The Kenai Peninsula’s virtual farmer’s market is celebrating its fourth year in operation with an open house at their new central pickup location in Soldotna. Alaska Food Hub, which is organized by Cook Inletkeeper, will be hosting an open house today at Cook Inletkeeper’s new office in the old Mattress Ranch in Soldotna. The open house will take place during the first official pickup of the 2019 season, allowing guests to get an idea of how the food hub works, ask questions of the staff, and see what products are available this year.
Alaska Food Hub is an online marketplace that connects local producers with customers and allows people to buy local without going to the farmer’s market. Every Friday, the participating growers post their available products to the Food Hub’s website for customers to view. Customers then do their shopping over the weekend and place their orders before the 10 p.m. deadline on Monday. Local Foods Director Robbi Mixon said that every producer has a “virtual stall” on the website where customers can learn about the people behind the products and the growing practices of each producer.
Margo Reviel is the owner of Jakolof Bay Oyster Company in Homer. She has been selling her oysters through the Food Hub since it started. Reviel said that the food hub has allowed her and other farmers more time to focus on growing their products.
“Every day spent at the farmer’s market is a day that they’re not farming,” said Reviel. “The food hub has been super reliable and has helped us make good connections with our customers.”
The producers fill the orders that they receive on Tuesday, and on Wednesday morning the products are delivered to one of three locations: Sister Ship in Old Town Homer, The Cook Inletkeeper Headquarters in Soldotna or the Smokey Bay Air Terminal in Seldovia. Customers can arrive on Wednesday afternoon at the location that they specified to pick up their orders.
Mixon said that Cook Inletkeeper is planning on opening a location in Ninilchik soon and is always looking to expand the number of customers and producers involved in the program in order to diversify their product selection. As of now, Mixon said that about 35 producers offer everything from flowers and fresh vegetables to jams and spice blends. There are more than 1,200 members of the Alaska Food Hub. Mixon said that people can place up to three orders before becoming a member, and membership dues are anywhere from $1 to $100 per year with the amount chosen by the member in a pay-what-you-can system. Mixon said that the growers pay $40 a year to be a part of the program and are paid every week for their orders. The Food Hub operates from May until Thanksgiving of each year.
The Open House will take place from 3:30 to 6 p.m. at the Cook Inletkeeper office at 35911 Kenai Spur Hwy, Suite 13 in Soldotna (where the Mattress Ranch is located). Alaskafoodhub.org is the website where people can place their orders.