The Greater Chamber of Commerce hosted this panel of community members Wednesday at the Cape Fox Lodge.

The Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce hosted a four-person panel on “Growing Our Own Food” at the weekly lunch meeting Wednesday. The panelists were A&P’s Ben Williams, Bett Jakubek of the Tongass Community Food Alliance, Kalvin Traudt of Black Lab Farms, and Ed Schofield, who plans to grow lettuce in a greenhouse on Carroll Inlet.

Williams spoke of various challenges involved with growing local foods. He acknowledges that grocers would love to support homegrown produce, but says that energy costs restrict area growers from being competitive. Williams explains that consumers have increasing demands for healthy, organic foods, and talked a little about the Juneau farmer’s market.

 “The problem that we ran into Juneau was they tried the Farmer’s Market there. It was very successful for people raising their own stuff – kind of in a co-op type of situation – but they didn’t seem to be able to produce enough – other than the bean sprout operation – to meet the needs of the local groceries stores. I think it was mainly cost, labor, land, everything that was involved… and if a person can solve those problems, there is definitely a market in this community,” said Williams.

Jakubek says she believes those problems can be addressed. The Food Alliance will open a Ketchikan Farmer’s Market on various Saturdays starting June 22nd. The idea for the market came about last June when the Food Alliance began to take shape.

One of Jakubek’s concerns is an imbalance of protein versus produce in a typical Ketchikan diet.

 “We’re protein heavy here. My freezer is full of venison and shrimp and crab and salmon… but not produce,” said Jakubek.

She points out that many other towns in Southeast Alaska have farmer’s markets, while Ketchikan does not.

 “Looking around the state, there are a lot of farmer’s markets. And obviously it’s easier to grow in Wasilla and the Matanuska Valley than it is to grow here, but Prince of Wales has a farmer’s market, Sitka has a farmer’s market, Petersburg has a farmer’s market, Wrangell has a farmer’s market, Juneau has a farmer’s market. You know, we are, like, way behind.”

Local farmer Kalvin Traudt gave some advice on growing food here in Ketchikan. His kale was a big hit at last year’s Blueberry Arts Festival, where the Food Alliance offered an inaugural market. He suggests researching square-foot gardening as a viable means to grow in Ketchikan.

Ed Schofield is another farmer who promotes locally grown produce. He spoke about starting a greenhouse at Carroll Inlet to grow lettuce.

 “I spoke with Mr. Williams and we talked about how do we make a viable business out of this. And one of the things that he said is, you’ve either got to have — like he said earlier — quantity, and it needs to be repeatable,” said Schofield. “So I started focusing on one crop, and again, lettuce makes economic sense. It takes less energy; it needs about a 62 degree average growth; and it makes a turnover about every 32 days. So it starts making sense.”

Schofield believes he has solved the energy problem by building his own hydroelectric plant, and the lettuce will be grown using hydroponics. He hopes to be up and running within two years. Schofield says that while price is important, he believes you cannot beat the quality of locally grown products.

Tongass Community Foods Alliance will be hosting the Ketchikan Farmer’s Market June 22nd, July 6th and 20th, August 10th and 24th, and September 14th. The Market will be from 4 to 7 p.m. on Berth 4. For those interested in being a vendor, contact Bett Jakubek at (907) 247-8716 or Linda at (907) 617-1937.