Sitka Tribe, U.S. Forest Service plant Tlingít potato garden for community

(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 U.S. Forest Service-Sitka Ranger District and Sitka Tribe of Alaska will join forces again on Friday, April 20, 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 potato garden and provided the seed potatoes to plant the garden. The Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program and the gardening class from Pacific High School assisted on the project, and will again this year. But community involvement is also needed. Volunteers are asked to bring boots, gardening gloves, and shovels. Five gallon buckets of kelp to incorporate into the soil would be beneficial as well. Members of the community who help tend the shared garden may receive more than gratitude as their reward.

“Last fall we shared the harvest among those helping out and through the Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program. We’ve been growing and naturally enhancing our soil this spring, so this year we hope the crop is even larger,” District Ranger Perry Edwards said. “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.

The first work day and educational opportunity will be from 9:30-11:30 a.m. on Friday, April 20, at the Sitka Ranger District office, located at 2108 Halibut Point Road. 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

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Sitka Ranger District, Sitka Tribe to harvest Tlingit community potato garden

(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 community is invited to help harvest the Sitka Ranger District/Sitka Tribe of Alaska Tlingit potato garden and learn scientific and cultural information about the unique crop at 3 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 25, at the USDA Forest Service Sitka Ranger District office, 2108 Halibut Point Road.

Leading Tlingit potato researcher Elizabeth Kunibe will join the group to present information on the biology, history, and cultural aspects Tlingit potatoes. Topics will include harvesting potatoes, learning to store potatoes for seed and for food, preparation for next year’s garden, and the cultural aspects of Tlingit potatoes and native gardening.

The Sitka Ranger District provided the sunny plot of land for the shared potato garden and tended 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 planted the potatoes in April.

Community involvement is needed for the harvest. Participants should come prepared for the weather as all activities will occur outdoors. All of the attendees are asked to wear boots, gardening gloves, and bring hand trowels or shovels. Bringing buckets of kelp to incorporate into the soil after harvesting would be beneficial.

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

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 1800s.

This work day and educational opportunity will be at the Sitka Ranger District office, located at 2108 Halibut Point Road. For more information, contact Michelle Putz at 907-747-2708 or mputz@fs.fed.us. For interviews and information to be used for publication, contactthe Tongass Public Affairs Officer Paul Robbins at 907-228-6201 or paulrobbins@fs.fed.us.

Tlingít potato garden being readied for community of Sitka

(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 U.S. Forest Service-Sitka Ranger District and Sitka Tribe of Alaska have joined forces to help create an educational opportunity and traditional food source for community members.

The two groups will show how to grow Tlingít potatoes, and tell about their biology, history and cultural aspects.

The Sitka Ranger District is providing a plot of land to serve as the shared potato garden. The Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program and the gardening class from Pacific High School will assist on the project, but community involvement also is needed.

Attendees should bring boots, gardening gloves and shovels, and (if possible) five-gallon buckets of kelp to incorporate into the soil. The first work day and educational opportunity is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. on Friday, April 14, at the Sitka Ranger District office, 2108 Halibut Point Road.

Organizers said that members of the community who help tend the shared garden may receive more than gratitude as their reward.

“We hope to share the harvest among those helping out, and possibly share potatoes through the Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program and Social Services,” Sitka District Ranger Perry Edwards said. “This project will teach people how to grow and sustain a traditional food, while supporting the growing need for food security among Sitka families.”

K’únts’ — 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 1800s.

For more information, contact Michelle Putz at 747-2708 or mputz@fs.fed.us.

• WISEGUYS men’s health group builds a community potato patch in Klukwan

Tubs of potatoes are loaded into the back of a pick-up truck after they were picked at the WISEGUYS potato patch in Klukwan

Tubs of potatoes are loaded into the back of a pick-up truck after they were picked at the WISEGUYS potato patch in Klukwan

While this site is about the Sitka Local Foods Network and projects in Sitka promoting local foods, occasionally we have news from a nearby community that’s worth reporting.

This summer, the new WISEGUYS men’s health group in Klukwan, a Tlingít community just north of Haines, decided to build a potato patch to raise potatoes and a few other vegetables for community members of the Chilkat Indian Village.

“The idea was to provide a sustainable subsistence based crop that could supply every house in Klukwan with potatoes every year,” said Mike Adams, a Community Health Practitioner at the SEARHC Klukwan Health Center. “This would also allow us to get together with the community kids, exercise and spent time together doing something for our community.”

Adams said the group started with a donated piece of land from the Chilkat Indian Village and began clearing it of debris and cleaning it up so the ground could be tilled for planting. The WISEGUYS received funding from the SEARHC WISEWOMAN Women’s Health Program so they could purchase the potato seed and fertilizer, and the SEARHC Behavioral Health Prevention Program (a program to educate youth about drug and alcohol abuse) bought a few hand tools.

Sixty hours were spent in clearing and ground preparations, as well as 20 hours of donated heavy equipment time from Chilkat Indian village and Hank Jacquot. This got us to a 100-foot-by-100-foot piece of usable ground. The preparations for planting then began. Many of us spent several days with three Roto-Tillers tilling the area, digging furrows for planting, adding organic fertilizers and ultimately planting 1,000 potato plants. Four varieties were planted — Kennebec, Tlingít, Yukon Gold and Chippawa’s.

The summer was unseasonably hot and there was a minimal water supply from a nearby creek. To supplement the creek, watering was done using the village fire truck to spray the patch with 750 gallons of water every three to five days.

“We harvested the potatoes on Sept. 25th and had many community members participate as well as all the kids from the Klukwan school and their teachers,” Adams said. “We grossed approximately 1,500 pounds of potatoes. Every child and teacher was sent home with a large bag of potatoes and every household in Klukwan was given potatoes. Due to the prolonged unseasonable hot weather all summer the final harvest amount was a bit lower then we’d hoped, but everyone was given potatoes and we all had a great time harvesting.”

Adams said the WISEGUYS received a positive note when they applied for a small grant from RurAL CAP in August to purchase supplies and equipment, and they recently found out they were awarded the grant. He said the group plans to build a sprinkler system in the potato patch next year.

“Thanks goes to everyone for all your support,” Adams said. “We look forward to another great year in 2010!”

Potato pickers gather for the potato-picking party on Sept. 25 at the WISEGUYS potato patch in Klukwan

Potato pickers gather for the potato-picking party on Sept. 25 at the WISEGUYS potato patch in Klukwan

Barren land before it was cleared to become the WISEGUYS potato patch in Klukwan

Barren land before it was cleared to become the WISEGUYS potato patch in Klukwan

Potato plants growing in the WISEGUYS potato patch in Klukwan

Potato plants growing in the WISEGUYS potato patch in Klukwan

Community members pick potatoes during a potato-picking party Sept. 25 at the WISEGUYS potato patch in Klukwan

Community members pick potatoes during a potato-picking party Sept. 25 at the WISEGUYS potato patch in Klukwan

Lani Hotch and Bev Klanott stand behind a big cabbage growing at the WISEGUYS potato patch in Klukwan. The cabbage weighed nearly 30 pounds when it was harvested.

Lani Hotch and Bev Klanott stand behind a big cabbage growing at the WISEGUYS potato patch in Klukwan. The cabbage weighed nearly 30 pounds when it was harvested.

• Thanks for “Growing in Sitka and Southeast Alaska” presentation

Elizabeth Kunibe shows off a Tlingít potato (also known as "Maria's potato")

On Friday afternoon, the Sitka Local Foods Network hosted anthropology student Elizabeth Kunibe of Juneau for a presentation, “Growing in Sitka and Southeast Alaska: Food of Today, Tomorrow and 200 Years Ago.” This presentation took place at the Kettleson Memorial Library and we had a standing-room-only crowd of 50-plus, despite being arranged less than a week before the event and competing with several Alaska Day happenings.

The Sitka Local Foods Network thanks Elizabeth for taking the time to make the presentation on what, for her, was a pleasure trip to Sitka for Alaska Day. We also thank the library and librarian Sarah Jones for allowing us to use Kettleson Memorial Library for the presentation.

Finally, we thank everybody who came to the presentation to hear Elizabeth discuss traditional Tlingít, Russian and American gardens in Sitka and Southeast Alaska, the Tlingít and Haida potatoes, an agricultural fair in Fort Yukon, the phytonutrients of potatoes and plant diseases.

For those people who weren’t able to attend, the presentation was recorded and it will be aired at various times this week on public access TV (Channel 11). Elizabeth said she might send over some notes from the presentation, and when those arrive they will be posted on the Sitka Local Foods Network site, http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org/. A small gallery of photos from the presentation is posted at this link.

Thanks again,
Charles Bingham, event organizer
Sitka Local Foods Network

• Sitka Local Foods Network hosts historical gardening presentation on Friday, Oct. 16

Children show off the bounty from the Klukwan School garden in 1911

Children show off the bounty from the Klukwan School garden in 1911

The Sitka Local Foods Network will host a brief historical gardening presentation by Elizabeth Kunibe, “Growing in Sitka and Southeast Alaska: Food of Today, Tomorrow and 200 Years Ago,” at 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 16, at the Kettleson Memorial Library. This event is free and open to all, and it should last about 45 minutes.

During her presentation, Kunibe will discuss early Tlingít gardens in Southeast Alaska, Russian gardens in Sitka in the 1800s, the first USDA Agricultural Experiment Station in Alaska comes to Sitka in 1898, an agricultural fair above the Arctic Circle in Fort Yukon, the importance of potatoes (a phytonutrient study), plant diseases and new ziplock bags made from fish gelatin. Her presentation includes a colorful slideshow that features historical information on gardening in Southeast Alaska, as well as information on what is happening in Alaska’s food systems today.

Kunibe is a University of Alaska Southeast anthropology student from Juneau who has spent the past six years researching early gardens of the Tlingít, Haida and Athabascan peoples in Alaska and the Yukon Territory. She is a 2008 and 2009 National Science Foundation EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) Fellow researching food systems in Alaska.

For more information, contact Charles Bingham at 747-1065 or send e-mail to charles@sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org/.

Gov. John G. Brady's garden in Sitka in 1900

Gov. John G. Brady's garden in Sitka in 1900

Plant geneticists Chuck Brown and Joe Kuhl of the USDA Agricultural Research Service, examine the flesh color of some potatoes being grown in Alaska. The color gives them clues to the nutrients the potatoes may contain.

Plant geneticists Chuck Brown and Joe Kuhl of the USDA Agricultural Research Service, examine the flesh color of some potatoes being grown in Alaska. The color gives them clues to the nutrients the potatoes may contain.

• Local food news from Juneau: Virus infects Tlingít potato crop; Glory Hole to get community garden

(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 borage plant flowers.

(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 borage plant flowers.

Click here to read an article in Tuesday’s Juneau Empire about a virus that has infected the crop of Tlingít potatoes at Juneau’s Jensen-Olson Arboretum. According to the article, the potatoes still are safe to eat, despite the virus. But the virus means they won’t be used as seed potatoes for other community gardens in Southeast Alaska, as previously planned. Officials from the University of Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service office in Juneau are doing what they can to remove the virus so they can guarantee clean seed, but it might take a few years.

Click here to read an article from Monday’s Juneau Empire about plans to build a community garden at the Glory Hole homeless shelter and soup kitchen in downtown Juneau. The community garden is expected to provide fresh vegetables and fruit for the soup kitchen, as well as giving Glory Hole patrons a project they can work on at the shelter. Plans are to put garden beds on the roof and terraced garden beds on the hill behind the Glory Hole’s back door.