Category Archives: food bank

Ripe for the brain picking — Berry walkers harvest abundant knowledge

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Janice Chumley, integrated pest management technician for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service office in Soldotna, points out low-bush lingonberries, pictured below,  to a crowd of participants in a berry identification walk Monday afternoon at Tsalteshi Trails in Soldotna. The event was held as part of the Harvest Moon Local Food Festival, ongoing through Saturday.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Janice Chumley, integrated pest management technician for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service office in Soldotna, points out low-bush lingonberries, pictured below, to a crowd of participants in a berry identification walk Monday afternoon at Tsalteshi Trails in Soldotna. The event was held as part of the Harvest Moon Local Food Festival, ongoing through Saturday.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Thirty-four people combed the forest floor Monday afternoon, eyes peeled, attention piqued, senses alert. Their quarry was stationary and abundant but the hunt still held challenges. Not so much in the finding, but in telling one specimen from the wide variety of others.

“What’s this?” “Here’s some red ones!” “Are these any good?”

Variations of those comments formed a background of chatter for the hour-and-a-half walk on Tsalteshi Trails, ebbing and flowing like waves on a shoreline, quieting as the hunters became engrossed in their task and crescendoing when someone found something new, exciting and hopefully delicious — or at least safely edible.

“Alaska is blessed with many varieties of berries that are good to eat and very few that are berries lingonberriesbad for you,” said Janice Chumley, integrated pest management technician for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service office in Soldotna.

Chumley served as guide for the berry walk, one of a slate of talks, workshops and other activities offered as part of Harvest Moon Local Food Festival. The 26 adults and eight kids who participated Monday did so to expand their knowledge of local edibles, or start to build it from scratch.

“I’m a Native from Arizona and I relocated here and I was very active in my community, which is the Sonoran desert, because our survival in all the hundreds of years depended on that we knew — the plants and the system and what we could eat and what we couldn’t — and so I’m going to do that here in my new home,” said Elizabeth Spinasanto.

She was looking forward to harvesting berries to use in healthy breakfasts — smoothies or with homemade yogurt, which she had learned about in a previous Harvest Moon workshop.

Elizabeth Spinasanto compares a photo she took with her cellphone to a printout Chumley brought along. The convenience of camera phones make them a great tool for berry identification.

Elizabeth Spinasanto compares a photo she took with her cellphone to a printout Chumley brought along. The convenience of camera phones make them a great tool for berry identification.

“I’m taking the fermentation class, as well. I have not missed any of the classes. I’m kind of excited about it,” she said.

Prior to the walk in the woods, the group met at the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank for a quick course on berry processing with Linda Tannehill, health, home and family agent with the Cooperative Extension Service. Processing doesn’t need to be time-intensive, she said. Berries are usually good to eat straight off the plant — the key word being “usually.”

“You don’t have to wash them depending on where you pick,” she said. “But if it’s a place where there is a lot of dogs or traffic, you might want to rinse them off.”

Pick as cleanly as possible to save work later, but removing detrius from most berries is generally a simple affair. Some people pour their harvest from one bowl to another on a windy day or in front of a fan to blow off any leaves, stems and other debris. Tannehill prefers more control in her cleaning method. She rubber-bands a terrycloth towel onto a cutting board, rolling the edges to form a channel down the middle of board, then holds the board at an incline and pours the berries down it and into a baking pan with raised edges. The knap of the towel grabs the litter while the berries roll down into the pan — and hopefully no farther.

“I have to have bumpers,” she said. “I’ve chased blueberries across the floor and my dogs get there first. And so I’ve learned to put bumpers on my towel here.”

Sometimes berries contain insects. They aren’t harmful, but soaking firm berries in a solution of salt water can draw out any creatures that might be lurking inside.

“If you’re grossed out by bugs then maybe you want to soak them. It’s all your own comfort level,” Chumley said.

Frozen berries keep for a few years, especially when vacuum-packed in a good-quality bag with a good seal. But freeze the berries first to avoid a squished mess, spreading them in a baking pan and putting them in the freezer for a few hours.

“Do not try to vacuum-package berries unfrozen. There’s no problem if they’re frozen. It’s a big problem if they’re not frozen,” Tannehill said.

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Filed under community, Food, food bank, outdoors, Tsalteshi Trails

Taste of success — Chefs battle for fame, raise fortune for food bank

Photos courtesy of Mark Pierson, www.facebook.com/MarkPiersonPhotography. Steve England, a chef with Kenai Catering, examines his ingredients in the entrée round in the Clash of the Culinary Kings fundraiser held Saturday at the Challenger Center of Alaska in Kenai.

Photos courtesy of Mark Pierson, www.facebook.com/MarkPiersonPhotography. Steve England, a chef with Kenai Catering, examines his ingredients in the entrée round in the Clash of the Culinary Kings fundraiser held Saturday at the Challenger Center of Alaska in Kenai.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Needing to make a quick meal with whatever is on hand isn’t that unusual a premise for home cooks. It can go surprisingly well — like discovering that pulverized Doritos makes a great breading — or turn into something best labeled as “surprise.”

But the circumstances Saturday were a bit more stressful. For one thing, the ingredients were odder than most cupboards offer, including puffed rice for an entrée dish and creamed corn to use in dessert. The consequences for getting food to the table late weren’t just whines from the family about being hungry. And the diners were far more judgmental than even the pickiest 6-year-old. But the rewards for success — delicious, creative, well-executed dishes presented elegantly and on time — were much greater than a stack of scraped-clean dishes.

There was foodie fame and fortune at stake, as this was the Clash of the Culinary Kings cooking competition, held Saturday at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai.

Fortune for the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, as the event was a fundraiser for the organization. And fame for the winning chef — temporarily, at least. The winner’s trophy, created by Metal Magic, will never spoil, but the event was such a success that the bragging rights might expire with a second competition next year.

“It was a great event. We’re super happy to be involved in this, and we’re looking forward to next year. We’ll have to have a rematch,” said Steve England, of Kenai Catering.

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Sound support — Area musicians turn out for Fisher, their biggest fan

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Mike Morgan offers a happy birthday wish to Jim Fisher on Aug. 28 at the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank. Fisher, known for attending just about every music event in the central Kenai Peninsula, had the area’s musicians show up to serenade him for his 86th birthday.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Mike Morgan offers a happy birthday wish to Jim Fisher on Aug. 28 at the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank. Fisher, known for attending just about every music event in the central Kenai Peninsula, had the area’s musicians show up to serenade him for his 86th birthday.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

James Fisher’s six decades in Alaska have epitomized community service.

During his working years his contributions were of a historic value that few alive today could equal — serving in the first state Legislature, advocating for improvements to the legal system, championing the political process for the public good and helping establish and sustain various community organizations.

In retirement, he still lives a life of contribution — supporting political causes, volunteering for community organizations and fundraisers, and serving on various boards and committees in Soldotna and on the central Kenai Peninsula. Though his routines are no longer the stuff of state history books he’s still cemented into local memory, particularly for something that started as unremarkably as simply showing up to arts and entertainment events, but has become a cherished comfort that no musician ever plays to a vacant room, a disinterested ear or an empty tip jar.

“Jim is at every function there is. If there are five events on a Friday night, he’s at all five of them,” said Mike Morgan, a longtime area musician.

Fisher’s attendance is ubiquitous to the point of legendary.

“He seems to be everywhere at once. If there are several things going on in town and we try to hit them all then we say we’re doing a Jim Fisher,” said Vickie Tinker.

In recognition of Fisher always showing up for music, central Kenai Peninsula musicians and his family decided to bring the music to Fisher, and held a party at the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank on Aug. 28 to mark Fisher’s 86th birthday.

For three hours an expansive roster of musicians appeared at the microphone or by Fisher’s side, singing, playing and speaking their appreciation for the area’s undisputed biggest music fan.

There is much in the life of a musician that can end a performance on a sour note — temperamental gear, an inhospitable venue, an indifferent audience. For central peninsula musicians, many a rough gig has been tuned up by Fisher’s presence.

“Especially if you’re having an evening where you’re struggling or not feeling it, if you can focus in on one person that’s really connected to your music it gives you energy and life, and Jim is definitely one of those people. If everybody else is talking and not paying attention to you, if you just focus on Jim it’s like it gives you energy,” Tinker said.

Fisher sings along to one of his favorite songs. He’s widely recognized as the area’s biggest live music fan.

Fisher sings along to one of his favorite songs. He’s widely recognized as the area’s biggest live music fan.

He’ll attend the open-mic and scheduled-musician performances at Veronica’s Coffee House in Kenai weekly, and so past and current owners attended the party. Any visiting band brought in for a special community concert sees Fisher in the front row. His favorite musicians have had their favorite fan no matter where they played, in Kenai or Soldotna, or even Homer and Cooper Landing.

“It got to the point where every place and time that I played, there was Jim. And also in places where I didn’t expect to see Jim, there was Jim,” Morgan said. Most notably, Morgan and some friends once took a trip across Kachemak Bay to Halibut Cove. “And there was Jim, standing on the dock all alone staring at me and my friends tooling our little boat up. And I said, ‘Are you following me?’ And he said, ‘I think you’re the one following me.’”

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Starving for donations — Food bank sees shortages as food trends change

By Joseph Robertia

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Don Tibbs works amidst the sparse shelves of the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank’s warehouse in Soldotna. Changing trends and tough economic times have resulted in a downturn in food donations, resulting in the food bank having to limit the amount of food it distributes to people in need.

Redoubt Reporter

Gas prices are rising. Employment is down. Not even the support networks established to help people during hard times are immune to economic problems.

“We’re seeing more people, and the member agencies we provide for are seeing more people, but donations from local businesses are down,” said Linda Swarner, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank.

The nonprofit relies on donations, disseminating the goods they are given to people in need, from single or young parents struggling to provide for their kids, to those who have been laid off and are finding it difficult to make ends meet, to those who have been diagnosed with cancer or other unforeseen medical ailments for which the cost of treatment was not in their budget.

“The numbers we’re providing for are growing,” Swarner said.

A few years ago, she said a typical February brought in 1,449 people looking for supplemental food, while for the same month last year that number rose by more than 200.

“In February 2011 we saw 1,675 people come in,” she said.

Adding to this situation, the amount of food being provided has gone down substantially. While a few years ago the food bank distributed 83,185 pounds of food in February, for that same month this year they were only able to provide 74,367 pounds of food. That’s nearly 9,000 pounds less.

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Need on the rise — Food donations sought, public assistance participation sees increase

By Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter

and Naomi Klouda, Homer Tribune

The number of people in need this season stands higher than in previous years, a growth documented through the increase in food stamp applications and those calling on local charities.

The central Kenai Peninsula saw a 47 percent rise in the average monthly caseload handled by the Alaska Division of Public Assistance for food stamps between July 2009 and July 2011. The area includes Clam Gulch, Kasilof, Kenai, Nikiski, Soldotna and Sterling.

That is over twice the amount of the state average, said Ronald Kreher, the director of the Public Assistance office in Juneau. On the whole, the state’s food stamp usage rose 17 percent over the past year, he said.

On the central peninsula, the average number of households per month seeking assistance rose from 1,168 in fiscal year 2009 to 1,714 in fiscal year 2011. The average monthly number of individuals served in the Kenai area went from 2,775 in fiscal year 2009 to 3,801 in fiscal year 2011, for a growth of 37 percent.

The southern peninsula — Homer, Anchor Point, Nanwalek, Nikolaevsk, Ninilchik, Port Graham and Seldovia — saw a 39 percent spike in the average monthly caseload handled by the Alaska Division of Public Assistance for food stamps between July 2009 and July 2011.

The number of Homer-area households rose from 421 in July 2009 to 544 in July 2010. By July 2011, the number was 586 households. The average number of individuals increased by 36 percent from 899 in 2009 to 1,227 in 2011. Continue reading

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Art Seen: Clay today — Potters guild shows, sells recent work

By Zirrus VanDevere, for the Redoubt Reporter

A porcelain jar by Charlie LaForge.

The Kenai Potters’ Guild has been organized since 1984 and has its 26th annual exhibit on display at the Kenai Fine Arts Center this month. The potters in this area tend to put out high-quality work, and generally sell at lower prices than I have seen in other areas. The guild has a pottery studio located right in the fine arts center, and there are regular classes the public is able to attend.

Charlie LaForge has some fine pieces done in porcelain with more fanciful glazes than I’ve seen him use in the past. One jar, in particular, has a rhythmic wave that flows around the broad neck and a texture of beach pebbles at its base. Jean M. Steele has a slab pitcher on display that feels both ancient and modern. She also has some interesting Raku-fired pieces. Raku was first developed by Korean potters under Japanese rule in the 17th century, and creates neat effects like crackling and oxidation of the glazes. Sometimes an after-kiln process increases the random finish of the work. Continue reading

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Feeding the need — Food bank launches facility expansion

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Jeff Belluonini, Brook Belluomini and Mya Renken pack Thanksgiving food boxes at the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank on Friday.

Redoubt Reporter

Picture being in charge of a Thanksgiving dinner for a large group of friends and family.

At the store, when buying a turkey and all the fixings, sticker shock leads to creativity in finding lower-cost ingredients. Or putting back items altogether. Picking up perishables involves estimating how much freezer space is left at home.

When dinner rolls around, made with a pared-down budget and limited perishables, worries persist about whether there will be enough to feed everyone, especially when unexpected guests arrive.

Now picture going through that every day. That’s what it’s like to be the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, trying to meet an increasing need for services out of the same facilities that have not expanded in more than 10 years.

The Kenai Peninsula Food Bank is one of the bedrock social-service programs on the peninsula, touching more than 10,000 residents in the various programs it operates. The food bank supplies around 60 other agencies that provide food to their participants, including senior centers, kids’ programs, churches and veterans organizations. It gives out food boxes to senior citizens and low-income residents in need, serves lunch in its Fireweed Diner soup kitchen Monday through Friday, and provides occasional special services, like holiday food boxes and birthday bags for kids.

In 1999, the food bank took in 762,149 pounds of food. In 2008, more than one million pounds of food were received and redistributed. Need has grown dramatically over the past 12 years, with a particular spike recently. Since last year, the food bank’s client base increased by 40 percent. That’s 40 percent more people seeking services who’ve never needed the food bank before, on top of all the returning clients.

Linda Swarner, food bank executive director, doesn’t expect that trend to reverse or even slow down anytime soon as a downturn in the economy continues to ripple through Alaska.

“I would expect it to be increasing as people have to seek other employment and until there are more higher-paying jobs in our area. And then we get people who move down from Anchorage because they think it’s a better life down here,” Swarner said. Continue reading

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