Fall is an exciting time of year in Southeast Alaska- there are fish, game, berries, mushrooms and gardens to harvest and eat.
A few local and regional food sustainability projects have been completed and there is a Southeast Farm and Fish to School Conference and a Mobile Greenhouse to look forward to!
Invigorating Alaska’s Food System with Wild Foods: Wild Foods Harvest, Kasaan
Check out the short video that showcases the Kasaan Wild Foods Harvest, an event that was facilitated through partnerships with the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, the Cooperative Extension Service, the Organized Village of Kasaan, the Sitka Conservation Society and Southeast Conference (see full post here). Watch the video to learn about a growing community of Alaskan residents, communities and organizations who are dedicated to invigorating Alaska’s Food System with wild foods.
The Southeast Conference Annual Meeting was held in Wrangell this year. This was a venue that brought together economic development and government agency representatives, advocates and private business representatives from throughout the region to present and discuss pertinent issues, projects and plans for Southeast Alaska. Transportation, mining, timber, maritime and energy sectors were well represented. Additionally, I had the opportunity to moderate a Food Sustainability Panel that consisted of four presentations and a question and answer session. Presenters included Bob Christensen, the coordinator of the Sustainable Southeast Partnership; myself; Carrie Sykes, the Economic Development Director for the Organized Village of Kasaan; and Carmen Landers, Megan and Jonathan Fitzpatrick from the Thorne Bay School Greenhouse.
I began with a brief introduction to the topic of food sustainability and what that means and looks like for southeast Alaskan’s. Bob followed up with an overview of the Sustainable Southeast Partnership and examples of projects in each of the sectors. The presentation I gave was a summary of the results from the Southeast Alaska Food System Assessment cultivator survey (view report here), regional opportunities, and current regional and local food sustainability projects I am coordinating.
The last two presentations focused on some specific local food sustainability projects. Carrie shared the Totem Café project and the video that highlights the Kasaan Wild Food Harvest. The final presentation was led my Carmen Landers, a 16 year old student from Thorne Bay High School. Carmen manages the Throne Bay Greenhouse year round and led the presentation. The greenhouse is heated by a GARNS wood fired boiler and also provides heat to the school, and has LED lights (more on the greenhouse here).
This proved to be an exceptional venue and opportunity to showcase some of the exciting work that is taking place around the region to promote more local and regional projects.
A Mobile Greenhouse is currently in the design phase. Kaden Phillips, a UAS Construction Technology student, and his mentor Robin Gilcrest, UAS professor of Construction Technology are designing a greenhouse to be built on a trailer. High school construction class at Juneau Douglas High School will build the greenhouse beginning in January. This easily replicable, mobile unit constructed of locally sourced materials (when possible), will travel to different locations around the region or within communities for the duration of the growing season. The greenhouse will likely be housed at schools and engage youth in activities related to growing food in a controlled environment. Curriculum will be developed using existing resources and will incorporate science, math, health and culinary classes. This will be a very low risk, visible demonstration project to help identify youth and other community members interested in growing food at a larger scale, in a controlled environment.
Southeast Conference was awarded a USDA Farm to School Conference grant. This is the first time such an event will be hosted in Southeast Alaska with a focus on regional opportunities and networking among schools, local food cultivators, food processors, Native organizations, and community agencies. The Conference will be held in Juneau April 2 -3.
The goal of the Southeast Alaska specific Farm and Fish to School Conference is to promote the formation of a network of local food producers, school business managers, cooks and educators; improve health outcomes; strengthen local economies; and reinforce cultural and traditional place-based practices. It will feature opportunities, agencies and resources for projects; successful models in action; methods to integrate local foods into daily meal preparation; cooking demonstrations and recipes for local foods; place-based, culturally appropriate implementation; and local foods procurement. The conference will serve as a vehicle to connect food producers to a sizeable local market and facilitate the formation of a network of Southeast food producers to enable problem solving and access to resources to launch, initiate and enhance local food production.
Stay tuned for more information regarding the Conference and email GrowSoutheast@gmail.com to stay updated by email.
In Kasaan, a Haida community, food is culture and serves to instill a sense of pride in identity and culture. Traditional foods serve as medicines for physical, spiritual, and mental well-being and reconnect people to the land, nature, and their traditions. Revitalizing this for Kasaan people is important to understanding food origins; the relevance of traditional foods to diet and culture, and for encouraging preference for locally harvested foods.
A series of events were held in Kasaan with the purpose of engaging community members in the harvesting, processing and consumption of wild and traditional foods, medicines, and materials. Additionally an evening class was offered on food preservation and Cottage Foods Businesses (led by Sarah Lewis from the UAF Cooperative Extension Service). This evening workshop was followed by a three-day harvest event led by Carrie Sykes, Kasaan Community Catalyst, and Dolly Garza, UAF professor Emerita.
Over the course of three days 27 people (primarily from Kasaan and Hydaburg) congregated to learn about identification, proper harvesting techniques, and processing methods of wild foods, medicines, and materials. Participants congregated at the Totem Café and were transported to the sites of the plants to be harvested. Over the first two days participants learned to pick Hudson Bay Tea or in Haida, Xíl kagan, and Devil’s Club, Ts’íihlanjaaw. The kids especially enjoyed the picking of the Hudson Bay Tea, and bags were quickly filled with the fragrant, leathery leaves to be dried in the sun. Devil’s club was also harvested, and the more involved technique for processing the medicinal bark was practiced by everyone.
Day two was filled with beach asparagus and goose tongue. An early start to the day led to a hard earned lunch and seven cases of pint jars filled with pickled and plain canned beach asparagus. We learned the importance of “picking clean” the first time around to expedite the processing…
Dolly Garza, an expert on traditional use of marine resources by Alaska Native cultures and intertidal foods led a beach walk and shared her knowledge of edible seaweeds on the third day. Almost all of the seaweeds we found were edible and tasted great if prepared in the proper way. Most seaweeds, with the exception of fucus can be dried and then stored in airtight containers for up to a year. Dolly brought all sorts of samples to share that she had already prepared– including kelp salsa, kelp pickles and an assortment of dried seaweeds.
Everything prepared was distributed among the participants and a portion was set aside for community events.
Check out Dolly’s book here.
Check out the identification guide created for the event here.
I visited Kake the last week of April. I arrived a couple of days before the shellfish workshop (see Capital City Weekly article, during the Community Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) meeting, and the Organized Village of Kake Council Meeting.
Rodger Painter, a long-time mariculturist and oyster farmer working with Kake, spoke with me about the potential for a cockle habitat enhancement project. Cockles are one of the favorite traditional foods of Tlingit people, and the system in which cockles exists has pressures from humans and other predators such as sea otters. People in Kake have noticed declines in the amount of cockles they are able to harvest. The Shellfish grower’s workshop brought to town Ray Ralonde, an Aquaculture Specialist from University of Alaska Fairbanks. He recommended they begin a monitoring program to asses the inventory of cockles, water quality assessments, and education on the growth and natural processes of these bivalves. With the guidance of Ray, Kake plans to move forward with this project and develop an action plan.
Preliminary meetings were conducted with school district staff for the Fish to Schools Evaluation- the goal of this evaluation is to strengthen the program to ideally support local fisherman. Additionally, there is interest in implementing a school garden and school greenhouse in the future.
Dr. Paul Koo of the local SEARHC clinic also expressed interest in collaborating on a project that involves getting healthy foods to kids.
I also had the opportunity to spend some time with Michael Hibbard and Robert Adkins from the University of Oregon. They have worked with OVK for the last ten years on their Community Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). At this meeting, community members reported on the status of some of the high priority projects from the latest edition of this strategy. In addition to reporting on the status of current projects prioritized, I had the opportunity to present on the topic of food security. This included some background information on what this term means and potential ways a food secure Kake can come to fruition. I spoke about the projects that a currently on the docket: cockle enhancement, Fish to Schools, educational opportunities, and in the longer term, a commercial greenhouse. There was especially high interest in the Natural Resources Conservation Service grant program to receive high tunnels. This was great to hear, as an increase in local capacity to cultivate foods is necessary for a greenhouse to be a successful project in Kake.
Priorities: 1) cockle enhancement, 2) Fish to Schools, 2) local capacity building for food cultivation and future commercial greenhouse
One of the prioritized projects in Hoonah is to launch the Community Garden. To do this, Kathy McCrobie (SEARHC) and I planned a day to harvest
seaweed to add to the garden beds and to kick off the community garden. Jessie Dybdahl (HIA) and I led a seaweed gathering event with the Big Brothers Big Sisters after school program participants. Jessie and I taught a short classroom lesson on soil nutrition and the value of seaweed. I also brought a sample of worms and demonstrated how worms can compost our food waste to produce nutrients for the soil. The community garden just received soil to fill the remaining raised beds, and I’ve heard through Kathy that community garden participants are planting and enjoying the space!
Priorities: 1) Community garden, 2) local Fish to Schools, 3) food growing business development, 3) oyster value added processing
I arrived in Klawock, drove to Craig to pick of Bethany, Tongass Policy and Communications Resident for the Sitka Conservation Society. We went to Hydaburg to meet with Minnie, Environmental Planner at the Hydaburg Cooperative Association and SSP Community Catalyst. Bethany, Minnie, and I met with Lauren Burch, the Superintendent of the Hydaburg School District and the Southeast Island School District (including Kasaan), and talked about the food-related projects the district has activated. In Thorne Bay, a greenhouse enterprise was created within the school district. Lauren would like to see Hydaburg (along with all the schools on POW) have greenhouses that are producing foods to create a full salad bar. More on the greenhouse later… Other food sustainability interests in Hydaburg include developing a wild mushroom business, reviving the fish processing plant, and improving the school lunch program.
Most of my work in Hydaburg will be focused on building the capacity and funds to build a greenhouse for the Hydaburg school. Additionally, there are efforts to engage the youth in gardening activities. We attended an evening “crafts” event. At this event children, their parents and grandparents participated in Haida songs and dances, practiced Haida words for salmon species, and worked in the community garden! There was a lot of enthusiasm among the youth once they had their hands in the dirt. Bethany wrapped up the evening by sitting in on a dancing/singing/drumming practice at the gym. A group of about 20 youth gathered to practice Haida songs and dances for an upcoming celebration of life. The next day we met up with Minnie to tour the carving shed. The carvers were busy working on totems for the annual Hydaburg Culture Camp.
Priorities: 1) school greenhouse, 2) local and traditional foods in schools
Thorne Bay Greenhouse
Minnie, Carrie (Kasaan Community Catalyst), Bethany and I toured the Thorne Bay Greenhouse (see Anchorage Daily News article). The students run and maintain the greenhouse, which can produce up to 1150 heads of lettuce at a time. There is a construction and maintenance department, marketing and business, purchasing and ordering and horticulture department – all student run, with associated curriculum (see Thorne Bay School Greenhouse website). The greenhouse is heated by the wood boiler that heats the school and uses LED lights to grow year-round. The leafy greens from the greenhouse are sold to the school lunch program, directly to customers and to stores- in Craig and Thorne Bay. Lauren Burch hopes that in the coming years all nine schools in the SISD and the Hydaburg School district will cumulatively have a full salad bar. In the coming months, we can expect to see a media piece on this project- an example of an enterprise supported by locally sourced inputs (cord wood) and local food distributed to the school, community and island.
Bethany and I headed to Kasaan and met Carrie Sykes, Economic Development Coordinator for the Organized Village of Kasaan and SSP Community Catalyst. The Organized Village of Kasaan hosted a community luncheon to discuss food sustainability priorities. There were 29 participants. Most of the participants are interested in educational opportunities, including soil preparation, field guides for wild foods, wild food propagation, preservation education, getting more local foods into schools, and getting a school greenhouse. The greenhouse is purchased for Kasaan, but the process is held up in some legalities of the land for the greenhouse. Additionally, the school district is seeking funding to buy hydroponic equipment for the Kasaan school greenhouse. I will be doing what I can to aid in writing grants and seeking these funds.
Carrie and I also spent time planning for a community wild foods preservation and Cottage Foods Industry workshop and wild foods harvest that will take place at the end of June.
Additionally, Carrie and I visited the Old Kasaan village site with the school kids from Kasaan and Hydaburg. We reached the site by boat on some rough seas and toured Old Kasaan, on Skowl Arm, with commentary by Fred Olsen, Culture Coordinator for the Organized Village of Kasaan. This site was likely established in the early eighteenth century and before 1900 it was one of largest Haida population centers. Skipping ahead a few years…. By the late 1860’s a cluster of businesses (salmon saltery, trading post, and the Copper Queen mine) were established on Kasaan Arm. These were employers of many people from the Kasaan village at the time and eventually this area (the current site of Kasaan) become known as New Kasaan (see more info on Kasaan history here). At the old Kasaan site we were able to see the remains of old houses, totems, petroglyphs and explored the area for old garden sites.
Priorities: 1) educational opportunities, 2) local foods in schools, 3) school greenhouse
Additionally, I met with culinary teacher Patrick Roach at Thunder Mountain High School in Juneau and Career and Technical Education director, Carin Smolin, to talk about the potential for a greenhouse for school’s culinary program and use with cross-curricular areas in the high school.
Will update on the Fish to Schools visits that are taking place over the next few weeks! Look forward to more posts soon!
The months of March and April have been filled with initial evaluations with the Community Catalysts to understand where the most feasible opportunities exist for food sustainability. Outlined below are the projects in progress at community and regional scales.
Hoonah: Community Garden
The Hoonah Indian Association built a community garden, the next step is to work on community engagement and investment. We’ll kick off the community garden May 1st and 2nd with soil building activities and seaweed collecting with youth involved in the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program, students from the 5th grade, and community members who signed up for plots. Following the soil preparation events at the beginning of May, we will hold a community meeting and serve foods that are grown easily in the garden and hold a planting day led by a local master gardener. Additionally, we are working to complete the tool inventory for the community garden and to build a three-bin compost system.
Kasaan: Community Wild Foods Harvest Event
Carrie Sykes, Kasaan Community Catalyst, and I are planning a Community Wild Foods Harvest event. This event will focus on bringing together community members to harvest and processes wild foods. Community elders and the Organized Village of Kasaan will lead the harvesting and processing event for school children, elders, and other community members. The event will be in June. We will jar Beach asparagus, goose tongue, fiddle head fern, and spruce tip jelly, and dry Hudson Bay tea.
Kake: Commercial Greenhouse
Within the next three years a greenhouse will be built that is heated by waste heat energy from a diesel powerhouse. We are in the preliminary planning stages now. Representatives from the Inside Passage Electric Company, Alaska Center for Energy and Power, the Village of Igiugig, Organized Village of Kake, and Chena Hot Springs Controlled Environment met to discuss greenhouse design options, activities to achieve community involvement, and potential business plans in late March. Adam Davis, Kake Community Catalyst, and I, are now working to build local capacity to prepare for this greenhouse.
Fish to Schools Program Evaluation
The goal of these evaluations is to assess community capacity in Kasaan, Hydaburg, Hoonah, & Kake to begin maximize the Fish to Schools Program. I am working with Tracy Gagnon, Community Sustainability Organizer from Sitka Conservation Society, and Community Catalysts to coordinate assessments in Kasaan, Hydaburg, Hoonah, and Kake. We will meet with school district staff, school food service, local fisherman, DEC permitted processors/tenders, teachers, students and other local entities in each community to assess capacity to begin or develop a Fish to Schools program.
Farm and Fish to Schools Conference: I submitted a letter of intent on behalf of Southeast Conference to apply for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program: Conference/Events to support a state conference: Southeast Alaska Farm and Fish to School Conference. This is the first time such an event will be hosted in Southeast Alaska with a focus on regional opportunities and networking among schools, food cultivators, food processors, Native organizations, and community agencies. The proposed conference would be scheduled for spring 2015 in Juneau.
Potential presenters: representatives from the Alaska School Lunch Program, Alaska School Nutrition Association, Alaska Farm to Schools, University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service, Sustainable Southeast Partnership, Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, Sitka Conservation Society, USDA Alaska Farm Service Agency, traditional food experts and Native Elders, the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association, and health educators.
Key agency partners for planning this conference include:
That’s all for now- over the next couple of weeks I will visit the communities and post updates and photos!