Oct 24 to Nov 8

I traveled across the southern third of Minnesota, from Winona to Stillwater, St. Cloud to Morris, Marshall to St. Peter, marketing our salmon. Minnesota is a state of small town after small town, interspersed with farmland and woods. The area along the Mississippi was particularly beautiful, and reminded me of my native Allegany Co in western NY, with the hardwood leaves in the rolling hills alight with their fall colors. I had the feeling I could have stopped in any town, settled down there, and lived a happy life, welcomed by my neighbors. These are towns with old mainstreets and storefronts, still hanging on in the face of competition by Walmarts. I even made a drive through Wabasha, a town of less than 3,000, which was the hometown of the Grumpy Old Men movie. I also stopped in Red Wing to buy a present for my wife and have my picture taken in front of Josephsons clothing store, a small, multi-generational, family business of a close friend in Juneau. The store !
remains, miraculously (to me, anyway), in business in Big Box store America.
Even in the twin cities, one minute your in urban America, you cross a railroad track, and your driving through a cornfield, with no buffer zone of suburbia in between.

I also took a weekend jaunt to South Dakota. A Peace Corps buddy is working to reintroduce the swift fox near Pierre. It was my first real stay on the prarie. I’ll bet a lot of Alaskans would find it hard to believe you can stand in about the dead center of the lower 48, and see nothing for 360 degrees but prarie – no buildings, no development, no nothing. As it was, farm houses were rare in relation to the wide open spaces. I was lucky enough to have my friend Kevin serve up some local bison. We had ribs, and it was among the best meat I’ve ever tasted.

I joined friends from Juneau in their hometown of Marshall, MN. I stayed the night, and awoke at 4am to go deer hunting on their farmland outside of town. I was directed to a neat ground shed, near where my hunting companion Valerie would hunt from her raised shed. I had nothing to shoot with save my camera, and was lucky enough to have a coyote stand at attention for a quick photo. About 8 am, Val’s father in law returned to get us. Val was full of chatter at the deer she’d seen with the enthusiasm of someone new to both hunting and bow shooting. She clearly was enjoying herself, and now that she’s retired from teaching, I expect she’ll have the time to gladly join her husband Doug, his brother Bob, and I on our annual deer and/or caribou hunts in Alaska.

The Minnesota marketing exceeded my expectations, with several “on the spot” orders, even though I never asked for them. The store owners loved our smoked salmon, and appreciated that we caught the fish they were sampling, and that we came to their store in person to meet them and share our story.

I spent my second week marketing across south central Florida, from New Smynra Beach to Sarasota. Florida seems to be growing as fast as buildings and roads can be constucted. The corridor along I4 and I275, from Melbourne down to Sarasota, is nearly a continuous stretch of businesses, strip malls, and housing developments, with little of the agricultural land along the Minnesota and South Dakota highways, in between.
Sarasota reminded me of California’s Sunset Strip. But towns in central Florida, like Leesburg, Yalaha, Mt. Dora, and Deland, were like anywhere small town America, with quaint main streets of small curio and book stores, cafes, and non-chain restaurants. These towns did have some wild places still left between them.

I saw relatives with their children who I met for the first time. I saw a childhood friend who I’d not seen in close to 20 years – one of those friends you grow up with in your tiny NY town and are so familiar with that it was like we hadn’t seen each other in a 2 weeks, not 2 decades.
Sales were again good in Florida.
Unlike Minnesota, which abounded with food coops, I did not visit a single one in Florida, perhaps due to largely non-native population that makes up the state. The independent store owners and I did, however, share a kinship of operating a small business in the onslaught of competition from large, highly efficient, highly impersonal businesses. They have the natural food store goliaths Whole Foods and Wild Oats chains to contend with. I have cheaper foreign farmed salmon and mass-harvested wild net-caught to compete with. Both of us hope to maintain our business through a customer base interested as much with their fish producer and store owner as they are with product quality and value.
This trip, as much as any other tripp outside Alaska in recent years, has renewed my intense satisfaction in where I live, how I live, and gratitude for my wife, family and friends, and way of life there. You know you’re living where you should when you hate leaving the place and can’t wait to go home.
Mark Stopha
F/V Dutch Master
Alaska Wild Salmon Co
4455 N Douglas Hwy
Juneau, Alaska 99801
907-463-3115

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