USDA Forest Service, Sitka Tribe of Alaska offer virtual Tlingít potato harvest education event

Volunteers from the USDA Forest Service, Sitka Tribe of Alaska and Pacific High School harvest Tlingít potatoes Oct. 24, 2018, from the Sitka Ranger District’s community garden in Sitka. The Tlingit community potato garden has been operated by the Forest Service and Sitka Tribe of Alaska since 2017, and 2018’s harvest of nearly 90 pounds was the largest yet. The Sitka Ranger District provides the sunny plot of land to serve as the shared potato garden and tends the garden over the summer after volunteers from the Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program, the gardening class from Pacific High School, and others from the community plant the potatoes in April. Tlingít potatoes (sometimes called Maria’s potatoes) have been present in Tlingit gardens for over 200 years. The potatoes originate from Mexico or Chile and were a trade item in Southeast Alaska in the early 1800’s. (Photo courtesy of USDA Forest Service)

A volunteer holds a handful of Maria’s Tlingít Potatoes during the harvest on Oct. 24, 2018, in Sitka. The Tlingít community potato garden has been operated by the USDA Forest Service and Sitka Tribe of Alaska since 2017. (Photo courtesy of USDA Forest Service)

SITKA, Alaska – For the fourth consecutive year, the Tongass National Forest’s Sitka Ranger District and Sitka Tribe of Alaska will educate southeast Alaskans about Tlingit potatoes, and then harvest the latest crop for seed potatoes and local donation.

People are invited to participate in the web-based, educational program at 1 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 12. The current crop of Maria’s potatoes, also known as Tlingít potatoes, was planted in April.

USDA Forest Service staff, Sitka Tribe of Alaska staff, and tribal citizens will share how to harvest, store, and sustain Tlingít potatoes, and detail the biology, history, and cultural aspects of these interesting potatoes.In August, Sitka Tribe of Alaska and Pacific High School were honored with the USDA Forest Service’s 2019 National Volunteers and Service Award for their roles in this program.

Those interested in attending should send an email to SM.FS.TNFMEETINGS@usda.gov before 10 a.m. on Oct. 12. A meeting invitation with a link to the meeting will be emailed to those that send a request. Organizers will use a Teams meeting for both video and audio.

Separate from the education event, Tongass National Forest employees will harvest the potatoes with assistance from Pacific High School gardening class students and Sitka Tribe of Alaska volunteers. After harvest, some of the potatoes will be dried and prepared for storage, to serve as next year’s seed potatoes. The group will also share the harvest through the Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s Traditional Foods Program and Social Services Department.

“We wish the whole community could participate this year, but because of the small space, we needed to limit the number of participants. We are happy that the students will have this in-person opportunity while social distancing and staying safe,” Sitka District Ranger Perry Edwards said. “Like finding buried treasure, it’s hard not to smile when you pull up pounds of potatoes from under each plant.”

For those interested in growing these potatoes, certified Maria’s Tlingít seed potatoes are now available through the State of Alaska at http://plants.alaska.gov/PotatoSeedProduction.html.

Tlingit potatoes (sometimes called Maria’s potatoes) have been present in Tlingit gardens for over 200 years. The potatoes originate from Mexico or Chile and were a trade item in Southeast Alaska in the early 1800’s.

For more information, contact Michelle Putz at 907-747-2708 or email michelle.putz@usda.gov.

Sitka Spruce Tips 4-H club hosts open house on Oct. 1, and a variety of events in October

The Sitka Spruce Tips 4-H club is hosting an open house on Oct. 1 and various events for Sitka youth during the month of October.

The 4-H registration and open house event is from 4-6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 1, at the Southeast Alaska Career Center (205 Baranof St.). There is an annual 4-H club registration fee of $26 (which is good for other events, too), and scholarships are available.

Two of the event highlights involve local food and are part of the Wild Edibles Series — Wild Edible Creations for ages 5-8, and Salmon Celebration for ages 10 and older.

The Wild Edible Creations program or art and cooking with wild edibles costs $10 (supply fee) and runs from 1:30-3 p.m. on Wednesdays, Oct. 14, 21 and 28, and from 4:30-6 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 30. This program involves a variety of locations and includes online and in-person sessions. Scholarships are available.

The Salmon Celebration program teaches kids how to filet and cook local salmon and make salmon art. It has a $15 supply fee, and takes place from 3:30-5 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 12; 3:30-5 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 13; and from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Oct. 17. Locations vary, and with be virtual and in-person.

Other events include Biking To Safety, Birding Club, Voting and Advocacy Workshop, Open HeART Club, and Mars Rover STEM Solar Challenge. Details on those events are available at the open house.

The Sitka Spruce Tips/Alaska Way of Life 4-H program is co-sponsored by the Sitka Conservation Society and the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service. For more details, contact Kate Grumbles at kgrumbles@sitkawild.org or 1-651-964-9798.

Southeast Alaska Traditional Plants Summit and Celebration goes online on Oct. 1-3

The Southeast Alaska Traditional Plants Summit and Celebration will take place on Oct. 1-3 using Zoom online meetings. There will be presentations from 1-4 p.m. each day, a plant talk meet-and greet from 4-5 p.m., and interactive discussions from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

This event is open to elders, youth, harvesters, and interested community members. It is a virtual gathering to bring together Alaska Native plant harvesters from around Southeast Alaska to learn, appreciate, and network with each other to celebrate traditional edible and medicinal plants, and to discuss and share respectful harvesting guidelines, protocols, and best practices to share with their communities. The summit will also feature plant videos and a food sovereignty showcase of projects from around Southeast Alaska.

The event will use Zoom, but people can call in by telephone, if desired. Registration is required. There is no cost to join. Here is the link to register, https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZcrdeqoqDorGNGTDAXMAApAttDZdC99S-c0. To access a draft schedule, click this link.

This event is being organized by the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition, Spruce Root, Kaasei Training and Consulting, and Planet Alaska, with support from the Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF). Special thanks to Haa Tóo Yéi Yatee culture camp and Huna Heritage Foundation.

We are thankful to our respectful harvesting working group for helping plan this event and draft a white paper of respectful harvesting guidelines for Southeast Alaska, based on the work of the Kayaaní Commission and harvesters from around Southeast Alaska. These guidelines will be sent to all registered participants to be discussed at the last evening session. For questions, please contact Jennifer Nu at jennifer@sawcak.org

Sitka wins top market in Alaska honors for fourth straight year in American Farmland Trust Farmers Market Celebration

The Sitka Farmers Market ranked as the top market in Alaska, 25th in the Pacific region and 104th nationally during the American Farmland Trust‘s Farmers Market Celebration voting that ended earlier this week. This was the 12th year of the contest.

This is the fourth straight year the Sitka Farmers Market has been the top market in Alaska, and sixth time in seven years. The contest uses online voting, but each email address is only allowed to vote once so people can’t stuff the ballot box. Voting opened in June and ended earlier this week.

“This year, with COVID-19, we had to greatly scale back the market and make significant changes, such as stripping down to just produce vendors, using an online ordering system during the week followed by Saturday morning pick-up events at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm,” said Charles Bingham, board president of the Sitka Local Foods Network, which sponsors the Sitka Farmers Market. “Our main goal was to safely distribute locally grown produce without spreading the coronavirus. I’m glad we were able to do that.”

Sitka Farmers Market co-managers Nalani James, left, and Ariane Goudeau carry a farmers market sign to the curb in front of St. Peter’s By The Sea Episcopal Church.

This year the People’s Choice Award (the only national award) went to the Clarksville Downtown Farmers Market in Clarksville, Tenn., earning the market a $1,000 prize. Second place and $500 went to the Charlottesville City (Va.) Market, while third place and $250 went to the Boise (Idaho) Farmers Market. Rounding out the top-five markets in the standings were the 3rd Street Farmers Market in Tompkinsville, Ky., in fourth place, and the Napa (Calif.) Farmers Market in fifth place. Last year’s People’s Choice Award went to the Troy (N.Y.) Waterfront Farmers Market, which finished seventh nationally this summer.

The top market in the Pacific region was the Boise (Idaho) Farmers Market; followed by the Napa (Calif.) Farmers Market in second place; the Moscow (Idaho) Farmers Market in third place; the Vancouver (Wash.) Farmers Market in fourth place; and the Kaka’ako Farmers Market of Honolulu, Hawai’i in fifth place (last year’s Pacific region winner).

The other regional winners included the Tuscarawas Valley Farmers Market of Dover, Ohio, in the Midwest; the Ligonier (Penn.) Country Market in the Northeast; the Clarksville (Tenn.) Downtown Farmers Market in the Southeast; and the Grand Prairie (Texas) Farmers Market in the Southwest.

St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm lead gardener Laura Schmidt, left, and Sitka Farmers Market co-managers Ariane Goudeau, center, and Nalani James with baskets of produce ready for pick-up.

There wasn’t a list of Alaska standings posted, but checking individual market pages showed the Sitka Farmers Market in first place for the state, the South Anchorage I Farmers Market in second place, and the Homer Farmers Market in third place.

“We have a small market compared to others around the country, but I’m happy the people who visit our market think enough of it to recommend it in this contest,” Bingham said. “We thank everybody who came to one of our markets this summer and supported more local food in Sitka and Southeast Alaska.”

The Sitka Farmers Market also was listed on the Guide To Exceptional Markets from the Certified Naturally Grown program for the second year this summer.

Andrea Fraga of Middle Island Gardens, left, and Brooke Schafer of Raincoast Flowers with some of their products.

This year the last Sitka Farmers Market order period was Sept. 15-17 and last pick-up day was Sept. 19. Due to COVID-19, the 26th annual Running of the Boots fun run fundraiser won’t take place in late September (we usually had a farm stand at that event, which raised money for the Sitka Local Foods Network and Youth Advocates of Sitka last year).

The Sitka Local Foods Network hopes to be able to return to a full market, or a hybrid with some pre-orders and some market-day sales, next year.

“We really missed having all of the booths this year, and the feel of a real community gathering instead of just a quick pick-up of your order,” Bingham said. “One of the nice things about hosting the market is it serves as a business incubator for smaller cottage foods and arts/crafts businesses, and those folks lost a market this summer.”

Check out the September 2020 edition of the Sitka Local Foods Network newsletter

The Sitka Local Foods Network just sent out the September 2020 edition of its monthly newsletter. Feel free to click this link to get a copy.

This month’s newsletter includes information about this week being our last Sitka Farmers Market online order period and pick-up event of the summer, info about our new Sitka Local Foods Network tote bags, details of the Alaska Food Festival and Conference, an invitation to join the SLFN board of directors, and a thank you to all of our 2020 sponsors. Each story has links to our website for more information.

You can sign up for future editions of our newsletter by clicking on the newsletter image in the right column of our website and filling in the information. If you received a copy but didn’t want one, there is a link at the bottom of the newsletter so you can unsubscribe. Our intention is to get the word out about upcoming events and not to spam people. We will protect your privacy by not sharing our email list with others. Don’t forget to like us on Facebooklike our Sitka Farmers Market page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter (@SitkaLocalFoods).

Save the dates of Nov. 6-7 for the Alaska Food Festival and Conference

HOMER, Alaska (Aug. 5, 2020) — Save the dates of Friday and Saturday, Nov. 6-7, on your calendar as the 2020 Alaska Food Festival and Conference is going virtual this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year the themes are food entrepreneurship and rural and Indigenous food systems.

Hosted by the Alaska Food Policy Council (AFPC), this fifth semi-annual event previously took place in Anchorage in 2014 and 2016, in Fairbanks in 2017 and Homer in 2019. This year, the conference was scheduled for Anchorage before going virtual.

In addition to the Alaska Food Policy Council, this event is co-sponsored by the Alaska Village Initiatives AgAlaska Program, FRESH (the Food Research, Enterprise, and Sustainability Hub of the North), and Alaska Pacific University.

The goals of the conference and festival are to:

  1. increase awareness of Alaska food issues among the general population;
  2. provide training, resources, and networking opportunities to increase involvement in local food issues by community members and decision makers; and
  3. increase connections and build community between the public, Alaska food businesses, NGOs, governmental entities, tribal entities, and others to support local economic development and innovative solutions.

Details for the event are still in the planning stage. But past conferences have included presentations on food systems in Alaska, food security/insecurity, traditional foods, farmers markets, agriculture in Alaska, fisheries, food policy, food waste reduction, and more. We also plan to hold a silent auction featuring food-related items from around the state.

In addition, the annual Alaska Food Hero Awards will be presented, and nominations are accepted at this link until Oct. 5, https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeCIEBs4JK_0b8zThL-hzUEeSbEhG8unwSqz6e_eKT34YzBEw/viewform.

People and organizations interested in presenting about Alaska food topics can submit presentation abstracts by Oct. 5 to https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/RH5RQYN. If you’re interested in sponsoring the event, you can go to this link for more details about our sponsorship tiers, https://www.akfoodpolicycouncil.org/2020-sponsors.

Registration costs $40-$150, depending on the package, and you can register at this link, https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2020-alaska-food-festival-conference-tickets-113138002812. You also can purchase and Alaska Food Policy Council membership at that link.

The keynote speakers will be announced in August, and a tentative conference agenda will be available in October. More details about the conference are available at this link, https://www.akfoodpolicycouncil.org/2020-festival-conference.

For more information about the conference, contact Robbi Mixon at (907) 235-4068, Ext. 23, or director@alaskafoodpolicycouncil.org.

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  • The Alaska Food Policy Council (https://www.akfoodpolicycouncil.org/) is a nonprofit organization whose diverse membership works to engage Alaskans to make positive changes for the state’s food system, and to create a healthier, more prosperous and more secure future for all.
  • Alaska Village Initiatives (https://akvillage.com/) is a non-profit membership-based company dedicated to improving the well-being of rural Alaska communities, families, and individuals. AgAlaska (https://agalaska.net/) affords rural villages support and resources needed to begin community gardening farming and ranching. Information and links provide current grant opportunities, best garden practices, and resource links to government and non-government agencies.
  • FRESH (Food Research, Enterprise, and Sustainability Hub of the North (https://www.freshnorth.org/) works to catalyze the modern food landscape of tomorrow by honoring the living traditions of yesterday and harnessing the innovative spirit of today’s Circumpolar North.
  • Alaska Pacific University (https://www.alaskapacific.edu/) is a small liberal arts college located in Anchorage, Alaska, that emphasizes experiential and active learning. APU, along with the University of Alaska Anchorage, is home to FRESH.