fields working. For example, he suggested employing a dual-purpose cover crop, such as pea. Pea restores Nitrogen in the soil as a cover crop, while young pea shoots and flowers can be harvested and sold. This approach guarantees the land is working for you, even on its day off.

We were also grateful to learn about the hydroponic methods incorporated by local Juneau growers Panhandle Produce and Juneau Greens. Our microgreen operation was soil-based and not anything close to hydroponic, but we loved learning about the advantages of this growing technique and the challenges they face. It was a useful means of comparing and contrasting our growing practices, both ways seeming equally difficult, or easy, depending on which way you look at it.

I was also personally impressed with Kaleb and Andrea Fraga’s presentation sharing their operation at Middle Island Garden. Carving a garden out the wilderness, pests of all sorts and sizes (slugs, bears, more slugs) and a 15-20 minute boat ride to market reminded me of Bo and Marja’s operation out at Farragut Farm. Both presentations made us think about what The Farm could look like on a grander scale, and what challenges we could encounter trying to expand into the wilderness around Juneau.

Most importantly, we made some fantastic connections with likeminded folks who share our excitement for locally grown, delicious foods and killing slugs. Which is what lead us to considering selling off a portion of The Farm to one likeminded, impassioned individual, upon our return from the Summit.

As of today, the microgreen portion of our operation, and the name, The Farm, are in the capable hands of a big-hearted Juneau-based gal named Duras Ruggles. If three business ventures, one full time job, one full time toddler and a baby on the way don’t add up to generalized chaos to the reader, we should probably meet up because you are likely as crazy as us. But seriously, we realized we needed to reclaim the indoor growing space to house our growing family and would have to, at the very least, take a break from the weekly requirements of microgreen ranching to welcome the new member of our family. Enter Duras, who is willing and wonderful, enthusiastic and ready to take over microgreen production. If you miss our microgreens, contact her: www.thefarmak.com.

Connection and relationships are the foundation for building a resilient food economy here in Southeast Alaska. Without our friendships, shared knowledge and mastermind think-tank events like the Southeast Farmer Summit, we wouldn’t have much to keep the home fires burning - because lawd knows few people are getting rich by farming up in here.

If you actually raised your hand while you were reading this, I’m sorry, but also you should plan to attend the 2021 Southeast Farmer Summit. Mark your calendar and get on the email list. It won’t disappoint, and you will likely make friends for life.

 

Bridget LaPenter
Independent grower, formerly of The Farm

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