Photo by Matt Groen

The Arrival and Welcome

On a snowy February night, I boarded the ferry from Juneau to Sitka for my fourth season. Mandy Summer, the principal at Pacific High School, picked me up and brought me to my new home behind the school in huge playground. Baranof Elementary School is right next door, too.

The school has an amazing garden and school lunch program where the students grow vegetables during the school year and in the summer. Vegetables are harvested for delicious school lunches, which the students prepare as part of their coursework. It is an honor to be included in such an innovative program that integrates healthy lifestyle skills into the educational curriculum. School social worker and garden teacher Maggie Gallin, many other staff members, and students all welcomed me to Pacific High School.  

Photo by Matt Groen

New Experiences at School

Over the course of the school year, around 258 students from 19 classes spent around 195 student hours with me and the garden. The Pacific High School students said that they especially enjoyed mentoring the kindergarteners and first graders at Baranof Elementary School with garden activities. Around 16 dedicated volunteers kept the programs going with several community events that involved Sitka Conservation Society, Blatchley Middle School, and the UAF Cooperative Extension Service’s 4-H program.

Over the summer, I received a wonderful gift from local artist Mark Sixbey, who worked with students on painting formline design on paper and on me! The sun design was chosen because solar energy is important for the plants to grow and thrive, and also for powering my fans when it gets very hot inside. Thank you Mark and students for this special Southeast Alaska artwork!

This growing season, the students celebrated a fantastic harvest of 3 pounds of ground cherries, 1 pound of kale, 2 pounds of cherry tomatoes, 2.5 pounds of lemon cucumbers, 0.5 pounds of popping corn, and 0.5 pounds of rosemary herbs. Other goodies produced included peas, zucchini, jalapenos, squash, and edible flowers. I overheard a few people mention that they were inspired to start their own home gardens after visiting me. By the end of the summer, the school’s garden also expanded to include a brand new hoophouse right next to me in the school yard! Thanks to the generosity of a community member who donated the materials to the school, and the dedication of Mandy and her staff to the many benefits of local food, Pacific High School’s garden education program is now stronger than ever!

Fall and Winter

Pacific High School has been such a wonderful host family for me that they offered to let me stay with them this fall and winter. Because it’s warmer in Sitka than in Juneau, the students are going to try and keep growing vegetables, such as kale. Thank you Pacific High School and Sitka for your hospitality!

I look forward to being here until continuing my journey to the next community.

Photo by Matt Groen