In The Spotlight: The Sitka Food Co-op
The Sitka Food Co-op currently provides food to over 250 households and businesses -- a far cry from its small-scale beginnings. The co-op seed was planted in May 2010, when founder Ann Betty began ordering organic food in bulk from outside Sitka, averaging lower prices than were available at local groceries.
By Abigail FitzGibbon
The Sitka Food Co-op currently provides food to over 250 households and businesses — a far cry from its small-scale beginnings. The co-op seed was planted in May 2010, when founder Ann Betty began ordering organic food in bulk from outside Sitka, averaging lower prices than were available at local groceries. She shared the shipping expenses and the nutritive bounty among friends and family; news soon spread, and more people wanted in. By September 2011, Betty’s venture was formally incorporated as a cooperative.
Today, the cooperative allows customers to pre-order food online from select suppliers. Food is available three Tuesdays of every month; customers can opt for free home delivery or pick up their food between 3-6 PM at St. Gregory’s Church, 605 Lincoln Street.
Sitkans are asked to pre-order to help keep wastage low, ensuring that supply matches demand. Any food not up to par, such as produce that arrives the worse-for-wear from travel, will either not be sold or will go to members at no cost. “We won’t charge for it unless it’s high quality,” says General Manager Keith Nyitray.
Co-op memberships cost $50 per year, and each member receives a 1% ownership stake in the co-op, giving them a vote in proceedings. Members also receive a sponsored discount of 25% on classes taken through the Sitka Kitch.
The co-op also offers discounts to local businesses, such as Southeast Dough Co., when providing them with food or ingredients to make food. Another outreach feature is “Co-op Cares” – an option which lets co-op members donate money to organizations like SAFV and the Homeless Coalition. “We’re here to help just about any organization that asks, if we can,” Nyitray says.
Nyitray says the co-op always has room for more volunteers, whether they’re sorting produce for distribution, helping with paperwork, or maintaining the website at sitkafoodcoop.org. “And of course, there’s always an option to be on the Board of Directors. Organizations are always looking for more people to be on boards,” he adds wryly.
In future, Nyitray and the cooperative hope to operate out of a permanent location rather than their “pop-up” at St. Gregory’s. Such a location would eliminate the need to set up anew on Tuesdays and allow for coolers and freezers for better food storage. Most importantly for Nyitray, a permanent location means that the co-op would meet requirements to take payment in the form of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) benefits. “At that point,” he says, “we’ll be able to help a larger segment of the community.”
But there’s much about the co-op he hopes to maintain as is – first and foremost, the interpersonal connections it fosters. Describing the atmosphere when people arrive to pick up their food, Nyitray says, “It’s a very social scene. People will stand around and talk for fifteen, twenty minutes… After all, our vision is to bring good food and community together.”
Want to Submit a Listing to the Soup?
Send us a message and we'll post it online and in the next printed Soup.