Tlingít potato garden being readied for community of Sitka

(Photo courtesy of Klas Stolpe/Juneau Empire) Bill Ehlers, assistant gardener at the Jensen-Olson Arboretum in Juneau, holds a Tlingít potato next to some of the potato plant’s flowers.

The U.S. Forest Service-Sitka Ranger District and Sitka Tribe of Alaska have joined forces to help create an educational opportunity and traditional food source for community members.

The two groups will show how to grow Tlingít potatoes, and tell about their biology, history and cultural aspects.

The Sitka Ranger District is providing a plot of land to serve as the shared potato garden. The Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program and the gardening class from Pacific High School will assist on the project, but community involvement also is needed.

Attendees should bring boots, gardening gloves and shovels, and (if possible) five-gallon buckets of kelp to incorporate into the soil. The first work day and educational opportunity is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. on Friday, April 14, at the Sitka Ranger District office, 2108 Halibut Point Road.

Organizers said that members of the community who help tend the shared garden may receive more than gratitude as their reward.

“We hope to share the harvest among those helping out, and possibly share potatoes through the Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program and Social Services,” Sitka District Ranger Perry Edwards said. “This project will teach people how to grow and sustain a traditional food, while supporting the growing need for food security among Sitka families.”

K’únts’ — sometimes called Maria’s Potatoes — have been present in Tlingít gardens for more than 200 years. The potatoes originate from Mexico or Chile and were a trade item in Southeast Alaska in the early 1800s.

For more information, contact Michelle Putz at 747-2708 or mputz@fs.fed.us.

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