Two Sitka businesses make the finals in 2019 Path to Prosperity sustainable business development competition

Volunteers and staff of the Sitka Food Co-Op during one of the twice-monthly food deliveries held at Harrigan Centennial Hall.

Two Sitka businesses — the Sitka Food Co-Op and M/V Adak Short- and Long-Term Rentals — have been chosen as finalists in the 2019 Path to Prosperity sustainable business development competition, joining 11 others from Southeast Alaska in the second round of the contest. Started by Sealaska and The Nature Conservancy in 2013 and now run by Spruce Root, Path to Prosperity (P2P) is an award-winning competition for small businesses and start-ups located in the region.

Customers wait to pay their bills during a recent Sitka Food Co-Op food delivery.

The Sitka Food Cooperative, or Sitka Food Co-Op, is “a buying club on steroids,” according to general manager Keith Nyitray. The group started in 2011 as a way for local residents to order healthy food for less than what they’d pay in Sitka grocery stores. It now works with local food producers, giving them a venue to sell their products during the twice-monthly delivery days.

“Being selected as a finalist in the P2P competition is indeed an honor and we look forward to meeting and possibly working with all the other finalists and, more importantly, we look forward to learning how to grow our business and increase our positive social and environmental impacts here in Sitka and SE Alaska,” Nyitray wrote in an email. “For the past eight years the Co-op has been growing (pardon the pun) organically and we’re now on the verge of a major expansion. It’s definitely a challenging time and that’s where the professional and technical support we’ll get through the P2P competition (and from Spruce Root) will come in handy and help us ‘Bring Good Food & Community Together’ to a much greater degree.”

The M/V Adak is a WWII-era tugboat owned by Brendan and Rachel Jones that serves as a bed and breakfast.

Owned by Brendan and Rachel Jones, the M/V Adak is a WWII-era tugboat that serves as a bed and breakfast in Sitka. Even though the business may not, at first glance, have much to do with local food, the Jones family has added a local food component.

“The Joneses join up with third-generation Sitka troller Karl Jordan to provide Alaska’s first sustainable pescatourism experience,” Brendan Jones wrote in an email. “This joint venture will provide guests the opportunity to experience a day in the life of a commercial fishermen, trolling Sitka Sound and Cape Edgecumbe, followed by a night on a vintage World War II tugboat, as Beak chef Renee Trafton instructs guests on how to prepare king salmon. Alaska’s Native heritage, as well as environmentally sound fishing and living practices will be highlighted as visitors gain insight into life on a remote Alaska island.”

In Round 2 of the competition, finalists will participate in Path to Prosperity’s innovative Business Boot Camp where they will get access to resources, work with mentors, and receive one-on-one consulting to develop their business models and plans. Nine of the 13 finalists deal with food first, and a couple of others also have food as a secondary focus to the business. Sitka is the only community to have more than one business make the finals this year. The following businesses were selected as this year’s finalists:

  • Business Name, Applicant, Location
  • Alaska Costal Seaweed, Theresa Abbas, Juneau
  • Around the Bay Lodging, Susan Ritchie, Wrangell
  • Foundroot, Leah Wagner, Haines
  • Gale Force Gardens, Stephanie Jurries, Craig
  • Jellyfish Donuts, Brianna Krantz, Ketchikan
  • Kaawu Shellfish Co., Anthony Lindoff, Hoonah
  • Kootéeyaa Koffee House, Lee Wallace, Saxman
  • M/V Adak Short- and Long-Term Rentals, Brendan Jones, Sitka
  • Sagebrush Dry Gear, John Peterka, Kake
  • Sitka Food Co-Op, Keith Nyitray, Sitka
  • Tamico, Inc., Carrie J. K. Martinsen, Petersburg
  • Tommaso Shellfish, James Greeley, Whale Pass
  • Village Coffee Co., Justyne Wheeler, Yakutat

“Each year, Path to Prosperity receives exciting new business ideas from startups throughout our region, with this year being more competitive than ever,” says program administrator Ashley Snookes. A total of 43 entrepreneurs from 12 communities applied to Path to Prosperity in 2019. “An essential component to economic growth in our region is the growth of small businesses, and we are thrilled to help these businesses thrive.”

A guest of the M/V Adak holds up a couple of king salmon

According to UAA’s Center for Economic Development’s State of Entrepreneurship report, startups contribute 4,000 to 6,000 new jobs to Alaska’s economy each year, with Southeast Alaska contributing the highest percentage of businesses per population in the state. From oyster farming and kelp harvesting in our pristine ocean waters, to truly Alaskan experiences for visitors, to manufacturing the best dry bags one could ask for, the 2019 Path to Prosperity finalists are defining the local products and services of the last frontier, creating jobs, and driving local, sustainable, economic growth.

Over the past seven years, Path to Prosperity has received more than 250 applications from Southeast Alaskan small business owners and entrepreneurs across 22 communities. The program has trained 76 finalists at Business Boot Camp and awarded 13 winners $460,000 to build their local businesses. All of the participants have been trained in the “triple-bottom-line” approach to building a business by learning to measure their profitability as well as the environmental and social impacts of their business. Previous competition winners include Skyaana Coffee Co. (Klawock), Barnacle Foods (Juneau), The Salty Pantry (Petersburg), Port Chilkoot Distillery (Haines), Icy Straits Lumber (Hoonah), and others.

Path to Prosperity is a Spruce Root program. Spruce Root provides local entrepreneurs with access to business development and financial resources in the form of loan capital, business coaching, workshop, and competitions. Together, these programs support both new and existing businesses in Southeast Alaska and empower business owners through increased self-sufficiency.

To learn more about Path to Prosperity or Spruce Root’s other services, visit their website at or email Also, to learn about the Path to Prosperity Master Class (deadline to register is July 31, cost is $450), click this link,

Juneau Composts, Mud Bay Lumber win 2018 Path to Prosperity economic development contest

Sylvia Heinz and Chad Bierberich of Mud Bay Lumber Company in Haines.

Lisa Daugherty of Juneau Composts and the husband-wife team of Sylvia Heinz and Chad Bieberich of Mud Bay Lumber Company in Haines are the winners of the 2018 Path to Prosperity business development competition, earning $25,000 each for consulting and technical assistance to improve their businesses.

The annual economic development contest for Southeast Alaska businesses is co-sponsored by Spruce Root, Inc., The Sustainable Southeast Partnership, Southeast Conference, and The Nature Conservancy. Two Sitka companies — the clothing company Ebb & Flow, owned by Iris A.B. Nash, and the wooden bowl company Timberworks, owned by Zach LaPerriere — were among the 12 companies to make the finals back in July, earning the right to go to a business development Boot Camp in Juneau.

Lisa Daugherty of Juneau Composts

All of the finalists and contestants have worked hard over the past year submitting applications, attending business Boot Camp, and writing detailed business plans. The winners will be formally announced and given their awards at the 2019 Mid-Session Summit hosted by Southeast Conference on February 12. In 2017, only food businesses could enter the competition. But in 2018, the contest returned to its roots and allowed small businesses of all types to enter.

Mud Bay Lumber Company is a family-based small-scale sawmill focused on community collaboration, environmental integrity, and self-reliance. Nestled in the rainforests of Haines, they manufacture and sell local hand-picked, quality trees in the form of rough cut boards, slabs, and other added-value wood products. They promote the responsible use of natural resources through a zero log-waste goal, operating within the limits of the State Forest Management Plan, and by using each tree to its opportune use. By making local timber products accessible and affordable to the Haines community, Mud Bay Lumber Company is also helping to eliminate the fuel and plastic packaging used in long-distance transportation of lumber. They are invested in making local resources accessible and affordable to their community and growing the Haines timber industry into a stable part of the economy.

Juneau Composts performs natural alchemy, packages it, and resells it, all while reducing the noxious waste in our landfill.  They take your kitchen scraps, cook them with thermophilic microorganisms and turn them into rich soil ready for the garden. So far they have diverted more than 111,900 pounds of material from the landfill, turning it into earthy-smelling goodness. They also provide compost education and technical support. They are currently the only composting service available in Juneau and they serve households and businesses of all kinds.

The Path to Prosperity program is organized by Spruce Root, formerly Haa Aani LLC. Over the past six years, the program has attracted more than 200 Southeast Alaskan applicants, trained 64 businesses at our business boot camp, and awarded $460,000. For more information, check out the Path to Prosperity website. Applications for the 2019 cycle open on April 1 and close May 31.

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


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 Register before Feb. 28 to be eligible for a travel stipend. For more information, contact Lia Heifetz at

• Southeast Conference and partners release regional food system assessment

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The Southeast Conference and its partners recently released the “Southeast Alaska Food System Assessment: A pilot project to identify actions to promote self-sustaining communities and a resilient food system.”

The 32-page document is the result of a four-month research project supported by the Tongass People and Place Program (coordinated by the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition), Southeast Conference, Sheinberg Associates, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service. The report examines local food systems throughout the region to see what challenges exist and how they can be solved so Southeast Alaska communities are more food secure and sustainable.

The report looks at what foods are being grown in several communities and who’s growing them. It also weighs the strengths and weaknesses of the different food systems in the region, with a special wild food focus group hosted by the Organized Village of Kake. For more information, check out the report link below.

• Southeast Alaska Food System Assessment



• Sitka represented at first meeting of new Alaska Food Policy Council

Kerry MacLane grills black cod for the Alaska Longline Fisherman's Association booth at an August 2009 Sitka Farmers Market

Kerry MacLane grills black cod for the Alaska Longline Fisherman's Association booth at an August 2009 Sitka Farmers Market

When the new Alaska Food Policy Council held its first meeting in Anchorage last month, Sitka Local Foods Network president Kerry MacLane was among the 80 or so people in attendance.

“There were nutritionists, politicians, state and federal government folks galore, Native groups, Alaska ranchers (of reindeer, musk ox, elk, goats and even cows), our one creamery, schools, WIC (Women, Infants, Children supplemental nutrition program), restaurants, truckers, a food wholesaler and even some people growing fruits and vegetables,” said Kerry, whose meeting notes are linked as a PDF file at the bottom of this story. “I was honored to represent Sitka at the first meeting of the Alaska Food Policy Council.”

The Alaska Food Policy Council is a new venture in Alaska, but food policy councils are becoming more common around the country at the state and regional level, especially as more people are becoming concerned about where their food comes from and what’s in it. The first meeting of the Alaska Food Policy Council featured guest speaker Mark Winne of the Community Food Security Coalition, who discussed what food policy councils do, and there was a panel of experts from around the state who gave brief presentations about different parts of Alaska’s food system. Many of the participants also took an online survey about Alaska’s food system, which helped provide guidance for the two-day meeting.

“This group will take a critical look at our current food system and start thinking about ideas for building a stronger regional system,” Daniel Consenstein, executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Alaska Farm Service Agency, wrote about the meeting. “Most of these stakeholders know that keeping more of our food dollars in Alaska will help create jobs and spur economic development. They know that if Alaska can produce more of its own food, we can build healthier communities and be less vulnerable to food disruptions in times of emergencies. The long-term goals of the Food Policy Council will be to identify barriers to building a viable Alaskan food system, create a strategic plan to address these barriers, and make the necessary recommendations to decision makers to implement this plan. Over the next year, this group will develop an action plan to make Alaska more food secure.”

Photo courtesy of USDA Agricultural Research Service Image Gallery / Photo by Scott Bauer -- The average American eats 142 pounds of potatoes a year, making the tubers the vegetable of choice in this country

Photo courtesy of USDA Agricultural Research Service Image Gallery / Photo by Scott Bauer -- The average American eats 142 pounds of potatoes a year, making the tubers the vegetable of choice in this country

Diane Peck of the Alaska Division of Public Health is coordinating the Alaska Food Policy Council, which is having its creation funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and from a two-year grant from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Obesity Prevention and Control Program (grant originally provided through the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention). Detailed meeting minutes and a purpose and next steps document are linked below as PDF files.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences posted a good, detailed wrap-up of the first meeting on its blog, and the University of Alaska’s “Statewide Voice” also had an article about the meeting.

The creation of the Alaska Food Policy Council has sparked regional interest in Southeast Alaska. The Health, Education and Social Services committee of the Southeast Conference will meet by teleconference at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, June 22, to discuss the Alaska Food Policy Council (click Calendar and Events on the link to get call-in numbers and codes). “We have opportunity to advance our local food production and utilize the bounty of our region to sustain our people and improve our health,” Southeast Conference executive director Shelly Wright wrote about the Alaska Food Policy Council.

“There are numerous benefits that food policy changes could mean for residents of Southeast Alaska,” Kerry MacLane said. “The bycatch regulations could be modified to encourage great recovery, processing and distribution. This would result in affordable fish in local markets, schools, health institutions and statewide. Federal, state and local government institutions would have more incentives and few restrictions to include local food in their purchases. More economic development funds could be made available to food system-related entrepreneurs. State and federal storage of (Alaska) emergency food supplies could be in our communities instead of in Portland, Ore. The Alaska Food Policy Council can help Alaskans increase our self-reliance and be more prepared for the coming rise in fuel costs.”

To learn more about the Alaska Food Policy Council, contact Diane Peck with the Alaska Division of Public Health at 1-907-269-8447 (Anchorage) or by e-mail at Most of the council’s communication and meetings will be by e-mail and teleconference.

Minutes from the May 18-19, 2010, first meeting of the Alaska Food Policy Council

Purpose and next steps for Alaska Food Policy Council

Kerry MacLane’s notes on the first meeting of the Alaska Food Policy Council