Peninsula-based farmers market org wins USDA grant

Nov 29, 2021

Velma Bittick and Tom Gotcher grow vegetables at their farm on Echo Lake Road in Soldotna.
Credit Jenny Neyman

More farmers markets crop up in Alaska every year. New markets took root in Nikiski, Seldovia and Seward in the last two years alone.

Just ask Robbi Mixon. She’s executive director of the Homer-based Alaska Farmers Market Association.

“In 2005, there were just 13 markets in the state," she said. "And as of 2021, our count was at 56.”

Mixon wants to keep sowing seeds of support so even more markets can spring up. The association just won a grant for almost $450,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand its services for producers and farmers markets, including the seedling markets on the peninsula.

The Alaska Farmers Market Association has been working on bringing farmers markets together since 2015. That’s when the Homer Farmers Market got a grant to put together the first-ever statewide market conference. 

“And from that, we got overwhelming consensus that we could relaunch the Alaska Farmers’ Market Association formally," Mixon said.

Since then, the goal of the association has been to support farmers markets across the state with programs like centralized marketing and virtual workshops.

With the new USDA grant, Mixon said, the association will expand its professional development opportunities for producers. It also plans to set up an Alaska chapter of the Young Farmers Coalition —  a national group working to bolster young farmers and bring more equity to the profession.

"We have a pretty young workforce compared to the rest of the nation," she said. "But that average age still sits around 55. So finding ways to maybe make it a little bit easier — if not easier, more supportive for farmers coming up who will eventually be our future farmers.”

Mixon said farmers markets are great for producers because they can sell directly to consumers. She said she’s excited to expand the Alaska Farmers Market Association’s programs to community-supported agriculture and farm stands this year, as well.