Pacific High School receives USDA Farm To School grant for edible garden

RAISED EXPECTATIONS – Pacific High School ninth-grade student Henrey Ward brushes dirt from a garlic bulb he pulled Monday morning (Aug. 30, 2021) from raised garden beds behind the building. Dozens of students from the school picked garlic, rhubarb, potatoes and other vegetables, as well as gathered berries and pruned trees, while the school body took advantage of fair weather to harvest crops and winterize their campus. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by Reber Stein, used with permission) Bottom photo is Pacific High School students planting garlic (Photo Courtesy of Mandy Summer).

The Sitka School District’s Pacific High School is one of two schools in Alaska to receive a Farm To School (F2S) grant from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service. The grant is for $50,000 and will be used to improve Pacific High School’s edible garden.

The USDA Farm To School grant program in 2021-22 will support 176 grant-winners from around the country, serving 6,800 schools and more than 1.4 million students. The other Alaska site to receive a grant was the Cordova School District, through its nonprofit partner the Copper Valley Watershed Project.

According to the USDA’s list of Farm to School grants and their project descriptions, “The Pacific High School (PHS) Edible Garden project will support the installation of an edible garden, adjacent to both PHS and Baranof Elementary School (BES). PHS is a school of choice, serving high-needs students who have been underserved in the traditional system, and BES serves all of the district’s grades K-1 students. The edible garden will be used as an experiential outdoor classroom and integrated into both schools’ curriculum. Food produced will supply the Pacific High School meal program and the Sitka Tribe of Alaska summer meal program, in addition to being consumed as part of school and partner agency learning experiences.”

Pacific High School principal Mandy Summer said the grant will be used in several ways.

“The F2S grant is a total of $50,000 of funding for one year which we intend to use to hire a school gardener,” Summer wrote in an email. “This person will be responsible for overall planning and maintenance of the school garden, organizing a PHS garden committee, creating a sustainability plan that will address future maintenance needs, and developing curricular resources to assist teachers (PHS and Baranof) in leading garden experiences with their students.  Until now, PHS has not had a staff member solely dedicated to working in the garden and developing garden resources and activities, which has slowed the growth of our Farm to Table program. It is our hope that the funding provided though the Farm to School grant will provide the means for us to grow produce year-round for our school breakfast and lunch program, and expand curricular resources to enable more students to have learning experiences in the garden.”

When she was a teacher at the school, before she was promoted to principal, Summer helped create the school garden a decade ago. In recent years, Pacific High School hosted MOBY the Mobile Greenhouse (a portable greenhouse built on a trailer that travels to different communities around Southeast Alaska) and the Pacific Planters school garden club sold plant starts this spring.

“Pacific High has been teaching gardening classes for 10 years now and expanding our garden space behind the school for six,” Summer wrote. “This grant will involve Baranof through the development of elementary-aged curricular resources by the school gardener, in partnership with teachers from Baranof who are interested in getting their students out in the garden. We purchased a 24×48 (foot) greenhouse last year with funding from a partnership grant with Sitka Tribe of Alaska. However before we can put the greenhouse up, we need to excavate for the foundation, level the site, and put in some French drains. This is estimated to cost approximately $25,000, which we will do (through) a fundraising campaign for this fall.”

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 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

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

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.”