• Sonja Koukel of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service writes about preserving Alaska wild berries

Dr. Sonja Koukel of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service's Juneau office displays some wild berry preserves

Dr. Sonja Koukel of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service's Juneau office displays some wild berry preserves

Preserving Alaska’s Wild Berries

By Dr. Sonja Koukel, PhD
Health, Home & Family Development Program
UAF Cooperative Extension Service, Juneau Office


Is your freezer teeming with berries harvested last season? If so, now is the time to preserve them in jams, jellies, or syrups. As the winter days grow darker and shorter, preserving berries provides an emotional uplift as the activity brings with it memories of sunshine and relaxing hours spent in the beauty that is Alaska.

While freezing is an acceptable preservation method for berries, it is not the most economical and there is the risk of power outages that could compromise the storage time. Freezing is the least time consuming method of food storage than canning.  However, when foods are home canned, they enjoy a longer shelf life, can be stored at room temperature, and are not affected by power outages.

Berries are a high acid food; therefore jams and jellies can be processed quickly and easily using the boiling water canning method. In this method, filled jars are covered with boiling water and heated to an internal temperature of 212 degrees (F). At this temperature, bacteria, yeasts and molds that could be a health hazard or cause the food to spoil are destroyed. Additionally, the hot water inactivates enzymes that cause foods to spoil. The canning process removes air from the jar and a vacuum seal is formed when the product cools. The seal prevents air from getting back into the product, bringing with it microorganisms that could recontaminate the food.

As mentioned, removing the air from the jar is important as microorganisms will not thrive in an anaerobic environment. Presented with these facts, some individuals question the “inversion” method that is often included along with the directions found in purchased packages of pectin. According to this method, the filled, hot jars are turned upside-down after the rings have been screwed onto the tops. After five minutes, the jar is turned upright to cool, after which it is stored on pantry shelves. The problem with this method is that the air has not been exhausted from the jar, which can encourage mold growth. To ensure food quality and safety, all jellied products are processed in a boiling water canner.

Recipes for jams and jellies are available in packages of pectin, cook books, magazines, and food preservation guides. For Alaska berries, check out the UAF Cooperative Extension Service publication, “Collecting and Using Alaska’s Wild Berries and Other Wild Products.” A best-seller, this publication provides berry facts, storage and preservation methods, and recipes. Blueberries, currants, highbush cranberries, and red huckleberries can be found along with fireweed and wild roses. Over the holiday season, the “Berry Book” is offered at the reduced rate of $7. Contact your district office or place an order online at  http://www.uaf.edu/ces/pubs

If you have never preserved jams or jellies, or would like to review the process, visit the UAF Cooperative Extension Service website for fact sheets that can be downloaded free to your home computer: http://www.uaf.edu/ces/pubs/catalog/. Newly released educational modules can be viewed online: http://www.uaf.edu/ces/preservingalaskasbounty/index.html.

Alaska wild berry preserves are a great treat

Alaska wild berry preserves are a great treat

• New curriculum guide released for movie “Eating Alaska” by Sitka filmmaker Ellen Frankenstein

The publicity poster for the movie Eating Alaska

Sitka filmmaker Ellen Frankenstein has released a new curriculum book for teachers using her movie, “Eating Alaska.” You can click here to download the guide from the New Day Films site, which has more info about the movie, or you can download the PDF file by clicking the attachment below.


• Food security in Alaska a big issue in recent local foods news stories

Last week, the Anchorage Daily News’ Alaska Newsreader blog reported on a story from the Huffington Post’s The Daily Beast blog that ranked Alaska second in failing to properly feed its people. The story used data from a new USDA survey on household food security in 2008, where Alaska was ranked in the middle of the pack, but it re-ranked the states based on the household food security rankings combined with statewide income and access to programs (including bureaucratic issues) that feed the hungry. By the way, Colorado had the dubious No. 1 ranking. The Juneau Empire ran an editorial from the Washington Post about the USDA survey that compared food insecurity vs. hunger.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Science blog reported on a food security meeting in Fairbanks earlier this month hosted by the Sustainable Community Action Network for Fairbanks (SCANFairbanks, site hasn’t been updated in more than a year). The UAF SNRAS blog article mentioned food security projects from around the state, including work being done by the Sitka Local Foods Network. The Fairbanks Community Cooperative Market blog also had an article about the meeting.

The food security issue has been around for awhile. Earlier this year, the Alaska Food Coalition reported on Alaska’s Hungriest Communities. More than a year ago, back when Sarah Palin still was governor, Kim Sollien of the Alaska Trust Food Network (and Chickaloon Tribe) wrote an open letter to then-Gov. Palin detailing Alaska’s food security problems. While the letter is more than a year old, many of the issues still exist. Last year, the Christian Science Monitor ran an article about Alaska’s food challenges and how new farmers are coming online.

In other local foods news this week, the Tundra Drums reported that a teacher from the Kuskokwim River village of Quinhagak is receiving a $10,000 grant from former talk show host Jenny Jones’ foundation to build a community greenhouse.

Laine Welch’s Alaska Fisheries column this week discussed how more halibut this year was consumed in homes instead of restaurants.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported on a problem moose hunters in the Interior have been having with Tanana Valley Meats being overloaded so it’s taking too long to process the meat, processed meat returns have been light and some meat has been rancid.

Finally, the Alaska Dispatch reported on a KTVA-TV story about Permafrost Alaska Vodka, which is made by Glacier Creek Distillery and uses potatoes grown in the Mat-Su valleys, earning a top ranking from the Beverage Tasting Institute of Chicago.

• Hunters, do you know what’s in your ammo and how it affects your meat?

Sitka black-tailed deer (photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Tongass National Forest)

Sitka black-tailed deer (photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Tongass National Forest)

Hunting for wild fowl and game is a part of normal life in Alaska. It’s the way many of us fill our freezers, and it’s been part of the traditional subsistence lifestyle for centuries. Many of us feel the natural, wild fowl and game we hunt is healthier for our families than store-bought poultry, beef or pork.

In many cases the fowl and game we hunt is healthier, but our choice of ammo can negate that. Using non-toxic shot, in other words using steel shot instead of lead, has been a regulation in waterfowl hunting for many years. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has an informational page about using non-toxic shot. The Institute for Wildlife Studies has informational pages about alternatives to lead and the California non-lead awareness program.

The reason lead shot has been banned from waterfowl hunting is because it gets into the food chain, including humans, and lead can cause major health problems if it gets into our blood streams. In November 2008, a study released by the North Dakota and Minnesota health departments detailed the affects of lead fragments in venison. The study was done after food pantries in North Dakota in March 2008 were told to no longer accept donated ground venison because of lead fragments.

Many older bullets were solid lead, or lead covered by a thin covering of copper. But there are many newer alternative types of ammo that don’t use lead, including bullets that are solid copper, copper with a tungsten alloy core and a polymer tip, and copper alloy with a polycarbonite tip. So if you’re one of those folks who have gone hunting for our local Sitka black-tailed deer in recent weeks, do you know what’s in your ammo?

• Sitka film featured in Palmer’s “Local Harvest, Local Food” film festival, a Sitka café featured for using local food and other local foods news

Food Film Fest Poster-2

Join the Palmer Arts Council for its inaugural “Local Harvest, Local Food” film fest from Thursday, Nov. 19, through Sunday, Nov. 22, at the Strangebird Consulting Office in downtown Palmer. “Good Food” screens at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 19; “Fresh” shows at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 20; “Eating Alaska” by Sitka filmmaker Ellen Frankenstein screens at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 21; and “Ingredients” shows at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 22. After the Sunday showing there will be a discussion about women in agriculture with Cynthia Vignetti. Suggested donations are $10-15 for all films except for Sunday, which is free.

A Sitka restaurant, the Larkspur Café, was featured in Capital City Weekly last week. The article talks about the origins of the restaurant, which is located in the same building as KCAW-Raven Radio. It also discusses the restaurant’s use of local foods, including owners Amelia Budd and Amy Kane purchasing produce from the Sitka Farmers Market during the summer.

In other local foods news from around the state, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently announced an expansion to the state’s subsistence halibut fishery to include more rural residents (this includes the Sitka area). The new rules, which take effect on Dec. 4, redefine who qualifies as a rural resident. The previous rules defined rural residents as people living in a rural community or people belonging to a Native tribe with customary and traditional uses of halibut, and the news rules try to catch subsistence halibut users who fell outside the previous definition. Click this link for more information about subsistence halibut regulations and applications.

The Daily Sitka Sentinel has been running a brief announcement from the Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s Kayaaní Commission, which is selling 2010 calendars, CDRoms and field guides about traditional uses of native plants. Here is the information:

Kayaaní Native Plant Publications Available: 2010 Kayaaní Harvest Calendars featuring native plants and their traditional and cultural uses ($16, $2 postage per address); Interactive Ethnobotanical CDRoms with native species, their Tlingít, scientific and common names, and interviews with Elders on the traditional and medicinal uses of plants ($15, $1 postage per address); Ethnobotanical Field Guides ($16, $1 postage per address). We will mail to the addresses of your choice. Order by Dec. 18 for guaranteed delivery before Christmas. Call or e-mail with your order: 907-747-7178, pbass@sitkatribe.org, STA Kayaaní Commission, 456 Katlian. All proceeds will assist the nonprofit Kayaaní Commission in protecting, perpetuating and preserving knowledge of native plants.

The Chilkat Valley News weekly newspaper from Haines featured an article about sixth-graders at Haines School learning how to compost their leftover food (including leftover meat) so it can be used for gardening. The school is working with the Takshanuk Watershed Council to teach the students about composting. The students call their compost project “Marvin” because it’s a living organism.

The Alaska Dispatch recently ran a feature called “Growing Season” that discusses some of the farms in the Matanuska-Susitna valleys that grow local food. The feature includes video clips of harvest time at a couple of the farms featured.

The Mat-Su Frontiersman had a feature called “Chicken U,” which is about raising chickens in Alaska and getting them to produce eggs during the winter months.

The Anchorage Daily News also mentioned Chicken University, which will be one of several presentations at the Alaska Farm Bureau annual meeting on Friday, Nov. 13, at the Millennium Hotel in Anchorage. Other presentations are on growing apples in Alaska and preserving your harvest.

The Anchorage Daily News also had an article about how to get local produce in Anchorage during the winter, either through the Glacier Valley CSA produce boxes from Palmer or the indoor farmers market at the Northway Mall.

Anchorage Daily News garden columnist Jeff Lowenfels wrote a column about how hydroponic gardening is easier and cheaper than ever. The column includes lots of links for people who want to try this method of growing food without soil (by the way, there is a hydroponic garden at McMurdo Station in Antarctica that keeps the scientists there stocked in fresh produce in a land of ice).

Fran Durner’s “Talk Dirt To Me” blog on the Anchorage Daily News site includes a post about how snow can act as mulch for the garden.

The Ester Republic, a monthly publication for the community near Fairbanks, runs periodic articles about sustainability and local food security issues. Some of the articles are linked in the archives, and the editors are working to get more of the past articles on these topics online so more people can enjoy them.


• Sonja Koukel of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service writes about storing potatoes


Dr. Sonja Koukel of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service

Photo courtesy of USDA Agricultural Research Service Image Gallery / Photo by Scott Bauer -- The average American eats 142 pounds of potatoes a year, making the tubers the vegetable of choice in this country

Photo courtesy of USDA Agricultural Research Service Image Gallery / Photo by Scott Bauer -- The average American eats 142 pounds of potatoes a year, making the tubers the vegetable of choice in this country

Storing Potatoes

By Dr. Sonja Koukel, PhD
Health, Home & Family Development Program
UAF Cooperative Extension Service, Juneau Office


They live. They breathe. And because they’re 80 percent water, potato tubers thrive in humid locations. In moist Southeast Alaska, where are the best spots in your home to store your potatoes?

Research by University of Idaho Cooperative Extension Service scientists and College of Southern Idaho students has confirmed that the optimum sites for home-stored potatoes are cool, dark and ventilated rooms, closets, cabinets and garages. In studies conducted in their own residences, the agricultural science students also found that the perforated plastic bags used in many groceries offer the best environment for extending shelf life.

Potatoes stored inside these bags in unheated areas of the students’ homes benefited from a relatively cool average temperature of 57 degrees Fahrenheit and a relatively high average humidity of 67 percent. They shrank just 0.9 percent — only slightly more than the 0.6 percent weight loss measured in commercially stored potatoes. Potatoes on counter tops, in refrigerators and under the sink fared considerably worse.

If you only buy enough potatoes to eat within a few days, you can store them almost anywhere in your home as long as you keep them out of the light. But if you buy or harvest several pounds, your choice of location can clearly affect the potatoes’ long-term usability. Warm temperatures encourage sprouting and tuber disease, cold temperatures cause spuds to turn brown when fried, exposure to light prompts greening, sealed plastic containers starve tubers of oxygen and dry environments are downright withering.

The researchers recommend storing potatoes in an unheated entrance, spare room, attic, basement or garage insulated to protect against freezing, or in an extra refrigerator whose temperature can be set a few degrees higher than normal.

Whether you harvested potatoes from your garden or cashed in on a special sale, following these storage guidelines will help maintain a fresh product. And, a note of interest, the UAF Cooperative Extension Service has developed a new DVD on root cellars that will be available soon. You can access UAF Cooperative Extension Service publications at http://www.uaf.edu/ces/pubs/.

Article resource: University of Idaho Cooperative Extension Service, http://info.ag.uidaho.edu/pdf/CIS/CIS1153.pdf (article opens as PDF file).

• WISEGUYS men’s health group builds a community potato patch in Klukwan

Tubs of potatoes are loaded into the back of a pick-up truck after they were picked at the WISEGUYS potato patch in Klukwan

Tubs of potatoes are loaded into the back of a pick-up truck after they were picked at the WISEGUYS potato patch in Klukwan

While this site is about the Sitka Local Foods Network and projects in Sitka promoting local foods, occasionally we have news from a nearby community that’s worth reporting.

This summer, the new WISEGUYS men’s health group in Klukwan, a Tlingít community just north of Haines, decided to build a potato patch to raise potatoes and a few other vegetables for community members of the Chilkat Indian Village.

“The idea was to provide a sustainable subsistence based crop that could supply every house in Klukwan with potatoes every year,” said Mike Adams, a Community Health Practitioner at the SEARHC Klukwan Health Center. “This would also allow us to get together with the community kids, exercise and spent time together doing something for our community.”

Adams said the group started with a donated piece of land from the Chilkat Indian Village and began clearing it of debris and cleaning it up so the ground could be tilled for planting. The WISEGUYS received funding from the SEARHC WISEWOMAN Women’s Health Program so they could purchase the potato seed and fertilizer, and the SEARHC Behavioral Health Prevention Program (a program to educate youth about drug and alcohol abuse) bought a few hand tools.

Sixty hours were spent in clearing and ground preparations, as well as 20 hours of donated heavy equipment time from Chilkat Indian village and Hank Jacquot. This got us to a 100-foot-by-100-foot piece of usable ground. The preparations for planting then began. Many of us spent several days with three Roto-Tillers tilling the area, digging furrows for planting, adding organic fertilizers and ultimately planting 1,000 potato plants. Four varieties were planted — Kennebec, Tlingít, Yukon Gold and Chippawa’s.

The summer was unseasonably hot and there was a minimal water supply from a nearby creek. To supplement the creek, watering was done using the village fire truck to spray the patch with 750 gallons of water every three to five days.

“We harvested the potatoes on Sept. 25th and had many community members participate as well as all the kids from the Klukwan school and their teachers,” Adams said. “We grossed approximately 1,500 pounds of potatoes. Every child and teacher was sent home with a large bag of potatoes and every household in Klukwan was given potatoes. Due to the prolonged unseasonable hot weather all summer the final harvest amount was a bit lower then we’d hoped, but everyone was given potatoes and we all had a great time harvesting.”

Adams said the WISEGUYS received a positive note when they applied for a small grant from RurAL CAP in August to purchase supplies and equipment, and they recently found out they were awarded the grant. He said the group plans to build a sprinkler system in the potato patch next year.

“Thanks goes to everyone for all your support,” Adams said. “We look forward to another great year in 2010!”

Potato pickers gather for the potato-picking party on Sept. 25 at the WISEGUYS potato patch in Klukwan

Potato pickers gather for the potato-picking party on Sept. 25 at the WISEGUYS potato patch in Klukwan

Barren land before it was cleared to become the WISEGUYS potato patch in Klukwan

Barren land before it was cleared to become the WISEGUYS potato patch in Klukwan

Potato plants growing in the WISEGUYS potato patch in Klukwan

Potato plants growing in the WISEGUYS potato patch in Klukwan

Community members pick potatoes during a potato-picking party Sept. 25 at the WISEGUYS potato patch in Klukwan

Community members pick potatoes during a potato-picking party Sept. 25 at the WISEGUYS potato patch in Klukwan

Lani Hotch and Bev Klanott stand behind a big cabbage growing at the WISEGUYS potato patch in Klukwan. The cabbage weighed nearly 30 pounds when it was harvested.

Lani Hotch and Bev Klanott stand behind a big cabbage growing at the WISEGUYS potato patch in Klukwan. The cabbage weighed nearly 30 pounds when it was harvested.

• Local foods a topic of several Alaska news stories over the past week or so

This has been an interesting couple of weeks, with food security being discussed at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention, subsistence rights and responsibilities in the news and other stories highlighting the local foods market in Alaska.

The Alaska Public Radio Network ran a story about food security being a hot topic at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention. One element of the discussion was a report from former state Sen. Kim Elton, now is the Interior Department’s senior advisor for Alaska Affairs, who said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar plans to upgrade subsistence management for the coming decades.

The Alaska Public Radio Network also ran a story (from KRBD-FM in Ketchikan) about an invasive plant species conference in Ketchikan and how to prevent the spread of noxious and invasive plants in Alaska.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner ran an article about how food grown in gardens on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus is finding its way onto the plates of UAF students at the Lola Tilly Commons.

The Alaska Journal of Commerce had an article about how wild plant seeds from Alaska are being stored at the Kew Gardens Millennium Seed Bank (aka the Royal Botanical Gardens) southwest of London.

The Alaska Journal of Commerce also had an article about Anchorage chef Robert Kineen of Orso Ristorante and how he is incorporating more local foods into his menus.

This week’s issue of the Alaska Journal of Commerce also has several articles about various fisheries, from whitefish to salmon to crab. Included in the issue is an article about how wild-caught Alaska salmon and Pacific cod made the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s recent listing of “super green” seafoods because of their health benefits, the sustainable ways the fish are harvested and lack of contamination. Here is a link to the full list from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Consumer’s Guide to Sustainable Seafood.

Former Anchorage Daily News Outdoors Editor Craig Medred, who now writes for the Alaska Dispatch Web site, wrote this column about how some hunters have lost their connection to the culture of hunting.

The Alaska Dispatch also had an article about tough times at the Triple D Farm and Hatchery in Palmer. The turkey farm was made infamous during a KTUU-TV interview of then-Gov. Sarah Palin video last year, when she was pardoning a turkey as a worker in the background was butchering other turkeys (a link to the video is with the story).

The Anchorage Daily News also ran an obituary for Lawrence Clark, 94, aka “The Apple Man,” who was one of the leading apple tree growers in the Anchorage area and a member of the Alaska Pioneer’s Fruit Growers Association. Clark also was able to grow apricots on his land in the Rabbit Creek area south of Anchorage.

The Fairbanks Community Cooperative Market blog posted this essay about sustainable agriculture in Alaska from Mike Emers, the owner of Rosie Creek Farm in the Fairbanks bedroom community of Ester (Rosie Creek Farm is the northernmost certified organic farm in the country). Emers writes about how he wouldn’t have imagined his life’s direction 10-20 years ago, and how becoming a farmer is such a departure for someone who comes from a long line of Jewish tailors. By the way, while you’re done reading Emers’ essay, check out the rest of the Fairbanks Community Cooperative Market site. This is a project to build a market specializing in local foods for the Fairbanks area.

Finally, here is an article from the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service about whether or not there are regions in the country that have lost their ability to feed themselves. The article focuses on a county-by-county study in the northeast part of the U.S. about what local foods currently are available, but it sounds like similar studies are taking place across the country.