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.

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Sitka Food Co-op to host annual meeting and potluck on Saturday, March 9

The seventh annual Sitka Food Co-op annual meeting and potluck dinner will be from 4-6 p.m. on Saturday, March 9, at the Alaska Raptor Center. This meeting is free and open to the public, so please bring a dish to share (what’s a food co-op meeting without food?). You can RSVP for the meeting by clicking this link (Note: this link also includes a survey for those who can’t make the annual meeting).

Sitka Food Co-Op general manager Keith Nyitray accepts the Co-Op Citizen Award this week at the 2019 Up & Coming Food Co-Op Conference in Milwaukee. Also pictured are (from left) Food Co-Op Initiative (FCI) executive director Stuart Reid, Jacqueline Hannah of FCI, Sitka Food Co-Op (SFC) member Donna Barragan, SFC board member Hannah Green and SFC board member/staff person Kate DesRosiers.

General Manager Keith Nyitray will go over all the operations and financials of this past year and the board will review the results from its recent survey and talk about future needs and plans for the co-op. The co-op paid members also will vote on by-law changes and where to send the “Co-op Cares” donations.

The co-op also is looking for new board members. The terms will last one or two years so that we can stagger terms out for board continuity. The co-op needs an active board to handle all the things a general manager can not, or should not, handle.

If you’re interested in joining the board, let us know by filling out the board application form. A copy of the tentative agenda can be found here.

In addition, the Sitka Food Co-Op earlier this week won the Co-Op Citizen award at the 2019 Up & Coming Food Co-Op Conference. There were three co-ops from around the country nominated for the award.

According to Nyitray, “The Cooperative Citizen award is awarded for exceptional embodiment of cooperative principle six, ‘cooperation among cooperatives’, within the startup food co-op community. Awardees have gone far above and beyond to share their knowledge, experience, and solutions with peer startups, contributing significantly to the growth of the overall food co-op startup community. Sitka Food Co-op was recognized specifically for its passionate and generous sharing of their unique development with other rural and small town food co-op startups that may benefit from using a similar model.”

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

A sampling of current food products grown, manufactured or processed in Sitka

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 second 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.

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.”

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. 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, April 5, 2019 (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 about the third week of April, the Sitka Local Foods Network will 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%).

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 2019

Gimbal Botanicals wins $1,500 prize in Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest

Gimbal Botanicals owner Hope Merritt, right, poses with her new interns, Nora Skeele, left, and Kassandra Eubank-Littlefield, during a recent trip to harvest seaweed. Gimbal Botanicals recently won $1,500 in the Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest hosted by the Sitka Local Foods Network, and Hope used the prize to hire interns to help her harvest, process and market her local wild food products. (Photo courtesy of Gimbal Botanicals)

Hope Merritt of Gimbal Botanicals makes a sale during a 2014 Sitka Farmers Market (Photo by Charles Bingham, Sitka Local Foods Network)

With a young child eating into her time and a need to expand her business, Hope Merritt of Gimbal Botanicals wanted to hire a couple of interns to help harvest and process her beach asparagus, seaweed, kelp and other local wild foods. This month, Hope received a check for $1,500 after winning the established business category in the Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest sponsored by the Sitka Local Foods Network.

The contest was for Sitka food businesses looking to start or grow their operations and was to provide two $1,500 prizes — one for established businesses and one for start-up businesses (younger than 2 years old) — but there were no entries in the start-up business category so no prize was awarded in that category.

“The Sitka Local Foods Network has had a long relationship with Hope and Gimbal Botanicals at the Sitka Farmers Market, so we’re excited to be able to help Hope grow her business,” Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham said. “One of the reasons we launched this contest this year was to try and encourage new local food businesses or the expansion of existing businesses so we have more local food available for Sitka residents. With her local wild foods business, Hope and Gimbal Botanicals provide a true taste of Sitka.”

Gimbal Botanicals has been in business for about a decade, and Hope has been selling a variety of local wild foods such as tea blends, beach asparagus, etc., at the Sitka Farmers Market, Sitka Food Cooperative, to local restaurants and caterers, at Sitka businesses such as Wintersong Soaps and Evergreen Foods, on Allen Marine cruises, and in Juneau, Hoonah and other communities. She also sells her local wild food products on her website, http://www.gimbalbotanicals.com.

“I will use this award to increase my womanpower and in so there should be more products available,” Hope said. “I have already hired two women and because harvesting is still slow we are starting on marketing. We are working with Salt and Soil Marketplace (a regional food hub based in Juneau) right now to get products on their website. I would like to expand my availability with the Sitka Food Co-op. I have also considered a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture, where farmers sell shares in their crops), or a CSH, Community Sustained Harvesting, as I might call it. In this model, customers would order in advanced from me for the whole season. Every time I harvest (about once every two weeks) customers would get their amount of fresh beach asparagus. It’s like pre-marketing.”

From left, Nora Skeele, Kassandra Eubank-Littlefield and Hope Merritt of Gimbal Botanicals harvest seaweed. (Photo courtesy of Gimbal Botanicals)

With the prize money, Hope hired interns Nora Skeele and Kassandra Eubank-Littlefield, who already have been helping out with harvests and will help out with processing and sales. In addition, Hope is helped by her partner, Dan Littlefield, and her mother-in-law, Roby Littlefield.

“This money will help me continue to bring local sea veggies to local markets, beach asparagus and seaweeds as well as my teas,” Hope said, who added that she plans to continue to sell her products at the Sitka Farmers Market. “I am hoping for a bigger presence at the Sitka Food-Co-op this year, making nutritious foods more available for those who value them. All of my products are 100-percent organic. Bringing wild-harvested beach asparagus to the local markets brings a super nutritious food that would otherwise be unavailable to the consumer here in Sitka and Juneau.”

Hope said she takes pride in being able to ethically harvest her sea veggies, which keeps the products sustainable.

“It’s not good enough for me to try to be ethical and sustainable with our fragile eco-systems,” Hope said. “I take great care to ensure sustainable harvesting. The resources I harvest from are healthy and abundant enough to handle the effects of commercial harvesting. If that changes, then we will no longer have those products available.”

Hope also is working with Sitka Tribe of Alaska Social Services to develop an agreement, which hasn’t started yet, where she harvests for those tribal members who can’t get out to harvest themselves.

This was the first year of the Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest, and the Sitka Local Foods Network hoped there would be more entries. “In addition to providing more local food here in Sitka, we want the contest to encourage Sitka food businesses to enter some of the larger innovation contests, such as Path to Prosperity or the Symphony of Seafood,” Bingham said. “But we’re happy for Hope and Gimbal Botanicals, because this business is a good example of how a Sitka foods business can be innovative while sharing the taste of Sitka.”

“I’d like to express my gratitude for this award and the work that Sitka Local Foods Network does in this community,” Hope said. “By promoting local food we are taking valuable steps forward as a community to be more healthy and food secure. This is a passion of mine and why I continue to operate Gimbal Botanicals. I could not operate without the help of friends and family. Gimbal Botanicals is sustained through all the hours that family and friends have donated to the cause working often for tea and beach asparagus. Thanks to my family for supporting and understanding the importance of local, not just for its nutrition but as a way of life. With the expansion of my family, time has shifted and I am unable to produce what I could before motherhood. I will use the money to hire help with harvesting, processing, marketing and at the farmers market.”

Sitka Food Co-op to host annual meeting and potluck on Sunday, March 11

The sixth annual Sitka Food Co-op annual meeting and potluck dinner will be from 3-5 p.m. on Sunday, March 11, at the Sitka Fire Hall Conference Room. This meeting is free and open to the public, so please bring a dish to share (what’s a food co-op meeting without food?). You can RSVP for the meeting by clicking this link.

General Manager Keith Nyitray will go over all the operations and financials of this past year and the board will review the results from our recent survey and talk about future needs and plans for the co-op. We will also vote on a by-law changes and where to send the “Co-op Cares” donations.

We also are looking for board members. Currently, we are just an interim board with some of us hoping to get officially elected in. The terms will last one or two years so that we can stagger terms out for board continuity. The co-op needs an active board to handle all the things a general manager can not, or should not, handle.

If you’re interested in joining the board, let us know by filling out the board application form.

We can’t wait to see you all on March 11 and, together, we’ll eat some yummy food and help the co-op continue thriving

Sitka Food Co-op to host annual meeting and potluck on Sunday, Feb. 26

2017-annual-mtg-flyer

The Sitka Food Co-op will host its annual membership meeting and potluck lunch from noon until 3 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 26, at the Sitka Fire Station conference room. The meeting is open to all Sitka residents, regardless of co-op membership.

This meeting will give members and prospective members a chance to learn what the co-op is doing, where its going and how it plans to get there. There also will be elections for the board of directors (five seats on the seven-member board are open and you must be a co-op member to run or vote), amendments to the by-laws, and there will be several new and important committees created. Co-op officers encourage people to attend and take part in building the co-op to the next level.

The Sitka Food Co-op was incorporated on Sept. 26, 2011, as a way to bring good food and community together. The purposes of the Sitka Food Co-op are to:

  • Create a community-based, member-owned buying service;
  • Make available wholesome natural and organic foods and products as inexpensively as possible;
  • Support and encourage local growing of fresh organic foods;
  • Purchase and purvey, whenever feasible, the goods or services of local and regional growers and producers; and
  • Serve as a center for activities and services which otherwise enrich the life of the community.

Please note that the Sitka Food Co-op is a separate organization than the Sitka Local Foods Network, even though we share some of the same goals.

To learn more about the Sitka Food Co-op and its annual meeting, email sitkafoodcoop@gmail.com or go to http://sitkafoodcoop.org/. Potential board members should submit an online candidate application form by 5 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 24, telling a little bit about yourself and why you want to serve on the board of directors.

• Draft agenda for Sitka Food Co-op 2017 annual meeting

Building a Local Food System: Keith Nyitray of Finn Island Farm and the Sitka Food Co-Op

KeithNyitrayWithCabbage

(Editor’s Note: The Sitka Local Foods Network’s Bulldog on Baranof intern this summer, Claire Chang, is writing the Building a Local Food System series of articles about Sitkans working to improve food security. This is the first article of the series.)

As owner of Finn Island Farm and general manager of the Sitka Food Co-Op, Keith Nyitray is committed to improving access to quality, affordable food on a local level.

DSCN0863Born in the Bronx and raised on Long Island, Nyitray arrived in Alaska after college in 1979 to pursue mountaineering. He has had his fair share of rugged adventures, including a 10-month, 1,500 mile solo expedition across the Arctic Brooks Range that he wrote about for National Geographic in 1993. When he arrived in Sitka for the first time 17 years ago, the town’s “wonderful community” inspired him to stay.

Nyitray says he learned to garden “at his grandfather’s knees.” He operates his farm and lives on Finn Island, located three miles from Sitka in the Kasiana Islands. On about 2,000 square feet of garden space, he produces plant starts and vegetables, and he also maintains a greenhouse and raises chickens.

Compared to other gardens in Sitka, one of the biggest advantages of the farm’s location on an island is what Nyitray calls the “270 degrees of sun” his garden receives. Annually, he sells 5,000 to 6,000 plant starts to True Value, to private individuals, and through the Sitka Food Co-Op. He sells most of his mature vegetables — such as green beans, zucchini, lettuce, beets, broccoli, English cucumbers, and peppers — through private trades and through the co-op.

KeithNyitrayRobertBainesExplainSitkaFoodCoOpNyitray helped establish the Sitka Food Co-Op in 2011 to help meet the needs of the community. “A lot of people were struggling financially at the time,” Nyitray said, “and food prices were going up and down.”

According to Nyitray, the co-op provides Sitkans access to organic, healthy food at lower prices than local markets. Co-op members make purchases through food distributors online, and the bulk orders are shipped to Sitka as freight on barges. Organic apples purchased through the co-op, for example, cost half as much as organic apples at the grocery stores in Sitka. In addition, the co-op provides individuals with unique dietary needs, especially families with children who have allergies, with access to a wider variety of foods than local markets.

What started as a cooperative of 13 families now has more than 220 members, and sales are projected to exceed $260,000 this year. Nyitray explained that the “slow growth approach” has allowed the organization to keep membership fees at affordable levels while including as many community members as possible.

SitkaFoodCoOpKeithNyitrayMany co-ops, often in big cities or areas with large universities nearby, raise significant capital to open a retail storefront before going into operation. In contrast, the Sitka Food Co-Op does not yet have a retail store, and Nyitray describes the Sitka co-op as a “hybrid between a non-profit buyers club and a for-profit co-op.” This model, which prioritizes the co-op’s connection with the community, is consistent with Nyitray’s belief in “food for people, not for profit.”

The success of the Sitka Food Co-Op has even inspired other rural Alaskan communities, such as Petersburg and Kodiak, to ask Nyitray about starting their own co-ops. Nyitray is excited about supporting these new co-ops, as one of the “seven cooperative principles,” a set of ideals for the operation of cooperatives, is “cooperation between cooperatives.”

Nyitray describes his roles on Finn Island Farm and with the Sitka Food Co-Op as “the most rewarding jobs or positions he has ever had.” He views his work as an embodiment of the saying, “think globally, act locally.” In working toward food security in Sitka, Nyitray has been able to see “definite, positive, immediate results.”

IMG_9866For instance, Nyitray says the competition from the co-op has already led some local grocery stores to reduce some of their prices. Having previously been involved in politics, he finds these results especially gratifying. “In politics, the work was very challenging, but not always very rewarding. You could work really hard, but rarely see results.”

He also enjoys the relationships with community members that he forms through his work. “When people purchase stuff from you they are actually saying thank you,” he explains. “They appreciate the service and the quality of food and the savings. It’s very social. I know everyone by name.”

In the future, Nyitray hopes the Sitka Food Co-Op will be able to include even more members and eventually open a retail store. A retail store helps reach more people in the community who are not members of the co-op and allows shoppers to use food stamps and other forms of food assistance as payment. As he works to serve community, Nyitray will continue to enjoy some of the smaller perks of his job. “I like the organic oranges that I get,” he says, “because I like the juice.”

To learn more about Finn Island Farm, contact Keith Nyitray at knyitray@yahoo.com. To learn more about the Sitka Food Co-Op, contact Nyitray at sitkafoodcoop@gmail.com, or visit the co-op website at http://sitkafoodcoop.org.