Sitka Ranger District, Sitka Tribe to harvest Tlingit community potato garden

(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 community is invited to help harvest the Sitka Ranger District/Sitka Tribe of Alaska Tlingit potato garden and learn scientific and cultural information about the unique crop at 3 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 25, at the USDA Forest Service Sitka Ranger District office, 2108 Halibut Point Road.

Leading Tlingit potato researcher Elizabeth Kunibe will join the group to present information on the biology, history, and cultural aspects Tlingit potatoes. Topics will include harvesting potatoes, learning to store potatoes for seed and for food, preparation for next year’s garden, and the cultural aspects of Tlingit potatoes and native gardening.

The Sitka Ranger District provided the sunny plot of land for the shared potato garden and tended 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 planted the potatoes in April.

Community involvement is needed for the harvest. Participants should come prepared for the weather as all activities will occur outdoors. All of the attendees are asked to wear boots, gardening gloves, and bring hand trowels or shovels. Bringing buckets of kelp to incorporate into the soil after harvesting would be beneficial.

The potatoes will need to be dried and prepared for storage. Many of the potatoes harvested will be saved for next year’s seed potatoes, Depending on the size of the harvest, the group hopes to share the harvest among the volunteers and through the Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program and Social Services.

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 1800s.

This work day and educational opportunity will be 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. For interviews and information to be used for publication, contactthe Tongass Public Affairs Officer Paul Robbins at 907-228-6201 or paulrobbins@fs.fed.us.

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• Southeast Alaska Gardeners Conference and Garden Tours take place May 20-23 in Juneau

David Lendrum, co-president for the Southeast Alaska Master Gardeners Association this year, sent this invitation to Sitka gardeners about the Southeast Alaska Gardeners Conference and Garden Tours on May 20-23 in Juneau:

I would like to invite the Sitka local foods community to our biennial Southeast Garden Conference on May 20-23 at the University of Alaska Southeast-Juneau Campus (Auke Lake). The agenda will be available at our website, http://www.sealaskamastergardeners.org/.

The Extended Stay hotel by the airport has offered an rate of $79.00 per night to conference attendees.

Sitka’s own Florence Welsh of The Welsh Family Forget-Me-Not Gardens and Bob Gorman of the Sitka office of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service are featured speakers. They will be accompanied by Sam Benowitz of RainTree Nursery (Morton, Wash.), anthropological researcher Betsy Kunibe (Juneau), who has been exploring the early agriculture of Southeast Alaska, especially the early potato introduction to native peoples, and Dan Heims of Terra Nova Nurseries (Canby, Ore.), who has reinvented perennial gardening in our modern times.

We also will have a trade show and demonstration venue, and if the Sitka Local Foods Network would like to have a display we would welcome it. You can call me with any questions,

David Lendrum
Landscape Alaska, landscapealaska@gci.net
Co-President of the Southeast Alaska Master Gardeners Association for this year
907-321-4149

Some of the conference highlights include workshops on tool use and maintenance, planter/container design and maintenance, nutrition in wild plants, landscaping to attract native pollinators, birds in the garden, greenhouses in Alaska, low-maintenance landscape design, native plant propagation, meconopsis, fruiting plants for Southeast Alaska, organic edibles, creating flower arrangements to last, rock setting and plant choice for Southeast Alaska, tree grafting, creating color and flash with new perennials, perennials around the world, taking cuttings and how to get roots on sticks, and compost and worms. A PDF file to the agenda is linked below.

Southeast Alaska Gardeners Conference and Garden Tours flier

Southeast Alaska Gardeners Conference and Garden Tours poster

Southeast Alaska Gardeners Conference and Garden Tours agenda

• Thanks for “Growing in Sitka and Southeast Alaska” presentation

Elizabeth Kunibe shows off a Tlingít potato (also known as "Maria's potato")

On Friday afternoon, the Sitka Local Foods Network hosted anthropology student Elizabeth Kunibe of Juneau for a presentation, “Growing in Sitka and Southeast Alaska: Food of Today, Tomorrow and 200 Years Ago.” This presentation took place at the Kettleson Memorial Library and we had a standing-room-only crowd of 50-plus, despite being arranged less than a week before the event and competing with several Alaska Day happenings.

The Sitka Local Foods Network thanks Elizabeth for taking the time to make the presentation on what, for her, was a pleasure trip to Sitka for Alaska Day. We also thank the library and librarian Sarah Jones for allowing us to use Kettleson Memorial Library for the presentation.

Finally, we thank everybody who came to the presentation to hear Elizabeth discuss traditional Tlingít, Russian and American gardens in Sitka and Southeast Alaska, the Tlingít and Haida potatoes, an agricultural fair in Fort Yukon, the phytonutrients of potatoes and plant diseases.

For those people who weren’t able to attend, the presentation was recorded and it will be aired at various times this week on public access TV (Channel 11). Elizabeth said she might send over some notes from the presentation, and when those arrive they will be posted on the Sitka Local Foods Network site, http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org/. A small gallery of photos from the presentation is posted at this link.

Thanks again,
Charles Bingham, event organizer
Sitka Local Foods Network

• Sitka Local Foods Network gets mentions in Juneau Empire, Daily Sitka Sentinel, Capital City Weekly and on APRN’s Talk of Alaska show

The Sunday edition of the Juneau Empire and Monday edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel (Page 4) both featured a press release about a Sitka Local Foods Network-hosted presentation about “Growing in Sitka and Southeast Alaska: The Food of Today, Tomorrow and 200 Years Ago” that takes place at 5 p.m. this Friday, Oct. 16, at the Kettleson Memorial Library. The presentation is by UAS anthropology student Elizabeth Kunibe of Juneau, who has spent the last six years researching traditional gardens in Southeast Alaska. The presentation also received a write-up in this week’s issue of Capital City Weekly that came out on Wednesday.

Monday’s issue of the Daily Sitka Sentinel also featured a press release about a put-the-garden-to-bed work party the Sitka Local Foods network is hosting from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 17, at the St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm.

On Tuesday, the Alaska Public Radio Network’s statewide call-in show “Talk of Alaska” was about food security and during the show the work of the Sitka Local Foods Network was mentioned. The Talk of Alaska topic on food security was a preview of the Bioneers In Alaska conference this weekend (Oct. 16-18) in Anchorage where food security will be one of the topics. Kerry MacLane, president of the Sitka Local Foods Network, is supposed to travel to Anchorage to participate in the conference.

In addition to the Sitka Local Foods Network mentions, there has been a lot of other local foods news around Alaska this week.

In Sunday’s Juneau Empire, Ginny Mahar (a chef at Rainbow Foods) wrote a column featuring a mac and cheese recipe with king crab. Ginny also writes the Food-G blog, which features a lot of local foods recipes for Southeast Alaska.

Also in Sunday’s Juneau Empire was an article about the Alaska Native Brotherhood/Alaska Native Sisterhood Grand Camp meeting in Juneau and discussion about subsistence fishing rights following the recent arrest of Sen. Albert Kookesh.

In this week’s Capital City Weekly, there is an article from Carla Peterson about the chocolate lily and how to prepare this edible plant for food.

In the Alaska Newsreader blog Wednesday on the Anchorage Daily News Web site was a link to a feature from TheDailyGreen.com, which listed Anchorage ninth among U.S. cities in per capita space given to community gardens. The list (opens as PDF document) was compiled by the Trust for Public Land, and it had a distinct Northwest feel with Seattle ranked No. 1 and Portland, Ore., was No. 2. Click here to learn more about Anchorage’s community gardens program.

In his Anchorage Daily News garden column last week, Jeff Lowenfels wrote about planting garlic now for spring flowers and an August crop.

The Mat-Su Frontiersman recently ran an article about a sustainability project at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Mat-Su College where students were gathering organic spuds.

Finally, while this isn’t about Alaska, you might want to read an article about efforts to preserve our biodiversity so we don’t lose more food plant varieties and why these efforts are important.

• Sitka Local Foods Network hosts historical gardening presentation on Friday, Oct. 16

Children show off the bounty from the Klukwan School garden in 1911

Children show off the bounty from the Klukwan School garden in 1911

The Sitka Local Foods Network will host a brief historical gardening presentation by Elizabeth Kunibe, “Growing in Sitka and Southeast Alaska: Food of Today, Tomorrow and 200 Years Ago,” at 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 16, at the Kettleson Memorial Library. This event is free and open to all, and it should last about 45 minutes.

During her presentation, Kunibe will discuss early Tlingít gardens in Southeast Alaska, Russian gardens in Sitka in the 1800s, the first USDA Agricultural Experiment Station in Alaska comes to Sitka in 1898, an agricultural fair above the Arctic Circle in Fort Yukon, the importance of potatoes (a phytonutrient study), plant diseases and new ziplock bags made from fish gelatin. Her presentation includes a colorful slideshow that features historical information on gardening in Southeast Alaska, as well as information on what is happening in Alaska’s food systems today.

Kunibe is a University of Alaska Southeast anthropology student from Juneau who has spent the past six years researching early gardens of the Tlingít, Haida and Athabascan peoples in Alaska and the Yukon Territory. She is a 2008 and 2009 National Science Foundation EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) Fellow researching food systems in Alaska.

For more information, contact Charles Bingham at 747-1065 or send e-mail to charles@sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org/.

Gov. John G. Brady's garden in Sitka in 1900

Gov. John G. Brady's garden in Sitka in 1900

Plant geneticists Chuck Brown and Joe Kuhl of the USDA Agricultural Research Service, examine the flesh color of some potatoes being grown in Alaska. The color gives them clues to the nutrients the potatoes may contain.

Plant geneticists Chuck Brown and Joe Kuhl of the USDA Agricultural Research Service, examine the flesh color of some potatoes being grown in Alaska. The color gives them clues to the nutrients the potatoes may contain.

• Juneau Empire spotlights harvest of Tlingít potatoes

(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 borage plant flowers.

(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 borage plant flowers.

The Juneau Empire on Monday (click here) ran a nice photo package of a sustainable harvest camp at the Jensen-Olson Arboretum in Juneau that was hosted by the 4-H program run by UAF Cooperative Extension Service and the Alaska Department of Fish & Game. The photos feature several children harvesting “Maria’s Potatoes,” a type of Tlingít potato grown from seed potatoes that originally came from deceased Tlingít elder Maria Miller’s garden in Klukwan. These fingerling potatoes do well in Southeast Alaska’s rainy climate and have been around for hundreds of years. The story link above has a link to an audio slideshow by Juneau Empire photographer Michael Penn. The slideshow is worth watching.

By the way, click here to read more about the Tlingít potato posted on the Sitka Local Foods Network site about three weeks ago. Elizabeth Kunibe did want to clarify that in the link to the Chilkat Valley News story she is misquoted so it appears that she “discovered” the Ozette potato (another Native American variety). She said she is not the discoverer.

Kunibe also said the Tlingít potatoes can be sold, but for food only and not for seed. Some of them contain potato viruses, transmitted by vectors, that can affect the soil and other varieties of potatoes. She said when people buy seed potatoes, they need to make sure they have “clean seed” or “virus-free seed” before they plant. She said potato viruses do not affect humans who eat the potatoes, but we need to use clean seed to keep the viruses from destroying crops (like what happened in the Irish potato famine). She said the UAF Cooperative Extension Service, which has offices in Sitka and Juneau, may have more information on how to find virus-free seed potatoes.

Kunibe, who made a presentation on Tlingít potatoes and traditional gardening in Sitka last year, is hoping to schedule another trip to Sitka for a future presentation. Kunibe also wanted share this link from the USDA Agricultural Research Service about newly discovered nutritional benefits of potatoes, especially in regards to phytochemicals and cancer prevention.

• Tlingít potato makes a comeback in Juneau

(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 borage plant flowers.
(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 borage plant flowers.

There was an interesting article in Wednesday’s edition of the Juneau Empire about the revival of a Tlingít potato that was a staple in Tlingít gardens for hundreds of years (Click here to read the Juneau Empire article by Kimberly Marquis).

Tlingít and Haida gardeners grew their own vegetables more than 200 years ago, and potatoes were one of their most important crops. In an article in the Winter 2008/2009 newsletter for Alaska EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research), University of Alaska Southeast social science/anthropology student Elizabeth Kunibe said residents of many Southeast Alaska villages planted gardens of root vegetables — such as potatoes, rutabagas and parsnips — on neighboring islands in the spring while they headed to their fish camps. They harvested them when they returned home in the fall (Click here to read the article on Pages 4-5).

Kunibe said many of these gardens disappeared over the past century, especially as the U.S. Forest Service parceled out some islands for homesteads or fox farms. She said Tlingíts in Sitka lost their island gardens in World War II when the government forbade private water travel. The increasing availability of imported food and other disruptions, such as tuberculosis outbreaks, also sped up the demise of the individual and community gardens found in many Native villages. Kunibe said in 1952 they grew 4,000 pounds of potatoes in Angoon, but the gardens disappeared and Angoon was without a garden until the last year or two when there was a movement to start a community garden.

The Tlingít potato is a fingerling potato with a yellowish skin and somewhat lumpy shape. They do not do well mashed or fried, but taste great in soups or roasted, said Merrill Jensen, manager of the Jensen-Olson Arboretum in Juneau where they expect to harvest about 1,500 pounds of the potatoes next month. The Tlingít potato also is known as “Maria’s Potato” in honor of the late Maria (Ackerman) Miller, the Haines woman who in 1994 gave Juneau’s Richard and Nora Dauenhauer their first seed potatoes. Miller, who died in 1995, told the Dauenhauers the potatoes had been in her family for more than 100 years.

According to Kunibe, who sent samples to a plant geneticist for DNA testing, the Tlingít potato is a distinct variety among potatoes, but they are very similar to two other varieties of Native American potatoes — the Ozette or Makah potato from Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula and the Haida potato from Kasaan on Alaska’s Prince of Wales Island. In a June 7, 2007, article in the Chilkat Valley News (click here to read it), Kunibe said potatoes arrived in Southeast Alaska aboard Spanish ships as early as 1765. She said the three Native American varieties are closely related to potatoes grown in Mexico and the Chilean coastal areas. (Most modern domestic potatoes are descended from species native to the Peruvian Andes.) The Tlingít potato grows well in our rainy climate and keeps a long time in a root cellar. Kunibe said the potatoes became a prime Southeast Alaska commerce item in the early 1800s and the Russian fleets contracted with the Tlingít and Haida tribes to grow them.

Bob Gorman, a master gardener who works with the Sitka office of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service, said off the top of his head he didn’t know of anybody growing the potato in Sitka right now, though he did suggest several longtime gardeners who might know if people grew them in the past. Maybelle Filler, a master gardener who works with the SEARHC Diabetes Program, said they are looking to bring some seed potatoes to give to Sitka gardeners, but she had been told the potatoes can’t be sold at local markets (though they can be given away).

(Photo courtesy of Klas Stolpe/Juneau Empire) Bill Ehlers, assistant gardener of the Jensen-Olson Arboretum in Juneau, tends to a Tlingít potato plant on July 27, 2009. The potatoes will be used as seed stock to be distrbuted to people interested in growing the variety.
(Photo courtesy of Klas Stolpe/Juneau Empire) Bill Ehlers, assistant gardener of the Jensen-Olson Arboretum in Juneau, tends to a Tlingít potato plant on July 27, 2009. The potatoes will be used as seed stock to be distrbuted to people interested in growing the variety.