Sitka Salmon Shares brings Southeast Alaska fish to Midwest markets

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Sitka Salmon Shares vice president-fisherman Marsh Skeele holds up a chinook salmon during a recent tour of the company’s new plant on Smith Street in Sitka.

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Sitka Salmon Shares founder-president Nicolaas Mink holds a copy of his book “Salmon: A Global History” during a 2014 visit to Sitka.

What started out as a one-off fundraiser for a Sitka nonprofit has grown into a thriving business with sales approaching $4 million, with 2,500 members and 100 wholesale accounts spread out over six states.

Sitka Salmon Shares is a community-supported fishery (CSF) program, where members buy shares in the harvest similar to the process of a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. But instead of the members being local to Sitka, where most of the fish is caught, the members of Sitka Salmon Shares live in Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa.

“Each member gets a five-pound box of fish delivered to their door nine months of the year,” said Marsh Skeele, who serves as Sitka Salmon Shares vice president/co-founder and one of its 13 fishermen-owners. “A lot of them are former Alaskans or from Seattle, so they know good fish. The fish in the grocery stores there tends to have poor quality.”

SitkaSalmonSharesSignThe company distributes four types of salmon (chinook, coho, sockeye and chum), rockfish, ling cod, halibut, spot prawns, Pacific cod and blackcod, with most of the fish caught out of Sitka or Juneau. Sitka Salmon Shares also sells fish at 23 different farmers markets around the Midwest. Last year, Sitka Salmon Shares bought the former Big Blue Fisheries plant in Sitka, and is renovating it so the company can keep up with the special processing and freezing needs of its growing customer base while also developing new value-added products such as smoked salmon to add to the mix.

Sitka Salmon Shares got its start in 2011, when founder-president Nicolaas “Nic” Mink was in Sitka with a couple of his Knox College students working on a sustainable fishing and food-sourcing project with the Sitka Conservation Society. Mink, who still teaches environmental science part-time at Knox (he had a brief stint at Butler University a couple of years ago), decided to take some fish back with him to Galesburg, Ill., which he personally delivered to customers. Then those customers asked for more fish, and Sitka Salmon Shares was born.

TraysOfSalmonPortions“I think that first load of 750 pounds of fish raised about $10,000,” Mink said. “This year, our sixth, we sold more than 100,000 pounds of fish, just under $4 million.”

Some people laughed at his business plan when Mink decided to sell fish more than 2,000 miles away from its source, with a headquarters in a landlocked Midwest town away from most fish markets. But Mink and his partners found out that even people in the Midwest want high-quality fish from sustainable sources, fish that’s well-treated along the journey so it’s still in good shape when it reaches its customers.

“They want to be fish-eaters, but they don’t know how,” Mink said. “Sitka Salmon Shares gives them steps to know how, and it gave us a lot of opportunities to sell fish. Midwesterners are used to eating farmed salmon, but they heard about wild salmon. They want to eat wild, because it’s more resilient and sustainable than farmed.”

GuysFilletingFishEducation is a big part of the Sitka Salmon Shares story. In addition to providing the monthly boxes of fish, there is a newsletter with information about the fishermen-owners, where and how the fish is caught, and a variety of recipes geared toward wild fish and not farmed. The recipes come from four sources — Sitka Salmon Shares members, our chefs, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) Cook It Frozen site and from online sources.

“If you take a piece of coho (aka, silver salmon) and cook it as long as a piece of farmed salmon, the flesh becomes mealy and doesn’t taste good,” Mink said. “There’s a lot of education. With farmed salmon, the flesh is soft and thicker than wild salmon, so people need to cook it twice as long as wild salmon. We know wild salmon doesn’t need a lot of time on the grill, and that’s been one of the biggest hurdles.”

“We provide a lot of information,” Skeele said. “They definitely want to know more when you provide them with quality fish. We teach them about pressure bleeding, flash freezing, accountability and traceability. They want to know as much information as we can tell them about the fish that comes through our plant.”

AriannaShovelsIceIntoToteWithJasonCroftThe owner-fishermen are longliners and trollers, for the most part, with some who gillnet sockeye and use pots to catch the spot prawns. Skeele said all of the fishermen are owners in the company, “so they have some skin in the game.” By having skin in the game, the fishermen are more likely to treat the fish better once it comes onto the boat, so it maintains its high quality.

Right now, Sitka Salmon Shares doesn’t sell a lot of its fish in Sitka, although it does sell fish to a couple of local restaurants such as the Westmark HotelTotem Square Inn and Sitka Hotel. Sitka Salmon Shares doesn’t want to compete locally with the Alaskans Own Seafood CSF program that sells to members in Alaska. But now that Sitka Salmon Shares has its own plant, it does offer local processing of fish to charter fishing operations, personal-use and sport fishermen from Sitka, and to commercial fishermen who sell their own fish to various markets around the country.

“We’d like to sell more locally, and it would be great to have our fish in Sea Mart,” Mink said. “We’re excited about our community processing program, and we’re trying to do more processing for Sitka fishermen.”

CloseUpOfSalmonFilletingIn recent years, Sitka Salmon Shares has received national exposure with articles in Food & Wine, New Food Economy, Entrepreneur and Forbes, plus a variety of regional publications and Sitka exposure with a story on KCAW-Raven Radio. Mink said there is still more Sitka Salmon Shares can do in the Midwest and Alaska.

“With our plant, we have our own ice and our own value-added room,” Mink said. “We have a talented individual, Pat Glabb, rebuilding Big Blue. He built Silver Bay Seafoods plant. Right now we’re focused on the Midwest, and we have a ways to go to develop our markets there. But we have assets on the ground and systems in place and tons of room to grow. We think there are a lot of cool things to do with value-added. For example, we have Chris Eley, a chef-butcher from the Smoking Goose Meatery in Indianapolis, developing some salmon sausages for us.”

Fishermen wanting to learn more about the Sitka Salmon Shares community processing program can call Jason Croft at 966-9999, or stop by the plant on Smith Street (across from Baranof Island Brewing Company). You also can visit the Sitka Salmon Shares website at http://www.sitkasalmonshares.com/.

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• New street food vendors add a taste of seafood to the Sitka summer

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AshmosSalmonTacosAndFriesOver the past decade there have been a handful of summer pop-up street food options in Sitka. This year there are several new food trucks/carts in town, and locally sourced seafood is featured on the menu.

In past years some of the bigger street food options included Reindeer Red Hots (which this year will only do special events like the Sitka Farmers Market and Sitka Seafood Festival instead of holding its regular street corner), the Ludvig’s Bistro Chowder Cart (still serving lunch of clam chowder and salmon or prosciutto baguettes in the Mill Building by the Sitka Sound Science Center) and the short-lived Two Chicks and a Kabob Stick (which closed a couple of years ago, though you can still get the Inga’s Spice Blend fish rub developed for the food cart).

AshmosSalmonMacAndCheeseThe most mobile of the new group of street food stands is Ashmo’s, a food truck owned by Ashley Moore specializing in Alaska seafood dishes. Ashmo’s has been parked out in front of the Coliseum movie theater on Lincoln Street for much of the summer. But the truck also has been available this summer at Baranof Island Brewing Company on Tuesday nights and for other special events (including the BIBCO community benefit night May 27 for the Sitka Local Foods Network), with occasional trips to the Old Sitka Docks, and by Eliason and New Thompson harbors.

AshmosFishAndChipsAshmo’s serves a variety of seafood dishes, with a menu that does change through the week. Among the mainstays are salmon mac and cheese, rockfish tacos, BIBCO beer-battered halibut, fish (cod) and chips, blackcod collars and rice, grilled king salmon and rice, and more. Salmon sliders and salmon tacos also have been on the menu on some days. Ashmo’s is usually open during the day in front of the Coliseum, and it also has been open late nights on weekends. Ashley usually posts a weekly schedule on her Facebook site.

BarnacleBayKitchenHeidiMorrisonOn Harbor Drive next to Yellow Jersey Cycle Shop is Barnacle Bay Kitchen, owned by Heidi Morrison. Barnacle Bay Kitchen is open for lunch on cruise ship days and sells halibut and chips, cod and chips, rockfish lumpia (egg rolls), bacon-wrapped halibut kabobs, reindeer hot dogs, beef hotdogs, and pulled pork sandwiches.

BarnacleBayKitchenCodAndChipsIn addition, Heidi has a variety of chowders available (clam, seafood, or smoked salmon, depending on the day). For more information, call Heidi at 738-8504.

The Ráns Net pelmeni (Russian dumpling) stand actually came onto the scene in Sitka last summer, but this year owner Ayla Stromquist has a new building tucked into an alley on Lincoln Street across from Old Harbor Books and between Wintersong Soaps and the Cellar. PelmeniShe also has a couple of new flavors of pelmenis. Last year she had two flavors — meat (beef and pork mixed) and potato. This year she’s added chicken, smoked salmon and cream cheese, and sautéed onions.

The pelmeni stand is noted for being a late-night option on weekends, but it will be open for some lunches from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, for dinner from 5-8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Ayla also said she has a new machine on order to help press the pelmenis. The stand is closed until June 11, but people can watch the Facebook page or call Ayla at 738-5804 to get updated hours.

BlackcodCollarsKerryMacLaneWardEldridgeKerry MacLane and his blackcod (sablefish) collars have been a mainstay at the Sitka Farmers Market for several years. But this year he has a tent from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on cruise ship days in the front lawn at Sitka Rose Gallery on Lincoln Street. Kerry just sells one item, his BBQ grilled blackcod collars (aka blackcod tips) over rice. Kerry will reopen his stand on June 1. For more information, contact Kerry at 752-0654.

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• Baranof Island Brewing to host community night fundraiser May 27 for Sitka Local Foods Network

FillAGrowlerAtBIBCO

BIBCOlogoSitka’s local brewery, Baranof Island Brewing Co. (BIBCO), will host a community night fundraiser for the Sitka Local Foods Network from 4-8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 27, at the brewery’s taproom (215 Smith St.).

BIBCO hosts community nights on Wednesdays for a variety of community nonprofit organizations and worthy causes (only one group per night). The brewery donates a portion of the day’s gross sales to the cause depending on the overall sales (up to $500 gets 10 percent, $501-$1,000 gets 15 percent, and $1,001 or more gets 20 percent). The nonprofit groups are able to share information about their projects during the event.

The brewery is owned by Rick Armstrong and Suzan Hess, who started selling small batches of their beer in 2010. The brewery has grown in the few years it’s been open, and now the brew is distributed throughout Southeast Alaska and other parts of the state. On occasion they’ll source locally harvested spruce tips and other flavorings for the beer, and they make their spent grain available to local gardeners for compost (bring your own container).

The BIBCO taproom has a variety of locally brewed beer available (Halibut Point Hefeweizen, Peril Strait Pale Ale, Medvejie Stout, Silver Bay IPA, Redoubt Red Ale, Baranof  Brown Ale, seasonal and special brews, and Ben’s Brew Root Beer for the kids and non-drinkers), pizza and other food, and a selection of BIBCO swag (t-shirts, refillable growlers, glassware, beer bread mix, soap, etc.). If you can’t stay for some food and liquid refreshments (note, there is a 36-ounce limit on alcoholic drinks served at the taproom, per state law), Wednesday is a good time to refill your growlers or buy some BIBCO swag for your family and friends.

AshmosOrderingIn addition to BIBCO beer, the Ashmo’s food truck will be at the event selling a variety of local fish items (fish and chips, salmon mac and cheese, black cod tips, fish tacos, salmon tacos, etc.). Ashmo’s, owned by Ashley Moore, is one of several new food trucks/carts operating in Sitka this summer. Watch for a feature about some of the new food trucks/carts later this week.

For more information about Baranof Island Brewing Co., call 747-BREW (747-2739), stop by the brewery, go to the BIBCO website, or go to the BIBCO page on Facebook.

• Sitka Local Foods Network to host Harvest Fest Fundraiser on Thursday, Oct. 23

SLFNHarvestFestFundraiser2014Turnips2LowRez

Help celebrate Food Day by joining the Sitka Local Foods Network as it hosts its inaugural Harvest Fest Fundraiser from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 23, at the Del Shirley Room upstairs in Allen Hall on the Sheldon Jackson Campus.

This event will feature a silent auction for a variety of local food- and garden-related items and services, including:

  • An apple tree and planting/pruning service,
  • Canning lessons,
  • 4-6 hours of work in your garden,
  • Flats of “Finn Island Farm” vegetable starts for 2015,
  • Customized local foods packages,
  • Chef services,
  • Wine-making supplies/materials/lesson,
  • Edible landscaping consultation,
  • Home-made desserts and other homegrown goodies,
  • Compost,
  • Alaska gardening books, and
  • A tour of and overnight stay at Finn Island Farm for 1-2 people, includes transportation, gourmet dinner and breakfast.

In addition, the Lexicon of Sustainability photos will be on display, we will give a short update on the state of local food in Sitka, there will be live music, light refreshments featuring local food will be served, and we will pour locally brewed beer (for those age 21 and older) and root beer from Baranof Island Brewing Company. This is a family oriented event, and there is a suggested donation of $5.

“The Sitka Local Foods Network board is excited to share the Lexicon of Sustainability photos again with the Sitka community in the context with our Harvest Fest Fundraiser,” said Lisa Sadleir-Hart, president of the Sitka Local Foods Network board of directors. “We’ve received a delicious array of donations from board members and friends for food-focused items and services for a silent auction, plus we will serve light refreshments focused on locally grown foods and hear about the state of Sitka’s foodscape. It’ll be a festive, informative event.”

The Sitka Local Foods Network is a nonprofit organization that promotes and encourages the use of locally grown, harvested and produced foods in Sitka and Southeast Alaska. Money raised at this fundraiser will support the Sitka Farmers Market, community gardens, a community greenhouse, sustainable uses of traditional subsistence foods and education for Sitka gardeners.

For more information, contact the Sitka Local Foods Network at sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.org.

• Sitka Local Foods Network board thanks everyone for their Pick.Click.Give. donations

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Today (Thursday, Oct. 2) Alaskans began receiving their Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend checks, which are $1,884 this year. Recently, many Alaskans have chosen to share that wealth with state and local nonprofits through the Pick.Click.Give. program.

Your Sitka Local Foods Network joined the Pick.Click.Give. program this year, and we’d like to thank the 56 donors who pledged $2,900 to help us promote and encourage the use of locally grown, harvested and produced foods in Sitka and Southeast Alaska. We thank you for supporting the Sitka Farmers Market, community gardens, a community greenhouse, sustainable uses of traditional subsistence foods and education for Sitka gardeners. You can learn more about your Sitka Local Foods Network at http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org/.

You also can support us by attending the Sitka Local Foods Network Harvest Fest fundraiser from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 23, at the Del Shirley Room upstairs in Allen Hall on the Sheldon Jackson Campus. This event will feature a silent auction for a variety of food- and garden-related items and services. In addition, the Lexicon of Sustainability photos will be on display, we will give a short update on the state of local food in Sitka, there will be live music, light refreshments featuring local food will be served, and we will pour locally brewed beer (for those age 21 and older) and root beer from Baranof Island Brewing Company. This is a family oriented event, and there is a suggested donation of $5.

Again, we thank you for your support,

 

The Sitka Local Foods Network board of directors

President Lisa Sadleir-Hart, Vice President Michelle Putz, Secretary Beth Kindig, Treasurer Maybelle Filler, Webmaster Charles Bingham, Milt Fusselman, Matthew Jackson (and two vacant seats)

• Local merchants provide coffee grounds, spent beer grain for garden compost

Alana Peterson shows where gardeners can find used coffee grounds from the Back Door Café.

Alana Peterson shows where gardeners can find used coffee grounds from the Back Door Café.

Sitka’s constant rains tend to wash the nutrients from our soil, which means many Sitka gardeners also use compost to build new soil. Some local merchants provide used coffee grounds and spent beer grain so gardeners can add them to their compost piles.

Alana Peterson of the Back Door Café (104 Barracks St.) said the person who normally collects her business’ used coffee grounds has reached his max capacity, so now they are available for other gardeners to gather. She usually puts them in one of the plastic containers outside the main entrance to the shop, under the tree by the large black plastic garbage container. The coffee grounds are in plastic bags, so they’re easy for gardeners to grab.

The Baranof Island Brewing Company, aka BIBCO (215 Smith St.), provides free spent beer grain for gardeners. The spent grain is kept in a tote near the brewery’s Tap Room, and gardeners need to bring their own buckets to carry the grain home (a shovel is in the tote).

At both businesses the compost items are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Please double-check with the merchants if you have any questions.

• Baranof Island Brewing to host community night fundraiser April 30 for Sitka Local Foods Network

FillAGrowlerAtBIBCO

BIBCOlogoSitka’s local brewery, Baranof Island Brewing Co. (BIBCO), will host a community night fundraiser for the Sitka Local Foods Network from 3-8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 30, at the brewery’s taproom (215 Smith St.).

BIBCO hosts community nights on Wednesdays for a variety of community nonprofit organizations and worthy causes (only one group per night). The brewery donates a portion of the day’s gross sales to the cause depending on the overall sales (up to $500 gets 10 percent, $501-$1,000 gets 15 percent, and $1,001 or more gets 20 percent). The nonprofit groups are able to share information about their projects during the event.

The brewery is owned by Rick Armstrong and Suzan Hess, who started selling small batches of their beer in 2010. The brewery has grown in the few years it’s been open, and now the brew is distributed throughout Southeast Alaska and other parts of the state. On occasion they’ll source locally harvested spruce tips and other flavorings for the beer, and they make their spent grain available to local gardeners for compost (bring your own container).

The BIBCO taproom has a variety of locally brewed beer available (Halibut Point Hefeweizen, Peril Strait Pale Ale, Medvejie Stout, Silver Bay IPA, Redoubt Red Ale, Baranof  Brown Ale, seasonal and special brews, and Ben’s Brew Root Beer for the kids and non-drinkers), pizza and other food, and a selection of BIBCO swag (t-shirts, refillable growlers, glassware, beer bread mix, soap, etc.). If you can’t stay for some food and liquid refreshments (note, there is a 36-ounce limit on alcoholic drinks served at the taproom, per state law), Wednesday is a good time to refill your growlers or buy some BIBCO swag for your family and friends.

For more information about Baranof Island Brewing Co., call 747-BREW (747-2739), stop by the brewery, go to the BIBCO website, or go to the BIBCO page on Facebook.

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