Have you ever wanted to go online and buy some fresh, locally-grown tomatoes or kale? If all goes as planned, this summer, Haines and Juneau residents will have that option. A group of area nonprofits are starting up an online farmers market to connect producers and fishermen with buyers. The goal is to encourage and grow the local food economy.
On a recent evening, a group of gardeners gathered around a laptop in the Haines Public Library. They were there to learn about a new option to sell their extra produce.
“The Salt and Soil Marketplace is an online farmers market,” said Meredith Pochardt with the Takshanuk Watershed Council, one of four organizations behind this initiative. “It’ll be a place where local growers and fishermen and food foragers and gardeners — basically anything you can sell at a farmers market you can sell through the Salt and Soil Marketplace online.”
Pochardt says the idea started a few years ago, when Takshanuk coordinated between local growers and the school to supply potatoes and carrots in school lunches. From there, it grew.
The Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition conducted a feasibility study to assess the market in Haines for what’s called a ‘food hub.’
The report emphasized Haines and the entire state of Alaska’s reliance on Outside food shipments.
“Most of the food in our grocery stores comes in on a barge each week,” Pochardt said. “And it’s kind of a necessity for maintaining our communities, it’s not like we’re going to completely do away with that. But the more that we can produce locally and buy locally, it keeps that money within our community, it’s healthier. It fosters a sense of place.”
Haines already has a farmers market on Saturdays during the summer. And some farmers and gardeners have their own systems to sell food to other people. But Pochardt says those options don’t meet the full demand. She hopes an online market will give more people access to local food.
“We also hope that it’ll be easy on both the vendor and consumer so it could encourage more people to develop a food business, and kind of foster that and test it out on a small scale and see if their products sell,” Pochardt said. “So it’s trying to build up the local foods economy.”
This year, the Salt and Soil Marketplace is testing is approach in just Haines and Juneau. But the goal is to expand to more parts of Southeast if all goes well this summer.
People who buy products on Salt and Soil will have to pick up their orders at specified locations and times. In Haines, the options are Saturday mornings at the farmers market or Monday afternoons at the Takshanuk office. In Juneau, pickups will be Thursdays at Hooked Seafoods.
In the next few weeks, Pochardt is working to get producers signed up on the website. She says there might be some technological issues to work out. But the plan is for the site to start taking orders at the beginning of June.
The marketplace is funded for three years through a USDA grant. Pochardt says the goal is for the program to eventually pay for itself so it can continue in the future.
You can learn more about the Salt and Soil Marketplace at a presentation Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in the Haines library.