I am serving as the Living with the Land and Building Community JV/AmeriCorps member at the Sitka Conservation Society. I mostly serve the youth in Sitka, leading the Alaska Way-of-Life project 4-H club, and volunteering with the Fish to Schools program and Stream Team. Every day is different at SCS which keeps life fun and interesting! I am able to get outside with youth almost every day sharing the importance of our place and our ability to live with the land. My hope is that the youth I serve gain a value of stewardship that will last a lifetime.
The programs I offer through SCS are unique to life in Southeast Alaska. We live in a special place where snow-capped mountains meet the sea, where it rains over 100 inches each year, and where people have a strong sense of community with each other and the land. The 4-H members are engaging in experiential education to get outside, explore the world around them, and learn about how they can live with the land.
The 4-H motto of “learning by doing” is very much part of my role here. I am walking with the youth, learning the “Alaska way of life” with them every day. We are able to explore the world around us through genuine curiosity. I do not always have answers, not growing up in Alaska myself, but that is what a strong community is about: finding the answers together. I have been able to improve my sense of belonging in Sitka and lean on community members to share their knowledge of “Living with the Land” with the 4-H members I serve. We have pulled in stream ecologists, and mammal and fisheries biologists to learn more about brown bears, whales, herring, birds, and salmon. Living with the land and building community really is the Alaska way of life in Sitka.
In the fall, I did a series of classes that focused on outdoor safety and survival. We talked about water purification, shelter building, first aid, staying warm, and what to bring with you in a day pack. Many of the 4-H members went home and made their own safety kits which they now bring with them to 4-H hikes so they are prepared for wilderness adventure. A 4-H parent told me, “this is a very important series; chances are this class will save someone’s life.” The wilderness is our backyard here in Sitka. Exposing youth to outdoor skills at a young age will keep them safe while they explore the natural environment around us.
I am serving in the Tongass National Forest, a coastal temperate rainforest, the largest national forest in the United States. The future of the Tongass is in our hands to protect for generations of people and wildlife to come. This is one of the most magical places I have ever been to, which I now am able to call home. It is through wild places that we are able to connect to the true beauty of the world and find ourselves. We are able to see how life is interconnected here, how the salmon thrive because of the trees, and the trees are nourished by the salmon. It always comes back to how we can be stewards of our natural environment and live with the land and learn from the land.
Sitka is alive with activity! The herring have returned to our waters to spawn. Fish, fishermen, whales, birds and sea lions are crowding our oceans and coasts and the streets are starting to smell fishy.
Check out this little video SCS helped produce with Ben Hamilton that showcases our deliciously fresh fisheries-from stream to plate!
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It’s here! Hot-off-the-press is the Fish to Schools Resource Guide and Stream to Plate Curriculum! Fish to Schools, a program that gets local seafood into schools, began as a grassroots, community initiative in the fall of 2010. Sitka is one of the first districts in the state to serve local seafood through the National School Lunch Program and has become a leader in the State of Alaska to get local foods into schools. In the last three years, the number of schools interested in serving local seafood has increased ten-fold. And it makes sense—this is a program that not only addresses child nutrition but also food justice, community sustainability, and conservation.
In an effort to support regional and state-wide efforts to serve local foods in schools, the Sitka Conservation Society developed a “how-to” guide to serving fish in schools. Using Sitka as a case study it outlines procurement and processing strategies, legalities, tips, and recipes. Also included are case studies from around the state that offer tips and suggestions based on the success of their programs.
In addition to this guide is the “Stream to Plate” curriculum, a unit of seven lessons that connect salmon to the classroom. The lessons address the ecological significance and human relationship to salmon. These lessons have been trialed and refined the last three years with third graders at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School. Chris Bryner, teacher and collaborator on the salmon unit said, “The Fish to Schools curriculum connects my classroom to the community. Students not only learn about a resource relevant to their daily lives, but come away with an understanding that learning happens inside and outside of school.”
We’ve been working on this guide since the inception of our program, tucking away tips and pieces information that have been particularly useful to get Fish to Schools up and running. I hope it inspires and supports your efforts to get local foods in schools.
Thank you to all the funders who have made this possible: SEARHC Community Transformation Grant, Alaska Obesity Prevention and Control Program, Alaska Farm to School, and the Crossett Foundation. And thank you to all of the countless volunteer hours the community of Sitka has put in to make this possible!
Meghan joins us this week on Voices of the Tongass, to share a story from when she was a little girl on the southern tip of Baranof Island. Meghan feels lucky to have grown up all over Southeast Alaska. To hear her story, scroll to the play bar at the bottom of this post.
Meghan and her dog, Barnacle, this winter break. Photo by Berett Wilber
We are very excited to announce that The Meaning of Wild has been accepted to the DC Environmental Film Festival!
Please join us for the event March 20th at 6:30pm at the Yates Auditorium (address below).
Washington, D.C. Premiere The Meaning of Wild is a documentary film that takes viewers on a journey through one of our nation’s most wild and pristine landscapes – The Tongass National Forest of Southeast Alaska. The film follows wildlife cameraman Ben Hamilton as he travels by boat, plane, kayak and foot to capture and share the true value of Wilderness. Along the journey Ben encounters bears, calving glaciers, ancient forest, and harsh seas but it’s the characters he meets along the way that bring true insight to his mission. Filmed in stunning HD,The Meaning of Wild, highlights never before captured landscapes while provoking reflection about their importance to us all. Ultimately The Meaning of Wild celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and seeks to share these national treasures and inspire the next generation of wilderness advocates.
Shown with YOSEMITE: A GATHERING OF SPIRIT (Ken Burns)
Background: Sitka Conservation Society has been partnering with the USDA Forest Service for over 5 years to monitor and steward Wilderness areas in the Tongass. Part of SCS’s mission is to educate and inspire community members to take care of their local public lands through projects like the Meaning of Wild.
This film was made possible through support from the Forest Service, Sitka Conservation Society, and the contributions of over 100 community members all of whom we would like to thank for making this film a reality.
FREE. No reservations required.