Mark Whitham’s know-how is a sought-after commodity for small canners hoping to kick-start or upgrade their facilities. Coos Bay entrepreneur Mike Babcock isn’t the only one singing Whitham’s praises. Here’s what others are saying.
Fish to Soup
“When Mark came to the area, I sort of enlisted him to help with our processing records and update our cook times and scheduling,” says fisherman Mark Kujala, who runs his family’s cannery, Oregon Ocean Seafoods, in Warrenton. The family has canned salmon, tuna, and sturgeon under their brand, Skipanon, for nearly two decades. With Whitham’s input, Kujala soon will be releasing a new line of soups — old family recipes he’s keeping hush-hush for now. Whitham is also helping the company develop its own line of pouch-packed fish. “He’s very accessible,” says Kujala. “When I have questions in the middle of the day, I can call him up. Sometimes he’s out on the road, and he’ll pull over and take the time to listen and bounce off ideas.”
“Having Mark available has just been such an asset,” says Stan Eggas, owner of the Berry Patch Restaurant in Westport. “He has helped us come up with recipes and to start a processing and canning facility, which I frankly knew nothing about. It was just amazing.” Starting out as a tiny stand selling homemade jams, the business expanded to a restaurant that holds 100 diners. He also has been working with Whitham to develop a line of all-natural soups for high-end grocery stores. Eggas says Whitham helped him refine his recipes — chowders of salmon and razor clams, soups of tomato and chanterelle — to minimize preservatives and sodium and develop his canning process. “That OSU and Sea Grant have made this program and Mark available is really outstanding.”
Traditional Tribal Edibles
Jobs are sorely needed by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. “The unemployment rate on the reservation is really bad,” says Warm Springs elder Ron Supah. “The tribes need to seek opportunities to develop work for our tribal members.” Supah hopes to do that with a facility on the tribe’s reservation that will use retort pouches to preserve traditional foods such as elk, venison, berries and roots. Supah says the tribe is also considering packaging its sought-after Chinook salmon for sale in stores off the reservation.
Supah says the decision to use retort packaging came after he and other Warm Springs members visited Whitham at his Astoria lab. “We were pretty impressed by what we saw there,” remembers Supah. So far, Whitham has helped the tribe apply for a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant that will fund a feasibility study for the proposed facility.