Last month, the Coalition teamed up with Bob Christensen, coordinator for the People Place Program and Mike Skinner, a sustainable economic development specialist from Bainbridge Graduate Institute in Seattle to spend a week in Sitka checking out the happenings at Southeast Conference’s Annual Meeting and meeting with members of the community working firsthand on informed resource management and sustainable development issues.
We first met with Lisa Sadleir-Hart, Board President of the Sitka Local Foods Network. She gave us a brief history of the organization, born of a community need for access to more nutritious, locally produced foods. Sitka Local Foods Network promotes and encourages the use of locally grown, harvested, and produced foods in Sitka and Southeast Alaska (read more about projects and programs of the SLFN here!). Lisa spoke of the organization’s current coordination and operation of the Sitka Farmers Market and the small farm plot they maintain to grow produce for sale at the market, as well as their vision to construct a community greenhouse that would provide multiple services for the community of Sitka.
Lisa spoke of hunger and food justice issues present in the community of Sitka and nationwide, acknowledging that our current food system makes it difficult for many residents to access and afford local commercially caught seafood and nutritious produce. Lisa and the team at the Sitka Local Foods Network are working at the community level to make “the healthy choice the easy choice” when it comes to food, and are striving to build a more locally based food system that can be grown, harvested, and produced right here in Southeast Alaska.
While in Sitka we also met with Jim and Darcy Michener, founders and operators of Alaska Pure Sea Salt Co. Jim and Darcy are Sitka entrepreneurs that have been working hard over the past 8 years to build a small business making and marketing hand made sea salt from the Gulf of Alaska. Jim and Darcy are inspiring models for small business development in rural Southeast Alaska. They shared with us the story of their journey into this business and what challenges and roadblocks they met along the way. Their passion and enthusiasm for the product they’ve created have helped motivate them through obstacles and tough times. Their recipe for pursuing entrepreneurship in rural Southeast: Work hard, persevere, and stay motivated. Ambition and drive are key elements that have gotten Jim and Darcy’s business off the ground. The Michener’s envision growing Alaska Pure Sea Salt Co. into a business that helps build the community; providing local jobs and one day operating in a net zero energy facility
We made a visit to the Sheldon Jackson campus, where the Sitka Fine Arts Camp has breathed new life into a community facility that residents may have once viewed as a symbol of economic defeat in Sitka. We met with Roger Schmidt, Executive Director at Sitka Fine Arts Camp, who shared the story of how, since obtaining the closed-down campus in 2011, Sitka Fine Arts Camp has set to work revitalizing the site and using “creative place making”; utilizing art, culture, and creativity to re-invigorate the community of Sitka.
As part of the Sheldon Jackson campus revitalization, Sitka Conservation Society has teamed up with Sitka Fine Arts Camp to model the use of local young growth timber as a functional building material in the remodel of the campus’ Allen Auditorium. SCS-sponsored high school students working with a licensed builder and mentor use locally harvested red alder processed by a local mill as molding and wainscoting in the renovated building to showcase this viable, sustainable timber product.
As one of Southeast Alaska’s larger communities, Sitka has a larger population than most small Southeast towns. Many of Sitka’s residents have found it increasingly difficult to find available affordable housing in their community. This lack of housing makes it difficult for newcomers, young families, and young adults raised in Sitka to stay and make a home here. Randy Hughey, retired local high school teacher, recognizes this issue and is working to address the need for affordable housing in Sitka. Randy is the Vice President of the Board of the Sitka Community Development Corporation, and has proposed an idea to bring accessible, affordable housing to his community.
Randy envisions constructing a handful of well-built, modest sized, comfortable and efficient houses on a plot of land as part of a community land trust (CLT) that would be available to community members that fall below 80% of the area’s median household income. As part of a CLT, residents can purchase one of these homes and lease the plot of land from the operating organization. Part of the CLT lease would contain a resale provision which ensures that if the owner sells the house, it goes to another low or moderate income person. This model ensures that the homes continue to remain affordable and available to residents within this income range.
Learn more about Community Land Trusts at the National Community Land Trust Network.
SAWC would like to thank all of the individuals who took time out of their busy lives to meet with us and share their story. We would also like to thank Marjorie Hennessey for hosting us and coordinating these meetings to provide our team with a snapshot of the challenges, issues, opportunities, and actions underway in Sitka as community members work hard to make their home resilient and sustainable.