Check out the November 2022 edition of the Sitka Local Foods Network newsletter

The Sitka Local Foods Network just sent out the November 2022 edition of its monthly newsletter. Feel free to click this link to get a copy.

This month’s newsletter includes short stories about St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm being named a People’s Garden by the USDA, an update about how you can support the Sitka Local Foods Network by buying a t-shirt or hoodie from our online store, information about our 2023 sponsorship programs, and an invitation to join our board of directors. Each story has links to our website for more information.

You can sign up for future editions of our newsletter by clicking on the newsletter image in the right column of our website and filling in the information. If you received a copy but didn’t want one, there is a link at the bottom of the newsletter so you can unsubscribe. Our intention is to get the word out about upcoming events and not to spam people. We will protect your privacy by not sharing our email list with others. Don’t forget to like us on Facebooklike our Sitka Farmers Market page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter (@SitkaLocalFoods).

St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm attains People’s Garden designation from USDA

The Sitka Local Foods Network’s St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm has been admitted to the USDA People’s Garden Initiative, which recently was rekindled after going dormant during the Trump Administration. St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm held People’s Garden status in the original program, which launched in 2009.

When the USDA relaunched the program this spring, it initially included the garden at USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C., and 17 other gardens in major cities around the country. In September, the USDA opened the program to other gardens around the country, and organizations could apply for the program by going to the People’s Garden website and applying.

According to the USDA, school gardens, community gardens, urban farms, and small-scale agriculture projects in rural and urban areas can be recognized as a “People’s Garden” if they:  

  • Benefit the community by providing food, green space, wildlife habitat, education space.
  • Are a collaborative effort. This can include groups working together with USDA agencies, food banks, Girl Scouts, Master Gardeners, conservation districts, etc.
  • Incorporate conservation management practices, such as using native plant species, rain barrels, integrated pest management, xeriscaping.
  • Educate the public about sustainable gardening practices and the importance of local, diverse and resilient food systems providing healthy food for the community.

“St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm has been a tremendous resource for getting local produce into the hands of Sitka residents,” Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham said. “We started the communal garden after the 2008 Sitka Health Summit, and we’ve been building on it ever since. It’s where the Sitka Local Foods Network grows most of the produce it sells at the Sitka Farmers Market each summer. In 2020 and 2021 we added two high tunnels, which allowed us to extend our growing season and reduced the impact of recent cold, wet summer weather.”

Laura Schmidt has been the lead gardener at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm for a dozen years. In 2019, St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm earned a Certified Naturally Grown designation, meaning it follows sustainable gardening principles, such as not using chemical fertilizers or GMOs. The People’s Garden website currently shows five gardens in Alaska with the designation.

Scenes from the sixth Sitka Farmers Market of the 2022 summer

PHOTO COURTESY OF SITKA LOCAL FOODS NETWORK
Sitka Farmers Market volunteer Shannon Cellan, and St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm lead gardener Laura Schmidt, center, present the Table of the Day Award for Sept. 10 to Leah Piera Murphy of Spinning Moon Apothecary. Leah sold a variety of locally blended teas, tinctures, salves, and more. She received a Sitka Local Foods Network tote bag, two Sitka Farmers Market special label chocolate bars, a bag of salad greens, Foraged & Found kelp salsa, Moosetard Lead Dog BBQ sauce, and other prizes. The last Sitka Farmers Market of the summer is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall (235 Katlian Street). We still have room for vendors, and vendors can register online (by Thursday morning on market week) at https://sitkafarmersmarket.eventsmart.com
. More details about the Sitka Local Foods Network and Sitka Farmers Market can be found at http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org.

We are starting to wind down the season for the Sitka Farmers Markets this year, and we hosted our sixth market on Saturday, Sept. 10, at Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall. This was the second to last market of our 15th season of markets.

We appreciate everybody who made this market season a success, especially all of our vendors, volunteers, and customers who wore masks to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. When the city’s Covid-19 risk level is high, we require masks inside ANB Hall. If the city’s Covid-19 risk drops to medium or low, we recommend people wear masks inside.

We didn’t have as many booths as in previous years, but the smaller markets seemed to have worked. We still had fresh local produce, as well as a variety of Alaska Grown value-added products, local eggs, mushrooms, and arts and crafts. The Sitka Local Foods Network farm stand accepts and matches WIC coupons and SNAP EBT benefits.

Our last market of the season is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, Sept. 24, at the ANB Founders Hall, 235 Katlian Street. Potential vendors can register and pay their vendor fees by going to https://sitkafarmersmarket.eventsmart.com (please register by the Thursday morning of market week). More information about the Sitka Local Foods Network and Sitka Farmers Market can be found at http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org.

A slideshow of scenes from the sixth market of the summer is posted below.

Check out the May 2022 edition of the Sitka Local Foods Network newsletter

The Sitka Local Foods Network just sent out the May 2022 edition of its monthly newsletter. Feel free to click this link to get a copy.

This month’s newsletter includes short stories about the winners of the fifth annual Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest, a notice that vendor registration for the 2022 Sitka Farmers Market is open, an update about how you can support the Sitka Local Foods Network by buying a t-shirt or hoodie from our online store, information about our 2022 sponsorship programs, and an invitation to join our board of directors. Each story has links to our website for more information.

You can sign up for future editions of our newsletter by clicking on the newsletter image in the right column of our website and filling in the information. If you received a copy but didn’t want one, there is a link at the bottom of the newsletter so you can unsubscribe. Our intention is to get the word out about upcoming events and not to spam people. We will protect your privacy by not sharing our email list with others. Don’t forget to like us on Facebooklike our Sitka Farmers Market page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter (@SitkaLocalFoods).

Alaska Food Policy Council announces 2022 Alaska Food Hero winners

Top two photos: Cyrus Harris, left, Joanna Barton, center, and Chris Dankmeyer with first batch of approved seal oil made by the Maniilaq Association Traditional Foods Team in Kotzebue. Third photo: Milo and Bryce Wrigley in one of their barley fields in Delta Junction.

HOMER, Alaska (March 19, 2022) — The Alaska Food Policy Council announced three winners of its Alaska Food Hero Award on Saturday morning during a ceremony at the 2022 Alaska Food Festival and Conference.

This year’s winners are Cyrus Harris and the Maniilaq Association Traditional Foods Team (Kotzebue), the Wrigley family — Bryce, Jan, Milo, and Leah — of Alaska Flour Company (Delta Junction), and the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands Association (APIA) Traditional Foods and Wellness Programs. They were among a number of people or organizations nominated for the award by community members around the state. The three winners receive a glass plaque and a homemade quilt featuring the Alaska Food Policy Council logo made by AFPC governing board member Mel Sikes of Fairbanks.

Hosted by the Alaska Food Policy Council (AFPC), this sixth semi-annual Alaska Food Festival and Conference event previously took place in Anchorage in 2014 and 2016, in Fairbanks in 2017 and Homer in 2019. In 2020 and again in 2022, the conference was scheduled for Anchorage before going virtual due to the pandemic. In addition to the Alaska Food Policy Council, the 2022 event was co-sponsored by the Intertribal Agriculture Council and the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) Dietetics and Nutrition Program.

The Alaska Food Hero Award(s) are presented at the Alaska Food Festival and Conference, which takes place every 18 months Awardees demonstrate a substantial impact on Alaska’s food system, transform an aspect of their community’s food system, and make a difference for Alaska’s prosperity, health and self-reliance.

Past winners of the award are:

  • 2020 — Native Village of Savoonga Reindeer Crew (Richmond Toolie, chief herder, and crew members Freeman Kingeekuk, Michael Kralik, Nick Toolie, Sidney Kulowiyi, Scott Toolie, Kacy Pungowiyi, Christopher Miklahook, Ronald Kingeekuk, Derek Toolie, Derek Akeya, Justina Noongwook, and Orville Toolie); Chef Amy Foote of the Alaska Native Medical Center Traditional Foods Donation Center in Anchorage; and Marsh Skeele of Sitka Salmon Shares
  • 2019Tim and Lisa Meyers of Meyers Farm in Bethel, Lia Heifetz of Barnacle Foods in Juneau, and Heidi Chay of the Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District
  • 2018Robbi Mixon of the Homer Farmers Market, Alaska Food Hub, Alaska Farmers Market Association, and the Alaska Food Policy Council
  • 2016Kyra Wagner of the Sustainable Homer; Tyonek Tribal Conservation District, Outstanding Service Award goes to Diane Peck of the Obesity Prevention Program from the Alaska Division of Public Health.
  • 2014 — No award.

Short biographies of the winners follow below:

Cyrus Harris and the Maniilaq Association Traditional Foods Team (Kotzebue)

Cyrus Harris and the Maniilaq Association Traditional Foods Team have worked together to provide niqipiaq (Iñupiaq food) to elders at the Utuqqanaat Inaat long-term care facility in Kotzebue since 2015, through a state-permitted traditional food processing and cold storage facility known as the Siġḷuaq. In 2021, the team made years of hard work from countless helping hands a reality by achieving State of Alaska approval for serving seal oil.

They used experimentation and a pasteurization process to reduce the risk of botulism, a rare but deadly foodborne illness linked with traditionally made seal oil. Now, the elders at the Utuqqanaat Inaat are able to enjoy on-demand the seal oil they grew up eating daily. The team hopes to expand the list of safe and nutritious niqipiaq foods offered to the elders and share lessons learned with other tribal groups across the continent interested in serving traditional foods in long-term care settings.

The Wrigley family — Bryce, Jan, Milo, and Leah (Delta Junction)

Settling in Delta Junction, Alaska back in 1983, the Wrigleys imagined building a farm that would increase Alaska’s food security, create markets for fellow farmers, provide healthy, locally grown food options, and offer their children the opportunity to continue the operation into the future. The Wrigleys knew Alaska’s unique conditions — a short growing season and long, dark winters — would require innovative farming techniques and never-say-quit determination.

They use sustainable farming practices on their 1,700-acre farm, on which Bryce and Jan raised five children. In 2011, their hard work, perseverance, and passion for nutritious, locally grown products paid off when they founded the Alaska Flour Company, the only commercial flour mill in Alaska. (The next nearest mill is more than 1,500 miles away.)

Aleutian and Pribilof Islands Association (APIA) Traditional Foods and Wellness Programs

The Traditional Foods and Wellness Programs at APIA work in tandem to carry out food-related initiatives and are dedicated to supporting the health and wellness of the Unangax̂ people. Current projects are focused on working with elders and community leaders to preserve traditional food knowledge and address food access and food security throughout the region.

One exceptional team member working with these programs is Sally Swetzof, from Atka. Sally grew up living a subsistence lifestyle and has been able to pass this cultural knowledge down, not only to her children and grandchildren, but also to her greater Unangax̂ community. She is a respected elder and mentor on a variety of traditional practices, including traditional Unangax̂ food harvesting, preparation, and preservation. She is also a fluent speaker in the traditional Atkan dialect of the Unangam Tunuu language and has been a leader in revitalizing the language.

Sally has been a tremendous resource and an essential team member in many projects at APIA, including most recently being involved in the Qaqamiigux: Traditional Foods Film Series. Sally is a central figure in many of the films, including the topics of: chocolate lily, reindeer, eider duck, and bidarki. Her involvement in the project has been key to the success of the films in light of her skills as an educator, traditional knowledge bearer, and fluent Unangam Tunuu speaker.

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The Alaska Food Policy Council (https://www.akfoodpolicycouncil.org/) is a nonprofit organization whose diverse membership works to engage Alaskans to make positive changes for the state’s food system, and to create a healthier, more prosperous and more secure future for all.

The Intertribal Agriculture Council (https://www.indianag.org/) was founded in 1987 to pursue and promote the conservation, development and use of our agricultural resources for the betterment of our people. Land-based agricultural resources are vital to the economic and social welfare of many Native American and Alaskan Tribes. The harmonies of man, soil, water, air, vegetation and wildlife that collectively make-up the American Indian agriculture community, influence our emotional and spiritual well-being. The IAC has, over the last three decades, become recognized as the most respected voice within the Indian community and government circles on agricultural policies and programs in Indian country.

The University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) Dietetics and Nutrition Program (https://www.uaa.alaska.edu/academics/college-of-health/departments/school-of-allied-health/academics/dietetics-nutrition/) is a statewide education program that meets the growing needs of the dietetics and nutrition industry. This nationally accredited program trains entry-level, registered dietitian nutritionists, and community nutrition and nutrition science professionals throughout Alaska. Using an array of online and campus-based courses, the UAA Dietetics and Nutrition Program offers a minor in Nutrition, a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics, and a Master of Science in Dietetics.

Scenes from the sixth Sitka Farmers Market of the 2021 summer

PHOTO COURTESY OF SITKA LOCAL FOODS NETWORK
TABLE OF THE DAY — Mother-daughter booth Aurora Cooper, left, of Rory’s Rocks, and Jaycie Karsunky, second from left, of Rose Lane Co. Candles and Decor, receive the Table of the Day Award from Sitka Farmers Market manager Nalani James, third from left, and volunteer Al Staumont right, during the Au. 28 market. Aurora sold a variety of painted abalone shells, while Jaycie sold homemade candles. They received a certificate, a tote bag, a t-shirt, a bottle of Bearinade BBQ/marinade sauce, a bottle of Moosetard mustard, a bag of Alaska Flour Company barley cereal, and a Sitka Farmers Market special label Theobroma chocolate bar. The last two Sitka Farmers Markets of the summer are scheduled for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 11 and Sept. 18, on the plaza outside Harrigan Centennial Hall. Vendors can register online (by Thursday before each market) at https://sitkafarmersmarket.eventsmart.com. More details about the Sitka Local Foods Network and Sitka Farmers Market can be found at http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org.

Heavy rain was in the forecast, but we hit a welcome dry window of weather when the Sitka Local Foods Network hosted with its sixth Sitka Farmers Market of the summer on Saturday, Aug. 28. It rained heavily before the market, but it dried up to only a few short squalls during the market.

Due to a growing COVID-19 count, we instituted a face mask policy this summer to try and protect our customers and vendors from the coronavirus. That face mask policy will be in force when we hold our fourth Sitka Farmers Market from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept 11, on the plaza outside Harrigan Centennial Hall. We ask all customers and vendors to wear masks. Our last market of the summer is Sept. 18.

The markets are being held outside this year to try and prevent the spread of the coronavirus. We haven’t had as many booths as in previous years, but the smaller market seems to be working. We still have fresh local produce, as well as a variety of Alaska Grown value-added products, local eggs, mushrooms, and arts and crafts. We should have some cooked food at Saturday’s market. We do have a couple of new vendors registered for this market, and we’d love to see a fish vendor or a baked goods vendor, too.

The Sitka Local Foods Network needs a volunteer or two to help set up the market, sell produce during the market, and take down the market after it’s over. If you’re interested in helping us with the market, contact Charles Bingham at (907) 623-7660 or Nalani James at (808) 778-9888.

We also are recruiting new vendors, and they can register and pay their vendor fees by going to https://sitkafarmersmarket.eventsmart.com. More information about the Sitka Local Foods Network and Sitka Farmers Market can be found at http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org.

The Sitka Local Foods Network does take WIC farmers market coupons and Alaska Quest SNAP EBT cards, and offers a matching program for produce purchased at the SLFN farm stand (if you buy $5 of produce, you will receive $10 worth).

A slideshow of scenes from the sixth market of the summer is posted below.

Pacific High School receives USDA Farm To School grant for edible garden

RAISED EXPECTATIONS – Pacific High School ninth-grade student Henrey Ward brushes dirt from a garlic bulb he pulled Monday morning (Aug. 30, 2021) from raised garden beds behind the building. Dozens of students from the school picked garlic, rhubarb, potatoes and other vegetables, as well as gathered berries and pruned trees, while the school body took advantage of fair weather to harvest crops and winterize their campus. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by Reber Stein, used with permission) Bottom photo is Pacific High School students planting garlic (Photo Courtesy of Mandy Summer).

The Sitka School District’s Pacific High School is one of two schools in Alaska to receive a Farm To School (F2S) grant from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service. The grant is for $50,000 and will be used to improve Pacific High School’s edible garden.

The USDA Farm To School grant program in 2021-22 will support 176 grant-winners from around the country, serving 6,800 schools and more than 1.4 million students. The other Alaska site to receive a grant was the Cordova School District, through its nonprofit partner the Copper Valley Watershed Project.

According to the USDA’s list of Farm to School grants and their project descriptions, “The Pacific High School (PHS) Edible Garden project will support the installation of an edible garden, adjacent to both PHS and Baranof Elementary School (BES). PHS is a school of choice, serving high-needs students who have been underserved in the traditional system, and BES serves all of the district’s grades K-1 students. The edible garden will be used as an experiential outdoor classroom and integrated into both schools’ curriculum. Food produced will supply the Pacific High School meal program and the Sitka Tribe of Alaska summer meal program, in addition to being consumed as part of school and partner agency learning experiences.”

Pacific High School principal Mandy Summer said the grant will be used in several ways.

“The F2S grant is a total of $50,000 of funding for one year which we intend to use to hire a school gardener,” Summer wrote in an email. “This person will be responsible for overall planning and maintenance of the school garden, organizing a PHS garden committee, creating a sustainability plan that will address future maintenance needs, and developing curricular resources to assist teachers (PHS and Baranof) in leading garden experiences with their students.  Until now, PHS has not had a staff member solely dedicated to working in the garden and developing garden resources and activities, which has slowed the growth of our Farm to Table program. It is our hope that the funding provided though the Farm to School grant will provide the means for us to grow produce year-round for our school breakfast and lunch program, and expand curricular resources to enable more students to have learning experiences in the garden.”

When she was a teacher at the school, before she was promoted to principal, Summer helped create the school garden a decade ago. In recent years, Pacific High School hosted MOBY the Mobile Greenhouse (a portable greenhouse built on a trailer that travels to different communities around Southeast Alaska) and the Pacific Planters school garden club sold plant starts this spring.

“Pacific High has been teaching gardening classes for 10 years now and expanding our garden space behind the school for six,” Summer wrote. “This grant will involve Baranof through the development of elementary-aged curricular resources by the school gardener, in partnership with teachers from Baranof who are interested in getting their students out in the garden. We purchased a 24×48 (foot) greenhouse last year with funding from a partnership grant with Sitka Tribe of Alaska. However before we can put the greenhouse up, we need to excavate for the foundation, level the site, and put in some French drains. This is estimated to cost approximately $25,000, which we will do (through) a fundraising campaign for this fall.”

Scenes from the fifth Sitka Farmers Market of the 2021 summer

PHOTO COURTESY OF SITKA LOCAL FOODS NETWORK
TABLE OF THE DAY — Sitka Farmers Market manager Nalani James, left, presents the Table of the Day Award for Aug. 21 to Evening Star Grutter of Evening Star Arts, Soaps and Salves. Evening Star sold a variety of homemade soaps, salves, jams and jellies, and arts and crafts. She received a certificate, a tote bag, a jar of Foraged and Found kelp pickles, a head of lettuce, a bag of Alaska Flour Company barley couscous, a Sitka Farmers Market special label chocolate bar, and a jar of Moosetard mustards. The next Sitka Farmers Market is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 28, on the plaza outside Harrigan Centennial Hall. Due to the continued High Risk rating for Covid in Sitka, we ask all vendors and customers to please wear face masks while shopping at the Sitka Farmers Market. Vendors can register online (by Thursday) at https://sitkafarmersmarket.eventsmart.com. More details about the Sitka Local Foods Network and Sitka Farmers Market can be found at http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org.

The Sitka Local Foods Network hosted its fifth Sitka Farmers Market of the summer on Saturday, Aug. 21. There was a bit of rain before the market, but it dried up to only a few sprinkles during the market.

Due to a continued High Risk COVID-19 level in Sitka, we instituted a face mask policy this summer to try and protect our customers and vendors from the coronavirus. That face mask policy will be in force when we hold our sixth Sitka Farmers Market from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 28, on the plaza outside Harrigan Centennial Hall. We ask all customers and vendors to wear masks.

The markets are being held outside this year to try and prevent the spread of the coronavirus. We haven’t had as many booths as in previous years, but the smaller market seems to be working. We still have fresh local produce, as well as a variety of Alaska Grown value-added products, local eggs, mushrooms, and arts and crafts. We should have some cooked food at Saturday’s market. We do have a couple of new vendors registered for this market, and we’d love to see a fish vendor or a baked goods vendor, too.

The Sitka Local Foods Network needs a volunteer or two to help set up the market, sell produce during the market, and take down the market after it’s over. If you’re interested in helping us with the market, contact Charles Bingham at (907) 623-7660 or Nalani James at (808) 778-9888.

We also are recruiting new vendors, and they can register and pay their vendor fees by going to https://sitkafarmersmarket.eventsmart.com. More information about the Sitka Local Foods Network and Sitka Farmers Market can be found at http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org.

The Sitka Local Foods Network does take WIC farmers market coupons and Alaska Quest SNAP EBT cards, and offers a matching program for produce purchased at the SLFN farm stand (if you buy $5 of produce, you will receive $10 worth).

Our photographer was sick this week, so we don’t have our usual slideshow.

Join the 2021 Local Foods Challenge to make the Southeast Alaska food system more resilient

ARE YOU UP FOR CHALLENGE?

Food is not just about what we eat. It’s also about where it comes from and the connections it creates between people and places along the way. Join us on a journey to explore and transform Southeast Alaska’s food system by being part of the Local Foods Challenge.

As a participant in this Challenge, you will join others in reshaping and fostering resilience within our local and regional food systems while increasing community wellness for both the short and long-term.

We ask you to deepen your involvement in the local food system by cultivating and elevating your personal knowledge, skills, and connection to the local food system within your community.

HERE’S HOW IT WORKS

When you sign up, you’ll take a survey to assess your involvement in 10 distinct categories of the local food system. Your challenge from May to September is to deepen your connection to the local food system by increasing your level of engagement for each category. The more levels you go, the more resilient our food system will be by September. At the end of the challenge, we will tally the progress of all of the challengers to discover how much we collectively shift our food system’s resilience.

To help you on this local food journey, we will connect you to resources related to all 10 categories, and we will share stories via email and social media to inspire and celebrate our successes.

The Local Foods Challenge is about building a community of Southeast Alaskans who care about local foods. We will share knowledge, resources, place-based advice, and best practices across our unique region.

Together we will forge a resilient, prosperous, and healthy Southeast Alaska.

READY TO PARTICIPATE?

You will be at different levels with each category, and over the course of this summer, you will increase your knowledge, skills, and engagement with each of them in ways that are meaningful and relevant to your life. Set realistic, specific, meaningful goals.

  • Check your email twice a month for announcements, inspiration, tips, and invitations to monthly skillshare workshops, virtual meet-ups, mini-challenges, and more.
  • Follow us on social media updates and reminders.
  • Check out our Resources page to get started, and our Calendar of Events for upcoming opportunities.
  • Share your success stories.
  • Nominate local foods experts who can share their knowledge and skills with others, and we will connect them to learners in their community.
  • Celebrate a Southeast Alaska season of abundance and resilience.

Questions? Email localfoodschallenge.seak@gmail.com or post a comment on our Facebook page.

Joanne Michalski, Nalani James win $1,500 prizes in fourth annual Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest

One winner is making frozen mud pies while the other winner is raising chickens for fresh, local eggs to sell to Sitka residents. Congratulations to Joanne “Chef Jo” Michalski of Muddy Mermaid Mudd Pies and Nalani James of Eggstravagant, who won the two $1,500 prizes in the fourth annual Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest.

“We are happy to encourage more businesses to get into the local food system with our contest,” said Charles Bingham, board president of the Sitka Local Foods Network, which sponsors the contest. “Both businesses already are selling products, even with the pandemic, even though these are relatively new businesses. The Sitka Local Foods Network’s mission is to increase the amount of locally harvested and produced foods into the diets of Southeast Alaskans, so we hope our prizes continue to encourage local food entrepreneurs here in Sitka.”

The Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest has $1,500 prizes for each of two categories, start-ups (less than two years old) and existing businesses. This year all of the entries were in the start-up category, but since Chef Jo already owns Jo’s Downtown Dawgs and has been selling her mud pies to restaurants, her entry was moved to the existing business category so there could be two awards. “We felt both entries were deserving of awards,” Bingham said.

Chef Jo has a long association with food in Sitka, being a former chef with the Westmark and current general manager for the NMS contract with the Sitka School District. She started Jo’s Downtown Dawgs four years ago next to Russell’s, and last summer started making her Muddy Mermaid Mudd Pies. A Muddy Mermaid Mudd Pie is double layers of hand-crafted sea-salted caramel frozen yogurt, with a house-made caramel ribbon in the middle topped with home-made fudge sauce and crushed peanuts. She also has made special-occasion mud pies with crushed Oreos crumb crust, and for Valentine’s Day it was Dutch chocolate-raspberry with a ladyfinger crust. She currently is selling her Muddy Mermaid Mudd Pies through the Mean Queen and she sells retail whole pies to the public. She also sells slices of her pie at her food cart.

One of her barriers to being able to produce more mud pies is the lack of a commercial-grade ice cream maker, so she’s only been able to produce two pies at a time. She plans to use her prize money to purchase a commercial-grade ice cream maker so she can increase her production. She also will use it to buy product supplies, and to give a tip to two teenage girls who helped her last summer, twin sisters Michelle and Andrea Winger.

“My challenge at first was how to keep it frozen, and I found a ‘cooler’ that seriously keeps it frozen for 24 hours. YES!” Chef Jo said on her entry form. “The local response has been amazing, and in this time of ‘what’s next’ indulging in a slice of pie is something we all can use.”

Nalani is fairly new to Sitka, but already has been active in the local food scene as a co-manager of the Sitka Farmers Market in 2020 and vendor in 2019, and as an occasional instructor of Sitka Kitch cooking classes. (NOTE: Even though Nalani has an association with the Sitka Local Foods Network, which hosts the Sitka Farmers Market, she did not participate in the contest judging).

Nalani said she plans to use the prize money to help improve her chicken coop’s protection and deterrence from predators, such as rodents and bears. She and her family are moving to a new location in town, so she is in the process of rebuilding her coop, and wants to provide an electric fence perimeter to protect her birds. She started selling eggs through her Facebook page earlier this year, and plans to sell them through the page and at Sitka Farmers Markets during the summer. She plans to hire two intermittent employees to help her in the summer with cleaning the chicken coop and taking care of the chickens.

“Eggs will be a great addition to the fresh vegetables and fish in town,” Nalani said in her application. “There are many essential vitamins in eggs, and protein needed for children and elderly in the area. They taste better, too.”

Last year’s winners were Andrew Jylkka of Southeast Dough Company (fresh sourdough bread and fermented foods) and Levi Adams of Forage and Farm (mushroom growing and foraging). In 2019, our winners were Brittany Dumag of Castaway (food cart with Cuban pork sandwiches using Alaska pork) and Tamara Kyle of Sitka Sauers (fermented foods), with a special youth winner award for Abigail Ward of Sitka Spices (meat and fish rubs). In 2018, the winner was Hope Merritt of Gimbal Botanicals (beach greens and local teas).