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.

As you build your 2019 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 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 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 an 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 14 million pounds of food have been donated. 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.

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 sitkalocalfoodsnetwork@gmail.com.

• Plant A Row informational brochure (2017)

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

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

John Sledd to discuss Washington fishing treaties during July 23 presentation at Sitka Public Library

Outer Coast, Sitka Tribe of Alaska, and Sitka Conservation Society present a conversation with John Sledd, Seattle attorney representing Western Washington tribes in litigation over state culvert placement. The case is a culmination of a protracted legal battle between Western Washington tribes and the state of Washington over the violation of treaty-based duties to preserve fish runs and habitat.

This presentation takes place from 6-7:30 p.m. on Monday, July 23, at the Sitka Public Library.

Sledd will discuss the Tribes’ long struggle to protect their fishing rights, the recent US Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Tribes, and the lessons Washington vs. United States may hold for Alaska. Join us for a night of enlightenment and discussion.

Sitka Tribe of Alaska hosts guest speaker Desirée Lawson for ‘Herring Without Borders’ presentation

Please join Sitka Tribe of Alaska as we host guest speaker Desirée Lawson’s presentation, “Herring Without Borders,” at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 21, at Harrigan Centennial Hall. Lawson is a researcher and facilitator for the Revitalizing Indigenous Law for Land, Air, and Water program.

During her talk. Lawson will share Heiltsuk Nation’s experiences with herring advocacy, conservation, and co-management. Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans suspended the 2018 commercial sac roe fishery near Bella Bella, British Columbia, after the Heiltsuk Nation called for DFO managers to allow herring populations to recover — https://www.heiltsuknation.ca/dfos-agreement-to-suspend-roe-herring-fishery-will-give-stocks-an-opportunity-to-recover/.

We hope to see you there! Gunalchéesh. For more details, contact Kyle Rosendale at 747-7241 or kyle.rosendale@sitkatribe-nsn.gov.

Kayaaní Commission to host community potluck on Wednesday, May 30

The Kayaaní Commission, which is coordinated by Sitka Tribe of Alaska in partnership with other groups in Sitka, will host an open potluck from 6-8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 30, at the Sheet’ká Kwáan Naa Kahidí community house. The public is invited to attend. Please bring a dish to share and a friend.

The Kayaaní Commission is a group of knowledgeable community members and tribal citizens who are concerned with preserving and protecting plants and the traditional ways they are used. It started meeting in 1997 after the USDA Forest Service created a “special forest products” category for non-timber products in the Alaska region that included many of the traditional plants gathered by Alaska Natives for food, medicine and other purposes.

The meetings provided a way for the tribe to share its knowledge and customary practices using these roots, berries, bark, fungi, and other plants with federal and state agencies, so the agencies are less likely to make regulations that prevent their harvest. The Kayaaní Commission also discusses ways to sustainably harvest these plants, so the remain a vital part of our landscape. These efforts are supported by the Forest Service, Sitka Native Education Program (SNEP), Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood (ANB/ANS), National Park Service, (NPS), Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center (SEAICC) and many other interested parties and individuals along the way.

For more information, please contact Tammy Young at 747-7167 or tammy.young@sitkatribe-nsn.gov.