U.S. Forest Service-Sitka Ranger District and Sitka Tribe of Alaska harvest Tlingít potato garden for community

The community is invited to help harvest the U.S. Forest Service-Sitka Ranger District and Sitka Tribe of Alaska Tlingít potato garden at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 4. This workday and educational opportunity will be at the Sitka Ranger District office, located at 2108 Halibut Point Road. Staff will provide information on how to care for Tlingít potatoes, their biology, history, and cultural aspects.

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 in the sunny plot of land the Sitka Ranger District provides to serve as the shared potato garden. School and tribe volunteers assist in the harvest, but community involvement is also needed.

Participants should come prepared for the weather as all activities will occur outdoors. Attendees are asked to wear boots and gardening gloves, and bring hand trowels and buckets of kelp to incorporate into the soil after harvesting.

Potatoes will be dried and prepared for storage. Many of the potatoes harvested will be saved as next year’s seed potatoes. The rest of the harvest will be shared among the volunteers and through the Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program and Social Services Department.

For the third year in a row, the potato garden will help support food security in Sitka and be an ambassador for heirloom varieties of vegetables throughout Southeast Alaska.

“This year, we shared Maria’s ‘Tlingít’ seed potatoes with Supanika Ordonez and Timothy James Ackerman and their children. Timothy’s grandmother was Maria Ackerman Miller, whom the potatoes were named after,” says Michelle Putz, project coordinator and lead gardener for the Sitka Ranger District. “It’s exciting that our potato project has allowed this historic and delicious food to end up back in the hands —and the dirt—of the ancestors who brought it forward to scientists. Because of Forest Service and Sitka Tribe’s efforts to cultivate and share this potato and information about it, this unassuming potato has gone full circle.”

Supanika and her children (shown in the photos) were thrilled to grow Maria’s potatoes.

“We recently bought a house in Juneau and we were hoping to grow some of Maria’s potatoes with our sons. Last year, we had gotten some [seed potatoes] from Maria’s daughter in Bellingham (Wash.), but they had been cross-bred with a purple potato variety. We had hoped that some were Tlingít potatoes, but the crop was all purple,” Supanika said. “This spring, the Forest Service gave us some Maria’s seed potatoes from the Forest Service/Sitka Tribe potato garden. As they started to pop out of the ground, our 3-year-old would say ‘great-grandma’s potatoes’ every time we walked by. The boys had fun harvesting this week. We got quite a crop, so we have enough to save and plant next year too.”

Sitka District Ranger Perry Edwards, adds, “We could not be happier than to bring this potato back to the family that brought it to us in the first place.”

Tlingít potatoes (sometimes called Maria’s potatoes) have been present in Tlingít gardens for more than 200 years. The potatoes originate from Mexico or Chile* and were a trade item in Southeast Alaska in the early 1800’s.

All are invited to learn and assist in this workday. For more information, contact Michelle Putz at 907-747-2708 or michelle.putz@usda.gov.

*Zhang, Linhai with Charles R. Brown, David Culley, Barbara Baker, Elizabeth Kunibe, Hazel Denney, Cassandra Smith, Neuee Ward, Tia Beavert, Julie Coburn, J. J. Pavek, Nora Dauenhauer and Richard Dauenhauer. Inferred origin of several Native American potatoes from the Pacific Northwest and Southeast Alaska using SSR markers. Euphytica 174:15-29

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The mission of the USDA Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 30 percent of the nation’s surface drinking water to cities and rural communities and approximately 66 million Americans rely on drinking water that originated from the National Forest System. The agency also has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 900 million forested acres within the U.S., of which over 130 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.

Fish to Schools program launches annual coho salmon donation drive for commercial fishermen

The Annual Fish to Schools Coho Donation Drive starts on Monday, Aug. 19.

The Sitka Fish to Schools program brings communities together around a food that is culturally, traditionally, and economically important to Sitka. By integrating locally caught seafood into Sitka school lunch programs, Fish to Schools fosters a deeper youth understanding of local seafood, teaching children that salmon require respect in both harvest and habitat. Coordinated by the Sitka Conservation Society, the hope is this program will lay the groundwork on how fishing works and inspires children to either support or become involved in the industry.

Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School student Naomi Capp, age 9, talks with fisherman Steve Lawrie Wednesday (April 25, 2018) during lunch at the school. The elementary school was hosting fishermen who donated part of their catch to the Fish to Schools program. The program is managed by the Sitka Conservation Society and provides fish dishes as part of the lunch programs at Baranof Elementary School, Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School, Blatchley Middle School, Sitka High School, Pacific High School, the SEER School, and Mount Edgecumbe High School. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

The Fish to Schools program (click here to see short video) started as a community wellness project of the 2010 Sitka Health Summit. It quickly spread from providing one monthly fish option in one Sitka school lunch to providing weekly fish options at all Sitka schools (including some not in the Sitka School District). The Sitka Fish to Schools program has been used as a model for school districts all over the state, and helps teachers with lesson plans about fishing in Alaska. The program also seeks photos of commercial fishermen at work, which can be used to teach the students more about how the fish got to their plates.

The program received an innovation award from the Alaska Farm To Schools program during a community celebration dinner in May 2012, and now serves as a model for other school districts from coastal fishing communities. In May 2014, the Fish to Schools program released a guidebook so other school districts in Alaska could create similar programs.

While the donation drive targets commercially caught FAS (frozen at sea) coho salmon, there is room for yelloweye rockfish donations. But please don’t target yelloweye rockfish for the program — it only wants yelloweye that are accidentally caught.

The drive will run from Aug. 19 through Sept. 5. To donate, tell scale operators how many fish you would like to donate as you offload at Seafood Producers Cooperative or Sitka Sound Seafoods. The program can only accept commercially caught fish (no sport or subsistence fish).

If you have any additional questions, please contact Heather Bauscher of the Sitka Conservation Society at (907) 747-7509 or heather@sitkawild.org.

Sitka Tribe, Forest Service continue Tlingít potato garden for community

The USDA Forest Service Sitka Ranger District and Sitka Tribe of Alaska will work together again from 10:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Friday, April 19, at the Sitka Ranger District (2108 Halibut Point Road) to create an educational opportunity and traditional food source for community members. Forest Service staff and the tribe will share how to grow Tlingít (sometimes called Maria’s) potatoes, and share the biology, history, and cultural aspects of these interesting potatoes.

Since 2017, the Sitka Ranger District has provided a sunny plot of land to serve as the shared Tlingít potato garden. Together, the Tribe and the Forest Service provide the seed potatoes to plant the garden. The Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program and the gardening class from Pacific High School will again assist with the planting.

Community involvement is also needed to get the garden planted. Volunteers are asked to bring boots, gardening gloves, and shovels. Five-gallon buckets of seaweed to incorporate into the soil are beneficial, too. Members of the community who help tend the shared garden may receive more than gratitude as their reward.

“Last fall we harvested 90 pounds of potatoes. We shared the harvest among those helping out and through the Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program. And this year, we will be expanding the garden so we can grow even more potatoes,” said District Ranger Perry Edwards. “This project teaches people how to grow and sustain a traditional food, while supporting the need for food security among Sitka Families. It’s also a fun and very sustainable way to celebrate Earth Day.”

Tlingit 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.

This work day and educational opportunity will be from 10:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Friday, April 19, at the Sitka Ranger District office, located at 2108 Halibut Point Road. For more information, contact Michelle Putz at 907-747-2708 or michelle.putz@usda.gov.

*Zhang, Linhai with Charles R. Brown, David Culley, Barbara Baker, Elizabeth Kunibe, Hazel Denney, Cassandra Smith, Neuee Ward, Tia Beavert, Julie Coburn, J. J. Pavek, Nora Dauenhauer and Richard Dauenhauer. Inferred origin of several Native American potatoes from the Pacific Northwest and Southeast Alaska using SSR markers. Euphytica 174:15-29

Moby the Mobile Greenhouse to spend rest of year at Pacific High School in Sitka

Pacific High School gardening class teacher Maggie Gallin, center right facing camera, shows Moby the Mobile Greenhouse to her students during Friday’s class.

During the Pacific High School gardening class last Friday (Feb. 15), school social worker Maggie Gallin, who teaches the class, was showing the students around Moby the Mobile Greenhouse when she asked the students to visualize what they wanted to grow in the greenhouse this year. Moby arrived in Sitka earlier in the week, just in time for the Southeast Alaska Farmers Summit.

The students already have raised garden beds outside the school where they grow more traditional food crops for Sitka, such as lettuce, kale, potatoes, carrots, etc. So the students were a bit more daring in their choices.

George wants to try growing citrus. Hannah wants to grow peppers, Doug wants to grow bell peppers, while Karl and Jayvan want to try growing corn. These are crops that need a greenhouse to grow in Sitka, and they won’t grow well outside. Our climate isn’t hot enough.

“Our culinary program is really strong,” Gallin said. “But we have a garden program and a subsistence program that we want to get stronger. This will be a mini-learning lab for us on a small scale, and the students want to experiment.”

Pacific High School gardening class students discuss what crops they want to grow in the garden beds inside Moby the Mobile Greenhouse.

Pacific High School is Sitka’s alternative high school, which promotes different styles of learning and more personal attention. Principal Mandy Summer, who taught gardening classes before she became principal, said the school built its first raised garden bed in 2010 after Phil Burdick’s English class read the Paul Fleischman novel Whirligig, and the garden bed served as a place to put the whirligigs the class made where they could catch the wind. To supplement the novel, the class read articles about how to grow plants.

Over time the project grew into two classes, including one on how to build things such as more garden beds, a composter, a sifter and other items for the garden. There now are about a half-dozen raised garden beds behind the school.

The addition of Moby the Mobile Greenhouse will elevate the garden class project at Pacific High School. Moby the Mobile Greenhouse is a tiny house greenhouse project that travels to different schools in Southeast Alaska by Grow Southeast in partnership with the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, Spruce Root and the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition. It was built with support from the University of Alaska Southeast, the Juneau School District, the Nature Conservancy and the Sitka Conservation Society. Before coming to Sitka, Moby spent a year each in Kake, Hoonah and Yakutat.

“Our (Pacific High’s) theme this year is growth and legacy, and Moby fits our theme,” Gallin said. “The students will be leaving something behind, and they’ll be contributing something that’s individually fulfilling.”

Moby is the size of a tiny house, and it can be pulled behind a pick-up truck. There are six small garden beds inside about waist height (three on each side), plus there are places for hanging baskets. In addition, there are rain gutters to catch rainwater to use in the garden beds. The program’s link includes a handout about Moby and a downloadable curriculum for the teachers to use.

The Pacific High School garden program already has several student-built raised garden beds, a composter, a sifter, and a small older greenhouse (from a kit) behind the school.

“Part of having Moby here is for our partnership with Baranof Elementary School, where our kids can be mentors,” Summer said, adding that in time the school hopes to grow enough food for the school lunches at both Pacific High and Baranof Elementary. There is a plot of land behind the school where Summer, Gallin and others at the school are hoping to expand the garden program, and that includes having a greenhouse or high tunnel to extend the garden season. “The plan is to have a more permanent structure.”

“Moby the Mobile Greenhouse travels to a different rural Southeast Alaska community, each growing season to kickstart interest in growing local produce, especially among young people,” said Jennifer Nu, a local foods director for the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition and a community food sustainability catalyst for the Sustainable Southeast Partnership. “We hope that the greenhouse inspires a new wave of vegetable gardeners, builders, local food system advocates in Sitka and beyond. Pacific High School was chosen for strong leadership, commitment to hands-on, place-based, project-centered learning that also has wellness and community at the heart of its mission. Students at Pacific High will share their learning experience with children at Baranof Elementary school and possibly students even younger. Moby will mobilize a longer-term vision as a local food system learning center for educators around the region.”

Pacific High School garden class students and class teacher Maggie Gallin (in stocking cap with back to camera) check out Moby the Mobile Greenhouse during their class on Friday, Feb. 15.

Pacific will have Moby through October, when the garden season ends. The students will still work through the summer, even though school won’t be in session. While Moby is in Sitka, the students discussed dressing up the mobile greenhouse with Native formline drawings.

“I’m excited for more fresh produce in lunch, and working with kids,” sophomore Melissa Gibson said.

“I want to grow stuff and take care of it,” sophomore George Stevenson added.

While in Sitka, Claire Sanchez of the Sitka Spruce Tips 4-H program will work with Gallin. There also will be other gardeners who might help with the class. The staff at Pacific hopes having Moby in Sitka will encourage more people in town to garden.

“One of the stats Sustainable Southeast Partnership wants us to track is how many gardens are inspired by Moby,” Gallin said.

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Forest Service, Sitka Tribe to harvest Tlingit potato garden for community on Oct. 19 (changed to Oct. 24)

The U.S. Forest Service-Sitka Ranger District and Sitka Tribe of Alaska will harvest the Tlingít community potato garden — and present scientific and cultural information about the unique crop — at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 19, at the Sitka Ranger District office, 2108 Halibut Point Road (NOTE: According to the flier posted at the library, this event has been moved to 3:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 24). Participants from the community will receive information on how to grow Tlingít potatoes, as well as their biology, history, and cultural aspects.

Michelle Putz stands in the Tlingít potato garden at the U.S. Forest Service-Sitka Ranger District office.

The Sitka Ranger District provides the sunny plot of land to serve as the shared potato garden and tends the garden over the summer. 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. School and tribe volunteers are expected to assist in the harvest, but community involvement is also needed. Attendees are asked to wear boots and gardening gloves, and bring hand trowels or shovels. Five-gallon buckets of kelp to incorporate into the soil after harvesting also would be beneficial.

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

(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 potato garden was started in 2017, partially, to support food security in Sitka.

“We’re excited about this year’s harvest because of the size and vigor of this year’s potato plants. The plants are more than three times the size of last year’s plants, so we are hopeful that we’ll have a really good harvest,” said Perry Edwards, Sitka District Ranger. “We also look forward to learning more about the genetic make-up of our harvest from the scientists who have studied them over the last year.”

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.

This work day and educational opportunity will be at the Sitka Ranger District office, located at 2108 Halibut Point Road. Participants should come prepared for the weather as all activities will occur outdoors. For more information, contact Michelle Putz at 907-747-2708 or mputz@fs.fed.us.

*Zhang, Linhai with Charles R. Brown, David Culley, Barbara Baker, Elizabeth Kunibe, Hazel Denney, Cassandra Smith, Neuee Ward, Tia Beavert, Julie Coburn, J. J. Pavek, Nora Dauenhauer and Richard Dauenhauer. Inferred origin of several Native American potatoes from the Pacific Northwest and Southeast Alaska using SSR markers. Euphytica 174:15-29

Fish to Schools program launches coho salmon and rockfish donation drive for commercial fishermen

The Fish to Schools program needs help from Sitka’s commercial fishermen. The program needs a few hundred pounds of coho salmon and rockfish to help make Fish to Schools meals for Sitka students during the upcoming 2018-19 school year. The program also is seeking photos of commercial fishermen at work, which can be used to teach the students more about how the fish got to their plates.

The coho salmon donation period is Monday. Aug. 20, through Sunday, Sept. 2. To donate, commercial fishermen can sign up and indicate how many pounds they want to donate when they offload at Seafood Producers Cooperative or Sitka Sound Seafoods during the donation period. The program can only accept commercially caught fish (no sport or subsistence fish). The hope is to get enough coho salmon and rockfish donated that locally caught fish can be offered to students at least once a week. Sign-up sheets will be posted at the scale shacks and in the main offices. Only coho salmon and rockfish will be accepted.

Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School student Naomi Capp, age 9, talks with fisherman Steve Lawrie Wednesday (April 25, 2018) during lunch at the school. The elementary school was hosting fishermen who donated part of their catch to the Fish to Schools program. The program is managed by the Sitka Conservation Society and provides fish dishes as part of the lunch programs at Baranof Elementary School, Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School, Blatchley Middle School, Sitka High School, Pacific High School, the SEER School, and Mount Edgecumbe High School. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

The Sitka Fish To Schools project (click here to see short video) got its start as a community wellness project at the 2010 Sitka Health Summit, and now is managed by the Sitka Conservation Society. It started by providing a monthly fish dish as part of the school lunch as Blatchley Middle School, and since then has grown to feature regular fish dishes as part of the lunch programs at Baranof Elementary SchoolKeet Gooshi Heen Elementary SchoolBlatchley Middle SchoolSitka High SchoolPacific High School (where the alternative high school students cook the meals themselves), the SEER School, and Mount Edgecumbe High School.

In addition to serving locally caught fish meals as part of the school lunch program, the Fish To Schools program also brings local fishermen, fisheries biologists and chefs to the classroom to teach the kids about the importance of locally caught fish in Sitka. The program received an innovation award from the Alaska Farm To Schools program during a community celebration dinner in May 2012, and now serves as a model for other school districts from coastal fishing communities. In May 2014, the Fish to Schools program released a guidebook so other school districts in Alaska could create similar programs.

For more information, contact Chandler O’Connell of the Sitka Conservation Society at 747-7509 or email chandler@sitkawild.org. If you would like to donate FAS (frozen at sea) fish, please call or text Lexi Fish Hackett at 738-5684.

Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School hosts We Love Our Fishermen lunch as part of Fish To Schools program

Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School student Naomi Capp, age 9, talks with fisherman Steve Lawrie during a “We Love Our Fishermen” lunch on Wednesday (April 26) at the school. The elementary school was hosting fishermen who donated part of their catch to the Fish to Schools program. The program is managed by the Sitka Conservation Society and provides locally caught fish dishes and education about fishing as part of the lunch programs at Baranof Elementary School, Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School, Blatchley Middle School, Sitka High School, Pacific High School, the SEER School, and Mount Edgecumbe High School. The Fish to Schools program was a project of the Sitka Health Summit. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)