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  6.  | Sitka Local Foods Network Honors Farmer, Meal Maker

Sitka Local Foods Network Honors Farmer, Meal Maker

Jun 7, 2023 | Agriculture, Manufacturing, News, Small Business

Rows of vegetable crops grown at Middle Island Garden in Sitka.

Sitka Local Foods Network

A vegetable farm in Sitka and a packaged meal manufacturer from the Lower 48 that is expanding to Alaska are the prize winners at the 6th annual Sitka Food Business Innovation Contest.

Veggie Victories 

The Sitka Local Foods Network chose two winners to each receive the $1,500 top prize. Although seafood entries unanimously swept last year’s contest, the 2023 winners deal mainly in produce. The contest has previously recognized innovations in frozen yogurt, chicken eggs, sourdough bread, foraged mushrooms, beach greens, and local tea.

Andrea Fraga of Middle Island Gardens plans to use her winnings to repair her small farm on one of Sitka’s barrier islands. Last winter, a tree fell and smashed the area where Fraga intends to set up a veggie wash and pack station. “We are nearly done removing the tree and plan to expand our growing space into its footprint,” Fraga says.

Middle Island Gardens started selling produce at the Sitka Farmers Market in 2016 and has been a regular market vendor since. Fraga and her partner Kaleb Aldred grow about half of the locally grown produce sold at each market. They grow garlic, lettuce and other greens, carrots, turnips, onions, flowers, and more on their farm, and they use a skiff to bring the fresh veggies to town.

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“Once we have removed the fallen tree and its root wad, we will be able to utilize the footprint of this large tree for new growing space,” Fraga wrote on her contest entry form. “Additionally, we hope to see increased success in the edible crops grown in the area, as they will no longer be competing with an old growth spruce tree for nutrients and sunlight.”

Fraga is on the board of the Sitka Local Foods Network but did not participate in the judging for this contest.

While Middle Island Gardens is a known entity, Field to Fire is a new business in Sitka. Owner Michael Miller operates at the Tower Grove Farmers Market in St. Louis, Missouri. He moved to Sitka when his wife took a clinical dietician job at the local hospital, and Miller works in the hospital kitchen.

The $1,500 prize money will help to establish a Sitka branch of the small-batch packaged meals business. “What an incredible honor it is to have won this contest,” Miller says. “I very much look forward to providing unique, delicious and sustainable meal options to this amazing community.”

New Cook on the Block

The packaged meal business that Michael Miller started in St. Louis is continuing even after he moved to Sitka and is starting up a new outpost using Alaska foods.

Sitka Local Foods Network

With his St. Louis operation, Miller has more local farmers to work with, yet he still intends to source locally grown produce in Sitka, if enough is available. He also plans to work with local fishermen to provide seafood dinners.

“Now that we have relocated to Southeast Alaska, we are focusing on the sustainable seafood market with hopes to build a line of products caught ethically and sustainably and processed in the region,” Miller wrote on his contest entry. “Meals come in recyclable, microwave-safe containers. Portion sizes are generally 16 ounces for soups, curries, and entrées, and 8 ounces for dips and appetizers. All products come available frozen.”

Miller adds that he plans to do his own pickling, processing, and preserving produce so he can have local product available through the winter. He plans to have a presence at the Sitka Farmers Market, at pop-up events where people can buy his food, and a meal subscription service where people can order weekly meals.

“We’re glad to support two businesses that are trying to bring more local food into Sitka’s food system,” says Sitka Local Foods Network board president Charles Bingham. The group’s mission is to increase the amount of locally harvested and produced foods in Southeast Alaskans’ diets by supporting entrepreneurs.

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In This Issue
The 2024 Corporate 100
April 2024

In their company kitchens, the Corporate 100 blend wholesome ingredients with exquisite utensils to create the scrumptious ambrosia that keeps employees gratified and contented. Meet the top Alaska employers ranked by number of Alaskans on their payroll, and learn the recipe for success. This issue also includes a focus on economic development initiatives in Anchorage and Kodiak.

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