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The Sitka Local Foods Network will host a meeting for prospective and past vendors of the Sitka Farmers Market from 6:30-8 p.m. on Thursday, June 22, at the Sitka Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall (408 Marine Street, parking off Spruce Street). There are a few changes to the vendor rules and table rates this year, so this is a good time to learn about them.

This is the ninth year of operation for the Sitka Farmers Market, which features seven markets from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, July 1, July 15, July 29, Aug. 12, Aug. 19, Sept. 2, and Sept. 9, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall (235 Katlian Street). The Sitka Farmers Market was a community health initiative from the 2008 Sitka Health Summit.

The farmers markets feature booths from local farmers and gardeners, local fishermen, local bakers, and local artisans and craftspeople. Our emphasis is on local products from Sitka and Southeast Alaska. The farmers markets also are great Sitka gathering places.

A detailed description of the farmers markets and vendor forms can be found our websitehttp://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org/ (scroll down or look in the right-hand column). If you have any questions, please email Sitka Farmers Market Manager Nina Vizcarrondo at sitkafarmersmarket@gmail.com or call her at (863) 286-9230.

• 2017 Vendor Rules and Responsibilities (with Registration Form, updated May 10, 2017)

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Starting Wednesday, June 1, the Alaska Division of Agriculture is launching a brand-new $5 Alaska Grown, Five Month Challenge to support the growth of Alaska’s agriculture industry.

From June through October, Alaskans are encouraged to spend $5 per week on Alaska Grown products at their local grocery stores and/or farmers markets. If every Alaskan participates in the challenge, tens of millions of dollars in local purchases could be circulated within local economies rather than sent outside of Alaska. According to the Alaska Farm Bureau, if every Alaskan spent $5 per week on Alaska Grown products, year-round, it would have a $188 million dollar impact.

For the $5 Alaska Grown Challenge, the Division of Agriculture is partnering with dozens of retailers across the state including Carrs-Safeway, Fred Meyer, Wal-mart and SaveUMore. These retailers will be creating specialty Alaska Grown displays in their stores that prominently place and showcase the Alaska Grown products they carry, making it easy for customers to find Alaska Grown products on which to spend $5 per week.

The challenge will run for the five-month period when Alaska Grown products are most available. Each month, new produce and flowers will be introduced into stores as they become seasonally available. Customers can also spend their $5 per week on year-round Alaska Grown products including meat (including fish), fresh eggs and packaged products at their local retailers.

In Sitka, Alaskans can participate by purchasing Alaska Grown produce at the Sitka Farmers Markets. There will be seven Sitka Farmers Markets this summer, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, July 1, July 15, July 29, Aug. 12, Aug. 19, Sept. 2, and Sept. 9, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall (235 Katlian St.). In addition, there are several growers in town, and you can find out more about them in the Alaska Grown Source Book.

“Why buy Alaska grown?” the Alaska Farm Bureau website asks. “Not only are you supporting Alaskans and boosting our economy, you’re also getting a fresher, tastier, more nutritious product. In a blind taste test, 82 percent of Alaskans surveyed could taste the difference between products grown here and those shipped up. Adults and kids say Alaska grown is sweeter, fresher-tasting and crispier.”

• Taste of Alaska White Paper (taste tests of Alaska vs. Lower 48 produce from 2011 Alaska State Fair in Palmer)

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The Sitka Local Foods Network is seeking a manager to coordinate the 2017 Sitka Farmers Markets this summer. This is a contract position, and the manager receives a small compensation depending on experience for his or her work organizing the farmers markets this summer.

SLFNBoothGroupPhotoThis will be the ninth year of operation for the Sitka Farmers Market, which features seven markets during the summer from July through September. The markets will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, July 1, July 15, July 29, Aug. 12, Aug. 19, Sept. 2, and Sept. 9, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall. The farmers markets feature booths from local farmers/gardeners, local fishermen, and artisans and craftspeople. These events are great Sitka gathering places, and we promote local foods and other local goods at the markets.

This year we have new leadership for the market from within the Sitka Local Foods Network, and we are trying to streamline things so it’s easier for the market manager and vendors. We are not hiring an assistant manager this year, so all applicants will need to commit to be at all seven markets this year. In addition, the market manager needs access to a vehicle (for hauling signs and supplies around) and to the Internet.We have gone back to our 2015 vendor pricing, so hopefully we’ll be able to rekindle and bring the fun back to the market this year.

A detailed description of the market manager duties can be found at the link below. For more information or to submit applications, contact Charles Bingham at 1-907-623-7660, or you can email the Sitka Local Foods Network Board of Directors at sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com (please put “Sitka Farmers Market Manager” in the subject line).

Applications should include a cover letter, resumé and three recommendations, and they are due by 5 p.m. on Friday, March 31 (Deadline extended to Saturday, April 15). The market manager of the Sitka Farmers Market is a seasonal contract position that reports to the Sitka Local Foods Network Board of Directors via a board liaison (Tiffany Justice).

Once we sign a contract with our market manager, we will announce a couple of meetings for potential vendors. We also will announce in the next few days an April class on cottage food business basics for those thinking about starting a home-based food business, and students taking that class will receive a reduction on their first table fee from the Sitka Farmers Market in 2017.

• Description of duties for market manager of the Sitka Farmers Market Manager (2017)

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WildEdiblesAdvertisement22

The Sitka Spruce Tips-Alaska Way of Life 4-H Club will begin a six-week Wild Edible Series  starting on Wednesday, Sept. 7.

Kids will get outside and explore the bounty of wild edibles in Southeast Alaska. Activities include picking berries, identifying mushrooms, hiking through the muskeg, smoking salmon, and making jam and fruit leather. Get ready to taste the Tongass.

4-H members ages 5-8 will meet from 3:30-5 p.m. on Wednesdays and ages 9 and older will meet from 3:30-5 p.m. on Thursdays (the location will be revealed once you have registered). The registration fee is $20 and scholarships are available. Please register by Sept. 2.

For more information, email Julia Tawney at julia@sitkawild.org or call the Sitka Conservation Society at 747-7509.

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TracyOnWithSalmonFriedRiceSalmonMacAndCheese

Tracy On shows off a serving of chum salmon fried rice (front) and pink salmon macaroni and cheese that she tested Friday (Aug. 26) at the Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen. Tracy is in town for a two-week internship with the Sitka Conservation Society to develop new recipes for the Fish to Schools program.

TracyOnPreparesToSliceChumSalmonIn her regular job, Tracy On is the chef at Patagonia headquarters in Ventura, Calif., serving about 500 breakfasts and lunches a day to Patagonia employees. For her summer vacation, Tracy is in Sitka developing new recipes for the Fish to Schools program as part of a two-week internship with the Sitka Conservation Society.

“I’m working on recipes for Fish to Schools, so we can incorporate a little more local salmon in the school lunches,” Tracy said. “I also had personal reasons for coming here. I wanted to learn more about the fishing industry and how to connect the kids to their local food sources. I’m also a little selfish. I’ve always wanted to come to Alaska and this is my first trip.”

During her first week in Sitka, Tracy spent several days at the Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen testing new recipes. She also did a morning interview with KCAW-Raven Radio on Wednesday to help spread the word about her visit. On Friday, Tracy prepared a chum salmon fried rice dish and a pink salmon macaroni and cheese dish, then took a tour of the newly renovated Sitka Salmon Shares plant. She also has been working on a salmon corn dog and other recipes.

Tracy is trying to create recipes the kids will enjoy, what she called “comfort classics kids love,” while also keeping costs down because most school districts don’t receive more than $2 or $3 per student meal for their school lunch programs. That’s one reason she has been working with pink and chum salmon while in Sitka, because the costs are lower. She also is testing recipes that can be cooked from scratch, as well as ones that just require reheating, since school districts use different methods to prepare their meals. The Sitka Conservation Society will host an invitation-only tasting this week where SCS members and guests can try out a few of the new meals.

TrayOfChumSalmon“The main reason to host Tracy is to bring the Fish to Schools program to the next step,” said Sophie Nethercut, who coordinates the program for the Sitka Conservation Society. “We’ve been running this program on donations, and with the funding climate the way it is, we wanted to create a line of minimally processed recipes using pink and chum salmon that can be marketed to schools, nursing homes and hospitals.”

Tracy isn’t the first intern the Sitka Conservation Society has hosted from Patagonia, which has been sending employees to Sitka for the past three years to work on a variety of projects. Other Patagonia interns held workshops on repairing outdoor gear or helped with computer systems while in Sitka.

Tracy will be in town one more week, which will include a couple of sessions working on new recipes at the Sitka Kitch and the tasting event. She also hopes to get out on a commercial fishing boat and possibly visit other seafood processors in town.

Also, local commercial fishermen can still donate coho salmon to the Fish to Schools program, as the annual donation drive has been extended until Aug. 30.

 

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The Fish to Schools program needs help from Sitka’s commercial fishermen. The program needs a few hundred pounds of coho salmon to help make Fish to Schools meals for Sitka students during the upcoming 2016-17 school year. The program also is seeking photos of commercial fishermen at work, which can be used to teach the students more about how the fish got to their plates.

The coho salmon donation period is Wednesday. Aug. 17, through Tuesday, Aug. 23. To donate, commercial fishermen can sign up and indicate how many pounds they want to donate when they offload at Seafood Producers Cooperative or Sitka Sound Seafoods during the donation period. The program can only accept commercially caught fish (no sport or subsistence fish). The hope is to get enough coho donated that locally caught salmon can be offered to students at least once a week. Sign-up sheets will be posted at the scale shacks and in the main offices. Coho salmon is preferred.

Excited red haired kidThe Sitka Fish To Schools project (click here to see short video) got its start as a community wellness project at the 2010 Sitka Health Summit, and now is managed by the Sitka Conservation Society. It started by providing a monthly fish dish as part of the school lunch as Blatchley Middle School, and since then has grown to feature regular fish dishes as part of the lunch programs at Baranof Elementary School, Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary SchoolBlatchley Middle School, Sitka High SchoolPacific High School (where the alternative high school students cook the meals themselves), the SEER School, and Mount Edgecumbe High School.

In addition to serving locally caught fish meals as part of the school lunch program, the Fish To Schools program also brings local fishermen, fisheries biologists and chefs to the classroom to teach the kids about the importance of locally caught fish in Sitka. The program received an innovation award from the Alaska Farm To Schools program during a community celebration dinner in May 2012, and now serves as a model for other school districts from coastal fishing communities. In May 2014, the Fish to Schools program released a guidebook so other school districts in Alaska could create similar programs.

For more information, contact Sophie Nethercut of the Sitka Conservation Society at sophie@sitkawild.org or 747-7509.

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MarshSkeeleHoldsSalmonAsGuyFilletsBehind

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.

NicolaasMinkWithBookOnSalmon

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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