'It was like a lightbulb moment'

LILY HAIGHT
LHAIGHT@PTLEADER.COM
Posted 9/11/18

Susan Fitch wants to bring the food of the gods to Port Townsend.

It all began when she started using cocoa bean shells to fertilize her garden of heirloom roses.

"When they get wet and warm, …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

E-mail
Password
Log in

'It was like a lightbulb moment'

Posted

Susan Fitch wants to bring the food of the gods to Port Townsend.

It all began when she started using cocoa bean shells to fertilize her garden of heirloom roses.

"When they get wet and warm, it smells like chocolate. So then, I was getting the aroma of roses and chocolate at the same time," Fitch said. "It was like a lightbulb moment."

Fitch, who had been working in construction and roofing for years, quickly dove into the world of chocolate, through her love of horticulture and herbalism. Since 2006, she has been studying the cocoa bean plant, and what has made it so culturally valuable throughout history. But what drove her to start her own chocolate-making business was her personal discovery many Americans have never tasted really good chocolate.

"You know how you go and see those big beautiful strawberries in the supermarket and they taste like nothing? That's what Americans are used to in tasting chocolate," Fitch said. "It's like nothing. It's like brown wax."

On Aug. 24, Fitch was named one of the 15 semifinalists for the Kitsap Bank's Edg3 FUND Small Business Competition. She's hoping her passion for organic, heirloom, full-flavored cocoa beans will help her take home the $20,000 grand prize to jumpstart her new business.

THE COMPETITION

The Edg3 FUND (pronounced like "edge") is Kitsap Bank's yearly small business competition "to recognize entrepreneurs dedicated to growing their community in three ways: economically, socially and environmentally."

Three Jefferson County businesses have been chosen as semi-finalists in the bank's competition: Fitch, with her company Cocoa Forge in Port Townsend; Christina Maloney, owner of Kayak Brinnon; as well as three co-owners of the Kodama Farm in Chimacum, Ben Thompson, Grace Thompson and Matt Montoya.

These three businesses are competing in a group of 15 semi-finalists to be voted winner of the $20,000 prize, in a public vote beginning Sept. 17. They also have a chance to be chosen by a group of judges to win the Community Edg3 Award, for a cash prize of $5,000.

THE GOALS

While Fitch is hoping the money can help buy equipment to launch her chocolate-making business, former marine and fisheries biologist Christina Maloney, who has owned Kayak Brinnon for 10 years, is hoping to upgrade her customers' kayaking experiences by buying a new boat.

"I started this business with $1,000 in my pocket, and it took me a long time to realize things would be a lot easier if we had more capital," Maloney said.

With the prize money, Maloney would buy a support boat for her kayak rental business in order to fully host kayak camping trips, by boating out food and supplies to campers, to deliver rental kayaks to waterfront homes in Brinnon, and as a safety measure for kayak tours.

Maloney believes her company embodies the Edg3 FUND's principles of giving back to the community, economically, socially and environmentally.

"Education is a big part of this business," Maloney said. "It's not just to kayak, but to teach people about the beauty of this area."

According to Maloney, she tries to make the kayaking ecological tours and educational trips as affordable as possible, often giving discounts and creating low cost children's programs, such as the upcoming children's kayaking school Sept. 16, which costs only $5 per student.

Of course, Maloney hopes to win the money. But even if she does not, she is excited to meet up with other small business owners at the competition's final event on Nov. 15 in Bremerton, where the winner will be revealed.

"It's fun to see other small businesses and hear about their struggles and what they do to overcome them," Maloney said.

FARM TO TABLE

Meanwhile in Chimacum, three young farmers have big dreams for the future and they hope the Edg3 FUND can give them the push they need.

Ben Thompson, Grace Thompson and Matt Montoya, owners of Kodama Farm & Food Forest in Chimacum, were on a hike one day when they started talking about the possibility of creating a farm-to-table restaurant.

"There were a lot of 'what if' questions," Montoya said about that pivotal day. "And it just started getting more and more exciting, until we finally asked, 'What if we actually just did it?'"

At the time, all three were on different paths: Ben Thompson was planning to attend medical school, Grace Thompson was planning to go to veterinary school, and Montoya was working for his family's wedding business. But they decided to take the plunge.

"It was a bit shocking for our parents to learn of our change of plans, becoming farmers. But we're so happy we made that choice," Grace Thompson said.

Since 2016, Montoya and the Thompson siblings have been working the land in the Chimacum valley, starting to grow vegetables, raising chickens and goats, and creating a geodesic dome greenhouse for exotic fruits for their CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture program.

Their CSA provides a whole season's worth of fresh, local produce, delivered weekly to the doors of residents in East Jefferson County. Soon, with their solar-powered, climate-controlled greenhouse, those produce boxes will include bananas, citrus fruits, and maybe even passion fruit and star fruit.

With their CSA program a success, the three farmers are hoping to start making moves to reach their final goal: a commercial kitchen that will one day become a farm-to-table restaurant, supported by the produce they grow. They are also hoping to create an orchard "food forest," which is a permaculture method of agriculture that emulates natural systems of growth.

According to Grace Thompson, with the food forest, "You're not just sustaining the health of the land, you're improving it."

CONNECTED TO FARMING

In their future vision, the Kodama Farm & Food Forest will be a community gathering spot, where people can eat at the restaurant, walk through the forest and learn more about sustainable farming and permaculture.

"We would love for the community to come and feel welcome and walk through the food forest and have a picnic," Grace Thompson said. "We want to allow the public onto our farm as much as possible, so they can feel connected to this type of farming."

The Thompsons and Montoya feel that their farm is the perfect example of the Edg3 FUND's three requirements: supporting community through sustainable farming, social education on farming, and growing the Chimacum valley farming economy.

Right now, they are working on constructing their commercial kitchen so they and other local farms can make jams, soups and cheeses for their CSA customers. They are also working with Jefferson County Land Trust to restore part of their land and create salmon habitat through the Chimacum creek.

"They're going to actually re-meander the creek and make it a natural ecosystem for the salmon to come back and spawn, which will help the salmon, but it will also help us create a more diverse ecosystem that's balanced," Grace Thompson said.

With these community projects already in the works, winning the Edg3 FUND will help finish building the kitchen and the food forest, which will then help them increase their cash flow and use it for their future projects, like creating the restaurant.

GRAND AMBITIONS

For Fitch, the entire competition is out of her comfort zone.

"A friend of mine said, 'You have to do this,' and was scooting me along to do this and I am the biggest introvert," she said. "I just want to be in here and making chocolate."

But to fund her company's grand plans, which include collecting specialty heirloom beans from countries around the equator, sailing them to the port of Port Townsend in a newly built cargo sailboat from Costa Rica, and then creating tasty chocolate bars in her shop in what used to be the Town Forge - hence the name, Cocoa Forge - Fitch could really use some starting money.

"She has saved a local landmark," local business owner Stephanie Dickey said. "I've watched her rebuild that building from the ground up."

Fitch has used her background in construction work to completely renovate the old building, which was originally a cold storage keg room for the old Port Townsend Brewery, up until the 1916 prohibition. After holding the Town Forge for many years, the building had recently been in a state near crumbling, and according to Dickey, Fitch's renovations and new chocolate business are going to make it "the crown jewel of Port Townsend."

But for Fitch, winning the Edg3 FUND means even more than just starting a business.

"If I win, I'm going to dedicate it to my mom," Fitch said, full of hope, while standing in her partway renovated future chocolate making shop. "Because she had a bucket list that she never got to do, and seeing me launch was in the top three."

Those wishing to vote for one of the semifinalists in the Edg3 FUND competition can do so from Sept. 17-28 at kitsapbank.com/business/edg3-fund/ The winner will be announced Nov. 15.

"If I win, I'm going to dedicate it to my mom. Because she had a bucket list that she never got to do, and seeing me launch was in the top three."

Susan Fitch

OWNER COCOA FORGE

"There were a lot of 'what if ' questions. And it just started getting more and more exciting, until we finally asked, 'What if we actually just did it?"

Matt Montoya

CO-OWNER KODAMA FARM & FOOD FOREST

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment