The 2019 Southeast Alaska Farmer's Summit took place this year in Sitka. Among a diversity of topics related to farming in Southeast Alaska, several presentations focused on different methods of composting. 

Jennifer Hanlon is the Environmental Director at the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe. She shares her reflections from the summit and the connection between composting, local food, and a healthy community. 

On a beautiful sunny weekend in Sitka, I attended the Farmers Summit with a cohort of colleagues from Yakutat. This was an exciting opportunity to learn about other Southeast communities’ successes when it comes to growing food. Yakutat, like other southeast communities, is rural and isolated and our ability to obtain groceries that are shipped in can be subject to weather delays and cancellations. 

The YTT Environmental Department is tasked with providing environmental services to our community that assure the local culture, economy, and way of life is sustained and protected. YTT Environmental is developing capacity for starting a community composting program. We were excited to learn from different Southeast communities on what approaches have worked for them.  During the Summit, we heard from different perspectives such as an entrepreneurial approach of developing a business in Juneau based on collecting food scraps to Petersburg Indian Association’s fish waste composting program.

The benefits from composting include: lower greenhouse gas emissions; better carbon sequestration, improved soil health and fertility, reduced dependency on importing garden inputs, less nutrient runoff, and increased food production and local food sovereignty. 

We learned how food waste that goes into our landfills generates methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change and takes up unnecessary space in landfills. By diverting food waste, we can not only lessen our footprint that contributes to climate change but also turn that into a viable product to grow healthy produce to help feed the community. 

At the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe (YTT), our programs and services must live up to our Vision Statement: “The Yakutat Tlingit Tribe, with our core values, will provide tribal members with services and training in a broad range of field reflecting individual and tribal needs; resulting in the skills necessary to ‘Walk in Two Worlds’’

By leveraging our collective abilities, we will use this knowledge to live by traditional Tlingit values of respect and stewardship while utilizing an approach that allows us to walk in two worlds: taking care of the land while turning waste into valuable dirt. YTT looks forward to decreasing our carbon footprint by diverting food waste out of the community while simultaneously creating a valuable product that enhances our local food security and economy by growing fresh local produce. 

We can’t wait to play in the dirt we create and look forward to continually working with Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition and other networks we’ve established by participating in the Southeast Farmers Summit.

Jennifer Hanlon

Yakutat, Alaska