Sitka Tribe, U.S. Forest Service plant Tlingít potato garden for community

(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 will join forces again on Friday, April 20, to create an educational opportunity and traditional food source for community members. Forest Service staff and the tribe will share how to grow Tlingít (sometimes called Maria’s) potatoes, and share the biology, history, and cultural aspects of these interesting potatoes.

Since 2017, the Sitka Ranger District has provided a sunny plot of land to serve as the shared potato garden and provided the seed potatoes to plant the garden. The Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program and the gardening class from Pacific High School assisted on the project, and will again this year. But community involvement is also needed. Volunteers are asked to bring boots, gardening gloves, and shovels. Five gallon buckets of kelp to incorporate into the soil would be beneficial as well. Members of the community who help tend the shared garden may receive more than gratitude as their reward.

“Last fall we shared the harvest among those helping out and through the Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program. We’ve been growing and naturally enhancing our soil this spring, so this year we hope the crop is even larger,” District Ranger Perry Edwards said. “This project teaches people how to grow and sustain a traditional food, while supporting the need for food security among Sitka families. It’s also a fun and very sustainable way to celebrate Earth Day.”

Tlingit 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.

The first work day and educational opportunity will be from 9:30-11:30 a.m. on Friday, April 20, at the Sitka Ranger District office, located at 2108 Halibut Point Road. For more information, contact Michelle Putz at 907-747-2708 or mputz@fs.fed.us.

*Zhang, Linhai with Charles R. Brown, David Culley, Barbara Baker, Elizabeth Kunibe, Hazel Denney, Cassandra Smith, Neuee Ward, Tia Beavert, Julie Coburn, J. J. Pavek, Nora Dauenhauer and Richard Dauenhauer. Inferred origin of several Native American potatoes from the Pacific Northwest and Southeast Alaska using SSR markers. Euphytica 174:15-29

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