Tlingít potato harvest Friday honors American Indian Heritage Day and National Public Lands Day

Michelle Putz harvests Tlingít potatoes in 2020.

A short but exciting hands-on celebration will be happening at the Sitka Ranger District Office on Friday, Sept. 24.  The Sitka Ranger District, Sitka Tribe of Alaska, and Pacific High School gardening class will celebrate American Indian Heritage Day (Sept. 24) and National Public Lands Day (Sept 25) by following a time-honored tradition in Sitka – the annual harvest of Tlingít (Maria’s) potatoes.

Forest Service employees, Sitka Tribe employees and volunteers, and student volunteers will get their hands dirty at the USDA Forest Service office as they harvest the potatoes they lovingly planted on Earth Day, April 22. Story-tellers will talk about the traditions behind potatoes and gardening and others will share information on how to care for Tlingít potatoes, as well as their biology, history, and cultural aspects. Participants will also say goodbye to long-time Tongass NEPA Planner and “potato lady,” Michelle Putz, as she assists with her last harvest.

“It could not be more appropriate or humbling than to commemorate these two specific days, meant to honor Native American heritage and volunteerism, with these much-appreciated partners through harvesting a locally important and traditional food,” said Sitka District Ranger, Perry Edwards.

We look forward to holding a planting event next spring that is open to the community. To limit the spread of COVID-19, this year’s celebration will not be open to the public.  In the meantime, those interested in learning more about these interesting potatoes can view the Forest Service video: Tlingit Potato Garden – Culture, Horticulture, Stories, History at https://vimeo.com/416075040.

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