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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SEARHC Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital patients now have traditional food options

A bowl from venison stew served at the Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital cafeteria (Photos courtesy of SEARHC)

As part of the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital’s (MEH) overarching goal to provide the best care possible to individuals receiving medical care at MEH, the Hospital Nutrition staff, in partnership with food service contractor NMS, recently began making traditional food options available to inpatients.

NMS Chef Manager Lexie Smith holds deer hind quarters before preparing them for Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital patients as part of the hospital’s new traditional food options

Providing care means more than traditional medicine, it means comforting those that are not feeling well. One way Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital Nutrition staff thought they could provide additional comfort that was to add traditional foods such as local game, seafood, plants, and berries to the inpatient menu that feel like comfort food. However, adding traditional foods to the hospital’s menu required coordination with more than one Alaska State agency, including the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Fish and Game.

Undaunted by the task and motivated by the inevitable outcome, the MEH Nutrition team set out to develop a policy that would satisfy the state and SEARHC. The Traditional Foods Policy they created took quite a while to finalize, but resulted in a system that now allows Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital to accept donations of locally harvested meat, seafood, vegetables, and berries to be used exclusively for inpatient meals.

“As a team, we truly believe that the food we serve, and the hospitality we provide aid in the healing process. NMS is proud to prepare traditional foods that bring comfort to Mt. Edgecumbe patients, and we are committed to doing so,” said Lexie Smith, NMS Chef Manager at Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital. “The menu is meant to engage our guests, honor tradition, and respect the land. The venison stew, in particular, is a recipe calling for fresh vegetables, herbs, and Sitka venison (as supplies are available). The stew is a popular menu option that many guests relate to and feel comforted by. Our Traditional Foods Policy allows the public to make donations of indigenous foods as long as it has been properly handled,” she added.

“This program is a win-win, great for the health of patients and great for community members who want to donate and be part of systems that emphasize living sustainably off the land and sea,” SEARHC Health Promotion Director Martha Pearson said.

For now, every Friday the MEH “Chef Special” for patients is venison stew. Ideally, however, if MEH were to receive donations of other items like fish, herring eggs, beach asparagus, fiddleheads, berries, reindeer, moose, etc. the Nutrition staff could incorporate those into the menu as well. They could also employ traditional methods of preserving. The hospital nutrition staff would very much like to see items such as local jams and pickles, herring egg salad, bone broths, and smoked fish on the patient menu in the future.

“Patient-centered medical care is a critical component of the way we deliver healthcare at SEARHC. Our Traditional Foods policy is an example of that and an enhancement to our vision of promoting a healthy balance of mind, body, and spirit,” SEARHC President/CEO Charles Clement said. “We are excited to explore ways to demonstrate our appreciation of the area and the local flavor in these offerings and are of course proud to be part of the future of healthcare delivery in the region.”

Additional information regarding traditional foods that may be donated and which are prohibited can be found online at http://dec.alaska.gov/eh/fss/Food/Traditional_Foods.html and reviewing the links under the “Requirements” section near the top of the page.

Individuals that have questions about donating traditional foods to Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital can contact NMS Food Service and Catering General Manager David Alexander at (907) 966-8325 or david.alexander@nmsusa.com, or NMS Chef Manager Lexie Smith at (907) 966-8470 or lexie.smith@nmsusa.com.

UAS Sitka Campus offers ‘Flora of Southeast Alaska’ course as a hybrid class

Salmonberries await picking near the entrance to Sitka National Historical Park

Flora of Southeastern Alaska, a biology class taught by University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus associate professor Kitty LaBounty, is back for its fourth year.

The DNA of most traditional botany classes is to gather students around a table of samples and look at them in a face-to-face classroom setting. By offering Flora of Southeast Alaska as both a hybrid local and distance-delivery (eLearning) class, students from anywhere can get up to speed on how to identify the common native trees, shrubs and herbs of southeast and south central Alaska. Local students can participate in the lectures on campus, while students across Alaska can see the imagery online and hear the lectures either live or via digital recording.

Flora of Southeast Alaska is a one-credit, 11-week workshop. The focus will be on identification of common species and attaining an understanding of their place in the ecosystem of Southeast Alaska. Students will discover how these plants interact with other plants and animals, and how humans use these plants for food, fuel, medicine, or simply enjoyment.

In addition to illustrated weekly lectures, there will be written exercises and “check for understanding” activities. The class is available to any student without prerequisites. It does not count as credit toward a biology major or as a science elective at UAS.

Professor LaBounty brings her lifelong passion as a gardener and scientist to this topic, along with more than 25 years experience working on plant identification for state, federal and nonprofit agencies in Alaska.

The class will meet from 5:30-7 p.m. on Thursdays from Feb. 15 to May 5 — with time off for spring break. The cost is $202 for the class, plus $32 in registration fees. Students will need to buy a copy of Native Plants of Southeast Alaska, by Judy Kathryn Hall, or a copy of Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, by Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon, or both.

For more information, contact Kitty LaBounty at UAS Sitka Campus. 747-9432. To register, call 747-7700. or toll-free, 800-478-6653.

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 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.

UAS Sitka Campus to host its annual class on how to identify Southeast Alaska mushrooms

The University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus Office of Continuing Education will host its annual class “Southeast Mushrooms: How to Identify Them.”

This two-day class takes place from 7-8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 7, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9, at the UAS Sitka Campus (with field trips). The course fee is $50. Students should dress for the outdoors, and bring waxed paper and a bucket for gathering.

This course is designed to introduce students to the mushroom flora of Southeast Alaska. The focus will be on the use of taxonomic keys for identification of fungi and recognition of both edible and poisonous mushrooms. Cooking and preservation of mushrooms will be discussed. Field trips are followed by in-class identification of collected mushrooms.

There is a maximum of 18 students allowed in this class, and the class may be canceled if at least 10 people don’t pre-register for it. For more information, contact the UAS Sitka Campus Office of Continuing Education at 747-7700. To register, call 1-800-478-6653, Ext. 7700, or go to http://uas.ce.alaska.edu/community-workshops/identifying-southeast-mushrooms.

Scenes from the Sitka Seafood Festival events on Saturday, Aug. 12

After a year in hiatus, the Sitka Seafood Festival returned this month with a variety of events from Aug. 6-30 around town. The big day for the Sitka Seafood Festival was Saturday, Aug. 12, when there were vendor booths, fun and games, a fishermen’s triathlon and other events at the Crescent Harbor Shelter and nearby locations.

A slideshow of scenes from the market vendor booths and fishermen’s triathlon (which featured two-person teams coiling line into a bucket, putting on a survival suit/Gumby suit, a three-legged race using a pair of Grundens, setting a skate, and a tote race) are linked below. There are still a couple of events left on the schedule, so check them out at http://www.sitkaseafoodfestival.com/.

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