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6/15/2013
Gardening for more than beauty
Keri Traudt checks a planter box with the cilantro, parsley, oregano and celery at the garden complex she has developed with her husband Kalvin Traudt. Staff photo by Hall Anderson


By NICK BOWMAN

Daily News Staff Writer

The national renaissance of healthy, organic and local foods has worked its way to Ketchikan by way of a Saturday farmers market at Berth IV this summer.

The Tongass Community Food Alliance will hold six markets on Saturdays between June 22 and Sept. 14.

Ketchikan business owners, who have to compete with online retailers, have long had a buy-local mantra, emphasizing goods that came from Alaska or Southeast, but Revillagigedo Island consumers don’t have much choice when it comes to perishables.

At a Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce luncheon on May 5, Ben Williams, of Alaskan and Proud Market, said Ketchikan grocers bring 50,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables into Ketchikan from the Lower 48 each week. Those products have been grown to survive a long trip from their growing site to the grocery section, often trading flavor and texture for thicker skins and longevity.

More products survive the trip as a result, which lowers their cost to consumers. Williams said A&P loses anywhere from 10 percent to 30 percent of fruits and vegetables barged to Ketchikan because of bruising or damage. Losses depend on the product; tomatoes are more susceptible to damage than potatoes or apples, which are hardier.

Williams said he’d like to sell more local products at A&P, but between the cost of land and energy it’s unlikely an operation large enough to supply local stores could get off the ground. But there is a market for locally grown produce, he said, as people become more aware of the benefits of buying locally.

"There is a big demand for organics, natural products, healthy products," he said. "More people are interested in a lifestyle with nutritional health involved."

Buyers are equally concerned with the health-and-wellness aspects of what they’re buying and price, he said. A&P once owned a grocery store in Juneau, which had a farmers market. Williams said the market was a success for the growers participating, but couldn’t meet the needs of grocery stores — excluding those who grew bean sprouts, which did very well — because of the costs of labor and land.

"If a person can solve those problems," he said, "there is definitely a market in this community."

Vegetables grown for personal use or for a farmers market don’t have to make long journeys, and their growers usually don’t have to meet a bottom line. Kalvin and Kerri Traudt have been gardening in Ketchikan since they moved here from Nebraska in 1991.

The Traudts grow potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, leeks, chives, several types of lettuce, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, beans, peas, zucchini, spinach, parsley, cilantro and a number of other plants using raised, square-foot-based beds.

"We garden square foot," Kalvin Traudt said at the luncheon. "It’s a wonderful application for here in town. You could have a 4-by-4 raised bed, and there’s 16 squares in there, and theoretically you could raise 16 different things."

At their North Tongass home on May 7, Kerri Traudt said raised beds make it easier to control drainage, weeds and pests — especially the slugs that thrive in Ketchikan’s wet, cloudy climate. Cans of Miller High Life were tucked into corners of the wooden beds to lure the slugs away from the plants. She said the slugs are attracted to beer — although not Miller High Life specifically.

"I share with the slugs," Traudt said, adding that gardeners who don’t keep an eye on their cans could end up getting a mouth full of slug.

Raised beds also help with heat transfer, allowing plants like beans, which require more heat than carrots or beets, to grow more easily in Ketchikan. The far ends of the growing season stretch from April to September for the Traudts, who start planting in the spring while keeping the beds covered.

"You can start a lot of stuff in April if you cover it up and take the time," Kerri Traudt said. "If you cover it and get a little bit more heat, you get a much better germination rate."

She said that carrots can be left in the ground until late September.

Differences in the taste between home-grown and store-bought vegetables are often cited as a reason to grow vegetables at the home, and the Traudts had the same story.

"It’s all just so much different," Kerri Traudt said. "It’s real. You can actually taste the food and not get the chemical taste."

At the luncheon, Kalvin Traudt said some tastes are so different that they give pause to the uninitiated. Some years ago, his daughters were confused by the salad they made using a large lettuce grown in the yard.

"We chopped the lettuce and had a nice salad, and both the girls took one bite and said, ‘What’s wrong with this lettuce?’’ Traudt said, "and I said ‘That’s what it’s supposed to taste like.’"

Along with the taste, Traudt enjoys the lifestyle of locally sourced food. "There’s nothing wrong with going out and catching a salmon or having a steak ... and going out and getting a fresh bunch of lettuce and have a salad," he said. "That, to me, is what it’s all about."

Bett Union-Jakubek, organizer of the TCFA farmers market, said she was turned onto local and organic foods by her daughter, who is an organic farmer in the Lower 48. Union-Jakubek said she lost 25 pounds while living in Portland, Ore., and eating food from a nearby farmers market.

"We’re protein-heavy here," she said. "My freezer is full of venison and shrimp and crab and salmon, but not produce."

She said she was spurred into organizing the farmers market by the success of the market at last year’s Blueberry Arts Festival and the advice of her daughter, who "raised the bar and educated me about eating organically and, ideally, locally."

Along with produce, a variety of eggs and other local products will be available from more than a dozen vendors at the market, which opens on June 22. Its other dates are July 6, July 20, Aug. 10, Aug. 24 and Sept. 14.