Written by Chandler O’Connell
In Sitka, Alaska a favorite coffee shop among locals called the Backdoor Café did a little renovating this season. Alana Peterson, who is both the owner of the Backdoor Cafe and the program director of the Sustainable Southeast Partnership installed brand new benches using locally sourced red alder wood. By sourcing local, Peterson supported local businesses, kept more money in the region, and showcased environmentally sustainable timber. The Backdoor Cafe is also modeling what a market for young-growth products looks like in Southeast Alaska, as the Forest Service moves to shift focus from old growth to young growth timber harvests.
The Tongass Transition, announced by the Department of Agriculture in 2011, is meant to bring an end to unsustainable old-growth logging and implement a more holistic management plan that focuses on young-growth trees that grow after clear-cuts, as well as integrating and valuing non-timber forest outputs. The Tongass Transition will ensure that the remaining old growth forests on the Tongass stay standing to provide wildlife habitat, sequester carbon, support subsistence lifestyles and recreation, and produce prodigious quantities of salmon. The transition also provides opportunities to develop new timber products.
Click through the posters that the Sitka Conservation Society created to hang in the Backdoor Cafe along with a local youth wood arts project to inform customers about the significance of these new benches.
“Mills and entrepreneurs have successfully experimented with young growth forest products over the last few years since the transition was announced,” said Beth Pendleton, Regional Forester, Alaska Region-Forest Service. “They have found that there are applications for young growth wood products from the Tongass and that local utilization and manufacturing can be part of our regional economy. Red Alder is one of the Tongass Young Growth products that has a lot of potential for value-added applications,” she added.
The Backdoor Café worked with Icy Straits Lumber & Milling out of Hoonah, Alaska to source their red alder. Icy Straits is part of a cohort of local mills, including Tenakee Logging Company, TM Construction and Good Faith Lumber that offer a diverse range of second growth products. Local businesses and individuals planning their next construction project should check out these sourcing options – they may be surprised by the high quality and competitive pricing that is available right here at home. And they’ll enjoy the added benefit of knowing that by buying local they’ve kept more money circulating in the Southeast economy.
From Forest to Café: Art Display Inspired by Second Growth Benches
The red alder benches served as inspiration for a storytelling and art display currently showing at the Backdoor Café. The display, a project of the Sitka Conservation Society and the Alaskan Way of Life 4H Club, highlights the benefits of choosing local young growth products, and tracks the benches from forest to café, sharing stakeholder reflections at each step: management, harvest, construction and purchase. The 4H students contributed relief prints made from “cookie” cross sections of fallen trees and short stories on life as a tree on the Tongass.
Written by Quinn Aboudara, Supporting Photographs by Kendall Rock, Lee House and Quinn Aboudara
The water laps against the side of the boat gently, the sound rhythmic and steady, like a heartbeat. The engine thrums softly in anticipation then roars to life as I twist the throttle to push the 16 foot aluminum skiff away from the dock and onto Klawock Lake.
My name is Quinn Aboudara, and I’m a lifelong resident of Prince of Wales Island. The Klawock Lake is part of my identity and life. Adopted and raised by the Taakwaneidi Raven/Sculpin Clan, Klawock Lake is more than just a simple body of water for me. Like many residents of Klawock and the surrounding communities, I harvest food from these waters like salmon, trout and beaver. Its tree lined shores provide me with berries and edible roots, bark and grasses for weaving.
Working for the Klawock Cooperative Association I was presented the opportunity to work with the local tribe and with the Sustainable Southeast Partnership as a community catalyst. Klawock Lake and the watershed that feeds it are a fragile system. Over the last 30 years, this life-giving watershed has seen substantial change which have raised continued concern for the residents of Klawock. Some of those environmental changes include: declining fish runs, decreased snow caps on the surrounding mountains, and development along valuable spawning habitat. In 2016, The Klawock Cooperative Association (a federally recognized tribal government), in partnership with Klawock Heenya Corporation, Kia Environmental, and The Nature Conservancy, with funding provided by the Bureau of Indian Affairs began a four month study in regards to one of these concerns: the declining returns of the wild run of sockeye salmon to Klawock Lake.
We began going to Klawock Lake with a single question: Is there anything feeding upon the sockeye fry? What we returned with was more questions. The data gathered from the first season of the Klawock Lake predation study showed that sockeye fry predation was minimal. A second predation study is in the works for 2017 to support and provide stronger data to inform decision making. Simultaneously, we will explore other potential factors in the declining salmon run.
This work, a community priority of both traditional and cultural concern, is a key component of my position within the Klawock Cooperative Association. And as a community catalyst I am given the opportunity to approach this challenge, and many of the other challenges within my community with a holistic approach. There are many challenges of living in a rural Alaskan island community, the high cost of food, a lack of employment opportunities and stable jobs, limited economic development, and through the partnership between the Klawock Cooperative Association and the Sustainable Southeast Partnership I am allowed to address these challenges and pursue solutions. Solutions such as working with local stakeholders to develop a trained local workforce, designing and building greenhouses, providing small business development workshops, and many other opportunities.
It is through this multi-faceted approach toward creating a resilient community that I have dedicated my time and energy to protect the way of life in Klawock. I do this work for myself, my family, and my community, so we may continue to prosper and enjoy our way of life along the bank of the Klawock River indefinitely.
A Reflection written by Sonia Ibarra, PhD Candidate, College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Over the last two years, I have been very fortunate to attend the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) Conference alongside bright young students from Hydaburg, AK. In November 2016, we made our way down to chilly Minneapolis and were welcomed by many warm faces, hugs, and songs that echoed the values of many Native peoples throughout the U.S. AISES is a unique scientific conference that reminds me that
1) We need to increase Native voices in the sciences and
2) We need to rekindle the understandings of our ancestors in solving contemporary problems.
For me personally, accompanying students at AISES was a big deal because I value organizations that provide multiple roadmaps for increasing diversity of perspectives, worldviews, and values in the sciences.
As a graduate student who has had the opportunity to attend and visit various universities through coursework, internships, and research experiences, one thing that I have personally noticed is that little diversity exists within higher education. Native Americans represent 1.7 percent of the U.S. population, yet less than 0.5 percent of all U.S. scientists and engineers are Native American (King 2013). Therefore it is critical that we address ways of creating opportunities for indigenous youth that both acknowledges their value systems while helping them navigate and train for the outside world. AISES does both of these things by integrating strong diverse cultural values into a scientific conference.
At AISES, indigenous and non-indigenous scientists learn about and showcase cutting edge research, high school and undergraduate students have secured scholarships, internships, and jobs, and support networks can be created and expanded. This year one Hydaburg high school student (Navaeh Peele) received a laptop award for her exceptional poster presentation and one Hydaburg undergraduate student (Sarah Peele) received a travel award. AISES also provides experiences for indigenous students that undoubtedly helps them become leaders and scientists in various capacities. Capacity-building is a foundational way to plant a sustainable idea for the future. AISES helps plant this seed by empowering young indigenous scientists.
When we think about the sustainability of our decisions, the way we live, and the jobs that employ us, we should always think about how we plant seeds for our future. Opportunities like AISES and nurturing hands-on science experiences for our youth can help plant seeds that will help Southeast Alaska become a better place for the next generation. Let’s work together to support our upcoming leaders and scientists.
King, H. (2013) Native American perceptions of scientists: An ISE research brief discussing Laubach, Crofford, & Marek, “Exploring Native American students’ perceptions of scientists.” Retrieved from http://relatingresearchtopractice.org/article/276
Over the last few months, people and organizations across the state hosted community events in support of the Standing Rock Reservation. In Sitka, locals in November hosted the ‘Sitka Stands with Standing Rock’ solidarity event, welcoming more than one hundred and fifty people to Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi community house. Indigenous leaders spoke in support of those at Standing Rock; local artists offered art and gifts for a fundraising auction, and the Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Dancers moved participants with songs and dances set to the pulse of a powerful box drum. Organizers collected more than two hundred letters that asked state and federal politicians to oppose the militarized efforts of North Dakota police. They also gathered more than 30 jars of wild foods to feed the water protectors in Standing Rock. Donors also wrote cards explaining the origins, process and significance of their locally harvested foods.
These donations reflect a unique bond between Southeast Alaskans and the Standing Rock Reservation — a deeply personal and powerful relationship to the land. In total, the event raised more than $5,000 for Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council and Water Protector Legal Collective.
In North Dakota the first week of December, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will not support the existing building plans for the final leg of the Dakota Access Pipeline. While water protectors in Standing Rock celebrate this initial victory, the conversation erupting across the nation may change, but is not over. In Alaska, the discussion of human rights, environmental justice and indigenous sovereignty is particularly close to home. As such, the story unfolding in the Great Plains moved many Alaskans to either travel to North Dakota or to take local action.
Lakota Harden helped organize the event and additional gatherings of prayer and solidarity held during the past several months for the Standing Rock Reservation. She grew up between her homeland of South Dakota and the island community of Sitka. Her family has been in Oceti Sakowin Camp since its beginning, and she traveled to join them in September and October.
“People won’t acknowledge or accept the ongoing injustice and it’s a genocidal form of racism. It’s difficult to face the atrocities of how this country was stolen here, to look at our own dirt, our own laundry, our own backyard and say, ‘How is it here?’ That was one of the first things we decided with this event, was that we need to acknowledge these difficult topics,” says Harden.
Louise Brady and Dionne Brady-Howard of the Kiks.adi Clan of the Tlingit nation pointed the conversation locally. They opened with a familiar string of words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Brady-Howard said, quoting the Declaration of Independence before pausing. “Those are great words but, that is just what they are. They are only words on paper. It has taken an awful lot of work to make those words a little more of a reality for more than just the white landholding man that they originally applied to in our nation’s founding. It took constitutional amendments, it took marches, sit-ins and Supreme Court decisions. It required people’s hard work, and that is what democracy is. It is hard work.”
That hard work is not over. Louise Brady pointed to the harbor-front property on which participants stood, reminding the audience that Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi rests on land taken from the Kiks.adi people. As recently as the 1970s the Kiks.adi Tlingit had to fight hard legal battles for the tiny parcel of land where the community house was erected to be returned to Sitka Tribe, rather than allowing a shift in land ownership from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to the City of Sitka. During the Alaska Day parade in Sitka this year [http://www.kcaw.org/2016/10/26/alaska-day-dilemma-celebrating-history-without-colonialism/ ], local discussions of the repercussions of colonialism resurfaced when a sign held by Paulette Moreno thanking Sheet’la Kwaan for their care of Tlingit land was received by an organizer as a threat. At the Standing Rock event, participants acknowledged and supported those working in sub-zero temperatures to protect sacred spaces in North Dakota, while reminding us we must also make changes and look locally.
So what’s next? While those in Standing Rock celebrate the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision with concern for what the incoming Trump administration may mean for their efforts, what can people do locally?
According to Harden, the first step is having a conversation. “There’s people all over the country now who are thinking about this and we need to talk about it. It’s time. And, things are never going to go right if you don’t acknowledge what you’ve done wrong, you are never going to be in balance.”
Organizers stressed that having difficult conversations about land sovereignty, racism, environmental justice and a long history of local colonialism must not lead to division.
“This is a time to come together. This is a time for open dialogue. This is a time for healing,” said Louise Brady.
Across the country cafeteria trays aren’t often admired for their nutrition, freshness, or taste. In rural southeast Alaska, however, a dedicated school district and its greenhouse program are challenging that notion, while invigorating local economies, growing entrepreneurs, and gratifying taste buds.
Prince of Wales Island rests at the southernmost end of Alaska’s panhandle. The communities that make up this island are isolated, connected by seemingly endless miles of winding roads. The Southeast Island School District (SISD) is the major school district on Prince of Wales. It includes nine schools in unique communities from the small Haida village of Kasaan to old logging camps like Coffman Cove. All of these communities share some key challenges. Only one of them has a grocery store of considerable size, and the majority of the food is barged in. By the time these costly imported vegetables hit family plates, they are often wilted and unappetizing. Residents are in search of long-term economic solutions.
As in many small schools across the state, cafeteria lunches also lack crunch. “Small schools don’t have full time cooks and use mostly warming ovens to make eggrolls and burritos,” says Lauren Burch, the superintendent for Southeast Island School District on Prince of Wales Island. “That’s not what we should be feeding our kids.”
Those heat-and-serve lunches are not only uninspiring, they are costly too. “In my school district I lose roughly $100,000 a year even having a food program at all, and that’s gotta come from somewhere,” Burch says. The state’s purse strings aren’t loosening any time soon. Alaskans are witnessing the slicing and dicing of many key programs, including the whittling away of school funding. “State funding right now is traumatizing,” he admits.
But Burch—along with teachers, students, administrators, and community members of Southeast Island School District—is stepping up to face these challenges with gusto. What started with a few raised garden beds and a heat recovery system in one school has since grown into an island-wide phenomena. Kasaan, Naukati Bay, Thorne Bay and Coffman Cove have all replaced costly diesel generators with wood boiler systems and are using local wood to heat schools, greenhouses, and businesses. They are growing their own food, freshening up those lunch trays, and supporting the local economy as they revolutionize district thinking. This inspiring cohort is accomplishing all of this while giving the next generation of Alaska’s leaders a mouth-watering hands-on education.
So, how does it work? Let’s take a tour.
AQUAPONICS: FROM FISH TO FRESH VEGGIES
“Everything we do starts with those fish. All we have to do is feed them. We use their feces throughout the system as nutrients. We use the poop to grow the plants, in short speak,” explains Ieshia Searle. Ieshia is a senior at Thorne Bay High School and has been involved in the greenhouse since its’ inception.
Eager goldfish crowd the window of a big central tank as Ieshia sprinkles a bit of fish food from above. A pump moves nutrient rich water from this tank through colonies of bacteria that filter the solid waste and convert fish feces into a form of nitrogen the plants can use. The water is then funneled into a series of pools where rafts of lettuce float beneath energy efficient LED lights. Different varieties of lettuce reach down into the water, absorbing nutrients while filtering and cleaning the pool. Ieshia pulls up a raft of butter lettuce, carefully inspecting the long spindly roots. “These are beautiful roots!” she declares. “Normally we harvest once a week, if not more, depending how our crops turn out. We actually stay pretty busy at the Thorne Bay greenhouse.”
Over in Coffman Cove, the largest and most impressive of the school greenhouses is over 6,000 square feet. At full capacity Coffman Cove will be churning out 800 heads of lettuce a week. That’s a lot of greens.
But, greens aren’t all that these greenhouses produce. Water continues to move through the aquaponics system into a series of beds containing a very fine matrix material made of coconut husks, which fully filters the water. It then returns to the fish and the loop continues, nourishing everything from turnips and tomatoes to green onions and basil. The vegetables are packaged by students, served in school lunches, and delivered and sold to shops where they reach families throughout Prince of Wales.
INTEGRATED LEARNING: GROUNDING THE ‘COMMON CORE’
All four greenhouses are using adaptations of an aquaponics system. Originally, Thorne Bay tested hydroponics, but made the switch to aquaponics in order to diversify their crops and offer students more integrated learning opportunities. “We wanted to dive more into the process. Hydroponics felt like a mystery machine where you pumped chemicals in and lettuce came out,” says Megan Fitzpatrick, the SISD science teacher. “Aquaponics is more of a natural ecosystem approach to growing.” She is able to teach the nitrogen cycle, soil chemistry, plant biology and more. Students are also able to craft experiments. “It’s more engaging. There is a lot of flexibility,” Fitzpatrick explains.
The greenhouse does not replace the curriculum, it brings it to life. Students spend one hour of class time each day working with the program and experiential learning opportunities abound—for more than just chemistry and the life sciences. Students across the island are investigating ways to make their greenhouse programs as self-sustaining as possible, while learning how to conduct feasibility studies, identify niche markets, gauge supply and demand, and brand their products. They are also looking at ways to improve the system, exploring opportunities for saving energy while increasing food production.
“Working at this greenhouse, I’ve been able to learn how to grow food while also being able to learn how to manage a business and keep it running without having to depend on the school district. At the start, we had the school district buying the seeds and the supplies that we needed, but now we are able to pay them back and make a profit,” Ieshia asserts with pride.
The four greenhouses are part of a larger program that also includes raising poultry, growing apples, making and selling tortillas and pizza dough, and a student-run restaurant and storefront. This engaging combination of projects creates opportunities for teaching business skills, life skills, employment skills and responsibility in a meaningful and hands-on way. “When kids first started here they were so shy and didn’t want to talk about the greenhouse,” says Fitzpatrick. “Now, so many people come by and visit the greenhouse from the community and even the lieutenant governor has stopped by. Kids are learning public speaking skills,” she says. “When students are engaged, they retain and when they retain they are more confident.”
AN IMPACT YOU CAN TASTE
Rural Alaska is hungry for fresh food and innovation. “Our schools absolutely are the heartbeat of the community and play a vital role in the sustainability of these communities,” attests Colter Barnes, the school greenhouse manager on the island. Southeast Island School District is looking at their students as powerful assets for building more resilient communities, supporting the local economy, and addressing food system challenges, while receiving a top-notch education.
“I think the progressive districts are out there saying, how can we do more with less funding, how can we generate revenue? I have a thousand students in my building, how can I give them real learning opportunities that are connected to standards, their diploma, their interests, and strengthens our community, but also generates revenue. There is so much you can do with kids, they want to engage,” Barnes says.
“We need to teach kids healthy eating skills. They need to use knives to cut their food, enough of these heat-and-serve open boxes,” adds Megan Fitzpatrick. “I saw these kids when they first started in the greenhouse. They weren’t eating the stuff and now they’re fighting over it. Seeing kids recognize the healthy benefits of eating fresh vegetables and recognizing that they can do this at home, that is a life skill they can carry on through their adult life. That to me is the most rewarding.”
Back at the school cafeteria, the rewards keep on growing as more and more students swap egg rolls for rainbow chard.