Kodiak is the name of both the city and the island/region located in southwest Alaska. Approximately 250 air miles from Anchorage, Kodiak is often called the Emerald Isle due to its year-round, lush green forests throughout the nearly 7,000 square miles in its prominent location in the Gulf of Alaska. The island's total population is about 13,000 residing on an island that comes in second in physical size in the US to the big island of Hawaii. While Kodiak has a healthy seafood, military, space and tourism industry and home to many historically rich villages, it is heavily reliant on the good graces of weather and their transportation systems to serve their island.
In 2015, during community planning meetings, options were discussed to support a more sustainable supply of food and shortly thereafter, the Kodiak Harvest Food Cooperative was formed. The initial goal of the cooperative was to educate and invite community members to join, emphasizing greater accessibility and coordination of local food sources and creation of economic opportunities.
In 2021, the Kodiak Harvest Food Cooperative has 550 members and hired their first Project Director, Tifani Perez in February. We interviewed Tifani after seeing a surge in program activity over the past year profiling their local food production and connections building.
GFC: Please introduce us to yourself and The Kodiak Harvest Food Cooperative.
Tifani: I was hired to support the Kodiak Harvest Food Cooperative build a more sustainable and resilient, local food system. I have lived in a number of places during my professional career, but Kodiak instantly brought me inspiration and an opportunity to leverage my 20 years of experience in project management, program development, volunteer leadership and fundraising strategies in one cohesive community-driven initiative.
The Kodiak Harvest Food Cooperative was started in 2016 with the intention to build a more sustainable and resilient, local food system. My role has been to launch a series of developments to support their goal of a physical store and food hub.
GFC: What is the current and future business model of the Cooperative?
Tifani: The cooperative was started and has sustained through a volunteer model up until this year. In 2021, the cooperative reached several benchmarks. We grew our membership to 550. We secured a local USDA food hub grant that supports our goal as a food hub and we moved forward our due diligence on a physical location for a store. This transition bodes well for additional momentum toward our ultimate goals of a more sustainable food system. People are increasingly anxious to see their food not traveling as far and are curious how and where their food is harvested, grown or sourced. They frequently ask, "Local or Mainland?" We hope to say local more frequently with a diversity of products.
GFC: What makes you unique?
Tifani: Kodiak Harvest has diverged from traditional models. We are a small community on a remote island, so what would work in the lower 48 states, does not necessarily fit for our situation, so we have customized some of those business models.
We are moving forward more quickly with a physical store than it normally takes for a cooperative. Our roots as a volunteer organization and the community support is a big reason and the realization of our location so far away from where food is harvested, grown and produced. The pandemic seemed to accelerate interest in the cooperative, as food supply chains became inconsistent and our outreach resulted in greater awareness of what we can do to improve that situation.
We've used our time for planning, organizing and outreach. I've had the opportunity to visit some of the producer members and it is clear that there is room to grow more production. Demand for fresh, nutrient-dense foods is far greater than we currently supply, which affords our entire community an opportunity to plug-in to the cooperative, whether as supplier, consumer or others that can offer supply chain solutions.
One of our more visible roles, beyond the weekly pop-up stores, has been introducing our members and telling their stories on our website and various social media platforms. That has been highly popular in our role in creating and sustaining community, which will be a hallmark of our store and food hub.
GFC: How would you like to collaborate with others?
Tifani: The Coop exists today as a direct result of the collaborative efforts of this community. We partner with the Kodiak Island Brewing Company and Islander Bookshop for our pop-ups and with the local schools and 4H Clubs, so we have a running start. We would like to continue with successful partnerships within and outside of our community.
At this point, it is very helpful to talk to others running food hubs or coops to compare notes and seek out best practices. Additionally, we're interested in talking to and learning about producers and anyone along the supply chain that may have innovations we could incorporate into our store and/or food hub. We are excited about the opportunities that coop affords the community to demonstrate our ability to contribute to a stronger and more resilient food system for Kodiak and its people.
Kodiak Harvest Food Co-Op Facebook
Kodiak Harvest Food Co-Op Online Store
Tifani Perez, Project Director, Kodiak Harvest Food Cooperative
Related Article: We're a huge fan of the cooperative business model. Check out our previous story on the Michigan Celery Cooperative. It works and you will find its natural progression into finding its rightful role in supporting optimum health thanks to Michigan State University.