Middle Island Gardens, Field to Fire each win $1,500 prizes in sixth Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest

Andrea Fraga of Middle Island Gardens and Michael Miller of Field to Fire are the winners of the sixth annual Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest, sponsored by the Sitka Local Foods Network.

Middle Island Gardens, operated by Fraga and her partner Kaleb Aldred, has been a regular participant of the Sitka Farmers Market for several years (note, Fraga is on the Sitka Local Foods Network board but did not participate in the judging for this contest). Field to Fire is a new business in Sitka, but Miller has operated the pre-made packaged meal company at farmers markets in the St. Louis area.

“We’re glad to support two businesses that are trying to bring more local food into Sitka’s food system,” Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham said. “Middle Island Gardens has been one of Sitka’s main suppliers of fresh, local produce for nearly a decade, while Field to Fire plans to use locally sourced ingredients in his meals.”

Fraga said she planned to use her winnings to make repairs around her small farm, which is located on one of Sitka’s barrier islands. The repairs will fix some winter damage and open up new space for growing produce.

“Middle Island Gardens will use the prize money to make repairs to our veggie wash and pack station, which was smashed by a large tree last winter, and to offset costs associated with machine rental to clean up the fallen tree,” Fraga said. “We are nearly done removing the tree and plan to expand our growing space into its footprint.”

Middle Island Gardens started selling produce at the Sitka Farmers Market in 2016, and has been a regular market vendor since. Fraga and Aldred grow about half of the locally grown produce sold at each market. They grow garlic, lettuce and other greens, carrots, turnips, onions, flowers, and more on their farm, and they use a skiff to bring the fresh veggies to town.

“While this event is a major setback for us, once we have removed the fallen tree and its root wad, we will be able to utilize the footprint of this large tree for new growing space,” Fraga wrote on her contest entry form. “Additionally, we hope to see increased success in the edible crops grown in the area, as they will no longer be competing with an old growth spruce tree for nutrients and sunlight.”

While Middle Island Gardens already is a known entity in Sitka, Field to Fire is a new business in town even though it’s been in operation at the Tower Grove Farmers Market in St. Louis. Miller said he plans to use his prize to buy supplies for launching his business in Sitka (his St. Louis operation is still going). He moved to Sitka when his wife, Julie, took a clinical dietician job at SEARHC Mount Edgecumbe Medical Center, and now Mike works in the MEMC kitchen.

“What an incredible honor it is to have won this contest,” Miller said. “I very much look forward to providing unique, delicious and sustainable meal options to this amazing community.”

With his St. Louis operation, Miller has more local farmers to work with to source locally grown produce for his small-batch meals. He still intends to source locally grown produce in Sitka, if enough is available. But he also plans to work with local fishermen to provide seafood dinners.

“Now that we have relocated to Southeast Alaska, we are focussing in on the sustainable seafood market with hopes to build a line of products caught ethically and sustainably and processed in the region,” Miller wrote on his contest entry. “Building ties to the community and telling the story in our products are just a few of our core operational goals.”

In addition to using locally sourced ingredients as much as possible, Miller said he plans to do his own pickling, processing, and preserving produce so he can have local product available through the winter.

“Our products will be prepared by hand using a small-batch cooking method,” Miller said. “All of the dishes will be made with the freshest and most thoughtfully sourced products available. Meals come in recyclable, microwave-safe containers. Portion sizes are generally 16 ounces for soups, curries and entrées, and eight ounces for dips and appetizers. All products come available frozen.”

He plans to have a presence at the Sitka Farmers Market, and to also offer pop-up events where people can buy his food. In addition, he had plans to start a meal subscription service where people can order weekly meals.

Last year’s winners were Gretchen Stelzenmuller of Enoki Eatery (musubi with an Alaska twist), and the duo of Edith Johnson and Lexi Fish-Hackett with an unnamed fish broth project to use fish waste.

The 2021 winners were Joanne “Chef Jo” Michalski of Muddy Mermaid Mudd Pies (frozen yogurt pies) and Nalani James of Eggstravgant (eggs from her chickens). The 2020 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).

Check out the April 2023 edition of the Sitka Local Foods Network newsletter

The Sitka Local Foods Network just sent out the April 2023 edition of its monthly newsletter. Feel free to click this link to get a copy.

This month’s newsletter includes short stories about an effort to build two new community gardens in Sitka, our search for a 2023 Sitka Farmers Market manager, the upcoming deadline of the 2023 Pick.Click.Give. donation period, 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).

Check out the March 2023 edition of the Sitka Local Foods Network newsletter

The Sitka Local Foods Network just sent out the March 2023 edition of its monthly newsletter. Feel free to click this link to get a copy.

This month’s newsletter includes short stories about our search for a 2023 Sitka Farmers Market manager, the sixth annual Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest, the opening of the 2023 Pick.Click.Give. donation period, 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).

Check out the February 2023 edition of the Sitka Local Foods Network newsletter

The Sitka Local Foods Network just sent out the February 2023 edition of its monthly newsletter. Feel free to click this link to get a copy.

This month’s newsletter includes short stories about the sixth annual Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest, the opening of the 2023 Pick.Click.Give. donation period, our search for a 2023 Sitka Farmers Market manager, 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).

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

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 sixth 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 Friday, March 17.

This contest will provide two $1,500 kicker prizes 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 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. Our prizes are available to Sitka residents who are sustainably growing, foraging, fishing, or manufacturing food for people in Sitka.”

Last year, we awarded our two $1,500 prizes to Gretchen Stelzenmuller of Enoki Eatery and to Edith Johnson and Lexi Fish-Hackett for a fish broth project. Enoki Eatery sold musubi, a Japanese-Hawaiian dish of rice and Spam rolled up in seaweed, but with Alaska fish or mushrooms replacing the Spam. Edith and Lexi spent the summer testing recipes and developing their fish broth product, which they hope to introduce this year.

In 2021, we awarded our $1,500 prize for established business to Jo Michalski of Muddy Mermaid Mudd Pies, which she sells at her Jo’s Downtown Dawgs hotdog/burger cart and to local restaurants. Our $1,500 prize for start-up business went to Nalani James of Eggstravagent, which are eggs from chickens she raised in town and sold to local customers (sometimes at the Sitka Farmers Market).

In 2020, we awarded our $1,500 prize for established business to Andrew Jylkka of Southeast Dough Co., who is baking sourdough bread, as well as making sauerkraut and kimchi. Our $1,500 prize for start-up business went to Levi Adams of Forage & Farm, where he is harvesting and growing mushrooms. Our prizes were determined before the Covid-19 shutdowns, but both business owners found ways to develop and build their businesses during the pandemic.

In 2019, 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 of 2019 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, but this year we eliminated the separate categories and everybody is competing for the same awards. 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 17, 2023 (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%). We will give bonus points to those businesses that plan to participate in the 2023 Sitka Farmers Market.

In 2022 we made a few changes to the rules. First, since we ended up moving a couple of entries between categories the past two years we decided to eliminate the categories and now everybody is competing for the same two awards. Second, each entry now MUST include a sample, itemized budget showing how the business owner plans to use the prize money. Third, 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.

The Sitka Local Foods Network reserves the right to reduce or not make an award if the judges determine the applications don’t meet the minimum standards. Purchasing items such as masks and hand sanitizer to prevent the spread of Covid-19 are acceptable uses of prize money. Marijuana edibles are not eligible for the contest.

• Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest Entry Form 2023

Check out the January 2023 edition of the Sitka Local Foods Network newsletter

The Sitka Local Foods Network just sent out the January 2023 edition of its monthly newsletter. Feel free to click this link to get a copy.

This month’s newsletter includes short stories about the opening of the 2023 Pick.Click.Give. donation period, our search for a 2023 Sitka Farmers Market manager, 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).

Sunday’s the day to start filing your 2023 PFD applications and make Pick.Click.Give. donations

As 2022 draws to a close, many Alaskans already are thinking about applying for their 2023 Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend check in January. As usual, Alaskans can share their wealth with a variety of Alaska nonprofits, including the Sitka Local Foods Network, through the PFD’s Pick.Click.Give. program.

For the past several years, the Sitka Local Foods Network has participated in the Pick.Click.Give. program, which allows people to donate in $25 increments to their favorite statewide and local 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations when they file their PFD applications from Jan. 1 through March 31.

When you choose to donate part of your PFD to the Sitka Local Foods Network, you support the Sitka Farmers Market, St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm, the Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest, education programs about growing and preserving food, the Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen, Sitka Community Gardens, matching dollars at the Sitka Farmers Market for SNAP/WIC beneficiaries, the sustainable use of traditional foods, the Sitka Community Food Assessment, the Sitka Food Summit, and a variety of other projects designed to increase access to healthy local foods in Sitka.

In 2022 Alaskans contributed $3.033 million to 635 Alaska nonprofit organizations, and more than $33.1 million has been donated since the program started in 2009. Some Alaskans choose to donate to just one group, while others may spread several donations around to many groups. There now are 642 total 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations participating in Pick.Click.Give. for 2023 (including multi-location nonprofits), including 25 from Sitka. In 2022, Alaskans donated $38,875 to Sitka-based nonprofits (note, total does not include donations to some nonprofits that are based in multiple cities).

So how do you make a donation to the Sitka Local Foods Network through the Pick.Click.Give. program? First, starting at 9 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 1, go fill out your Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend application at http://pfd.alaska.gov/. When you get to the section of the application asking if you want to participate in Pick.Click.Give. Charitable Contributions program, click on the PCG link and search for the Sitka Local Foods Network. You also can look for us by using the town search for Sitka.

The Pick.Click.Give. program is available only to people who file their PFD applications online, and not to those who file by mail. Even though you can’t file a new PFD application after March 31, you can go back into your application and update your Pick.Click.Give. donations through Aug. 31 each year.

You still can donate to the Sitka Local Foods Network if you aren’t from Alaska or aren’t eligible for a 2023 PFD. To donate, send your check to the Sitka Local Foods Network, 408-D Marine St., Sitka, Alaska, 99835. You also can donate online by going to our online fundraising page on MightyCause.com, and clicking the Donate button to make an online contribution. In addition, there is an online giving page through the PayPal Giving Fund. If you are trying to make nonprofit donations before the end of the 2022 tax year, you can mail in a check or make an online donation. Please let us know if you need a receipt for tax purposes. For more information about donating, you can send an email to sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com.

Thank you for supporting our mission of increasing the amount of locally produced and harvested food in the diets of Southeast Alaskans.

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

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

This month’s newsletter includes short stories about our search for a 2023 Sitka Farmers Market manager, a Preserving Alaska’s Bounty home food preservation online class series taught by the UAF Cooperative Extension Service, 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).

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).

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

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

This month’s newsletter includes short stories wrapping up the 2022 Sitka Farmers Market season, 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).