Local Fish Fund to help Alaska’s next generation of commercial fishers find financing

The Local Fish Fund is a program of Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, a non-profit corporation based in Sitka, Alaska. The mission of the Trust is to protect and support local fishing businesses, promote sustainable fishing practices, and revitalize fishing communities in Alaska. The Local Fish Fund program aims to incentivize ocean conservation practices and strengthen fishery leadership in Alaska communities by structuring loan products that will support Alaska residents in purchasing quota and retaining fishery access opportunities. (Photo by Laurie Mistretta)

The Local Fish Fund is an innovative fisheries loan program that will provide a new financing tool for the next generation of commercial fishers in Alaska’s fishing communities.

The Local Fish Fund is a collaborative effort spearheaded by the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, a Sitka-based nonprofit organization that protects and promotes fishing and fisheries. The loan fund aims to support Alaska’s fishing communities by reducing specific barriers to entry into commercial fisheries and engaging next-generation fishermen in marine stewardship and policy leadership.  Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust was supported in setting up and capitalizing the fund by The Nature Conservancy, Craft3, Rasmuson Foundation, and Catch Together.

“The cost and risk involved in accessing Alaska’s quota share fisheries are comparable to purchasing a hotel as a first step in home ownership,” says Linda Behnken, commercial fisherman and founding member of the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust. “As a result, the number of young rural residents entering the fisheries has dropped over the past 15 years. Local Fish Fund aims to change that trend by lowering barriers to entry while engaging the next generation of community-based fishermen in resource conservation and management.”

The Local Fish Fund loan structure has been developed in close consultation with commercial fishermen in Alaska to increase local ownership of halibut and sablefish quota. Traditional commercial fish loans require fixed payments, like a home loan. This presents substantial risk for entry-level commercial fishing businesses because the allowable catch and fish price can vary dramatically from year to year. In contrast, the Local Fish Fund loans use a “revenue participation” approach in which loan repayment is based on fish landings rather than a fixed loan repayment structure. The Local Fish Fund offers loans with competitive interest rates and reduced down payment options, and allows fishermen to build sufficient equity to eventually access conventional loans.

In addition to providing easier access to quota purchase, this loan program has been developed to increase marine stewardship and leadership capacity in the field of sustainable fisheries management. Loan recipients will be incentivized to participate in a flexible set of conservation programs that contribute to sustainable fisheries management by collecting better scientific data; engaging in policy and management decision-making; and working on conservation education and outreach.

Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association executive director and Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust founding member Linda Behnken’s longliner, the Woodstock (Photo Copyright Josh Roper)

“Alaska has some of the most sustainably managed fisheries in the world,” says Christine Woll, the Southeast Alaska program director for The Nature Conservancy. “This is due in large part to Alaskans having an active voice in how our fisheries are managed. Encouraging local participation in our commercial fisheries helps foster a long-standing Alaska tradition of community-based stewardship of our natural resources.”

The launch of this loan fund was made possible by a unique collaboration that brought together varied expertise across fisheries, conservation, and finance. In addition to the  Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, the launch of the fund was supported by the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, which has a long history of leadership in Alaskan fisheries management; The Nature Conservancy, which has worked with fishing communities to develop economic incentives for fisheries conservation in communities across the globe; and Craft3, a community development financial institution, which provides loans to benefit Pacific Northwest communities, and is originating and servicing loans on Local Fish Fund’s behalf. The Rasmuson Foundation and Catch Together have capitalized the loan fund, which will seek to make a series of loans over the next two to three years.

“We know how important quota ownership is to fishing communities in Southeast Alaska, and we are pleased to be a financing partner to the Local Fish Fund and its program to keep quota in the hands of local fishermen” says Kelly Wachowicz, Managing Partner of Catch Together.

“Joining Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust and The Nature Conservancy to launch the Local Fish Fund makes perfect sense to Craft3. This effort expands on our decades-long commitment to sustainable fisheries, conservation, and community development,” stated Craft3 President & CEO Adam Zimmerman. “The Local Fish Fund’s flexible credit and conservation incentives will preserve local fishery ownership, build equity in communities and families, and sustain fisheries health. This can be a model for how private, nonprofit, and philanthropic partners can work together to invest in current and next generation fishermen committed to sustainability.”

“The Local Fish Fund relies on creative thinking – and strong local and national partners – to open up economic opportunities in one of Alaska’s most valued industries, fishing,” said Chris Perez, Rasmuson Foundation senior program officer.

Behnken also thanked the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and The Oak Foundation, which provided long-time support for the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust and helped out with the development of the Local Fish Fund.

• Local Fish Fund two page summary (opens as PDF)

Advertisements

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.

Two Sitka businesses among finalists in 2018 Path To Prosperity contest

Iris Nash works with a customer during a 2017 Sitka Farmers Market.

The Path to Prosperity (P2P) business development competition has selected 12 finalists to advance to the second round of the 2018 program. P2P aims to identify and support new and growing small businesses in Southeast Alaska, especially those implementing sustainable practices into their business models.

After limiting the contest to food businesses only in 2017, P2P returned to its roots and reopened it to businesses of all types this year, which is the way it was the first four years. The two Sitka businesses to make the finals are both non-food businesses — Timberworks owned by Zach LaPerriere and Ebb & Flow owned by Iris A.B. Nash. Several of the finalists are food businesses, but not the two from Sitka.

Zach LaPerriere with some of his wooden bowls

“I make wood bowls and vessels to showcase the outstanding old growth forests of Southeast Alaska,” LaPerriere said. “Every bowl tells a story of the life and growth of an ancient tree. Because I work in woods that average 100 to 500 years old, I take extra time to shape each bowl to show what is most unique about the tree it came from. Because my work blurs the line between a functional wood bowl and art, about half my bowls are in daily use and the other half are displayed as art pieces around the world.”

“Ebb and Flow will be a design and sewn product manufacturing company in Sitka, offering high-function attire for the climate specific to Southeast Alaska,” Nash said. “Morally focused on cultivating conversation on conservation, we aim to tread lightly by utilizing earth friendly fabrics and processes.”

P2P is in its sixth year, and is a partnership between Spruce Root, Inc. and The Nature Conservancy. Since 2013, the P2P program has helped develop local companies that are focused on increasing profitability and local employment, while also having a positive socioeconomic impact on their communities, promoting sustainable use of local resources, and magnifying entrepreneurial capacity in Southeast Alaska.

All 12 finalists will participate in a three-day business boot camp Sept. 28-30 in Juneau. All expenses including airfare and lodging will be covered by P2P for the businesses. The intense weekend of workshops covers topics such as business plan writing, sustainable business practices, and accessing financial capital.

“I’ve been largely self-employed for 25 years and just learned along the way, but never taken the time to step back and write a business plan,” LaPerriere said. “I welcome the business boot camp because it will help me give more structure and planning to what I do. When do I hire professionals to help? How do I evaluate when to seek financing? These aren’t easy questions for a solopreneur artist. Spruce Root is an amazing organization, and it’s an honor to work with and learn from them.”

Nash said her family is out commercial fishing right now, so it will be a month or two before her new business takes shape. But she welcomes the competition as a good starting point.

2018 P2P Finalists

Here are this year’s twelve finalists, ordered by city and announced by business name and applicant:

  • Beaver Brothers Trading Co., Quinn Aboudara, Craig
  • Mud Bay Lumber Company, Sylvia Heinz, Haines
  • Juneau Composts!, Lisa Daugherty, Juneau
  • The Farm, Bridget LaPenter, Juneau
  • Exiting Eden Tannery, Richard Harney, Ketchikan
  • Blue Drum Farm, Marja Smets, Petersburg
  • Petersburg Marine, John Murgas, Petersburg
  • Timberworks, Zach LaPerriere, Sitka
  • Ebb & Flow, Iris A.B. Nash, Sitka
  • Tenakee Logging Company, Gordon W. Chew, Tenakee
  • Gathered & Grown Botanicals, Angie Flickinger, Wrangell
  • Yakutat Sustainable, Nathan Moulton, Yakutat

Path To Prosperity business development contest application deadline closes May 31

Lettuce is picked at a hydroponic garden on Prince of Wales Island. (Photo by Bethany Goodrich)

Are you a resident of Southeast Alaska with an idea for a sustainable small business you want to start or expand? The Path To Prosperity business development competition application deadline closes at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, May 31.

Path To Prosperity (P2P) is a competition sponsored by Spruce Root Community Development (a subsidiary of Sealaska Co.) and The Nature Conservancy. It is offering two winning entrepreneurs a prize package worth $25,000 each in consulting/technical assistance to develop their business concept, along with support in finding investor funding. The first few years of the Path To Prosperity contest allowed applications from all types of businesses, but in 2017 the contest focused just on food businesses. This year the contest is back to being open to a variety of business types.

Dixie and Chris Booker of Mighty Bear Roots of Wrangell, one of the 2017 Path To Prosperity winners. Mighty Bear Roots is an aeroponic greenhouse start-up that will provide the community of Wrangell with a local source of fresh healthy produce. The clean and green operation will utilize energy efficient full spectrum LED lighting, solar panels, rain catch and ground-to-air heat transfer systems to reduce its ecological footprint while growing delicious, healthy food that doesn’t need to be barged in.

The competition aims to grow local companies that will increase employment, have a positive social and economic impact on their communities, promote sustainable use of local resources, and increase entrepreneurial know-how and business leadership in Southeast Alaska.

Over five cycles, the Path to Prosperity (P2P) business development competition has received applications from nearly 200 businesses and start-ups from across Southeast Alaska and has provided intensive management training to 60 entrepreneurs during the signature Business Boot Camp weekends in Juneau.

The program’s success has garnered attention from beyond Southeast. In 2015, Path to Prosperity was presented a Silver Award for Excellence in Economic Development by the International Economic Development Council. Joe Morrison of Biz21 Consulting in Anchorage has praised the program for its results.

The Path to Prosperity Business Development Competition is open to individuals, for-profit businesses or tribal entities. Business ideas may include a new business or an expansion of an existing business. 501(c)3 nonprofits are not eligible. Applicants must be Southeast Alaska residents.

Rob Bishop of Game Creek Family Orchards in Hoonah, one of the 2017 Path To Prosperity winners. Game Creek Family Orchards supplies fruit trees, tree maintenance and support services, and fresh, locally grown apples to Hoonah and Southeast Alaska. After years of experimenting with local and disease resistant rootstocks, Game Creek Family Orchards has developed a reputation for producing apple trees uniquely crafted to thrive in Southeast Alaska.

Twelve finalists will be named in July 2018, and they will attend the weekend Business Boot Camp in September in Juneau to receive technical assistance in writing a business plan. The 12 finalists will submit their final business plans in December, and two business plans will then be selected as winners and each will receive an award of up to $25,000 for consulting and technical services to develop the business.

The 2017 winners were Mighty Bear Roots of Wrangell and Game Creek Family Orchards of Hoonah. Mighty Bear Roots is owned by Dixie and Chris Booker, and they run an aeroponic greenhouse that provides Wrangell with fresh produce. Game Creek Family Orchards is owned by Rob Bishop, and it supplies fruit trees, tree services, and apples to Hoonah and Southeast Alaska.

Other past Path To Prosperity winners include Wild Alaska Kelp Company (now known as Barnacle Foods) of Juneau and Skya’ana Coffee of Klawock in 2016; the Salty Pantry of Petersburg and the Sawmill Farm of Sitka in 2015; Port Chilkoot Distillery of Haines, Coppa of Juneau, and Fairweather Ski Works of Haines in 2014; and Raven Guitars of Wrangell and Alaska Legacy Wood Homes and Products of Icy Strait in 2013.

For information about how to apply and the application process, click this link. You can apply online at this link. Ashley Snookes is the competition administrator, and she can be reached at ashley@spruceroot.org or 907-209-9570. For general questions about the contest, send email to grow@spruceroot.org or call 907-586-9251.

Mighty Bear Roots, Game Creek Family Orchards win 2017 Path to Prosperity contest

Rob Bishop of Game Creek Family Orchards in Hoonah poses with some of his fruit trees. Game Creek Family Orchards supplies fruit trees, tree maintenance and support services, and fresh, locally grown apples to and Southeast Alaska. After years of experimenting with local and disease resistant rootstocks, Game Creek Family Orchards has developed a reputation for producing apple trees uniquely crafted to thrive in Southeast Alaska.

Two Southeast Alaska businesses have won a contest for innovative entrepreneurs. Mighty Bear Roots in Wrangell and Hoonah’s Game Creek Family Orchards will each receive prizes of $25,000 for winning top honors in the Path to Prosperity business competition. Winners were presented with their awards on Thursday evening (Feb. 23) at the annual Innovation Summit in Juneau.

Path to Prosperity, or P2P, is a partnership between The Nature Conservancy and Spruce Root Inc.  This sustainable business development competition grows entrepreneurs whose businesses will have a positive economic, social and environmental impact on communities all across Southeast Alaska. In 2017, the contest focused on food security and food businesses. In 2018, the contest will be open to a variety of business types when it opens in April.

Dixie and Chris Booker of Mighty Bear Roots of Wrangell. Mighty Bear Roots is an aeroponic greenhouse start-up that will provide the community of Wrangell with a local source of fresh healthy produce. The clean and green operation will utilize energy efficient full spectrum LED lighting, solar panels, rain catch and ground-to-air heat transfer systems to reduce its ecological footprint while growing delicious, healthy food that doesn’t need to be barged in.

Mighty Bear Roots is an aeroponic greenhouse start-up that will provide the community of Wrangell with a local source of fresh healthy produce.

“The Path to Prosperity has really helped us organize our thinking around our business” says Dixie Booker, the company’s co-founder. “We are excited for the potential to enhance our community’s food security and bring fresh produce to Wrangell. I highly recommend P2P for anyone who wants to start or further a small business.”

Game Creek Family Orchards supplies fruit trees, tree maintenance and support services, and fresh, locally grown apples to and Southeast Alaska.  After years of experimenting with local and disease resistant rootstocks, Game Creek Family Orchards has developed a reputation for producing apple trees uniquely crafted to thrive in Southeast Alaska.

Over the past four years, P2P has received 197 applications from 24 Southeast Alaska communities representing 12 different industries. In addition, 60 entrepreneurs have participated in P2P’s intensive Business Boot Camp workshops. There are now 11 Path to Prosperity winners in Southeast Alaska, all of whom continue to grow and build their businesses in ways that contribute to the community, are environmentally sustainable and are profitable.

“We’re very excited about not only this year’s winners but the entire group of 12 finalists we brought to our Business Boot Camp in September,” says Paul Hackenmueller, Spruce Root program manager and P2P administrator. “Each year the competition has grown more competitive. You can see the impact the program and, more importantly, our contestants are having on their local communities and the region.”

There are more and more signs that P2P, which began as a unique experiment in 2013, has proven itself as a dynamic program that’s making a difference in Southeast Alaska.

“These food businesses don’t only create local jobs; they also decrease the environmental impacts of shipping and transport, and provide food security and healthy food choices in our communities,” says Christine Woll, who directs Southeast Alaska programs for The Nature Conservancy. “These types of businesses are key to building a prosperous triple-bottom-line future for Southeast Alaska.”

Continued Growth
After focusing on food, the 2018 competition will once again be open to sustainable businesses from any industry. “Strengthening local food systems in Southeast Alaska is important to The Nature Conservancy and Spruce Root, but we know there are businesses of all stripes that can benefit from the P2P experience,” Hackenmueller says. “We’ve already seen a lot of interest in the 2018 competition, so I anticipate we’ll see another group of passionate, motivated entrepreneurs for out next Boot Camp in the fall.”

About Spruce Root
Our goal is to build community resiliency. We believe a strong locally controlled economy creates the foundation for a healthy and thriving community. Spruce Root promotes economic development and job creation in Southeast Alaska by providing access to small business loans and business advisory services. Spruce Root is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization.

Spruce Root was founded by Haa Aaní LLC in 2012 under Haa Aaní Community Development Fund Inc. with the goal of improving access to capital for entrepreneurs in Southeast Alaska.

Learn more at www.spruceroot.org | 907.586.9251 |  grow@spruceroot.org

About The Nature Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy envisions a world where the diversity of life thrives, and people act to conserve nature for its own sake and its ability to fulfill our needs and enrich our lives. As a non-profit conservation organization, the Conservancy is committed to solving big challenges to nature and human well-being. For nearly 30 years, The Nature Conservancy in Alaska has crafted lasting science-based conservation solutions with diverse partners all across the state. Learn more at www.nature.org/alaska.

Sitka Food Co-op one of 12 finalists in 2017 Path to Prosperity business development contest

The Sitka Food Co-op is one of 12 finalists in the 2017 Path to Prosperity (P2P) business development contest for Southeast Alaska food businesses.

The Co-op now moves into Round 2, where the 12 finalists will attend a business boot camp in Juneau this fall for mentoring and a chance to better develop their business models and plans. Two of the 12 finalists will be selected as winners in December, earning $25,000 in seed funding for consulting and technical services to develop their businesses.

The Sitka Food Co-op is the only Path to Prosperity finalist from Sitka, joining businesses from Craig, Haines (2), Hoonah, Juneau (2), Ketchikan, Klawock (2) and Wrangell (2). There were 38 food businesses from 10 Southeast Alaska communities that entered the contest this year, which is sponsored by Spruce Root Inc. (formerly Haa Aaní Community Development, a subsidiary of Sealaska), The Nature Conservancy, and joining as sponsor this year, the Southeast Alaska Watershed Council (SAWC). This is the fifth year of the Path to Prosperity contest, but the first year the contest has been focused only on food businesses.

“Being selected as one of the twelve finalists in the Path To Prosperity competition is quite an honor,” said Keith Nyitray, Sitka Food Co-op general manager. “Win or lose, it will be exciting to meet and network with the other 11 finalists, especially since we’re all food-related. Hopefully some of those finalists will even become local/regional suppliers to the Co-op.”

After encouraging a variety of businesses over the past few years, this year the focus was on building food security in the region. Eligible applicants this year had to be involved in the growing, harvesting, processing, aggregation, preparation or distribution of food. Local food systems and community food security are of critical importance to the region and the sponsors.

“Creating access to local foods is essential to building sustainable economies and resilient communities in Southeast Alaska,” says SAWC Local Foods Director Lia Heifetz. “We are excited to empower entrepreneurs and businesses who want to provide and catalyze local foods for our region in a way that balances the stewardship of land and water and positive social and cultural impact.”

“Alaskans import 95% of the food we consume each year, yet we’re surrounded by nature’s bounty,” says Path to Prosperity program manager Paul Hackenmueller. “The P2P program has a chance to kick-start innovative food entrepreneurs in southeast by providing key resources that will help grow our regional food economy. This is a great group of finalists with some creative and promising business concepts.”

The 12 finalists are:

Business Name Location Applicant
1. Beaver Sisters Kombucha Craig Bettina Brentano
2. PermaFoodScaping Haines Andrew Cardella
3. Sarah J’s Espresso Shoppe Haines Sarah Jaymot
4. Game Creek Family Orchard Hoonah Robert Bishop
5. Happy Camper Juneau Amanda Kraft
6. Panhandle Produce Juneau Eli Wray
7. H20 Grow Ketchikan Kenneth White
8. Klawock Cooperative Association Klawock Quinn Aboudara
9. Wildfish Cannery Klawock Mathew Scaletta
10. Sitka Food Co-Op Sitka Keith Nyitray
11. The Local Isle Wrangell Holly Padilla
12. Mighty Bear Roots Wrangell Dixie Booker

“The Sitka Food Co-op has always believed there was a demand for the services it could provide and these past six years have proven that to be true,” Nyitray said. “We’ve grown and in ways that were almost unimaginable at the very beginning and we are proud to have achieved the level of success and community involvement that we have so far.”

All 12 finalists will participate in a three-day business boot camp Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 in Juneau. All expenses including airfare and lodging will be covered by P2P for the businesses. The intense weekend of workshops covers topics such as business plan writing, sustainable business practices, and accessing financial capital. Spruce Root Executive Director, Ed Davis, highlights the importance of the workshop to building the regions entrepreneurial ecosystem. “The goal of the workshop is to deliver as much value as possible to the business owners, so when they return to their communities they’re able to implement what they’ve learned and build successful businesses, regardless of whether or not they win the competition,” says Davis. “This capacity development is how we build a culture of entrepreneurship in Southeast Alaska.”

“Of course, the next step in the competition is to focus on developing a detailed and forward looking business plan — our own personalized path to prosperity if you will,” Nyitray said. “Should we become one of the two winners of the competition that plan — along with all the technical and financial help the award will bring — will definitely be a huge boost to improving our operation and it would most certainly increase our ability to ‘Bring Good Food and Community Together.'”