Sitka Tribe of Alaska receives EPA grant to study microplastics in subsistence foods

Sockeye salmon hangs from racks in the smoker.

The Sitka Tribe of Alaska (STA) has been awarded a one-year, $30,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency‘s Environmental Justice Small Grant Program. The grant project, “Microplastics in Tribal Subsistence Foods In Southeast Alaska,” will include the University of Alaska, Mount Edgecumbe High School, the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition (SAWC), and Sitka Conservation Society as partners.

Esther Kennedy of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Resource Protection Department samples water near the Starrigavan Recreation Area dock for marine biotoxins such as paralytic shellfish poisoning. (Photo by Emily Kwong, KCAW-Raven Radio)

“STA will collect water and subsistence food samples from four locations within STA’s traditional territory to test for the presence of microplastics and associated toxins,” Sitka Tribe of Alaska grant administrator Rachel Henderson wrote in an email. “These results will be compared to commercially purchased foods and safety standards. These results will be shared with the public so they can make informed decisions about harvesting traditional foods. Local students will assist with the sampling of local food and water.”

Henderson said Jennifer Hamblen is the project manager for the tribe, and she is working with Jeff Feldspaugh of the tribe’s resource protection department and the tribe’s partner agencies.

“Part of STA’s mission is to help ensure that subsistence resources for STA Tribal Citizens are available and safe,” Hamblen said. “In recent years, there have been many studies and publications from other places, such as British Columbia, about microplastics and their associated toxins having devastating consequences on animals, and potentially affecting the people who consume them. This is a pilot project to see if there are microplastics in subsistence foods in our area and comparing locally collected seafood to seafood available at supermarkets.”

Microplastics, aka phthalates, found at low tide. There are concerns microplastics are getting into subsistence foods and that will impact people’s health. (Photo courtesy of EPA.gov)

University of Alaska Southeast was written in as a project partner and the UAS conference in July is one of the places that STA will present the results, Henderson said. The Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition (SAWC) has done microplastic water collection on behalf of salmon in the past, and Sitka Conservation Society (SCS) is very invested and knowledgeable about microplastics and their effects on the environment.

“We’ll be collecting shellfish from the Starrigavan estuary to process for microplastic consumption. We will also collect water samples using the methods already established by SAWC,” Henderson said.

While the project is just starting to launch, it has had one setback, Henderson said. “When we wrote the grant, we were going to send the samples to a certified, plastic-free laboratory, such as the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Applied Science, Engineering, and Technology Laboratory. That lab ran out of funding and is no longer operational, so we’re looking for another lab. Right now Jenn’s writing the QAPP (an EPA requirement before an sample collection that has to be approved before we can start work) so we can collect samples and we’ll look at presence/absence of microplastics with students from Mount Edgecumbe High School. We’ll save samples in case we get an opportunity for a larger project and find an appropriate lab to run phthalate samples. There will be photos with MEHS collecting samples and processing samples after the QAPP is approved.”

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Sitka Conservation Society to host annual Wild Foods Potluck on Sunday, Nov. 12

The Sitka Conservation Society is hosting its annual Wild Foods Potluck, starting at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 12, at Harrigan Centennial Hall. It’s more important than ever to come together to celebrate all the ways the Tongass National Forest feeds and sustains us. Please bring a dish that features ingredients that were fished, foraged, hunted, or cultivated in Southeast Alaska.

Did you know that Sitka Conservation Society is celebrating its 50th year? At the potluck, SCS will have an amazing photography display showcasing 50 years of grassroots conservation activism. SCS dug through its archives to find old photos and videos from the early days of Sitka Conservation Society to pair with newer photos, illustrating the enduring legacy of conservation in Sitka. Also, if you’re a SCS member or want to become one, you can pick up your 2018 SCS calendar at the potluck.

The potluck is open to the entire community, especially SCS members, friends, family, and anyone else interested in learning about the Sitka Conservation Society. Come celebrate Alaska’s wild food bounty with your friends and neighbors.

Interested in volunteering at the potluck or want more information? Contact info@sitkawild.org or call 747-7509.

Sitka Health Summit chooses two community wellness projects for the next year

Starting a series of trauma-informed community conversations and reducing Sitka’s carbon emissions were the theme as Sitka residents gathered to choose two community wellness projects to pursue in 2017-18 at the 11th annual Sitka Health Summit, held Oct. 11-13, at the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus and Sitka Public Library. The Sitka Local Foods Network got its start through a couple of Sitka Health Summit projects.

This year, the summit featured Justin Rivas, MPH, MIPA, of the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, who also works with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). Rivas led a boundary-spanning leadership workshop on Wednesday morning to help leaders learn how to be more inclusive in their planning. He also gave a presentation on health equity on Wednesday night.

The Sitka Health Summit Planning Day was expanded to a day and a half this year, with Rivas facilitating. On Thursday afternoon, Rivas discussed health equity and also went over some of the Sitka and Alaska health information gathered from the RWJF County Health Rankings (http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/). He also discussed the site’s What Works For Health project (http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/policies) that lists hundreds of possible health projects and the evidence-based research that shows how they work. On Friday, about 30-40 Sitkans gathered to select the two community wellness projects to pursue for the next year.

“The Sitka Health Summit team was successful in using data and evidence to inform the goal-setting process at this year’s planning day,” Rivas said. “They also met the challenge of strategically incorporating health equity in the selection of the year’s goals.”

There were 33 initial projects proposed, in a variety of categories such as physical activity, nutrition (including two people suggesting a veggie prescriptions project), mental health, health equity, etc. They were narrowed down to five semifinalists, and two of those were combined to make it four semifinal projects. The two chosen projects each will receive $2,000 in seed money, as well as some facilitation services from the Sitka Health Summit advisory team, to help get the projects off the ground.

“The planners chose two important goals for this year,” Sitka Health Summit Coalition member Doug Osborne said. “The first group decided to have some critical conversations about our community’s past and present as well as the kind of future we want for all of our residents. Understanding our ‘history’ (including the painful parts that often don’t get discussed), becoming a trauma-informed community, and uniting to end racism are going to contribute to a healthier Sitka that’s built on a foundation of mutual respect.

“The second goal the planners chose was to help protect our ocean, forest, and quality of life by reducing carbon emissions and addressing climate change. As the planners brainstormed ways to reduce CO2 emissions (the main greenhouse gas) it was clear that the solutions had several layers of benefits, such as saving money, improving air quality, promoting fitness and more. I wish both of the groups the best of luck as they work to make our world and our town healthier, more sustainable, and more equitable.”

Each of the two chosen community wellness projects will host a kick-off event in the near future, and these events are open to the public and anybody who wants to help with the project. More information about the projects, their kick-off meetings, and contact people are listed below.

  • Reduce carbon emissions in Sitka — 6:30-8 p.m., Monday, Oct. 23, Harrigan Centennial Hall, contact Heather Bauscher, 747-7509, heather@sitkawild.org (NOTE: Second meeting is 6-7:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 30, at the Island Institute offices across from Baranof Elementary School) — Sitkans have a direct self interest in healthy oceans, forests and quality of life. By being better stewards of our resources, we can save money while helping the environment, protect our quality of life, help the next generation, and create a livable world now and in the future. All are invited to discuss CO2 reduction, stewardship, and a sustainable Sitka. (Note: Growing local food can be a part of this project.)
  • Trauma-informed community conversations — 6-7:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 9, Harrigan Centennial Hall, contact Loyd Platson, 747-3636, lplatson@scpsak.org (NOTE: This is a change from the time, date and location originally announced for this meeting) — This project’s goal is in bringing together partners interested in community healing and equity, fostering community healing and understanding through dialogue, increasing cross-cultural understanding and respect, and creating a forum where conversations can be brought together. We as a community recognize that historical trauma affects the well-being and health equity of our community. We are going to have continuing conversations surrounding these topics, and this will be a safe space to talk about these things and our shared experience.

The Sitka Health Summit is coordinated and funded by a coalition of local groups that includes the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC), Sitka Community Hospital, Sitka Conservation Society, Sitka Counseling, the State of Alaska Division of Public HealthSection of Public Health Nursing, the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus, Southeast Radiation Oncology Center, White’s Pharmacy, the Sitka Health Summit Coalition.

For more information about the Sitka Health Summit and its current and past projects, go to http://www.sitkahealthsummit.org/. Photos from the summit are posted on the Sitka Health Summit page on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/SitkaHealthSummit.

Cross boundaries at the 11th annual Sitka Health Summit on Oct. 11-13

The 11th annual Sitka Health Summit will be October 11-13 at various locations around Sitka.

​​Justin Rivas, MPH, MIPA, from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute will be leading two workshops and then providing facilitation for the planning days. All the events are free and open to the public.

The summit opens with the boundary spanning leadership workshop from 10:30 a.m. to noon, on Wednesday, Oct. 11, in Room 229 at the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus. This interactive workshop comes from the Center for Creative Leadership and is based on the book Boundary Spanning Leadership by Chris Ernst.

For a diverse group of stakeholders to effectively cross boundaries and work together, partners must first define and understand the lines that differentiate them. You must be able to clearly see group boundaries before you can span them. This important step is often skipped in forming new partnerships. Throughout this class five types of universal boundaries will be examined and deconstructed with the goal of improving teamwork and, ultimately, results.

The next event is a presentation by Rivas on health equity and the impact income, race and geography has on health outcomes. This event takes place from 6:30-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 11, at the Sitka Public Library. Information and case studies about public health efforts to understand and address disparities, while promoting access and equity for all, will be shared and discussed.

This year we’ve expanded the Sitka Health Summit planning day into a day and a half of planning community wellness projects. They will take place from 1-4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 12, and from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 13, in Room 229 at the UAS Sitka Campus. For lunch during Friday’s events, Chef Edith Johnson of Our Town Catering will prepare a lunch with locally caught coho salmon and a locally grown kale and mixed-green salad with a champagne vinaigrette.

All ideas and all people are welcome to brainstorm, evaluate, select two inspiring health goals that will promote equity and well-being in Sitka. Each of the newly selected initiatives receives $2,000 in start-up funds, initial facilitation services, technical assistance, and a letter of support. Some of the past community initiatives include the Sitka Farmers Market, Sitka Kitch, Fish to Schools, Hames Athletic and Wellness Center, Sitka Community Playground, and earning Bicycle Friendly Community and Walk Friendly Communities designations, among other projects.

Sponsors for this year’s Health Equity themed Summit include the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC), Sitka Community Hospital, Sitka Conservation Society, Sitka Counseling, White’s Inc./Harry Race Pharmacy, Southeast Radiation Oncology Center, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services-Section of Public Health Nursing, the University of Alaska Southeast-Sitka Campus, and the Sitka Health Summit Coalition.

For more information or to save your spot at any the three events, contact Doug Osborne at 747-0373 or dosborne@sitkahospital.org or Holly Marban at 966-8938 or holly.marban@searhc.org. Doug and Holly also are requesting people RSVP for the events, to help planning.

Please email them and let them know if you plan to attend the Wednesday morning workshop with Justin Rivas at UAS Sitka Campus (Event A), the health equity presentation Wednesday night at Sitka Public Library (Event B), and/or the Sitka Health Summit Planning Days on Thursday and Friday at UAS Sitka Campus (Event C).

Scenes from the Sitka Kitch classes on filleting and canning salmon for the Sitka Seafood Festival

As part of the rekindled Sitka Seafood Festival, the Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen hosted two classes this week — Tuesday, Aug. 15, on how to fillet a salmon, and Wednesday, Aug. 16, on how to can salmon.

The Tuesday class was taught by Renée Jakaitis Trafton, chef-owner of Beak Restaurant. Renée taught students the basics of filleting a salmon (using freshly caught, ungutted salmon), and she taught them how to pull pinbones and how to skin the fillet.

The Wednesday class was led by Jasmine Shaw, who works for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service‘s Sitka District Office. In addition to teaching students how to can salmon, Jasmine also taught them how to make a simple raspberry-currant jam while the salmon was processing.

Slideshows from both classes are posted below, with the Tuesday class slideshow on top of the Wednesday class. In the Wednesday class slideshow there are photos of several UAF Cooperative Extension Service publications, including several free handouts that can be downloaded off the UAF CES website and a couple of books that can be purchased from Jasmine at her office (contact her at 747-9440 or jdshaw2@alaska.edu to set up a time to get them).

Also, don’t forget the Sitka Kitch still has openings in its Ring Around The Rose Hip class from its Preserving The Harvest class series. You can learn more about our upcoming classes by going to http://sitkakitch.eventsmart.com and clicking on the class title to register.

Tuesday class slideshow

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Wednesday class slideshow

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Fish to Schools program launches coho salmon 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 to help make Fish to Schools meals for Sitka students during the upcoming 2017-18 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 Wednesday. Aug. 16, through Thursday, Aug. 31. 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 donated that locally caught salmon 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 will be accepted.

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 Sophie Nethercut of the Sitka Conservation Society at 747-7509 or email sophie@sitkawild.org. If you would like to donate FAS (frozen at sea) fish, please call or text Lexi Fish Hackett at 738-5684.

Sitka Kitch to offer two classes in conjunction with the Sitka Seafood Festival

Sitkans love their seafood, and the Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen is offering two great classes in conjunction with the Sitka Seafood FestivalHow to Fillet a Salmon and How to Can Salmon.

In the first class, held from 6-8 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 15, at the Sitka Kitch (505 Sawmill Creek Road, inside First Presbyterian Church), local chef Renée Jakaitis Trafton of the Beak Restaurant will teach students how to fillet a salmon. This includes lessons on how to remove the pinbones from the salmon and how to remove the skin. Participants must bring a fillet knife or let the instructor know they need one in advance. Knives can be made available for $15 for those who need them. This class costs $15.

In the second class, held from 5-9 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 16, at the Sitka Kitch, Jasmine Shaw of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service‘s Sitka District Office will teach students how to can the salmon (using the filleted salmon from Tuesday’s class). In addition, she will teach students how to make a simple berry jam while the class waits for the salmon to process in the canner. This class costs $27.50.

As a special deal, the Sitka Kitch has a $35 fee for students registering for both classes. The Sitka Seafood Festival is providing fish and jars for the classes, so there should be little or no food/supply fee.

The registration deadline is 6:55 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 14. Registration is capped at 10 students so sign up early to secure your space in these classes.

Register online at our EventSmart page, http://sitkakitch.eventsmart.com/ (click on class title, there is a separate class title to register for both classes and get the discount), using a debit or credit card or PayPal account. You also can call Chandler or Clarice at Sitka Conservation Society (747-7509) to arrange payment by cash or check. For more information about the two classes, contact Jasmine Shaw at 747-9440 or email sitkakitch@sitkawild.org.