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Chasing Herring Spawn on Sitka Sound

Written by Bethany Goodrich for Alaska Dispatch News

SITKA — In early spring, the forests and estuaries begin to thaw. With the softer earth and longer days, Sitka’s residents thaw too. We stretch our arms and arch our backs, padded with a little extra winter weight, toward the increasing sunlight. We look to our coastline for the return of the herring.

All Rights Reserved. No use without explicit permission by Sitka Conservation Society, Sustainable Southeast Partnership and/or Bethany Goodrich

In Sitka Sound, herring have always been harbingers of spring. As they return en masse each year they carry on their iridescent backs the promise of warmer weather and seasons of subsistence. Seabirds, sea lions and fishermen compete aggressively for this plentiful food source. Hoards of humpback whales return from Hawaiian waters in pursuit of these silvery fish. Hunting in packs like wolves, they dive deep, flukes slipping into the sea. Our waters erupt with life.

Back in town, Sitka clamors with activity too. Our harbors flood with visiting seiners and tenders awaiting the commercial herring sac roe fishery. Locals prep their skiffs and begin eyeing young hemlock trees in preparation for the subsistence harvest. Wade Martin, 51, is a Chilkat Tlingit who has been harvesting herring eggs locally for 40 years.

“During herring season, there is no place better than Sitka. It’s a really happy time of year for animals, for us,” Martin said. “Just to be part of it all is a privilege. It’s more than cultural, it’s in my blood and I could not imagine not doing this. I’d go crazy.”

From his 18-foot aluminum skiff named Raven, Martin hustles through the Sitka Sound island chains with his eye to the water and his ear to local chatter. This year, he promised more than a half-ton of roe to friends and family around the region.

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Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi: Blessing of the rock

The season begins at the Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Tribal Community House, when community members join the Sitka Tribe of Alaska in prayer.

“We are especially thankful for our culture for our people and our ways that you have taught us as we celebrate the herring run, its history,” says John Duncan while Roby Littlefield pours channel water over the herring rock.

News Lawson explains the significance of this rock and the herring season.

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“The herring rock has a very long history among our people. Very significant. The days of long ago, the herring would come to our homeland and the first place the herring would spawn would be at the herring rock and this time of year was very significant to our people, the arrival of the herring on our shores that meant the arrival of new food, new food for our homes and the end of the old foods that sustained us through the winter months.”

The timbre of the prayer is calm and steady. Out on the water, the pace is entirely different.

Defined by patience

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Seiners strategize their position and await the Alaska Department of Fish and Game countdown.

“Three.

“Two.

“One.”

The rodeo begins.

Sitka’s sac roe commercial fishery is legendary for cutthroat hustle. Spotter planes scope fish movement from above and dozens of seiners narrowly avoid one another, dodging rocks and whales as they compete for masses of herring.

This year, seiners harvested 9,758 tons of herring, about 66 percent of the quota. Fishermen target the golden herring egg sacks, or skeins, coveted in Japan as a traditional delicacy called kazunoko. Fish and Game estimates that 10.7 percent of the nearly 10,000 tons of herring pulled from Sitka Sound this season was the target mature roe. The subsistence harvest stands in stark comparison. Participants still target herring eggs, but the technique for accessing these eggs will leave the fish breathing. It’s a methodology defined by patience.

In quiet coves foaming with turquoise milt, participants lower hemlocks from small boats, anchoring them into the spawn. Days later, they return to pull in branches, hoping that thick layers of eggs coat the limbs. While the process sounds idyllic, the reality isn’t always quiet and serene. Like the commercial sac roe fishery, locals are in hot pursuit of this sacred resource.

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Sitka at heart of harvest

Martin and I pull the Raven up to a wooden troller anchored in a protected cove of Middle Island. The F/V Shirley N travels annually to Sitka from Hoonah.

Located on Chichagof Island, Hoonah is the largest Tlingit community in Alaska. Martin grew up in Hoonah and spent herring season traveling to Sitka on local trollers, gathering eggs. Today, Hoonah residents depend on Vernon Hill, a veteran troller with a local crew, to return with a hull weighed down by eggs on branches. The Hoonah Indian Association and community members contribute funds each year to support their travel. Martin reconnects with his hometown friends in the wheelhouse, while on deck Brandon Hill explains how a triumphant return to town looks.

“It’s crazy when we get back to Hoonah. Usually, we pull up to the dock and there’s about 200 people out there and we lay the eggs out on a tarp and watch people like seagulls fighting over this stuff. It’s just madness. It is really rewarding and it means a lot to a lot of people, especially elders,” Hill says.

Some people describe herring eggs poetically as the most culturally revered subsistence food after salmon. Others use a more crass nomenclature: Indian Viagra. Some people prefer to munch on egg-coated kelp pulled directly from the sea. Some blanch them, dress them with soy sauce or cook them in seal oil. Others kindly refuse.

Whether you like herring eggs or not, they are in demand across Alaska and Sitka is the beating heart of the harvest. Participants spend weeks gathering eggs, packaging and pumping thousands of pounds of this treat by boat or by box along airline arteries to eager families from Metlakatla to Barrow. Martin alone ships his bounty to Yakutat, Kake, Hoonah, Juneau and Angoon.

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Atypical Easter egg hunt

It’s Easter. While little girls in Sunday dresses play hide and seek with colorful eggs, I sip thick coffee and talk herring with the crew aboard the F/V Shirley N. Days earlier, we anchored branches in coves across Sitka Sound. Today, we hop on skiffs for a different kind of egg hunt.

Cutting through a cold sharp rain, Martin and I race to Crow Pass, an epicenter for herring egg subsistence. The turquoise foamy spawn has subsided, the water fading to a more familiar and less tropical shade. Peering past the raindrop-mottled surface, we look deep in the water for color. Martin does not attach buoys to his branches, fearing the egg wranglers — people who steal branches laid by others. He hides his branches and has done such a fantastic job that we struggle to find them.

“See that? That yellow glow down deep,” calls Martin. We drop a grappling hook and yank. A growing pale form rises to the surface, a young hemlock heavy with eggs. “Not ours!” The line, and anchor are unfamiliar.

Martin is many things, but he is not an egg thief.

“For me, this is all about honor. I honor my culture, honor where I come from, honor my father and honor this resource.” Thievery is not honorable. He loosens his grip and the tree slips back into the darkness.

We continue in this way for hours, though most of the trees we pull are ours. This year, however, most of those trees are empty. “Junk! Junk!” Martin says as he clips the small sections of tree worth keeping. “It’s getting worse every year. It’s getting harder to make this happen.”

We motor back to the Shirley N. All the sets the Hoonah crew pulled were empty. Barren hemlocks balance sadly on deck. Everyone is tired, feeling defeated.

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A changing harvest

Martin and the crew of the Shirley N were not alone in their struggles this spring. Sitka Tribe distributed 3,240 pounds of this culturally revered resource, not even half of what they distributed a year ago.

Harvey Kitka, born and raised in Sitka, has been chair of the tribe’s herring committee for 10 years. “Harvesting … was really bad. Usually, I have so much that I distribute to not only family in town but some friends, too. We all have friends who don’t have boats; some of them are older … and we usually get eggs for them,” Kitka says.

He remembers a time growing up in Sitka when the herring were so thick that the crack of their flipping backs would echo across the Sound like a hailstorm. Back then, subsistence seasons were more reliable. “It used to be that the duration of the spawn was so long you could see which way the herring were heading, you could watch them every day as they got closer in town. We would try to get there right before the herring would start spawning, anticipating their movement.”

This season, the spawn seemed different.

“The herring came in tiny bunches, just scattered on the surface and there were just little balls of herring. It was just a little spot here and a little spot there,” Kitka says. “You had to be really lucky.”

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Persistence, rejoicing

Back on the water, Martin and the Hoonah boys are determined to get lucky. By chance, while Martin and his buddy Russ James are hunting seals and otters north in Salisbury Sound, they stumble upon a late spawn. They move fast, lay branches and lead the Hoonah crew there to do the same. They all cross their fingers.

After weeks of battling waning optimism with die-hard persistence, the Hoonah crew and Martin taste salty, crunchy success. They pull plentiful branches from Salisbury Sound. The next day, I join Martin, James, his girlfriend Teresa Moses and her sons Eli and Andrew as they sort and package the spoils. The sun is bright, the atmosphere warm with relief and rejoice.

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“I was pretty worried that I wasn’t going to be able to hold up my obligations, but now I’m very happy,” Martin says.  “I try to be honorable and honor my word. This was the first year I almost didn’t make my obligations. It’s getting worse every year. We all but gave up on this season and just lucked out and stumbled into it in Salisbury Sound, the farthest north I’ve ever had to go,” Martin says.

The afternoon is rich with celebratory sounds: pruning shears clip, packaging tape stretches across burgeoning fish boxes, Creedence Clearwater Revival sings “Proud Mary” on the radio and two little boys crunch gleefully on eggs.

“I wish that we could have herring eggs every day,” one says. With a grin, their mother promises fresh eggs in tomorrow’s school lunchbox.

herringeggsSitka (4 of 4)All together, Martin packages more than 2,000 pounds of herring eggs on branches. Four-hundred pounds are set aside for a particularly important purpose: Martin’s father passed away earlier this spring. These eggs will feed guests at a ceremonial party to honor Chief George Martin Jr., clan leader of the Chookaneidi. The rest are distributed to family and friends within Sitka and across the state. He pushes cartload after cartload through the gates at Harris Aircraft Services. He estimates these eggs will hit the tongues of nearly a thousand Alaskans.

“There’s not a lot of people who can do this anymore, and it’s my culture. A lot of people do their culture with dance and music. With me, it’s the thrill of showing people this, sharing whatever is in season,” Martin says.

In Hoonah, the community celebrated the triumphant return of their hardworking men on the Shirley N. Residents fought with fervor and glee over the thickest branches.

As spring tapers off into summer, Sitka’s residents wear down our winter weight, pulling skates and hooks heavy with halibut and salmon from the Sitka Sound. As we clean our bounty, we look graciously to our plentiful waters and curiously in the pink bellies of our chinooks. We are reminded of the little fish that begin it all, the shimmering foundation of our rich subsistence culture.

Fish Eggs and Sunshine

How do residents of Prince of Wales Island know it’s spring time?  Well we don’t put on our fancy suits and consult an over-sized rodent for starters.  We know it’s spring time by consulting the weather and the water that are so closely linked to our lives as “Islanders”.  When you see the whales entering the channels and bays.  When you hear the grunting of the sea lions sunning themselves on the rocks.  When you smell that distinct blend of fish and brine.  That’s how we know it’s getting close.

Marilyn Bell-Holter and Lawrence Armor enjoying the boat ride to the spawning grounds.

Marilyn Bell-Holter and Lawrence Armor enjoying the boat ride to the spawning grounds.

The last couple weeks of March and the first couple weeks of April herald the new season in an explosive manner.  A welcome sound after our Alaskan winters is the word that the first herring have been sighted.  And then the flurry of activity begins.  We gather the branches of hemlock trees (and in some cases we simply gather entire young hemlock trees), we check the fuel in our boats and don our rain gear.  It’s Fish Egg season!

This week I had the pleasure of joining Lawrence Armour, Brian Holter, and Marilyn Bell-Holter in enjoying the weather and practicing a yearly spring subsistence activity.  We laughed and joked as we loaded our gear into the boat, “complaining” about how much we “hated work” today.  Our gear consisted of a bundle of hemlock branches that we were going to set in anticipation for the quickly approaching herring spawn.  After getting gear stowed aboard the boat we began trip out to areas that have been traditional subsistence areas since the first people settled in the areas around Klawock.

As we slowed to observe a mother humpback whale and her calf in the distance we repeatedly mentioned how amazing it was, to be on the water, watching life returning to the area, and how we hoped for a good fish egg season.  Herring roe (or as commonly referred to as fish eggs) is one of the first large harvest subsistence foods of the subsistence season.  Every year the waters come to life as herring return to these areas to spawn on kelp, eel grass, hemlock branches (placed in the water by local subsistence users), and even the rocks along the shore.  It is an important sign that winter is over, and is a greatly anticipated cultural food.  It brings people together, they cluster on the docks as the harvesters return, hoping that with the returning boats is that first taste of spring.

Brian Holter and his daughter Marilyn on the watch for whales.

Brian Holter and his daughter Marilyn on the watch for whales.

We enjoyed the company in the skiff, each taking turns pointing out one or another spectacle of sea life that caught our eye.  We stopped at a beach to gather rocks to use as an anchor for our hemlock branches, Brian and I talking about how this season had been years before.  Children were taken out of school, entire families piled into boats and headed for the spawning grounds, thick kelp beds along the rocky shores of Southeast Alaska.  We reminisced about how the families would gather on the beaches after laying out their branches and everyone would join together.  Large bonfires would be lit, and we would share our meals.  The last of the previous year’s salmon would be passed around, and crab freshly harvested would be boiled.  Children would run along the beaches or play on improvised rope swings.

A Pair of humpback whales passing through the channel.

A pair of humpback whales passing through the channel.

It was a time of celebration, a fair well to the winter, and a time to gather together and share.  My younger cousin Marilyn mentions that it’s not that way anymore, and we look about.  There are no children on the beaches, and besides commercial fishing boats we don’t see the skiffs loaded with families coming to celebrate spring with us.  It’s a moment that we share of a time that may be passing in our own lifetimes.  The bond between the land and our own lives.  As more and more families assimilate into a “9 to 5” job, and the culture of our island way of life begins to become more structured we sense that practices like this are becoming less and less “important”.

The spell is broken for a moment, but quickly returns as Brian shouts “They’re breaching!”.  We turn to look where he’s pointing, a little too late, as Brian laughs we stand waiting for the next, but that too passes and we turn back to business.  We clamber into the skiff and prepare our anchor, tie together the branches and guide the boat to a promising looking area.  We’re still a little early, so the water is still dark and not the milky green that shows when the herring are spawning, “Good, we beat them here, we’re early,” Brian states.  While we would have enjoyed that fresh taste of herring roe straight from the water we know that they’re coming and our branches will be ready when they arrive.

We zip from kelp patch to kelp patch to check and see how things are looking, the kelp looks healthy but still no eggs yet.  We follow the flocks of seagulls, watching for them to circle and dive, a good indicator that a ball of herring is there, but they’re still just moving into the area.  We watch the sea lions to see where they’re clustering, another good indicator that the herring are nearby.  We get lucky as we watch a small group of whales that have been patrolling the channel, they come in close to the shore and the herring in their desperation to avoid the whales throw themselves into the air.  A quick silver flash, a wriggling fish struggling off the rocks and back into the water.  We head that way.

A pod of sea lions sunning and rolling about, their stomachs full and their appetite satiated for a moment.

A pod of sea lions sunning and rolling about, their stomachs full and their appetite satiated for a moment.

We approach a small kelp patch, the water still dark, but not quite as dark as the rest.  We pull up a kelp leaf and inspect it, spring and fortune smile upon us as we notice the first few herring eggs.  They’re not thick, but they’re there, we note the area, making reference to several of the islands and the shores.  Tomorrow we’ll return to lay branches in this area and check the branches we set today.  As we turn the boat toward home we can see the water slowly changing color in the kelp patch, from the dark blue of winter to the milky pastel blue-green of spring.

Gunalchéesh herring, our little heralds of spring. We hope that tomorrow we will be able to make a small harvest, we’ll bring some home for our families and our elders so they can enjoy the bounty of the waters, and we will be thankful that winter has ended, and that spring has returned.

We hope to see more families out over the next few weeks, we hope that we can gather on the docks and the shores of the spawning grounds.  We hope that we can enjoy the company of our community and celebrate the return of spring again.  We hope to share the wealth of the waters and the thrill of watching the life that flows around us.

Alaska’s Innovative Entrepreneurs Walk The ‘Path To Prosperity’: Business Competition Awards Two Haines Businesses For Their Commitment To Community

Alaska’s Innovative Entrepreneurs Walk The ‘Path To Prosperity’: Business Competition Awards Two Haines Businesses For Their Commitment To Community

As originally published in Alaska Business Monthly print and online April 30th, 2015. 

Vibrant local businesses are pumping new life into the historic buildings of Haines, Alaska. Home to 1,800 residents, Haines is a unique community located at the end of the Inside Passage in the southeast of the state. With 46 percent of its population unemployed, according to the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, Haines joins most rural Alaska communities on a quest for economic stimulation. Haines is rich in entrepreneurial opportunity and business leadership. This spring, the community celebrated two local enterprises in particular: Port Chilkoot Distillery and Fairweather Ski Works.

Both businesses were awarded $40,000 in seed funding for technical services through Path to Prosperity (P2P), an innovative business plan competition. The Nature Conservancy and Haa Aaní LLC founded P2P to identify innovative entrepreneurs in Southeast Alaska and connect them with the resources they need to succeed.

“Innovative local businesses are at the core of a vibrant local economy. Path to Prosperity, through intensive entrepreneur training and business development funding, is helping to develop the next generation of creative small business owners in Southeast Alaska,” explains Norman Cohen, director of Southeast Alaska Programs for The Nature Conservancy.

Thriving local businesses are central to healthy communities, and Haa Aaní LLC and The Nature Conservancy also recognize business as a valuable tool for spreading positive social and environmental impacts across rural communities.

A tour of this year’s winners reveals how innovative entrepreneurs are revitalizing Alaska’s neighborhoods.

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Shade and Copeland package a batch of 50 Fathoms Gin for shipment to Juneau in front of the distillery. The couple renovated the building using local wood and a local workforce.

Port Chilkoot: ‘Our Distillery’

Fort Seward is an old Army Fort built in Haines during the early 1900s. Today, much of the barracks is in disrepair and the residents of Haines are finding creative uses for the space. A yoga studio, a smoked salmon shop, restaurants, a mill, artist galleries, and a hotel have all moved in. Among this bright cluster of locally owned businesses stands Port Chilkoot Distillery.

Heather Shade founded the distillery in 2012 with her husband and business partner, Sean Copeland.

“People were skeptical at first; they were like: ‘You are doing this here in Haines, why not do it some place where it is easy, where you are closer to bigger markets?’” says Shade.

Producing on a budget, endless paperwork, and regulations are obstacles Shade and Copeland continue to navigate on a daily basis. Despite these challenges, the duo have celebrated many successes. Port Chilkoot has three products on the market—50 Fathoms Gin, Icy Strait Vodka, and 12 Volts Moonshine. The first batch of a three-year barrel-aged whiskey is expected to release later this year. These products serve a high-end niche market across Alaska. Shade successfully lobbied for legislative changes to allow an in-house tasting room. And this spring the couple received a gold medal from the prestigious National American Craft Spirit Awards for the best tasting gin.

“I think we have proven so far that it can be done. Why not in Haines? Why does it have to be somewhere else?” says Shade.

A peek of some of the tasty ingredients used to flavor Port Chilkoot's small batch spirits. Ingredients are grown and foraged locally.

A peek of some of the tasty ingredients used to flavor Port Chilkoot’s small batch spirits. Ingredients are grown and foraged locally.

 

P2P supports businesses plans that have positive social, economic, and environmental impacts on their communities.

“We want to be smart about our consumption and use of energy, heat, water,” Shade says. “And that made sense from a business stand point because it is also cost effective in the long run.”

Waste heat from the production process heats the building space. “As for organic waste, we don’t really have any,” Shade says. Spent grains are dished out to the community to feed pigs and nourish gardens.

Creating salary-wage jobs and supporting the local economy are important to Copeland and Shade, who hired their first full-time employee to run the tasting room last winter.

“Think about all the other people we are connected to locally to make this business. Like Laura, who designs our labels, Kevin, who designed our logo, Eric, who prints our shirts, and Sally, who grows our herbs—there is a human face behind every process,” Shade says.

She stresses how community benefits extend beyond economics.

“There is something intangible here as well, and that’s just sense of pride. Our community is proud now that we have a distillery and that we have a ski builder, and I think it does something psychologically where we are more willing to get involved or to talk in a positive way about things that are happening in our community… It fosters interest in our community, it fosters leadership, it gives a sense of change towards something good,” Shade says.

The community crowds the tiny tasting room to soak in the communal atmosphere, sip spirits infused with local ingredients, and catch up with neighbors.

“I hear people calling it ‘our distillery.’ That is what we always wanted, for the community to think of it as ‘Haines’ Distillery,’” says Shade.

The community crowds the tiny tasting room to soak in the communal atmosphere, sip spirits infused with local ingredients, and catch up with neighbors. Port Chilkoot LLC hired their first full time employee to keep up with the tasting room.

The community crowds the tiny tasting room to soak in the communal atmosphere, sip spirits infused with local ingredients, and catch up with neighbors. Port Chilkoot LLC hired their first full time employee to keep up with the tasting room.

Fairweather Skis: Local to the Core

Haines is surrounded by mountains. Jagged snowy peaks scale over four thousand feet in all directions. Unsurprisingly, Haines is a top mountain sports destination that attracts skiers and snowboarders from across the globe.

Graham Kraft and Ian Seward are the brains and brawn behind Fairweather Ski Works.

“This is such a hot ski destination and nobody is building skis here… it seemed like a no brainer to be doing this locally. We are uniquely fitted, we have the quality of wood, the quality of mountains, and the spotlight on Haines—we are set up for success,” says Seward.

Seward and Kraft combined years of woodworking experience and an adoration for backcountry exploration to found Fairweather Ski Works in 2013. It took the duo six years of trial, error, and skiing to master the current design. Local wood is at the core of every ski.

“We are lucky to have both paper birch and Sitka spruce available locally. These are the two main ingredients for traditional wood ski building because they both have an optimum strength to weight ratio and a great degree of flexibility without breaking,” Seward says.

Seward and Kraft take pride in tracing each ski back to a carefully selected, sustainable timber source.

“Our skis are a very efficient use of wood, and we only use about six board feet per pair of skis. By selectively harvesting or using salvaged timber, we can make our impact on the environment as minimal as possible while still contributing to the local economy,” says Kraft.

Kraft and Seward add a top sheet before loading the skis into their homemade wooden ski press that will add 180 degrees of heat and up to 60,000 lbs of pressure.

Kraft and Seward add a top sheet before loading the skis into their homemade wooden ski press that will add 180 degrees of heat and up to 60,000 lbs of pressure.

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Fairweather skis are uniquely Alaskan- constructed with sustainably sourced local woods and detailed with the work of local artists. This pair showcases a painting by John Svenson.

Kraft and Seward look to local businesses for goods and services whenever possible. Many of their products are adorned with the work of local artists. They also support the greater Haines economy by strengthening ski-based tourism, a key economic driver in the community.

“We are working with community partners to build back-country ski huts in the area as part of a larger movement to try and bring off-season, winter tourism to town. That’s going to be a big help to this place,” says Seward.

When they are not in the woodshop perfecting their designs they are out testing them on the slopes.

“Our skis are designed to handle the rigors of the Alaska wilderness. We have personally tested them on a human powered traverse completely across the largest non-polar icecap in the world, through Glacier Bay, Wrangell-St. Elias, and Kluane national parks. We also have a quickly growing number of Alaskans on our skis testing them out in all corners of the state,” boasts Kraft.

Innovative Small Businesses Build a Sustainable Alaskan Economy 

Rural Alaska communities face many economic challenges.

“One big challenge is that the people of Haines seem to be divided about what their vision is for making the place economically sustainable while still preserving its way of life, its natural beauty, and resources,” says Shade.

“Part of our original vision when we created Port Chilkoot Distillery was to prove that we could do things on a small scale that fits into the community, that people want, that also exports products out of the community and imports dollars to help our community grow—all without harming our way of life.”

Copeland, Shade, Seward, and Kraft share this common vision for their small businesses. They are not alone. They join a diversity of innovative entrepreneurs across the region that are capitalizing on Alaska’s unique resources to build successful, sustainable, value-added business ventures.

The first batch of Port Chilkoot's 3-year barrel-aged whisky is expected to release later this year. Shade and Copeland compare differences in color between raw ‘moonshine’ and the barrel-aged small batch whisky.

The first batch of Port Chilkoot’s 3-year barrel-aged whisky is expected to release later this year. Shade and Copeland compare differences in color between raw ‘moonshine’ and the barrel-aged small batch whisky.

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Alana Peterson is the P2P Competition Administrator for Haa Aaní LLC.

“We received over one hundred applications in the first two years of the P2P program. This just proves the region is rich in entrepreneurial activity and opportunities. It also speaks to the need that entrepreneurs in the region have for technical support when it comes to starting or growing their businesses,” says Peterson.

Ian Grant is the Associate State Director for the Alaska Small Business Development Center—a supporting partner of P2P. Grant shares this sentiment.

“Healthy small businesses truly are the backbone and driving force of a sustainable Alaskan economy. In 2014, the impact of Alaska Small Business Development Center clients alone represented sixty-six new businesses, 239 jobs, and $89.99 million in private investments,” Grant says.

“Small businesses face a broad spectrum of challenges whether it be in accessing capital, managing high energy costs and fixed expenses, or the overall business management.”

For small businesses in particular, the “path to prosperity” can be punctuated with obstacles. However, with the support of innovative partnerships and programs like P2P, entrepreneurs across the region are proving that a sustainable and diverse Alaska economy is within reach.

“We are rich in natural resources. We are rich in culture. I think we often get stuck on the challenges, but the opportunities are huge,” Peterson says. “All the businesses that we have identified through P2P have really made me feel optimistic because they were already out there. We didn’t create these businesses or these people.

October Report from the Coordinator

Lot’s of good stuff happening in October. I actually got to spend a couple weeks in a row at home for a change!

Was able to stay put on Lemesurier during the first half of October and get started on some of my Fall chores!

I was able to stay put on Lemesurier during the first half of October and get started on some of my Fall chores!

Kicked things off during the first week of the month by submitting a large collaborative grant to the NRCS for holistic planning and project implementation on 150 thousand acres of mixed ownership lands surrounding Hoonah. This project is called the Hoonah Native Lands Partnership and includes Sealaska, Huna Totem, TNC, ADF&G and the USFS as primary partners. We are looking to combine workforce development and entrepreneurial opportunities with private and public land management goals for an increased triple bottom line for all stakeholders. We hope to find out about this award by November or December. Regardless of the outcome of this grant proposal, we created a shared paradigm for collaboration that I am confident we will build upon in the future.

A fair chunk of time was spent on getting things ready for Alana to take over as the SSP Director. I updated all of the SSP orientation documents to reflect the changes in our staffing and to incorporate some of our latest language for clarifying what it means to be an active member of the partnership. This effort fed directly into developing the next round of grant agreements for all current staff, most of which are completed or nearly so. I have a few more transition tasks to check off my list before Alana officially takes over on November 1st. I am very excited for her leadership.

Alana, Adam, Marjorie, Lia and I spent a week down in Vancouver to kick off our Community Economic Development certificate program. I have lots to report on here but for now let me just say that we learned a ton (indigenomics, locanomics and sustainable community development instructors) and had a great time working with our Canadian colleagues, all of whom are doing inspiring and unique work. I am especially excited about the ideas and concepts that Michael Shuman shared with us about localizing our community economies, particularly for food and energy systems. Lots of opportunity there!

Lia, Marjorie, Alana, Adam and I out enjoying Vancouver city after a hard day of learning about localizing community economies.

Lia, Marjorie, Alana, Adam and I out enjoying Vancouver city after a hard day of learning about localizing community economies.

There were a few other items that I worked on this month: participated in the Tongass Collaborative Stewardship group subcommittee on distributing retained receipts from stewardship contracting; worked with Sarah Bronstein of Sheinberg and Associates on the SSP indicators of community sustainability project; and, provided support for our friends who are participating in the Tongass Advisory Committee are some of the highlights.

All in all, a really great month.

A Glance at September from the Food Sustainability Catalyst

Fall is an exciting time of year in Southeast Alaska- there are fish, game, berries, mushrooms and gardens to harvest and eat.

A few local and regional food sustainability projects have been completed and there is a Southeast Farm and Fish to School Conference and a Mobile Greenhouse to look forward to!

Invigorating Alaska’s Food System with Wild Foods: Wild Foods Harvest, Kasaan

Check out the short video that showcases the Kasaan Wild Foods Harvest, an event that was facilitated through partnerships with the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, the Cooperative Extension Service, the Organized Village of Kasaan, the Sitka Conservation Society and Southeast Conference (see full post here). Watch the video to learn about a growing community of Alaskan residents, communities and organizations who are dedicated to invigorating Alaska’s Food System with wild foods.

The Southeast Conference Annual Meeting was held in Wrangell this year. This was a venue that brought together economic development and government agency representatives, advocates and private business representatives from throughout the region to present and discuss pertinent issues, projects and plans for Southeast Alaska. Transportation, mining, timber, maritime and energy sectors were well represented. Additionally, I had the opportunity to moderate a Food Sustainability Panel that consisted of four presentations and a question and answer session. Presenters included Bob Christensen, the coordinator of the Sustainable Southeast Partnership; myself; Carrie Sykes, the Economic Development Director for the Organized Village of Kasaan; and Carmen Landers, Megan and Jonathan Fitzpatrick from the Thorne Bay School Greenhouse.

I began with a brief introduction to the topic of food sustainability and what that means and looks like for southeast Alaskan’s. Bob followed up with an overview of the Sustainable Southeast Partnership and examples of projects in each of the sectors. The presentation I gave was a summary of the results from the Southeast Alaska Food System Assessment cultivator survey (view report here), regional opportunities, and current regional and local food sustainability projects I am coordinating.

The last two presentations focused on some specific local food sustainability projects. Carrie shared the Totem Café project and the video that highlights the Kasaan Wild Food Harvest. The final presentation was led my Carmen Landers, a 16 year old student from Thorne Bay High School. Carmen manages the Throne Bay Greenhouse year round and led the presentation. The greenhouse is heated by a GARNS wood fired boiler and also provides heat to the school, and has LED lights (more on the greenhouse here).

This proved to be an exceptional venue and opportunity to showcase some of the exciting work that is taking place around the region to promote more local and regional projects.

MobileGreenhouse

Robin and Kaden, the greenhouse designers.

 

A Mobile Greenhouse is currently in the design phase. Kaden Phillips, a UAS Construction Technology student, and his mentor Robin Gilcrest, UAS professor of Construction Technology are designing a greenhouse to be built on a trailer. High school construction class at Juneau Douglas High School will build the greenhouse beginning in January. This easily replicable, mobile unit constructed of locally sourced materials (when possible), will travel to different locations around the region or within communities for the duration of the growing season. The greenhouse will likely be housed at schools and engage youth in activities related to growing food in a controlled environment. Curriculum will be developed using existing resources and will incorporate science, math, health and culinary classes. This will be a very low risk, visible demonstration project to help identify youth and other community members interested in growing food at a larger scale, in a controlled environment.

 

Upcoming events:

Southeast Conference was awarded a USDA Farm to School Conference grant. This is the first time such an event will be hosted in Southeast Alaska with a focus on regional opportunities and networking among schools, local food cultivators, food processors, Native organizations, and community agencies. The Conference will be held in Juneau April 2 -3.

The goal of the Southeast Alaska specific Farm and Fish to School Conference is to promote the formation of a network of local food producers, school business managers, cooks and educators; improve health outcomes; strengthen local economies; and reinforce cultural and traditional place-based practices. It will feature opportunities, agencies and resources for projects; successful models in action; methods to integrate local foods into daily meal preparation; cooking demonstrations and recipes for local foods; place-based, culturally appropriate implementation; and local foods procurement. The conference will serve as a vehicle to connect food producers to a sizeable local market and facilitate the formation of a network of Southeast food producers to enable problem solving and access to resources to launch, initiate and enhance local food production.

Stay tuned for more information regarding the Conference and email GrowSoutheast@gmail.com to stay updated by email.

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