Sitka Food Co-op one of 12 finalists in 2017 Path to Prosperity business development contest

The Sitka Food Co-op is one of 12 finalists in the 2017 Path to Prosperity (P2P) business development contest for Southeast Alaska food businesses.

The Co-op now moves into Round 2, where the 12 finalists will attend a business boot camp in Juneau this fall for mentoring and a chance to better develop their business models and plans. Two of the 12 finalists will be selected as winners in December, earning $25,000 in seed funding for consulting and technical services to develop their businesses.

The Sitka Food Co-op is the only Path to Prosperity finalist from Sitka, joining businesses from Craig, Haines (2), Hoonah, Juneau (2), Ketchikan, Klawock (2) and Wrangell (2). There were 38 food businesses from 10 Southeast Alaska communities that entered the contest this year, which is sponsored by Spruce Root Inc. (formerly Haa Aaní Community Development, a subsidiary of Sealaska), The Nature Conservancy, and joining as sponsor this year, the Southeast Alaska Watershed Council (SAWC). This is the fifth year of the Path to Prosperity contest, but the first year the contest has been focused only on food businesses.

“Being selected as one of the twelve finalists in the Path To Prosperity competition is quite an honor,” said Keith Nyitray, Sitka Food Co-op general manager. “Win or lose, it will be exciting to meet and network with the other 11 finalists, especially since we’re all food-related. Hopefully some of those finalists will even become local/regional suppliers to the Co-op.”

After encouraging a variety of businesses over the past few years, this year the focus was on building food security in the region. Eligible applicants this year had to be involved in the growing, harvesting, processing, aggregation, preparation or distribution of food. Local food systems and community food security are of critical importance to the region and the sponsors.

“Creating access to local foods is essential to building sustainable economies and resilient communities in Southeast Alaska,” says SAWC Local Foods Director Lia Heifetz. “We are excited to empower entrepreneurs and businesses who want to provide and catalyze local foods for our region in a way that balances the stewardship of land and water and positive social and cultural impact.”

“Alaskans import 95% of the food we consume each year, yet we’re surrounded by nature’s bounty,” says Path to Prosperity program manager Paul Hackenmueller. “The P2P program has a chance to kick-start innovative food entrepreneurs in southeast by providing key resources that will help grow our regional food economy. This is a great group of finalists with some creative and promising business concepts.”

The 12 finalists are:

Business Name Location Applicant
1. Beaver Sisters Kombucha Craig Bettina Brentano
2. PermaFoodScaping Haines Andrew Cardella
3. Sarah J’s Espresso Shoppe Haines Sarah Jaymot
4. Game Creek Family Orchard Hoonah Robert Bishop
5. Happy Camper Juneau Amanda Kraft
6. Panhandle Produce Juneau Eli Wray
7. H20 Grow Ketchikan Kenneth White
8. Klawock Cooperative Association Klawock Quinn Aboudara
9. Wildfish Cannery Klawock Mathew Scaletta
10. Sitka Food Co-Op Sitka Keith Nyitray
11. The Local Isle Wrangell Holly Padilla
12. Mighty Bear Roots Wrangell Dixie Booker

“The Sitka Food Co-op has always believed there was a demand for the services it could provide and these past six years have proven that to be true,” Nyitray said. “We’ve grown and in ways that were almost unimaginable at the very beginning and we are proud to have achieved the level of success and community involvement that we have so far.”

All 12 finalists will participate in a three-day business boot camp Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 in Juneau. All expenses including airfare and lodging will be covered by P2P for the businesses. The intense weekend of workshops covers topics such as business plan writing, sustainable business practices, and accessing financial capital. Spruce Root Executive Director, Ed Davis, highlights the importance of the workshop to building the regions entrepreneurial ecosystem. “The goal of the workshop is to deliver as much value as possible to the business owners, so when they return to their communities they’re able to implement what they’ve learned and build successful businesses, regardless of whether or not they win the competition,” says Davis. “This capacity development is how we build a culture of entrepreneurship in Southeast Alaska.”

“Of course, the next step in the competition is to focus on developing a detailed and forward looking business plan — our own personalized path to prosperity if you will,” Nyitray said. “Should we become one of the two winners of the competition that plan — along with all the technical and financial help the award will bring — will definitely be a huge boost to improving our operation and it would most certainly increase our ability to ‘Bring Good Food and Community Together.'”

Sustainable Southeast Partnership and Spruce Root Inc. release report on the economic impacts of local produce in Southeast Alaska

The Sustainable Southeast Partnership and Spruce Root Inc. have officially released a report, “Current and Potential Economic Impacts of Locally Grown Produce in Southeast Alaska.” The report, which was first presented at the Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit held in February in Haines, was written by the McDowell Group.

“This study is the first to measure the amount of produce grown in Southeast Alaska,” said Dan Lesh, a research analyst with the McDowell Group. “Even though I’m an avid gardener and lifelong Southeast Alaskan, I was surprised at the high level of gardening we found through the survey. It was also interesting to see what crops people are growing and which are the most productive.”

The 47-page study surveyed residents of several Southeast Alaska communities to try and find out how much food they grew locally, and how much was imported. For example, even though 38 percent of Southeast Alaskans garden, only 4.4 percent of the vegetables eaten in the region were produced locally (and 95.6 percent were imported from the Lower 48 or overseas).

Southeast Alaskans spent $19 million on imported veggies in 2016, and many of those veggies can be grown here in the region. While commercial growers in Southeast Alaska only sold about $180,000 in locally grown produce, gardeners and commercial growers spent about $1.8 million to support growing food in the region. Money spent on locally grown produce tends to circulate within the region instead of going elsewhere.

“There is tremendous opportunity to expand commercial and home-scale food production in Southeast Alaska,” said Lia Heifetz, food security regional catalyst for the Sustainable Southeast Partnership. “This contributes to community and regional food security. There is also significant opportunity to create economic activity through support services — like the local production of seeds and soil, or local sources of agriculture infrastructure and tools — as well as adding value to raw agricultural products. In addition to supporting services, either growing your own food or supporting our region’s food producers through farmers markets, or online farmers markets, like the Salt & Soil Marketplace, is a great way to contribute to localizing our food system.”

The report includes a breakdown of what veggies commercial growers in the region are growing, and what they’re selling for. It also includes a breakdown of what households are growing and consuming. There are charts showing food purchases over the years, and vegetable consumption.

There also is information on trends within the region when it comes to growing veggies, and how that impacts the economy. It details some of the challenges for the region, and what’s being done to meet those challenges. In addition, the report touches on the food security of the region.

“The commercial agriculture industry in Southeast Alaska is clearly at a small scale right now, but there is room for growth and a variety of creative opportunities exist to expand the economic impacts of the industry,” Lesh said. “A lot of new businesses have been created in recent years, with support from Path to Prosperity business competition and other sources. Looking forward to seeing where those businesses go.”

• Current and Potential Economic Impacts of Locally Grown Produce in Southeast Alaska (PDF file)

Registration open now for Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit on Feb. 24-26 in Haines

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Share lessons learned and techniques for overcoming challenges of commercially growing food in Southeast Alaska; learn specific skills, technology, and research that contribute to commercial farming success and efficiency; connect with new and experienced farmers to build an inspiring network.

Early bird registration is now open for the Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit 2017, the second biennial summit designed to bring together experienced and aspiring commercial growers and support agencies. The summit will be held Friday through Sunday, Feb. 24-26, at the Chilkat Center in Haines. A discounted registration rate is available to attendees who register on or before Friday, Jan. 20. Travel and registration scholarships are available.

The conference will feature presentations from experienced commercial growers and support agencies, and topical discussions and panels to share resources and lessons learned. Speakers include Doug Collins, Extension Faculty and Soil Scientist with Washington State University’s Small Farms Program; Megan Talley, Farm Manager and Educator at Alaska Pacific University; and experienced farmers from Southeast Alaska; among others.

“This will be an opportunity for commercial growers of Southeast Alaska to learn from each other, find opportunities to collaborate, and build a network that can leverage everyone’s efforts,” said Lia Heifetz, Local Food Director for Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition. “Many resources will be shared over the course of the weekend – from financial planning for small farms to innovative solutions for soil building, policy implications for agriculture, and much more.”

Other topics to be addressed at the Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit include:

  • On Farm Food Safety
  • Building your Farm Community
  • Planning for a CSA
  • The Future of Seed Saving in Alaska
  • High Tunnel Applications and Innovations
  • Electric and Walk-in Cold Storage for your Farm
  • Biomass Heated Greenhouses and Aquaponics
  • Per Foot Crop Values for Market Sales
  • Using Local Amendments to Improve Soil Quality
  • Fruit Trees and Grafting Techniques
  • Policy and Initiatives
  • Building a Future of Farming with Internships and Education
  • Business Planning and Farm Finances

For more information and to register for the conference, please visit this website, http://www.alaskawatershedcoalition.org/safs2017/, or contact Lia Heifetz at lia@growsoutheast.com.

• Hoonah Healing Community Garden helps Hoonah improve health and prevent diabetes

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Terrence McCrobie builds three Hoonah Healing Community Garden plots for the Hoonah Senior Center in May 2015. (Photo by Kathy McCrobie)

By Kathy McCrobie
SEARHC Traditional Foods Project Assistant

Creating the Hoonah Healing Community Garden was Bob Starbard’s idea. He is the Hoonah Indian Association‘s (HIA) Tribal Administrator. He worked with Bob Christensen from Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC), and by 2012 our first plots had been built.

I was hired by SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) as the Traditional Foods Project Assistant. When I took over for the 2013 growing season, I really had no gardening experience. I posted notices for the community to let them know the garden was available. We had 22 plots available for growing, and that summer half were in production.

Many community members made important contributions; our gravel business donated two large loads of fine sand and the time and skills shared made building the garden easier. Soon there was a dirt sifter to screen out the many rocks in the local dirt and heavy equipment leveled the ground. The Southeast Soil and Water Conservation District in Juneau sold us 14 berry plants at a discounted price. A community member donated 30 strawberry plants. Our space was soon coming together.

Most of our gardeners have prior gardening experience. Some used their own soil. Last year the zucchini, broccoli, potatoes, beets, bush beans and snap peas did well. The biggest challenge came from the ravens. After putting in starts, out of their curiosity, they would fly down when everyone left and pull them up.

We ask that our gardeners not use fish in their compost so the bears won’t come by to check us out and so far the deer have left the plots alone. Lia Heifetz from the Sustainable Southeast Partnership was a big help with our garden last year; she acquired some fence to protect our plots from critters. We hope to get the fence up this year. Lia also came to the William and Mary Johnson Youth Center to teach the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hoonah about composting with her worm bin and then we gathered seaweed for the garden.

For 2015 we are off to a great start with six returning and four new gardeners. Community members donated 20 raspberry plants and 20 gooseberry plants. Through the program, I purchased and planted a Nadine plum tree and a Terry Berry apple tree. My husband volunteers at the Hoonah Senior Center and is helping me with the traditional foods plot, as well as planting three plots for the seniors.

I just received an email from Lauren Hughey, a Community Health Educator based out of SEARHC Sitka. What exciting news! They just received a diabetes grant carry-forward. With the approval of this grant, Hoonah will receive $1,650 with the main goal of reducing the financial barriers to gardening for American Indian/Alaska Native diabetic patients. This grant will pay for plot fees and gardening supplies in the community garden: soil, seeds, raised-bed repair supplies, shovels, pots, gloves, buckets, and cold frames.

If you are ever in Hoonah please stop by to see us.   The garden is in town next to the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Sharing about the Hoonah Healing Community Garden lets our and other communities be informed that food security starts with us. Also that it really does work! For additional information, feel free to contact me at kathymc@searhc.org.

A slideshow of Hoonah community garden photos from former Sitka Local Foods Network board member Cathy Lieser is posted below.

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• Registration opens for Southeast Alaska Farm and Fish to School Conference on April 2-3 in Juneau

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Registration has begun for the inaugural Southeast Alaska Farm and Fish to Schools Conference, which takes place April 2-3 at Centennial Hall in Juneau.

This event will be the first regional opportunity focused on building connections between Alaska’s school systems and local food entrepreneurs. Anyone interested in bringing more local foods into our school system is invited to collaborate and connect with regional experts to strengthen fish and farm to school programming across the state.

Southeast Conference, the regional economic development organization, is coordinating the conference in conjunction with the newly formed Sustainable Southeast Partnership, a diverse network of organizations working together on community sustainability in Southeast Alaska.

Farm&Fish-logo-on-photos Cropped“Often we find that the barriers to achieving access to local, healthy foods can be overcome if we work together as a region to make this initiative a priority,” said Alana Peterson, program director of the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, Haa Aani, Community Development Fund Inc. “By bringing all the key players together for a conference we are hoping to achieve just that.”

Fish and farm to school programming offers significant economic, environmental cultural and nutritional opportunities to our rural communities and region.

“Schools in southeast received more than $500,000 last year to buy Alaskan produced foods through the Nutritional Alaska Foods to Schools grant program.” said Shelly Wright, Executive Director of Southeast Conference. “However, schools are often limited by what they can procure. There are untapped opportunities for, farmers, fishermen and small business in our region. We are eager to break down barriers and grow the opportunities for everyone.”

Online registration and more detailed conference information is available at http://www.seconference.org/southeast-farm-and-fish-schools-conference. Register before Feb. 28 to be eligible for a travel stipend. For more information, contact Lia Heifetz at growsoutheast@gmail.com.