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 www.spruceroot.org or email grow@spruceroot.org. Also, to learn about the Path to Prosperity Master Class (deadline to register is July 31, cost is $450), click this link, https://www.spruceroot.org/2019masterclass.

Advertisements

New guide helps Alaska commercial fishermen find markets for their fish

A new publication is targeting Alaska commercial fishermen and processors who want to find markets for their fish.

The guide is a new fisheries business support tool that we are hoping you will help to share called: Resource Guide for Fishermen Interested in Direct Marketing, Alternative Marketing, and Community Supported Fisheries. The guide can be accessed online on the Salt and Soil Marketplace website at https://www.saltandsoilmarketplace.com/vendor-resources, and is also attached as a PDF.

The guide was developed by Kelly Harrell (who now works as chief officer of fisheries and sustainability for Sitka Salmon Shares) on behalf of the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition (SAWC) and Ecotrust, with support from the USDA Local Foods Promotion Program. The guide is intended to draw together a diverse array of information and tools that exist to help direct marketers/CSFs get started and succeed.

“The Local Foods Program at SAWC aims to localize our food system by supporting local food producers whose food lands on the tables of Southeast Alaskans,” said Jennifer Nu, local foods project director for SAWC and food sustainability catalyst for the Sustainable Southeast Partnership. “Kelly Harrell led the effort to understand the unique challenges and needs of direct market fishermen and determine ways to contribute to the success of their businesses. The guide is a comprehensive resource directory of a wide variety of tools for direct marketers and similar seafood businesses. Fishermen can use it to quickly find resources, organizations, and networks. We have already heard from a fisherman in Petersburg who said he wishes he had this resource available to him when he started his business years ago.”

• Resource Guide for Fishermen Interested in Direct Marketing, Alternative Marketing, and Community Supported Fisheries

Moby the Mobile Greenhouse to spend rest of year at Pacific High School in Sitka

Pacific High School gardening class teacher Maggie Gallin, center right facing camera, shows Moby the Mobile Greenhouse to her students during Friday’s class.

During the Pacific High School gardening class last Friday (Feb. 15), school social worker Maggie Gallin, who teaches the class, was showing the students around Moby the Mobile Greenhouse when she asked the students to visualize what they wanted to grow in the greenhouse this year. Moby arrived in Sitka earlier in the week, just in time for the Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit.

The students already have raised garden beds outside the school where they grow more traditional food crops for Sitka, such as lettuce, kale, potatoes, carrots, etc. So the students were a bit more daring in their choices.

George wants to try growing citrus. Hannah wants to grow peppers, Doug wants to grow bell peppers, while Karl and Jayvan want to try growing corn. These are crops that need a greenhouse to grow in Sitka, and they won’t grow well outside. Our climate isn’t hot enough.

“Our culinary program is really strong,” Gallin said. “But we have a garden program and a subsistence program that we want to get stronger. This will be a mini-learning lab for us on a small scale, and the students want to experiment.”

Pacific High School gardening class students discuss what crops they want to grow in the garden beds inside Moby the Mobile Greenhouse.

Pacific High School is Sitka’s alternative high school, which promotes different styles of learning and more personal attention. Principal Mandy Summer, who taught gardening classes before she became principal, said the school built its first raised garden bed in 2010 after Phil Burdick’s English class read the Paul Fleischman novel Whirligig, and the garden bed served as a place to put the whirligigs the class made where they could catch the wind. To supplement the novel, the class read articles about how to grow plants.

Over time the project grew into two classes, including one on how to build things such as more garden beds, a composter, a sifter and other items for the garden. There now are about a half-dozen raised garden beds behind the school.

The addition of Moby the Mobile Greenhouse will elevate the garden class project at Pacific High School. Moby the Mobile Greenhouse is a tiny house greenhouse project that travels to different schools in Southeast Alaska by Grow Southeast in partnership with the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, Spruce Root and the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition. It was built with support from the University of Alaska Southeast, the Juneau School District, the Nature Conservancy and the Sitka Conservation Society. Before coming to Sitka, Moby spent a year each in Kake, Hoonah and Yakutat.

“Our (Pacific High’s) theme this year is growth and legacy, and Moby fits our theme,” Gallin said. “The students will be leaving something behind, and they’ll be contributing something that’s individually fulfilling.”

Moby is the size of a tiny house, and it can be pulled behind a pick-up truck. There are six small garden beds inside about waist height (three on each side), plus there are places for hanging baskets. In addition, there are rain gutters to catch rainwater to use in the garden beds. The program’s link includes a handout about Moby and a downloadable curriculum for the teachers to use.

The Pacific High School garden program already has several student-built raised garden beds, a composter, a sifter, and a small older greenhouse (from a kit) behind the school.

“Part of having Moby here is for our partnership with Baranof Elementary School, where our kids can be mentors,” Summer said, adding that in time the school hopes to grow enough food for the school lunches at both Pacific High and Baranof Elementary. There is a plot of land behind the school where Summer, Gallin and others at the school are hoping to expand the garden program, and that includes having a greenhouse or high tunnel to extend the garden season. “The plan is to have a more permanent structure.”

“Moby the Mobile Greenhouse travels to a different rural Southeast Alaska community, each growing season to kickstart interest in growing local produce, especially among young people,” said Jennifer Nu, a local foods director for the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition and a community food sustainability catalyst for the Sustainable Southeast Partnership. “We hope that the greenhouse inspires a new wave of vegetable gardeners, builders, local food system advocates in Sitka and beyond. Pacific High School was chosen for strong leadership, commitment to hands-on, place-based, project-centered learning that also has wellness and community at the heart of its mission. Students at Pacific High will share their learning experience with children at Baranof Elementary school and possibly students even younger. Moby will mobilize a longer-term vision as a local food system learning center for educators around the region.”

Pacific High School garden class students and class teacher Maggie Gallin (in stocking cap with back to camera) check out Moby the Mobile Greenhouse during their class on Friday, Feb. 15.

Pacific will have Moby through October, when the garden season ends. The students will still work through the summer, even though school won’t be in session. While Moby is in Sitka, the students discussed dressing up the mobile greenhouse with Native formline drawings.

“I’m excited for more fresh produce in lunch, and working with kids,” sophomore Melissa Gibson said.

“I want to grow stuff and take care of it,” sophomore George Stevenson added.

While in Sitka, Claire Sanchez of the Sitka Spruce Tips 4-H program will work with Gallin. There also will be other gardeners who might help with the class. The staff at Pacific hopes having Moby in Sitka will encourage more people in town to garden.

“One of the stats Sustainable Southeast Partnership wants us to track is how many gardens are inspired by Moby,” Gallin said.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

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)

USDA awards $496,840 grant to Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition to develop a food hub network

SLFNBoothOnionsCarrots

logo_southeast-alaska-watershed-council_15Farmers and fishermen in Southeast Alaska will soon be able to expand their markets through a recent grant to the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition and its partners from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The grant was part of more than $56 million in local and community food system and organic research grants announced on Sept. 28. This was the only project from Alaska to receive funding.

The grant award is for $496,840, with a match of $178,327, and it will be used to sell and distribute local foods throughout the region over the next three years.  This is the grant description posted with the list of grant winners in the Local Food Promotion Program:

Localizing the Food System in Southeast Alaska: Building Markets and Supply Award

In Southeast Alaska, a more reliable food supply and improved access to local food are critical to self‐reliance and community resiliency. The vast majority of food consumed in Southeast Alaska is shipped in by barge or plane thus increasing its cost and decreasing its nutritional value. The Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition (SAWC) and its diverse partners propose to increase the consumption of, access to, and production of Southeast Alaska (SEAK) local foods. This will be accomplished by developing new market opportunities using a food hub model. Through a two‐part approach, SAWC and partners will; 1) provide critical training, technical assistance, and business development services to local food entrepreneurs; and 2) increase the consumption of and access to locally produced products through the development of the Southeast Alaska Food Hub Network (SEAK‐FHN).

The Southeast Alaska Watershed Council is working with Haa Aaní, the Sustainable Southeast Partnership and the Takshanuk Watershed Council (Haines) to develop the regional food hub, which they hope will improve food security in the region while also developing new food-related businesses.

TraysOfSalmonPortionsAccording to a post on the Southeast Alaska Watershed Council website, “In Southeast Alaska, improved access to local foods and a more reliable food supply are critical components of self-reliance and community resiliency. Residents of the region’s rural communities face high and rising costs of living, a declining state economy, and dependence upon air and water transport for delivery of basic commodities including food and petroleum products. According to a report commissioned by the Alaska Dept. of Health and Social Services, 95 percent of the food purchased in Alaska is imported, often shipped through extensive supply chains arriving by truck, airplane, and barge.

“The high cost of imported foods and lengthy supply chain make Southeast Alaska communities vulnerable to unforeseen disruptions in larger national food and transport systems, and send local dollars outside of the state. Many communities throughout the region have begun prioritizing the development of a localized food system to promote economic development, increase food security, and bolster the resiliency of Southeast Alaska communities.”

savethedateIn an interview with KSTK-FM radio in Petersburg, SAWC Executive Director Angie Flickinger said the system would be based on an online marketplace, allowing producers such as existing farms in Haines and Petersburg to sell their products throughout the region. The Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition is based in Wrangell and has member community watershed coalitions in Haines, Skagway, Juneau and on Prince of Wales Island.

“And we would allow consumers to go on there and purchase foods,” Flickinger said. “We would set distribution centers where we would aggregate those foods and either ship them out, or set up a date where folks from the community could come and pick up those foods.”

Flickinger said the coalition hopes to build two distribution centers in Juneau and Haines. Both distribution centers will have cold-storage facilities, and will be certified by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation for food safety. The project also will help host the second biannual Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit on Feb. 24-27, 2017, in Haines.

Flickinger told KSTK that this idea was sparked from a feasibility study the Takshanuk Watershed Council did last year examining the market for local foods in Haines.

“So that kind of helped spawn this concept where we thought if we combined a lot of these producers who are based throughout the region, we could create a bigger market and make it more accessible.”

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

End of May 114

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.