• It’s time to … get outdoors and pick some berries

Blueberries (kanat'á)

Blueberries (kanat’á)

Huckleberries (tleikatánk)

Huckleberries (tleikatánk)

The Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s Kayaaní Commission (aka, the Plants Commission) and your Sitka Local Foods Network (SLFN) remind Sitka residents that it’s time to get out in the woods and pick huckleberries (tleikatánk) and blueberries (kanat’á).

Huckleberries and blueberries are extremely healthy fruits that grow in the forests and openings that surround Sitka. They are a traditional food of the Tlingít and have become a traditional food for Sitka residents who depend on nature’s bounty to keep their families healthy. They can be used fresh on a salad, in jams and smoothies, berry desserts and many other dishes. And they store well in the freezer for a healthy winter snack.

When going berry picking, please keep the following in mind (summarized from the Kayaaní Commission Traditional Harvesting Guidelines):

  • Be Courteous — other families are picking berries too; never take more than you need. If you accidentally got too much, share it with someone that you know will use it.
  • Be Safe — be positive about your identification of edible plants. Check your field guide for details if you are unsure. And pick berries during daylight with friends; make plenty of noise to keep bears away.
  • Take Care of the Berries — wash your berries with clean water before eating them and watch for rot, mildew, and insects. For best results: rinse berries, spread on a baking sheet to freeze, once frozen, slide off the tray and freeze in bags until ready to use.
  • Pick Clean Berries — from off the major road systems and in areas where you know pesticides and other chemicals will not have reached the berry plants.
  • Take Care of the Plants — make sure that there are plenty of other plants in the area (at least 10) to assure future abundance. Whenever possible, harvest so that the existing plant can reseed or recover after you are done. Treat the plants with respect. In Alaska Native cultures, it is traditional to thank the plant for its gift and give an offering. Each individual should show respect to the plant spirits in their own way.

“We encourage people to get out and pick the ripe berries. By getting out and picking berries you’ll get fresh, healthy food, exercise, and quality time with family and friends,” said Kayaaní Commission Coordinator Heather Riggs and Sitka Local Foods Network Vice President Michelle Putz. “Encouraging berry-picking for personal consumption and for winter storage supports both our missions. The Kayaaní Commission’s mission is to preserve their spiritual way of life and to preserve and protect traditional ways of their ancestral knowledge. The Sitka Local Foods Network’s mission is to increase the amount of locally produced and harvested food in the diets of Southeast Alaskans.”

While the kanat’á (blueberry) season is upon us, remember the plant is not finished offering its resources to the inhabitants of Sitka once the berries are gone. After the berries have completed their life cycle, the leaves from the plant can be utilized for its medicinal properties. Kanat’á leaves are high in antioxidants. These antioxidants can protect your body against heart disease and cancer. Making a tea from the leaves can help indigestion or a sore throat. Contact the Kayaaní Commission for more information on uses of native plants and methods of preparing plants.

More information about either group or local, traditionally harvested foods is available by calling Heather with the Kayaaní Commission at 747-7167 or Michelle with the Sitka Local Foods Network at 747-2708.

Please note that personal-use berry-picking is allowed on state and federal lands around Sitka, but any commercial-use berry-picking (money changes hands) requires a special permit, https://sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org/2014/08/20/%E2%80%A2-tongass-national-forest-sitka-ranger-district-clarifies-rules-for-berry-picking-and-gathering-on-forest-lands/

• Kayaaní Commission Plant Gathering Guidelines

• 2003 Sitka Tribe of Alaska ordinance creating and defining the Kayaaní Commission

• UAF Cooperative Extension Service to give presentation on antioxidants in Alaska’s wild berries

OWL Happy Health Hour specific July 28

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service‘s Happy Health Hour talk this month will be about antioxidants in Alaska’s wild berries.

The talk takes place from 5:30-6:30 p.m. on Monday, July 28 (Happy Health Hour talks are the fourth Monday of every month) and is available at libraries statewide on the OWL Network. In Sitka, these talks usually are accessed at Kettleson Memorial Library. But this month’s talk will be available for Sitka residents in Room 106 at the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus, because Kettleson Memorial Library is closed while it moves into temporary quarters for the upcoming library expansion project.

Roxie Rodgers Dinstel of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service will talk about the health benefits of antioxidants, the levels of antioxidants in a variety of Alaska’s wild berries, and how different preservation methods affect antioxidant levels. Many wild berries in Alaska, such as blueberries, are considered super foods because of the high levels of healthy antioxidants in them, and Alaska wild blueberries are even richer in antioxidants than wild blueberries from the Lower 48.

To learn more about the Happy Health Hour and this presentation, call the UAF Cooperative Extension Service at 1-877-520-5211 or go to http://www.uaf.edu/ces/.

• Sitka growers to contribute to local CSA venture

Renee Pierce, right, explains the first Sitka CSA venture to Sitka Local Foods Network board member Natalie Sattler during the Let's Grow Sitka! event on March 14

Renee Pierce, right, explains the first Sitka CSA venture to Sitka Local Foods Network board member Natalie Sattler during the Let's Grow Sitka! event on March 14

One of the latest trends in farming is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), which enables people to buy local, seasonal food directly from the farmer. Renee and Brian Pierce, who own the locally made kelp products and wild berry jelly shop Simple Pleasures of Alaska, are working with Sitka growers to start a small CSA venture with local produce during the summer growing season.

Renee Pierce said that instead of the CSA being a true farmers’ cooperative, she will buy produce from several local growers — including Florence Welsh of the Welsh Family Forget-Me-Not Gardens, Hope Merritt of Gimbal Botanicals, Judy Johnstone of Sprucecot Gardens, Evening Star and Fabian Grutter of Eve’s Farm, and Lori Adams of Down To Earth U-Pick Gardens. The CSA also will include produce from the Pierce Family’s Simple Pleasures garden.

The Sitka CSA will start small, with membership slots for just 25 families the first year. Renee Pierce said of those 25 slots, only about 10 memberships are left. CSA members will commit to paying $50 plus tax every other week, which will give the member families a selection of produce that includes some organic produce purchased from Organically Grown Company of Portland, Ore. During the months when Sitka growers aren’t producing many vegetables, there will be more produce purchased from Organically Grown Company. There also will be an option to buy bread at $6 a loaf beyond the price of the produce box.

The produce selection includes many crops that can be grown in Sitka — such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, potatoes, radishes, zucchini, green beans, beets, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, greens, tomatoes, etc. But with the Organically Grown Company providing some of the produce, CSA members also can choose items that aren’t regular Sitka crops — such as bananas, lemons, limes, pineapples, oranges, etc.

Information about Sitka's first CSA from the Let's Grow Sitka! event on March 14

Information about Sitka's first CSA from the Let's Grow Sitka! event on March 14

Renee Pierce said she has worked with Organically Grown Company for about four years, purchasing organic produce for the Pierce family and several friends and other Sitka residents who heard about the venture (at one point she had about 60-70 families buying from her). She said she orders produce by the case, and it is available for pick-up from 3-6 p.m. every other Monday afternoon at the Simple Pleasures store next to Kettleson Memorial Library. The first pick-up day for the Sitka CSA is March 29 (which will be for the 15 or so families that already have reserved a spot in the CSA), and the next pick-up day is April 12. CSA members are encouraged to bring their own bags and/or boxes on pick-up days.

The pick-up days are slated to be during the weeks between the every-other-week Sitka Farmers Markets this summer, which will give local growers and buyers the opportunity to buy and sell local produce for both. Renee said there will be some produce extras for families that want to adjust their allotments, but everybody’s allotted produce value will be $50. If you add from the extras you will need to pay the difference, and if you give up some produce you don’t want so your value dips below $50 there are no refunds. She said the CSA is being done as a community service and it’s meant to just break even so the bills get paid.

To learn more about the Sitka CSA, contact Renee Pierce at 738-0044 (cell) or 747-3814 (home). You also can e-mail her at mpierce@ptialaska.net.

• To extend the lives of berries, give them a hot bath

Picking blueberries in Sitka

Picking blueberries in Sitka

It happens to all berry fans. You pick a bunch of berries, or buy some in the store, and within a day or two you have mold growing on them. Yuck.

Earlier this week, the New York Times ran an article (free registration required to open link) about how to solve this problem. Give the berries a warm to hot bath of about 125 to 140 degrees (depending on the thickness of the berries skin). This process is called “thermotherapy,” and it seems to do the trick.

• First Alaskans magazine highlights healthy berries

Screenshot of First Alaskans magazine article on healthy berries

Screenshot of First Alaskans magazine article on healthy berries

The August/September 2009 issue of First Alaskans magazine — a statewide magazine of Native business, culture and lifestyle — features an article called “Health Numbers of Berries: Antitoxidant calculations show which ones are best.” This article isn’t posted on the First Alaskans magazine Web site, so a scanned black-and-white PDF version is available by clicking here. The article also includes a recipe for Blueberry Buckle.

For more information about healthy berries, the Far North Science news service, written and edited by Doug O’Harra, about news, research and natural acts from Alaska, released a 2007 story called “Alaska Blueberries: Brain Food” (click here to see the article as published in The Alaska Report). The article includes a link to a 2006 report on extremely high antitoxidant rates in a variety of Alaska berries by University of Alaska Fairbanks researcher Patricia Holloway

• Local foods in the news this week

Many of Alaska’s newspapers had articles about local foods this week. Here is a sampling of some of the offerings.

Click here to read an article called “Beware of wild things in the blueberry patch” from the Capital City Weekly, about slugs, bugs and bears.

Click here to read an update on the Second Annual Juneau Farmers Market and Local Foods Festival from the Capital City Weekly. This event is from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 29, at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center.

Click here to read an item in Capital City Weekly about a tree planting and pruning workshop here in Sitka on Monday, Aug. 24, at Harrigan Centennial Hall.

Click here to read an article and photo package from Fran Durner’s “Talk Dirt To Me” gardening blog in the Anchorage Daily News about Dan Bilyeu of Nikiski, who grows and sells gourmet oyster mushrooms.

Click here to read a “Berries of the Kenai Peninsula” feature from the 2009 Peninsula Clarion Recreation and Tourist Guide.

It’s not from an Alaska publication, but the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service has a story (click here to read it) about new research into phytochemicals and other healthy plant compounds in potatoes.

• Nice article on blueberries in Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

It’s that time of year again, the blueberries are getting ready for picking.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner had a nice story on the arrival of blueberry season in Wednesday’s paper. The story includes four recipes from the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service.

Alaska has a deep and abiding love for its wild blueberries. Blueberries are on several lists of “super foods” because they have very high numbers of antioxidants, which help protect us from disease. Blueberries also have a high level of vitamin C. It’s easy to see why Alaska Natives have included blueberries in their diets for centuries.

Blueberries have all this, and they’re yummy, too.

Click here to read the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner article about the arrival of blueberry season

Click here to learn about the booklet “Collecting and Using Alaska Wild Berries and Other Wild Products,” which is available from the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service