Beyond Leafy LLC grows fresh, local basil for Sitka market using vertical hydroponics

From the outside, it looks like any suburban garage. But inside there’s a 2,000-cubic-foot box where Jimmie and Leslie Kranz are growing fresh, local basil for the Sitka market using a vertical hydroponic greenhouse system.

Their company, called Beyond Leafy LLC, recently started supplying basil to a few Sitka restaurants and also provides it for the Market Center grocery store. Soon, the couple hopes to expand their business so their basil is available at Sea Mart.

“We’ve been brainstorming for years to find a product or service that would serve the people and our community,” Jimmie Kranz said. “The thing about this business is we’re not selling a service or product that people question. We’re selling what most people already have in their refrigerator.”

They also wanted something they could do together, especially since until earlier this year Jimmie was working about 14 hours a day with the Alaska Marine Highway System at the ferry terminal and Leslie was working about 10 hours a day with the Transportation Security Administration at the airport. Jimmie quit his state job in February, and Leslie quit her federal gig in June.

“We like working together,” Leslie Kranz said. “We’re having fun and the reception from the community has been extraordinarily positive.”

In addition to the couple, there are five kids and all except the oldest (Kameron, 32, who runs his own business in Arizona) are involved in the company. Tray, 25, is based in Grenada, but he’s been doing the website and social media for the company and helps with finances. Jake, 22, is a commercial fisherman but spent 3 1/2 months helping Jimmie build the hydroponic towers. The younger two kids, Madi, a 17-year-old senior at Sitka High School, and Kale, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Blatchley Middle School, both help Jimmie and Leslie trim the basil plants and prepare orders. The family also has weekly business meetings.

Beyond Leafy LLC is serving a big need in Sitka. Many restaurants and bars use basil in their food dishes and drinks, and locally grown basil tastes better and is picked at peak freshness (not a week or two early so it can be sent here by barge). When food has to travel long distances it can lose nutrients and flavor. Beyond Leafy also fills a niche found by a previous company in Sitka that provided basil to local restaurants and grocery stores, but switched to growing weed once marijuana was legalized. When the switch to weed happened last year, it left some restaurants scrambling for a new source of local basil.

“The Mean Queen is thrilled to once again have a local basil provider,” said Mary Magnuson, co-owner of the Mean Queen restaurant. “Beyond Leafy provides a very high quality product that graces both pizzas and our signature LA Preppy Martini. There is literally no comparison in the local product and what we can order from our suppliers. We are looking forward to their growth into more items.”

To grow the basil, Jimmie and Leslie take a package of rock wool (A-OK Starter Plugs) and plant seeds into each section square. The seeds grow in trays until they are a couple of weeks old, when their rock wool section squares are broken apart and the pieces of rock wool are inserted into the towers, spaced about 6-8 inches apart.

Each tower features an eight-foot-long piece of four-inch-diameter PVC pipe that has been split vertically so a felt/foam media can be inserted into each piece (the felt/foam media is purchased locally from Ben Franklin). The individual towers can be removed from their spots and moved to another spot (they move the towers every two weeks to chart the progress of their basil plants), or they can be placed on the table in the middle of the box for trimming.

Scattered throughout the box and within each tower section, there are lights connected to a roller system that moves the lights back and forth and up and down so each plant gets what it needs to grow. The light system is on a timer. The roller system helps control the temperature in the box and prevents the basil leaves from being burned by stationary lights, and also means they don’t have to use as many lights as some operations. The vertical hydroponic system also includes a recirculating watering tank and hoses that deliver water to each of the towers.

Jimmie said he designed the family’s system after taking an online university class on vertical hydroponics from Bright Agrotech, which recently was bought out by a company called Plenty that plans to develop larger-scale vertical hydroponic systems.

Jimmie and Leslie usually harvest the basil from 6-9 a.m., and it’s in the stores and restaurants by 10 a.m. From seed to harvest, it usually takes about 8-10 weeks for the basil to reach maturity. Beyond Leafy is selling its basil for $56 a pound or $3.50 an ounce (it takes a lot of basil to make an ounce), which might seem high but Jimmie noted that most restaurants only get about six ounces of usable product out of a pound of basil because of all the stems and other parts. Because they hand-trim their basil it’s all usable product, so Jimmie said the price works out to be about the same.

Right now, Beyond Leafy LLC is growing several types of basil (Genovese, Italian, sweet, purple opal, Thai and lemon), and also experimenting with dill and rosemary. They currently are growing about 10-15 pounds of basil a week, and expect to grow to about 40-50 pounds a week once Sea Mart starts carrying their product.

“Since we started the business it changed our whole mindset, and now we’re thinking more about what we can do for our community,” Jimmie said. “We also are eating more local, healthy food. I’d say basically the four of us still in the house (Jimmie, Leslie, Madi, and Kale) have lost about 100 pounds since we started the business.”

Eventually, they hope to find a warehouse unit to lease so they can expand their operation to include several types of lettuce, kale and chard. In order to help the business grow and expand, the couple set up a GoFundMe site.

“We can’t do it alone,” Jimmie said. “There is a bit of fear when you quit your jobs, cash in your retirements and take your family on a venture like this. But entrepreneurs have to take risks to move forward.”

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Sitka Farmers Market among the leaders in the ninth annual Farmers Market Celebration

Have you voted yet in the American Farmland Trust’s ninth annual Farmers Market Celebration? They just released the first standings in the national contest, and the Sitka Farmers Market ranks among the leaders nationally and is No. 1 in Alaska.

The celebration calls on shoppers to identify the best farmers markets in the country. It launched on June 21, and runs through Friday, Sept. 22. So far we’ve hosted five Sitka Farmers Markets this season (on July 1, July 15, July 29, Aug. 12, and Aug. 19), and our last two markets of the season take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, Sept. 2 and Sept. 9, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall (235 Katlian St.).

The Sitka Local Foods Network also will host a farm stand at the 23rd annual Running of the Boots costumed fun run fundraiser which starts at 11:30 a.m. (registration at 10:30 a.m.) on Saturday, Sept. 23, at Totem Square, and this year the event benefits both the Sitka Local Foods Network and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska.

“The Celebration encourages market customers, family farmers, community activists – anyone who believes they’ve got the best farmers market in the country – to endorse their market in four special areas: Focus on Farmers, Healthy Food for All, Pillar of the Community, and Champion for the Environment,” said Susan Sink, American Farmland Trust vice president of development and external relations.

Shoppers are encouraged to use Instagram and join the local food community in saving farmland with their forks, as part of AFT’s “#OnMyFork” social media campaign. Supporters are encouraged to post pictures or videos of their farmers market to Instagram using the hashtag #OnMyFork. If you do post something about the Sitka Farmers Market, please tag our Sitka Local Foods Network page on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/SitkaLocalFoodsNetwork or share it on our Twitter page, https://www.twitter.com/SitkaLocalFoods. Please use the hashtags #SitkaLocalFoodsNetwork and #SitkaFarmersMarket if you share a photo.

To vote for the Sitka Farmers Market in the national contest, just go to http://markets.farmland.org/market/sitka-farmers-market/ and recommend our market. In past Farmers Market Celebrations, sponsored by the American Farmland Trust, the Sitka Farmers Market has been at or near the top among the Alaska rankings. In 2015, the Sitka Farmers Market was the top Alaska market in this contest. In 2016, the Sitka Farmers Market earned Best In Class honors in the contest.

We made a few improvements in 2017 (vendor rates back to 2015 levels, a new Alaska Grown booth featuring products from around the state, a kids vendor program, etc.), so this year’s markets have been better than in the recent past. Stop by on Sept. 2 and Sept. 9 and check things out, then support us in the online contest voting.

A special thank you to Harry’s Soda Shop and everybody who left a tip in August

Harry’s Soda Shop supervisor Mackenzie Whitson, left, presents Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham with a check for $400 on Tuesday, Aug. 29, from tips collected in the tip jar this month.

Thank you to Harry’s Soda Shop, aka the Harry Race Pharmacy soda fountain, and all the customers who bought a milk shake, ice cream sundae or cone and left a tip in August. Harry’s Soda Shop generously donated $400 from the tip jar to the Sitka Local Foods Network this month.

Each month the staff of the soda fountain donate their tips to a selected Sitka nonprofit organization, and this month it was the Sitka Local Foods Network’s turn. We appreciate this way of strengthening our community. Thanks to everybody who put a tip in the jar, and to the staff of White’s Inc./Harry Race Pharmacy for sharing the tips with the community.

UAS Sitka Campus to host its annual class on how to identify Southeast Alaska mushrooms

The University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus Office of Continuing Education will host its annual class “Southeast Mushrooms: How to Identify Them.”

This two-day class takes place from 7-8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 7, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9, at the UAS Sitka Campus (with field trips). The course fee is $50. Students should dress for the outdoors, and bring waxed paper and a bucket for gathering.

This course is designed to introduce students to the mushroom flora of Southeast Alaska. The focus will be on the use of taxonomic keys for identification of fungi and recognition of both edible and poisonous mushrooms. Cooking and preservation of mushrooms will be discussed. Field trips are followed by in-class identification of collected mushrooms.

There is a maximum of 18 students allowed in this class, and the class may be canceled if at least 10 people don’t pre-register for it. For more information, contact the UAS Sitka Campus Office of Continuing Education at 747-7700. To register, call 1-800-478-6653, Ext. 7700, or go to http://uas.ce.alaska.edu/community-workshops/identifying-southeast-mushrooms.

Scenes from the fifth Sitka Farmers Market of the 2017 summer

Table of the Day: Sitka Farmers Market manager Nina Vizcarrondo, second from left, back, and Sitka Local Foods Network Bulldog On Baranof intern Al Simon, right, present the Table of the Day award to David Kitka, left, and Major Flo Murray of the Salvation Army/Sal’s Kitchen during the fifth Sitka Farmers Market of the 2017 summer, held Saturday, Aug. 19, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall. David and Flo sold David’s whole wheat and sourdough potato bread. They received a Sitka Local Foods Network apron loaded with some chard, carrots, a bag of Alaska Flour Company whole-grain barley, a Sitka Local Foods Network t-shirt, and an Alaska Grown sticker.

It rained again when we held our fifth Sitka Farmers Market of the 2017 summer season on Saturday, Aug. 19, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall (235 Katlian Street), but we still had a decent crowd even though it was a bit slower than other markets.

While our cold weather this spring slowed down some of our produce production this year, we are starting to get some decent crops in. We also have had several other local produce vendors at the market. We also had about three dozen vendors at the market (between those inside ANB Founders Hall and those outside in the Baranof Island Housing Authority parking lot) so there was a nice variety of items being sold. Vendors sold harvested foods (such as chaga tea and traditional medicinal tinctures), homemade baked goods, banana-Nutella crepes, hot seafood dishes, fresh smoothies, reindeer hot dogs, blackcod tips, arts and crafts, and home-baked bread. We also had an expanded selection of Alaska Grown products at the Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand. In addition, we had a photographer at the market shooting photos for the Faces of Sitka Community Photo Project.

The next Sitka Farmers Market takes place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 2, at the ANB Founders Hall. Our last market of the summer is on Sept. 9. To learn how to be a vendor at the market, contact market manager Nina Vizcarrondo at (907) 738-9301 (new number) or assistant manager Charles Bingham (907) 623-7660, or email us at sitkafarmersmarket@gmail.com. We also have a new kids vendor program at the market for young entrepreneurs age 12 or younger. Don’t forget to like our new Sitka Farmers Market page on Facebook.

Also, mark your calendars for the 23rd annual Running of the Boots costumed fun run fundraiser, which will take place on Saturday, Sept. 23, and this year will benefit the Sitka Local Foods Network and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska. More details on the Running of the Boots will be posted in the near future.

A slideshow of scenes from the fifth Sitka Farmers Market is posted below.

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Scenes from the Sitka Kitch classes on filleting and canning salmon for the Sitka Seafood Festival

As part of the rekindled Sitka Seafood Festival, the Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen hosted two classes this week — Tuesday, Aug. 15, on how to fillet a salmon, and Wednesday, Aug. 16, on how to can salmon.

The Tuesday class was taught by Renée Jakaitis Trafton, chef-owner of Beak Restaurant. Renée taught students the basics of filleting a salmon (using freshly caught, ungutted salmon), and she taught them how to pull pinbones and how to skin the fillet.

The Wednesday class was led by Jasmine Shaw, who works for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service‘s Sitka District Office. In addition to teaching students how to can salmon, Jasmine also taught them how to make a simple raspberry-currant jam while the salmon was processing.

Slideshows from both classes are posted below, with the Tuesday class slideshow on top of the Wednesday class. In the Wednesday class slideshow there are photos of several UAF Cooperative Extension Service publications, including several free handouts that can be downloaded off the UAF CES website and a couple of books that can be purchased from Jasmine at her office (contact her at 747-9440 or jdshaw2@alaska.edu to set up a time to get them).

Also, don’t forget the Sitka Kitch still has openings in its Ring Around The Rose Hip class from its Preserving The Harvest class series. You can learn more about our upcoming classes by going to http://sitkakitch.eventsmart.com and clicking on the class title to register.

Tuesday class slideshow

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Wednesday class slideshow

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Scenes from the Sitka Seafood Festival events on Saturday, Aug. 12

After a year in hiatus, the Sitka Seafood Festival returned this month with a variety of events from Aug. 6-30 around town. The big day for the Sitka Seafood Festival was Saturday, Aug. 12, when there were vendor booths, fun and games, a fishermen’s triathlon and other events at the Crescent Harbor Shelter and nearby locations.

A slideshow of scenes from the market vendor booths and fishermen’s triathlon (which featured two-person teams coiling line into a bucket, putting on a survival suit/Gumby suit, a three-legged race using a pair of Grundens, setting a skate, and a tote race) are linked below. There are still a couple of events left on the schedule, so check them out at http://www.sitkaseafoodfestival.com/.

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