Gimbal Botanicals wins $1,500 prize in Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest

Gimbal Botanicals owner Hope Merritt, right, poses with her new interns, Nora Skeele, left, and Kassandra Eubank-Littlefield, during a recent trip to harvest seaweed. Gimbal Botanicals recently won $1,500 in the Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest hosted by the Sitka Local Foods Network, and Hope used the prize to hire interns to help her harvest, process and market her local wild food products. (Photo courtesy of Gimbal Botanicals)

Hope Merritt of Gimbal Botanicals makes a sale during a 2014 Sitka Farmers Market (Photo by Charles Bingham, Sitka Local Foods Network)

With a young child eating into her time and a need to expand her business, Hope Merritt of Gimbal Botanicals wanted to hire a couple of interns to help harvest and process her beach asparagus, seaweed, kelp and other local wild foods. This month, Hope received a check for $1,500 after winning the established business category in the Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest sponsored by the Sitka Local Foods Network.

The contest was for Sitka food businesses looking to start or grow their operations and was to provide two $1,500 prizes — one for established businesses and one for start-up businesses (younger than 2 years old) — but there were no entries in the start-up business category so no prize was awarded in that category.

“The Sitka Local Foods Network has had a long relationship with Hope and Gimbal Botanicals at the Sitka Farmers Market, so we’re excited to be able to help Hope grow her business,” Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham said. “One of the reasons we launched this contest this year was to try and encourage new local food businesses or the expansion of existing businesses so we have more local food available for Sitka residents. With her local wild foods business, Hope and Gimbal Botanicals provide a true taste of Sitka.”

Gimbal Botanicals has been in business for about a decade, and Hope has been selling a variety of local wild foods such as tea blends, beach asparagus, etc., at the Sitka Farmers Market, Sitka Food Cooperative, to local restaurants and caterers, at Sitka businesses such as Wintersong Soaps and Evergreen Foods, on Allen Marine cruises, and in Juneau, Hoonah and other communities. She also sells her local wild food products on her website, http://www.gimbalbotanicals.com.

“I will use this award to increase my womanpower and in so there should be more products available,” Hope said. “I have already hired two women and because harvesting is still slow we are starting on marketing. We are working with Salt and Soil Marketplace (a regional food hub based in Juneau) right now to get products on their website. I would like to expand my availability with the Sitka Food Co-op. I have also considered a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture, where farmers sell shares in their crops), or a CSH, Community Sustained Harvesting, as I might call it. In this model, customers would order in advanced from me for the whole season. Every time I harvest (about once every two weeks) customers would get their amount of fresh beach asparagus. It’s like pre-marketing.”

From left, Nora Skeele, Kassandra Eubank-Littlefield and Hope Merritt of Gimbal Botanicals harvest seaweed. (Photo courtesy of Gimbal Botanicals)

With the prize money, Hope hired interns Nora Skeele and Kassandra Eubank-Littlefield, who already have been helping out with harvests and will help out with processing and sales. In addition, Hope is helped by her partner, Dan Littlefield, and her mother-in-law, Roby Littlefield.

“This money will help me continue to bring local sea veggies to local markets, beach asparagus and seaweeds as well as my teas,” Hope said, who added that she plans to continue to sell her products at the Sitka Farmers Market. “I am hoping for a bigger presence at the Sitka Food-Co-op this year, making nutritious foods more available for those who value them. All of my products are 100-percent organic. Bringing wild-harvested beach asparagus to the local markets brings a super nutritious food that would otherwise be unavailable to the consumer here in Sitka and Juneau.”

Hope said she takes pride in being able to ethically harvest her sea veggies, which keeps the products sustainable.

“It’s not good enough for me to try to be ethical and sustainable with our fragile eco-systems,” Hope said. “I take great care to ensure sustainable harvesting. The resources I harvest from are healthy and abundant enough to handle the effects of commercial harvesting. If that changes, then we will no longer have those products available.”

Hope also is working with Sitka Tribe of Alaska Social Services to develop an agreement, which hasn’t started yet, where she harvests for those tribal members who can’t get out to harvest themselves.

This was the first year of the Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest, and the Sitka Local Foods Network hoped there would be more entries. “In addition to providing more local food here in Sitka, we want the contest to encourage Sitka food businesses to enter some of the larger innovation contests, such as Path to Prosperity or the Symphony of Seafood,” Bingham said. “But we’re happy for Hope and Gimbal Botanicals, because this business is a good example of how a Sitka foods business can be innovative while sharing the taste of Sitka.”

“I’d like to express my gratitude for this award and the work that Sitka Local Foods Network does in this community,” Hope said. “By promoting local food we are taking valuable steps forward as a community to be more healthy and food secure. This is a passion of mine and why I continue to operate Gimbal Botanicals. I could not operate without the help of friends and family. Gimbal Botanicals is sustained through all the hours that family and friends have donated to the cause working often for tea and beach asparagus. Thanks to my family for supporting and understanding the importance of local, not just for its nutrition but as a way of life. With the expansion of my family, time has shifted and I am unable to produce what I could before motherhood. I will use the money to hire help with harvesting, processing, marketing and at the farmers market.”

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Sitka Kitch to host fermentation workshop with Sandor Katz on July 9

Sandor Katz, author of Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods, is a nationally recognized food writer and fermentation guru. He will be traveling through Southeast Alaska (Sitka, Juneau, Haines, and Gustavus) to offer community education and workshops about the fermentation of vegetables.

Sandor’s trip to Southeast Alaska includes a fermentation workshop from 5:30-8 p.m. on Monday, July 9, at the Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen (505 Sawmill Creek Road, inside First Presbyterian Church). This class costs $15 per student, and is sponsored by SEARHC, with hopes of making community food education accessible to all. There is no food/supply fee for this class.

Join this hands-on fermentation workshop with a true fermentation expert to learn how to ferment vegetables at home easily and safely to create a delicious, nutrient-packed superfood.

The workshop will include:
  • a discussion of “what is fermentation?”
  • why fermentation is practiced worldwide
  • the many practical benefits of fermentation
  • functional concepts about fermentation
  • instruction on how to make sauerkraut with a variety of vegetables
  • information about what to do with sauerkraut at home and how long to store it
  • troubleshooting any problems with home fermentation

Students will leave with their own jar of kraut, plus a wealth of knowledge on safe home fermentation practices.

Note: Please bring a chef’s knife and vegetable grater if you have them. Some knives and graters will be provided if students don’t bring these supplies from home.

Class space is limited, so register early. The registration deadline is 11 p.m. on Saturday, July 7.

Register online at https://sitkakitch.eventsmart.com (click on the class title) and pre-pay using credit/debit cards or PayPal. To pre-pay by cash or check, contact Chandler, Claire, or Clarice at 747-7509 to arrange payment. For more information about the class, contact Holly at 966-8938 or holly.marban@searhc.org.

This is one of several classes hosted by the Sitka Kitch this summer. The Sitka Kitch will host a rescheduled Starting A Cottage Foods Business class from noon until 2 p.m. on Wednesday, June 13, at the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus. There will be a Rambunctious Rhubarb class with Lisa Sadleir-Hart from 6-8:30 p.m. on Monday, June 25, at the Sitka Kitch. The Sitka Kitch also will host a three-class Baking With Betsy series from 6-8:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, July 3 (savory breads), July 10 (sweet breads), and July 17 (baking with alternative sweeteners), at the Sitka Kitch. We’re also waiting to hear details on a couple of other potential classes later this summer, so watch for updates.

Kayaaní Commission to host community potluck on Wednesday, May 30

The Kayaaní Commission, which is coordinated by Sitka Tribe of Alaska in partnership with other groups in Sitka, will host an open potluck from 6-8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 30, at the Sheet’ká Kwáan Naa Kahidí community house. The public is invited to attend. Please bring a dish to share and a friend.

The Kayaaní Commission is a group of knowledgeable community members and tribal citizens who are concerned with preserving and protecting plants and the traditional ways they are used. It started meeting in 1997 after the USDA Forest Service created a “special forest products” category for non-timber products in the Alaska region that included many of the traditional plants gathered by Alaska Natives for food, medicine and other purposes.

The meetings provided a way for the tribe to share its knowledge and customary practices using these roots, berries, bark, fungi, and other plants with federal and state agencies, so the agencies are less likely to make regulations that prevent their harvest. The Kayaaní Commission also discusses ways to sustainably harvest these plants, so the remain a vital part of our landscape. These efforts are supported by the Forest Service, Sitka Native Education Program (SNEP), Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood (ANB/ANS), National Park Service, (NPS), Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center (SEAICC) and many other interested parties and individuals along the way.

For more information, please contact Tammy Young at 747-7167 or tammy.young@sitkatribe-nsn.gov.

Sitka Kitch hosts Rambunctious Rhubarb class with Lisa Sadleir-Hart on June 25

Looking for fun and creative ways to use your surplus of rhubarb?

Sitka health educator and registered dietitian Lisa Sadleir-Hart will offer her Rambunctious Rhubarb: Creative Ways to Use Rhubarb class again this summer. The class takes place from 6-8:30 p.m. on Monday, June 25, at the Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen, which is located at 505 Sawmill Creek Road (inside First Presbyterian Church).

Last year this class was offered as part of the Sitka Kitch‘s Preserving the Harvest class series, but this year it’s a standalone class. For examples of possible lessons, in last year’s class students learned how to make a curried rhubarb lentils dish (served over rice), a rhubarb chutney, a jalapeño rhubarb chutney, rhubarb pickles, rhubarb ketchup, and a rhubarb salsa.

Class space is limited, so register early. This class costs $27.50 per person, plus a food/supply fee split between the registered students. The registration deadline is 11 p.m. on Saturday, June 23.

Register online at https://sitkakitch.eventsmart.com (click on the class title) and pre-pay using credit/debit cards or PayPal. To pre-pay by cash or check, contact Chandler, Claire, or Clarice at 747-7509 to arrange payment. For more information about the class, contact Lisa at 747-5985.

This is one of several classes hosted by the Sitka Kitch this summer. The Sitka Kitch will host a rescheduled Starting A Cottage Foods Business class from noon until 2 p.m. on Wednesday, June 13, at the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus. The Sitka Kitch also will host a three-class Baking With Betsy series from 6-8:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, July 3 (savory breads), July 10 (sweet breads), and July 17 (baking with alternative sweeteners), at the Sitka Kitch. We’re also waiting to hear details on a couple of other potential classes this summer, so watch for updates.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game to host Chinook Salmon Symposium in Sitka on Monday

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) invites the public to attend a Chinook Salmon Symposium from 5-8 p.m. on Monday, May 21, at Harrigan Centennial Hall. Attend this free symposium and learn about the status of Southeast Alaska chinook salmon, research and management, the Pacific Salmon Treaty, and participation in the public process.

Hosted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, this event features:

  • Chinook salmon research — what we know about how local stocks are performing, as well as Pacific Northwest Chinook salmon stocks coastwide.
  • A look at the last 10 years of chinook salmon management for the commercial and sport fisheries — annual allocations, actual harvest, and performance relative to the Pacific Salmon Treaty.
  • Conservative actions — management measures in response to poor chinook salmon production.
  • Treaty transparency — a summary of the treaty past, present, and future.
  • Public process and participation — an overview of the public regulatory process and how to get involved.
  • Public question and answer session.

ADF&G encourages those interested in chinook salmon issues to join this evening of informative presentations by our fisheries research and management team. For more details, contact ADF&G.

In conjunction with this meeting, the Chinook Futures Coalition will host a fundraiser from 4-8 p.m. on Monday, May 21, in the Harrigan Centennial Hall Steelhead Room (across from the Chinook Salmon Symposium in the Auditorium). Alaska Trollers Association raffle tickets will be available at the fundraiser.

The Chinook Futures Coalition supports the troll fishery, and it is rallying troll fishermen to make their voices be heard at the symposium. Please plan to speak up and tell Commissioner Sam Cotten and Alaska Pacific Salmon Treaty Commissioner Charlie Swanton about the way the troll fishery is being managed and the loss of harvest opportunity on treaty chinook. A CFC planning meeting will take place at 2 p.m. on Saturday May 19 in the Steelhead Room at Harrigan Centennial Hall.

For more information, call Chinook Futures Symposium executive director Deborah Lyons at 907-738-3362.

Sitka Kitch to host rescheduled Starting a Cottage Foods Business class at UAS Sitka Campus

Learn what the basics of starting and running a cottage foods business as Sarah Lewis teaches students students how to Start a Cottage Foods Business from noon to 2 p.m. on Wednesday, June 13, in Room 106 at the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus.

This class was originally scheduled for April 14 at the Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen, but was canceled due to problems on the Juneau end where the class will be taught. This was the seventh class of the Seasonal Cooking class series this spring at the Sitka Kitch.

Sarah Lewis — the home, health and family development agent for the Juneau office of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service — will teach this class by videoconference from Juneau. Students will learn about state laws regarding home food businesses, and get ideas for businesses you might take to the Sitka Farmers Market or local trade shows.

The class fee is $10, and there is no supply fee for students in Sitka. Class space is limited, so register early. The registration deadline for this class is 11 p.m. on Monday, June 11. The Sitka Local Foods Network is offering students of this class half off their Sitka Farmers Market vendor fee for the first market of the season where they host a table. Representatives from the Sitka Local Foods Network/Sitka Farmers Market and the Sitka food safety office of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation are planning to attend so they can answer any questions potential cottage foods business owners may have.

Register online at https://sitkakitch.eventsmart.com/ (click on class title) and pre-pay using credit/debit cards or PayPal. To pre-pay by cash or check, contact Chandler, Claire, or Clarice at 747-7509 to arrange payment. For more information about the class series, contact Jasmine at 747-9440.

First Baptist Church community garden has limited space available for new gardeners

Were you one of the many Sitkans who lost your garden plot two years ago when the Sitka School District closed Blatchley Community Gardens? The small community garden in front of Sitka’s First Baptist Church has some (limited) space available to grow veggies this year.

The community garden at First Baptist Church is located on the Crabapple Drive side of the church’s property at 514 Halibut Point Road. Some of the ground will need some work, but there is a pile of topsoil by the garden for those building raised garden beds.

Sam Pointer, who is coordinating the space for the church, said about a quarter of the garden’s space is available to Sitka gardeners, and possibly more. To learn more about how you can sign up to use space at the church garden, contact Sam at 623-7775 or dad4lyf@yahoo.com.

In the meantime, we are looking for more community garden space in Sitka. If you have garden space available, contact Sitka Local Foods Network president Charles Bingham at 623-7660 or charleswbingham3@gmail.com.