Festival feeds on local food momentum

Sep 17, 2018

Vendors at the 2018 Harvest Moon Local Food Festival.
Credit Courtesy of the Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District

Saturday’s Harvest Moon Local Food Festival at Soldotna Creek Park fed on the area’s growing interest in eating locally.

“A lot of folks turned out. We’ve got a beautiful day, blue skies and lots of vendors, and it’s pretty lively,” said Heidi Chay, manager of the Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District and one of the organizers of the festival, which served as the culmination of a week of events celebrating local foods.

Saturday’s festival also wrapped up the farmers market season, and some of the central peninsula’s biggest farm vendors were in attendance, including Christina Land and her family from Grace Acres Farm in Kasilof.

“Oh, tons of produce. Huge harvest. We’ve got broccoli, Swiss chard, cabbage, beets, rhubarb, jams, eggs, syrup — gosh, I can’t list it all — bok choy,” Land said.

There were lots of options of processed produce, as well, from relish, pickles and pesto to jellies and baked goods. Mike and Debbie Arnold of Arnold Family Farm in Sterling were selling powdered greens along with their fresh vegetables.

“For smoothies and things. I’ve even done some foraging for fireweed and wild blueberry leaves and did some research on the nutrition in those. And so we powder the greens so that all year long you can put them in smoothies, in your soups or whatever. I like to think of food as healing, and that’s kind of my passion on the side,” Debbie Arnold said.

If you wanted to do a little processing of your own, volunteers with the Ionia community had a fermentation station ready to turn your purchases into pickles.

“Fermentation is really good for your system, I mean it’s, like, pickled foods give you, there’s so much healthy benefits for it,” said volunteer Ally Bril. “Bring us the vegetables, we wash them over here in this bowl and we cut them all up. We have pickle brine water, which is salt water that we brought with us, and then we have apple cider vinegar and then we let them choose what kind of flavors they want in their pickles. We have a bunch of canning jars under the table and you leave them for about a week with the lid loose at room temperature and then you put in them the fridge sealed up and they’re good to go.”

There were activates for kids and food trucks serving up dishes made with local ingredients. Music and speakers alternated on the stage, and a demonstration tent offered tips on preserving and processing your food. Velma Bittick of Arena Valley Acres on Echo Lake Road gave a presentation on preserving techniques and equipment.

“Dehydrated potatoes. I just wanted to see if I could do it. I parboiled them and then I sliced them. You have to cook them to a certain degree, otherwise they turn black,” Bittick said.

For Allison Gottesman, the opportunity to learn is one of the appeals of attending farmers markets.

“These guys have it down to a science. I’m more of a novice, so I come here and I grab information and flyers just so I can become better at my own thing and be a little more self-sufficient and sustainable,” Gottesman said.

She had a bag full of purchases to attest to her support.

“I got potatoes, I got carrots, I got oyster mushrooms, which are really hard to find. I got a couple of different types of peppers. Oh, I got broccoli. … Besides all the great produce and the sense of community, it’s all these new ways that we should be considering eating for our lifestyle and our health. And there’s something for everybody here,” Gottesman said.

This is the sixth year of Harvest Moon Local Food Week but the first time it’s culminated in a farmer’s market festival.

“I would say, overall, our goal really is to just have a celebratory, fun way of highlighting our local farms and our local wild-harvested foods and our locally processed foods, like the Made in Alaska foods,” Chay said. “So, celebrate the progress that’s been made and then just feed the momentum for years going forward.”

To find out more about the local food movement, visit kenailocalfood.org.