Alaska Food Policy Council Announces 2020 Alaska Food Heroes
The Alaska Food Policy Council has named the 2020 Alaska Food Heroes in recognition of their substantial impact on Alaska’s food system and how they have made a difference for Alaska’s prosperity, health, and self-reliance.
The Alaska Food Policy Council announced three winners of its Alaska Food Hero Award.
This year’s winners are the Native Village of Savoonga Reindeer Crew (Savoonga), Chef Amy Foote of the Alaska Native Medical Center Foods Donation Program (Anchorage), and Marsh Skeele of Sitka Salmon Shares (Sitka). They were among seventeen people or organizations nominated for the award by community members around the state. The three winners received a glass plaque and a homemade quilt featuring the Alaska Food Policy Council logo made by AFPC governing board member Mel Sikes of Fairbanks.
The Alaska Food Hero Award(s) are presented at the Alaska Food Festival and Conference, which takes place every 18 months. Awardees demonstrate a substantial impact on Alaska’s food system, transform an aspect of their community’s food system, and make a difference for Alaska’s prosperity, health, and self-reliance.
More information on the 2020 Alaska Food Heroes is below.
Native Village of Savoonga Reindeer Crew
Richmond Toolie, chief herder, and crew members Freeman Kingeekuk, Michael Kralik, Nick Toolie, Sidney Kulowiyi, Scott Toolie, Kacy Pungowiyi, Christopher Miklahook, Ronald Kingeekuk, Derek Toolie, Derek Akeya, Justina Noongwook, and Orville Toolie
Richmond Toolie, chief reindeer herder, and his crew have provided reindeer herding services for the Native Village of Savoonga for decades. Richmond himself has completed training through the UAF High Latitude Range Management certificate program and is certified to process and distribute field slaughtered reindeer for the Native Village of Savoonga.
Richmond Toolie and his crew work with the Native Village of Savoonga to ensure that fresh reindeer meat is locally produced and available to the community members. This contribution to food security on St. Lawrence Island and western Alaska is a critical adaptation to the challenges brought on by a changing climate that can result, some years, in a poor subsistence harvest of the local traditional diet of marine mammals.
Because of Richmond Toolie and his crew, the community experiences enhanced economic development within the Bering Strait region through their expertise of reindeer herding. Reindeer meat helps provide much-needed cash in a mostly subsistence economy. They are also able to support the Native Village of Savoonga in donating meat to villages within Alaska for potlatches and various community events.
The reindeer herd is one of only a few in Northwest Alaska. In 1900 a herd of reindeer was moved to St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea. By 1916, a reindeer camp was established in Savoonga to manage over 10,0000 animals.
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Chef Amy Foote, Alaska Native Medical Center Traditional Foods Donation Program
Over the past twenty years Amy has been honing her culinary skills in Idaho, Montana, and Alaska bush lodges, hotels, and boutique restaurants, developing a unique skill set while delighting the palettes of those she has served. In the past few years Chef Amy has found her most rewarding mission, serving the First People of Alaska, the Alaskan Natives at the Alaskan Native Medical Center (ANMC).
Chef Amy Foote and her team provide nearly 3,000 meals per day to patients, elders, and visitors to the ANMC campus. Chef Amy increased traditional food offerings at ANMC from 30 percent to more than 60 percent on the patient menu. In addition to this, she has networked and collaborated with folks around the state of Alaska enhancing ANMC’s traditional foods donation program. Today, ANMC serves seal and is the only facility in Alaska doing so. In addition to that, Chef Amy has worked with the Alaska Professional Hunting Association, which has helped ANMC receive generous donations of moose meat. From 2014 to 2020, ANMC received more than 10 tons of traditional foods donations, thanks to Chef Amy.
Chef Amy has a passion for her environment, foraging and respectfully harvesting, utilizing traditional methods, preparation, and preservation. Her family personally donates their harvested foods to the ANTHC traditional foods donation program. “I firmly believe that if you run the program, you should walk the talk and donate, too. I personally harvest (and donate) dandelions, berries, tundra tea, rosehips, and spruce tips. My husband has donated some of our moose and bones.” While regularly attending cultural gatherings and spending time with Alaska Native Elders, her passion for cultural and traditional methods is key to the success of the program.
Marsh Skeele, Sitka Salmon Shares
Marsh Skeele is a second-generation fisherman, entrepreneur, food systems change maker, and co-founder and vice president of the unique, values-based seafood company, Sitka Salmon Shares. Marsh grew up fishing the summers in the small rural Southeast Alaska community of Port Alexander with his family. As a young troller, Marsh connected with Nic Mink, the other co-founder of Sitka Salmon Shares. Together, they co-founded a company that is transforming small-scale, community-based fisheries in Alaska.
Since 2011, Marsh has given most of his life to growing Sitka Salmon Shares and has been a key force in growing the company from an idea to the largest community supported fishery in the country. He has invested countless hours, blood, sweat and tears in all aspects of the company’s growth and developing stronger markets for an increasing number of fishermen through a completely direct- to- consumer, domestic market.
During a time when global and domestic markets have collapsed due to trade wars and COVID-19, Sitka Salmon Shares is delivering more than 20 percent over the dock price to fishermen owners—which translated in 2020 to hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional income in the pockets of local Sitka fishermen.
In his behavior on the water as a fisherman (he fishes with his Dad and sister still for halibut) and off the water, he exemplifies the values for healthy oceans, stewardship, and making the most of a precious resource (Alaska fisheries). Marsh and Sitka Salmon Shares are an active contributor to community and conservation causes in Alaska. Marsh is a humble, unsung hero of Alaska’s food system and a truly talented entrepreneur making important change when it comes to transforming the way fisheries are conducted in Alaska.
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