USDA Forest Service, Sitka Tribe of Alaska, Pacific High students plant Tlingít potatoes

SITKA, Alaska, April 26, 2023 — The Sitka Tribe of Alaska (STA), Pacific High School, and Tongass National Forest joined forces last week for the sixth consecutive year to plant Tlingít (also called Maria’s) potatoes. Several STA staff and elders led the 10 school volunteers and 11 Forest Service staff in the planting process, then shared the potato’s history and some stories.

“It was a beautiful, sunny day, and the perfect opportunity to learn the biology, history, and cultural aspects of these interesting root vegetables,” said Eric Garner, Sitka District Ranger.

Tlingít potatoes have been present in Tlingít gardens for more than 200 years. The potatoes originate from Peru, Mexico or Chile, and were a trade item in Southeast Alaska in the early 1800s.

“When you handle these potatoes, you are touching a part of history,” said Tammy Young, a cultural resources coordinator with the STA.

The group plans to harvest the potatoes in October. Since 2017, the Sitka Ranger District has provided a sunny plot of land to serve as the shared potato garden and provided the seed potatoes to plant the garden. Last year, over 700 pounds of Tlingít potatoes were harvested between this garden and the STA plot to feed tribal families. The Tlingít potato continues to be a sustainable food resource, generations later.

For more information on the Tlingít potatoes, contact Tammy Young at 907-738-7689 or Those interested in learning more about these interesting potatoes can view the Forest Service video, Tlingít Potato Garden: Culture, Horticulture, Stories, History at

Transition Sitka, Sitka Local Foods Network work to bring community gardens back to Sitka

In the spring of 2016, Sitka’s main community garden, Blatchley Community Garden was closed. Since then, Sitka hasn’t had a true community garden. But that soon might change.

Joel Hanson, who is part of the community sustainability group Transition Sitka and recently joined the board of the Sitka Local Foods Network, has been working on a proposal to create two community gardens. Both are about half an acre with 50 or more 10-foot-by-20-foot garden plots each, and located on city property. One is located off Osprey Street, next to the Vilandre baseball field next to Blatchley Middle School. The other is located near the top of Jarvis Street, near where the Sitka Homeless Coalition is building a new tiny house community for the unhoused.

More details, including maps, are included in the two linked handouts at the bottom of this story.

“Community gardens plant the seeds for a solution to community food security,” Hanson said. “They create a sense of place and cooperative engagement. They promote health, advance equity, encourage inclusion and foster resiliency. They are for people of all ages.”

“Rebuilding a community garden in Sitka has been a major need as far as food security in the years since Blatchley Community Garden was closed,” Sitka Local Foods Network president Charles Bingham said. “We have a lot of people in town who want to grow their own food, but they live in an apartment or on a boat and don’t have the space to garden. This gives them a place to grow their own produce. When Blatchley Community Garden was closed, all of the spaces were being used and there was a waiting list. This proposal fills that need and allows space for expansion.”

Over the past few months, Hanson has been meeting with city officials and committees/commissions, the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, UAF Cooperative Extension Service, and other organizations to develop the proposal linked below. These community gardens still need approval before they can be developed. Once approved, we will need to raise money for supplies, recruit volunteers or hire workers to develop the land (which may involve cutting trees and leveling off soil), and more.

If you are interested in volunteering, helping raise money to build the gardens, having a plot in one of the gardens, or just staying in touch with what’s happening, please click this link and complete the short survey, For more details, contact Joel Hanson at 907-747-9834 or email

• Sitka community gardens project prospectus (with maps of both locations)

• Two-page Q&A sheet with more information

Sitka Tribe of Alaska hosts subsistence herring egg distribution survey

The fisheries department at Sitka Tribe of Alaska is trying to better understand the distribution networks for the cultural and traditional resources used here in Southeast Alaska.

A request from STA fisheries biologist Kyle Rosendale: “Sitka Tribe of Alaska is asking anyone interested in herring eggs to fill out this brief survey to better understand the distribution of herring eggs and the needs of communities around the state. Respondents will be entered into a drawing for up to $300. Please share the survey with anyone who might be interested. Gunalchéesh!

All surveys are confidential. If you have any questions, please email Kyle directly at

Tlingít potato harvest Friday honors American Indian Heritage Day and National Public Lands Day

Michelle Putz harvests Tlingít potatoes in 2020.

A short but exciting hands-on celebration will be happening at the Sitka Ranger District Office on Friday, Sept. 24.  The Sitka Ranger District, Sitka Tribe of Alaska, and Pacific High School gardening class will celebrate American Indian Heritage Day (Sept. 24) and National Public Lands Day (Sept 25) by following a time-honored tradition in Sitka – the annual harvest of Tlingít (Maria’s) potatoes.

Forest Service employees, Sitka Tribe employees and volunteers, and student volunteers will get their hands dirty at the USDA Forest Service office as they harvest the potatoes they lovingly planted on Earth Day, April 22. Story-tellers will talk about the traditions behind potatoes and gardening and others will share information on how to care for Tlingít potatoes, as well as their biology, history, and cultural aspects. Participants will also say goodbye to long-time Tongass NEPA Planner and “potato lady,” Michelle Putz, as she assists with her last harvest.

“It could not be more appropriate or humbling than to commemorate these two specific days, meant to honor Native American heritage and volunteerism, with these much-appreciated partners through harvesting a locally important and traditional food,” said Sitka District Ranger, Perry Edwards.

We look forward to holding a planting event next spring that is open to the community. To limit the spread of COVID-19, this year’s celebration will not be open to the public.  In the meantime, those interested in learning more about these interesting potatoes can view the Forest Service video: Tlingit Potato Garden – Culture, Horticulture, Stories, History at

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.”

Sitka Tribal Enterprises to host open house Monday for new commercial kitchen


Sitka Tribal Enterprises (STE), the business arm of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, will host an open house from noon until 4 p.m. on Monday, May 17, at its new Cottage Industry Development Center, which is located in its former tannery space at 4608 Halibut Point Road (behind the Blueberry Inn). The new space includes a rental commercial kitchen and a classroom, which can be used by people to process and preserve their fish and game, foraging, and garden harvests, as well as for lessons.

“Due to Covid 19, food security was identified as a real concern, especially for the island community of Sitka that is highly dependent on transportation,” Sitka Tribe of Alaska Economic Development Director Camille Ferguson said.

Ferguson, who was born and raised in Sitka, said the tribe “looked within our community and realized that we have an abundant amount of resources right in our own backyards. Sitkans have been harvesting seafood, game, and edible foods from shorelines and forest. What was missing for the community was a place to process foods that would maintain a safe shelf life, and benefit should we be faced with a shortage of foods. STE also realized harvesting and properly packaging for local stores would help with small business and create a cottage industry stimulating the economy.”

Sitka Tribal Enterprises used CARES Act funding to convert part of its former tannery space into the commercial kitchen and classroom. STE hired James Sturm and his crew at Dubs Handyman (Conner and Cory Nelson, with subcontractor Terry Elixman of Liberty Construction) to transform the space.

“The Dubs team went above and beyond to create the kitchen, putting in the extra effort and thinking of how people harvest and the type of commercial equipment that would be needed,” Ferguson said. “One highlight to the kitchen is the walk-in cooler that can hold up to six deer — perfect for aging the meat at a controlled temperature and keeping the meat safe from bears.”

 Prices for renting the facility are available by emailing and soon will be posted on the Sitka Tribe of Alaska website at  

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.”

Sitka Tribe of Alaska, USDA Forest Service Sitka Ranger Station will plant Tlingít potato garden on Earth Day

SITKA, Alaska – The USDA Forest-Service Sitka Ranger District and Sitka Tribe of Alaska will join forces for the fourth consecutive year to educate people about Tlingít potatoes (also called Maria’s potatoes) and plant a crop of potatoes. The community is invited to participate in a web-based educational program on April 22, 2020. USDA Forest Service staff, the tribe, and tribal citizens will share how to grow Tlingít potatoes, and share the biology, history, and cultural aspects of these interesting root vegetables.

Separate from the education event, Tongass National Forest employees will, this year, plant the potatoes themselves. Since 2017, the Sitka Ranger District has provided a sunny plot of land to serve as the shared potato garden and provided the seed potatoes to plant the garden. In previous years, the Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program, the gardening class from Pacific High School, and Sitka community volunteers have assisted on the project.

“Because of the limited window for planting and the need to keep people safe and healthy, we decided that a virtual event, followed by one or two employees planting the bed, was our best plan of action for 2020,” Sitka District Ranger Perry Edwards said. “By teaching people through a web-based event, even more people can learn how to grow and sustain an easily grown, very productive traditional food.”

The virtual educational event is happening from 1:30-2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 22, which is Earth Day. Attendees should use a computer or tablet, and are encouraged to sign in a few minutes early using their full name. Organizers will use a Teams meeting at for both video and audio. Organizers suggest using the button: “join in on the web instead” once they have connected to the Teams meeting. For more information, contact Michelle Putz at 907- 747-2708 or email

Tlingít potatoes have been present in Tlingit gardens for more than 200 years. The potatoes originate from Mexico or Chile, and were a trade item in Southeast Alaska in the early 1800s.

As you build your 2020 garden this spring, don’t forget to Plant A Row For The Hungry

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article first appeared on this site in April 2010. It is repeated with some updates because much of the information remains current and newsworthy.)

As you start to plan your garden for this spring and summer, don’t forget to Plant A Row For The Hungry. The Plant A Row For The Hungry program (also known as Plant A Row or PAR) is a national campaign by the Garden Writers Association of America (which recently changed its name to the Garden Communicators International) that has its roots in Alaska.

In the cold winter of 1994, Anchorage Daily News garden columnist and former Garden Writers Association of America President Jeff Lowenfels was returning to his hotel after a Washington, D.C., event when he was approached by a homeless person who asked for some money to buy food. Lowenfels said Washington, D.C., had signs saying, “Don’t give money to panhandlers,” so he shook his head and kept on walking. But the man’s reply, “I really am homeless and I really am hungry. You can come with me and watch me eat,” stayed with Lowenfels for the rest of his trip.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels

The encounter continued to bother Lowenfels, even as he was flying back to Anchorage. During the flight, Lowenfels came up with an idea when he started writing his weekly garden column (the longest continuously running garden column in the country, with no missed weeks since it started on Nov. 13, 1976). He asked his readers to plant one extra row in their gardens to grow food to donate to Bean’s Café, an Anchorage soup kitchen. The idea took off.

When Anchorage hosted the Garden Writers Association of America convention in 1995, Lowenfels took the GWAA members to Bean’s Café to learn about the Plant A Row For Bean’s Café program. The Garden Writers Association of America liked the idea, and it became the national Plant A Row For The Hungry campaign (also known as Plant A Row or PAR). In 2002, the Garden Writers Association Foundation (now Garden Communicators International) was created as a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit to manage the Plant A Row For The Hungry program.

“I am not surprised by the growth of PAR,” Lowenfels wrote in a 2010 e-mail to the Sitka Local Foods Network. “It is now in all 50 states and across Canada and there are thousands of variations of the original program — from prison gardens for the hungry to botanical gardens donating their produce from public display gardens. This is because gardeners always share information and extra food, so the idea was a natural.”

It took five years for the program to reach its first million pounds of donated food, but the second million only took two years and the next eight years saw a million pounds of donated food (or more) each year. Since 1995, more than 20 million pounds of food (about 80 million meals, as of 2020) have been donated by American gardeners. Not only that, the program is getting ready to expand overseas to Australia, England and other countries with avid gardeners.

“We have supplied something in the vicinity of enough food for 50 million meals,” Lowenfels wrote in his e-mail. “Gardeners can solve this hunger problem without the government. And we don’t need a tea party to do it! Or chemicals, I might add, as author of a book on organic gardening!” Lowenfels is the author of Teaming With Microbes, written with Wayne Lewis. He released a second book, Teaming With Nutrients, as a follow-up to his first book, and in 2017 released a third book, Teaming With Fungi, as a second follow-up book.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one out of every eight U.S. households experiences hunger or the risk of hunger. Many people skip meals or eat too little, sometimes going an entire day or more without food. About 33 million Americans, including 13 million children, have substandard diets or must resort to seeking emergency food because they can’t always afford to buy the food they need. In recent years, the demand for hunger assistance has increased 70 percent, and research shows that hundreds of children and adults are turned away from food banks each year because of lack of resources.

According to the 2014 Sitka Community Food Assessment Indicators Report, about one in six people in Sitka is food insecure. In 2013, there were 1,410 Sitkans (out of a population of about 9,000) and 766 families receiving food assistance (SNAP, aka food stamps). There also were 229 individuals who received food pantry assistance from the Salvation Army and 7,243 meals served through its lunch soup kitchen in 2013, and that number has grown substantially since then.

While many people credit Lowenfels for creating the Plant A Row For The Hungry program, Lowenfels says the real heroes are the gardeners growing the extra food and donating it to local soup kitchens, senior programs, schools, homeless shelters and neighbors. You can hear him pass along the credit to all gardeners at the end of this 2009 interview with an Oklahoma television station (video also embedded below).

“One row. That’s all it takes. No rules other than the food goes to the hungry. You pick the drop-off spot or just give it to a needy friend or neighbor. Nothing slips between the lip and the cup, I say,” Lowenfels wrote in his e-mail.

With all of the jobs lost because of the COVID-19 coronavirus quarantines in 2020, this year there will be even more people who need food assistance. It will be more important than ever to help get extra produce into our local food banks and soup kitchens.

For people wanting to Plant A Row For The Hungry in Sitka, there are several places that would love to help distribute some fresh locally grown veggies or berries to those who are less fortunate, such as the Salvation ArmySitkans Against Family Violence (SAFV), local churches, Sitka Tribe of Alaska and other organizations. The food the Sitka Local Foods Network grows at St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm communal garden goes to the Sitka Farmers Market, school lunches and other programs.

People who participate in the Alaska Food Stamp program can use their Alaska Quest Cards to purchase produce and fish at the Sitka Farmers Market and other farmers markets around the state. People who participate in the  WIC (Women, Infants, Children) supplemental food program (operated in Southeast Alaska by the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium or SEARHC) also can use special farmers market vouchers to buy fresh vegetables at the Sitka Farmers Market and other farmers markets in Alaska (this is part of the national WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program). The Sitka Local Foods Network matches up to $20 for produce purchased using WIC or SNAP benefits at the Sitka Farmers Market.

The Sitka Local Foods Network also takes donations of local produce to sell at the Sitka Farmers Markets, and all proceeds are used to help pay for SLFN projects geared toward helping more people in Sitka grow and harvest local food. For more information, contact the Sitka Local Foods Network board members at

• Plant A Row informational brochure (2017)