Levi Adams, Andrew Jylkka win $1,500 prizes in third annual Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest

Andrew Jylkka of Southeast Dough Company baked sourdough bread in Wrangell before moving to Sitka earlier this year.

Levi Adams of Forage and Farm holds white and rainbow chanterelle mushrooms he harvested

One winner plans to cultivate mushrooms. The other is a baker who is selling bread and fermented foods to Sitka residents. Congratulations to Levi Adams of Forage and Farm and Andrew Jylkka of Southeast Dough Company, who won the two $1,500 prizes in the third annual Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest.

“We had some really good entries this year, but these two rose to the top,” said Charles Bingham, board president of the Sitka Local Foods Network, which sponsors the contest. “Even with the coronavirus outbreak, Andrew is actively baking and selling his bread. Levi is still getting his business started, but his entry was the most thoroughly written and researched, by far, of any we’ve received in the three years we’ve hosted the contest. 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 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 Andrew already was baking and selling bread and had a history of baking in Wrangell, his entry was moved to the existing business category so there could be two awards. “We felt both entries were deserving of awards,” Bingham said.

In his entry, Levi wrote, “My business will provide the opportunity for Sitkans to experience the healthful and flavorful addition of fresh and dried wild and cultivated mushrooms, both native and exotic to their daily routines. Forage and Farm will strive to meet the growing demand for culinary and medicinal fungi in the community by foraging fresh wild mushrooms in the warm seasons and bringing them to market at the Sitka Food Co-op, as well as distributing through an independent CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) program (Levi’s mother, Lori Adams, operates the Down To Earth Gardens CSA in Sitka). In the colder seasons, cultivated mushrooms will be provided.”

With several scouting trips under his belt, Levi said he is waiting for commercial harvest permits from the USDA Forest Service and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (state forests). While waiting for the permits, Levi said he plans to gather red alder and hemlock logs so he can cultivate mushrooms on his family’s property. He also is looking to purchase refrigerator and dehydrator equipment to store and process the mushrooms.

“With funds obtained from the Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest I will redouble my efforts toward cultivation. I hope to bring a large number of diverse and nutritious mushroom species to the market as soon as possible,” Levi wrote. “Nothing supercharges my sense of purpose like applying permaculture principles to foraging and farming, and understanding that I can leverage those efforts to enrich and enliven my community. For partnering with me in this, the Sitka Local Foods Network has my deep gratitude and respect.”

Since moving to Sitka, Andrew has been baking about 50 loaves for Sitka Food Co-op deliveries and also selling through social media. He also was scheduled to teach a Sitka Kitch class on baking brioche before the coronavirus forced its postponement. In addition to baking his bread, Andrew has been making sauerkraut and kimchi to sell.

“Southeast Dough Company does not aim to just make a good loaf of bread,” Andrew wrote in his entry. “The goal here is to continue building on the positive food culture that exists in Sitka and strengthen the foundations of our community. I have a strong belief that good food brings people together and allows them an avenue to connect to one another that they may otherwise not find. My chosen medium for this product is bread. The mixing of water, flour, salt, and yeast has been at the heart of society for millennia and the breaking of bread is symbolic of neighbors coming together to build lasting connections.”

Andrew currently is using his home kitchen to bake his bread, and he estimated he could ramp up production to 400 loaves a week in his current kitchen. But he really wants to move into a larger commercial kitchen and possibly hire an assistant.

“This prize will help me take the next step to move out of my home kitchen and into a commercial space. I’m excited to be able to offer my products more consistently to the members of this community,” Andrew wrote. “I would love to participate in the farmers market, and I understand that everything is a waiting game right now so no worries there. I also need to make some decisions as to when I chose to expand with everything that’s going on.”

Last year’s 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).

Sitka Local Foods Network hosts third annual Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest

A sampling of food products grown, manufactured or processed in Sitka in recent years.

Do you think you have a great idea for a food business or product from Sitka? Do you grow food, fish for food, or cook food in Sitka? The Sitka Local Foods Network is hosting the third annual Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest in an effort to spark local food entrepreneurs so we can make more local food available to residents and visitors. The contest entry deadline is March 6.

This contest will provide two $1,500 kicker prizes — one for established food businesses and one for start-up businesses (no older than two years) — to help entrepreneurs launch or expand their food businesses. The contest is open to food businesses and individuals making and selling food products in Sitka, Alaska. All food business ideas must be geared toward getting more locally grown, harvested and/or produced food into the Sitka marketplace through sales in grocery stores, the Sitka Food Co-Op, the Sitka Farmers Market, restaurants, or individual marketing (such as a community supported agriculture/CSA or community supported fisheries/CSF program).

“The Sitka Local Foods Network’s mission is to get more locally harvested and produced food into the diets of Southeast Alaskans,” said Charles Bingham, Sitka Local Foods Network board president. “For the past decade we’ve offered a entrepreneurs a chance to sell their produce, bread and fish at the Sitka Farmers Market, grown produce to sell at the market through St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm, and provided a garden education program to residents. We think this contest is the next step toward getting more local food into the Sitka marketplace.”

Last year, we gave $1,500 prizes to Brittany Dumag of the Castaway food cart in the start-up business category and to Tamara Kyle of Sitka Sauers in the established business category. We also gave a special $250 award to 12-year-old Abigail Ward who entered her Sitka Seasonings business. Brittany made Cuban pork sandwiches (using pork from North Pole) and other food to sell at various places in Sitka, including the Sitka Farmers Market. Tamara planned to ramp up her fermented foods business, but she ended up having some health issues that prevented her from completing her project and she ended up refunding most of her prize money. Abby made spice blends for seafood and other meats, which she sold at the first two Sitka Farmers Markets and at other venues.

In our inaugural contest in 2018, we gave a $1,500 prize to Hope Merritt of Gimbal Botanicals in the established business category. We had no entrants in the start-up business category, so no prize was awarded in 2018. Hope used her prize money to hire two interns to help her harvest seaweed and kelp and to help produce her products.

Participants in this contest are eligible and encouraged to enter other food business innovation contests, such as the Path To Prosperity or Symphony of Seafood contests. All participants retain the proprietary rights to their products and ideas. This contest is open to new and existing food businesses in Sitka. Student businesses (such as those fostered by Junior Achievement or similar programs) are welcome.

There is a small $25 entry fee for this contest. All participants (business and individual) must complete and submit our contest entry form by 5 p.m. on Friday, March 6, 2020 (by snail mail so it arrives before the deadline to Sitka Local Foods Network, Food Business Innovation Contest Entries, 408-D Marine Street, Sitka, Alaska, 99835, or by email with the Subject Line of “Food Business Innovation Contest Entries” to sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com). Submitting a business plan (up to 20 pages) is recommended, but not required.

Our entry form will have room for you to describe your food business idea in a few paragraphs, but submitting a business plan will give you more room to outline your plans for funding and marketing the idea and will help your overall score. Judging will be based on how your food business idea provides new local food options in Sitka, how novel is your food business idea, how feasible is your food business (can it make a profit and be sustainable), and how professional is your presentation. At some time in late March or early April, the Sitka Local Foods Network may host a pitch presentation, where judges will interview the contest entrants and try samples of the food products. Our judging panel will score your presentation and entry form based on how your idea has a measurable impact on providing local food in Sitka (25%), has the potential for commercialization (25%), provides new employment in Sitka (25%) and fills a need in the Sitka marketplace (25%).

In 2020 we are making some changes to the rules. First, each entry now MUST include a sample, itemized budget showing how the business owner plans to use the prize money. Second, each prize winner will sign a winner’s agreement contract before receiving the prize money that lists a series of benchmarks toward getting the product/service to market that need to be met by a certain date or else all or part of the prize money will need to be refunded to the Sitka Local Foods Network.

If we find additional sponsors, we may add additional prizes and categories (such as fish or farm). Depending on the number of entries and interest of the participants, we may host a reception where contestants can demonstrate their products to Sitka residents. If the reception happens, there will be a chance for people to vote on their favorite products with the winner receiving the People’s Choice Award (this will be separate than the two main prizes selected by our judging panel). We are hoping to find a sponsor for the People’s Choice Award. Note, if our panel of judges determine there isn’t a worthy entrant in one or both categories, then the Sitka Local Foods Network reserves the right not to award a prize. Marijuana edibles are not eligible for the contest.

• Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest Entry Form 2020

Brittany Dumag, Tamara Kyle, Abigail Ward win prizes in Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest

Brittany Dumag leans out one of the windows of her food trailer business, called Castaway, that will serve Cuban pork sandwiches with beans and rice.

One winner is opening a food cart so she can sell Alaska-raised pork sandwiches. Another will use her prize to jump start her sauerkraut business. And another is making seasoning mixes to sell at the Sitka Farmers Market and outside Harrigan Centennial Hall this summer.

Tamara Kyle of Sitka Sauers poses with some of her sauerkraut and her two children at a 2017 Sitka Farmers Market.

This year’s winners of the second annual Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest are Brittany Dumag and her food cart, Castaway, in the start-up business category (younger than two years); Tamara Kyle of Sitka Sauers in the established business division; and Abigail Ward, age 12, who won a special youth business award. The Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest awarded a $1,500 prize each to Dumag and Kyle, while Ward won $250.

The contest is sponsored by the Sitka Local Foods Network as a way to encourage Sitka entrepreneurs to start businesses using food from Sitka or Alaska. It also is meant to promote better food security with more locally made food products.

“We were pleased with the response this year, five times as many applications as last year,” Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham said. “We hope our prizes help these businesses grow and become successful and sustainable. We also want to see our other entrants come back for next year’s contest. And we hope all of our entrants have booths at this year’s Sitka Farmers Market.”

Dumag’s food cart is her first business venture, but others in her family have run businesses. Dumag, her husband, and others started with a bare trailer, and built it from a 4×8-foot flat trailer to a 6×12-foot trailer with walls, a kitchen, a skylight, and more. She plans to be at all of the Sitka Farmers Markets this summer, and she is talking with a couple of places in town to park the trailer, which she hopes to open on June 1.

Even though she has yet to open, Dumag has had to change her plans. She originally planned to make rockfish tacos, but the cost was too high and she had difficulty finding rockfish. So she decided to start with Cuban pork sandwiches with rice and beans (the pork is from Dream Acres Farm in North Pole), and hopes to add the rockfish tacos after she has her business up and running.

“I want to feed local families,” Dumag said. “I want to source what I can locally.”

Tamara Kyle has been making sauerkraut for several years, but with two toddlers she hasn’t been able to make it on a consistent basis. Her sauerkraut takes five weeks to ferment, so she has to be thinking ahead about her plans when she makes it.

“This is going to jump-start it,” Kyle said. “I’m going to get the right machinery and get an apprentice, so my sauerkraut will be more consistently available.”

Abigail Ward sells cupcakes and herbs at her youth booth at a 2018 Sitka Farmers Market.

Kyle makes two types of sauerkraut — her classic with organic cabbage and pink Himalayan sea salt and another with caraway dill seasonings. Eventually, she’d like to add local beets, local carrots, and even local salt, if the price is right.

Ward has been a regular youth vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market for the past two years, selling a variety of products while her parents and sister ran a table next to her. Her business will be to make two seasoning mixes — one for red meat/venison and one for seafood — which she plans to sell at the farmers market and with the youth vendor tables in front of Harrigan Centennial Hall when cruise ships are in town.

“The contest prize money will help to improve and expand my business from a hobby to an official business,” Ward wrote on her entry form.

Ward, who splits time between Washington state and Sitka, was the only entrant to include product samples with her entry form. She said her spice mixes are meant to enhance locally harvested seafood and venison, and she hopes to eventually make her own sea salt and grow her own rosemary for the mixes.