Iliamna Fish Company

Terra Madre Chronicles: Iliamna Fish Company

Terra Madre Chronicles is a series of articles on delegates who attended a past Terra Madre bi-annual event in Torino, Italy and the impact it had on their lives and professional dreams.

Victor Willis, a Slow Food Portland steering committee member interviews Ried TenKley from Illiamma Fish Company.

SF: Tell us about yourself: 

I’m Reid TenKley, Founder and Fishmerman at Illiamna Fish Company. We fish for Sockeye salmon in the Lake Iliamna watershed. Our sockeye are prized for their size—slightly larger than the salmon of neighboring regions; for their smell—delicate sweet with a hint of minerals; and for their deep crimson colored flesh.

SF: Before you went to Terra Madre, what was your relationship with Slow Food?

I had only heard of Slow Food at a couple of Chef’s Collaborative events I’d gone to in passing. I thought the idea was intriguing to get people away from the “fast food” mentality.

SF: Describe your Terra Madre experience:

Eike and Ried TenKlay

Eike and Ried TenKlay of Iliamna Fish Company

Ten years ago in 2004 I was invited to attend the very first Terra Madre gathering and was asked to speak on the subject of sustainable fishing practices. Over the next three Terra Madre conferences along with my wife Eike, an Aleut, whose family have been fishing for generations, not only did I have a chance to share ideas on sustainable fishing with others around the world, but I also learned how to implement some new ideas in my own business.

Specifically, while taking our nightly bus ride back to our lodgings (a 1.5 hour trip) some beef ranchers from the mid-west suggested I try adding salmon as an “add-on” item to some local vegetable CSA programs. Our CSA program took off, and quickly became one of the most important ways we sell our salmon. Prior to this I had thought success for me would be in developing relationships with large retailers and restaurants. Now our annual clock is based around “sharing” our salmon with local residents, and has far surpassed our commercial sales. In my mind this was the perfect fulfillment of the Terra Madre goal because it helped me (a small food producer) discover new ways of doing business that helped me increase my profits, improve access to reasonably priced healthy food in my community, and provide meaningful jobs for my family and my fishermen.

SF: What role did Slow Food play in helping you attend?

I was responsible for my airfare, but Slow Food and Ecotrust both contributed to making logistics, food, and lodging possible for all three conferences I attended. I would NOT have been able to afford to attend without this help.

SF: What were some of the most enjoyable aspects of attending the event?

As a small food producer you often feel like you are alone in your struggle against all the bureaucracy that is in our structured food system. At Terra Madre I felt like food was of value, my profession was of value, and that other people like me were willing to rally together and overcome the challenges I had been facing.

SF: In what ways have you been able to give back some of the learning’s you encountered at Terra Madre? 

Because of the initial support and investment from Slow Food, Portland families have saved over $140,000-$325,000 on their salmon costs (compared to local grocery store prices), and fishing is now the primary income source for myself and three other family members. I’ve also spoken at several Slow Food events over the years and contributed fish that we catch to be served at various Slow Food events.

SF: How would you advise those who have an interest in attending Terra Madre in the future?

Don’t go unless you truly plan to pursue food as your career. It is too valuable of an opportunity to take a seat from someone who desperately needs to hear the message that small food producers CAN be profitable and make an impact. If you are pursuing a food production career and are looking for ideas, or willing to share ideas that you’ve found successful, then GO. You will not regret it. For me and my wife it was an experience of a life-time.

Learn more about Terra Madre. Watch out for future events to help fundraise and support the delegates who will be attending this coming October.

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This post was contributed by Victor Willis, a member of the Slow Food Portland Steering Committee. Victor runs Campbeltown Consulting, providing sales and marketing solutions for local, mission driven food & drink companies. He proposed to his wife at the downtown Portland Farmers Market. 

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Thanks for sharing