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 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.

###

  • 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.

Sitka Tribe of Alaska, Pacific High School win National Volunteers and Service Award

Due to COVID-19 social-distancing requirements, Michelle Putz of the USDA Forest Service Sitka Ranger District planted Tlingít potatoes by herself in April 2020.

Tlingít potatoes

The Sitka Tribe of Alaska (STA) and the Pacific High School gardening class (PHS) were recognized at the Sitka Tribal Council’s Zoom meeting on August 19, 2020, for being two of seven recipients of the USDA Forest Service’s 2019 National Volunteers and Service Award. The award was earned through their collaboration with the Tongass National Forest’s Sitka Ranger District to build awareness about a traditional food source, the Tlingít potato, also known as Maria’s potato.

Sitka District Ranger Perry Edwards and Regional Forester David Schmid, and others, will present a plaque and a letter signed by USDA Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen.

“These award winners really demonstrate and put into action our agency core values of service, of conservation, diversity, of safety and our interdependence,” said Chief Christiansen, during the award announcement video on June 19, 2020. “As Forest Service employees we understand that relationships with people and communities are absolutely essential in achieving our mission. Thank you so much and congratulations for your outstanding contributions in helping us achieve our important conservation mission.”

Community members plant Tlingít potatoes in April 2019 as part of an Earth Day celebration.

Seventy-three nominations were submitted for this year’s awards, the highest number of nominations to the annual awards program in the past 10 years. Nominees exemplified the Forest Service’s core values of service, conservation, diversity, interdependence and safety.

Edwards believes the project and partnership has strengthened relationships with the Sitka Tribe and local schools, giving much of the credit for its success to tribal and school leadership.

“Tammy Young from the Sitka Tribe has been an incredible force behind this project, as have several teachers and the principal at Pacific High School,” said Edwards. “It has connected the Tribe, Sitka’s Pacific High School and the Forest Service in shared stewardship of a traditional resource.”

“Sitka Tribe of Alaska is so pleased that our District Ranger office chose some five years ago to begin this project working with our Tribal citizens on revitalizing the cultivation of our tried and true crop, the Tlingit potato,” said Kathy Hope Erickson, tribal chairman for Sitka Tribe of Alaska. “There have been local people throughout the years continuing this tradition of native horticulture, but the extra effort and outreach by the collaborators has breathed new life into this practice. For this we are grateful to our partners. We wish too, to thank the Forest Service for recognizing that the ‘forest’ includes not just trees, but all creatures in and around it, the flora and fauna who are interdependent on it and each other for a complete existence.”