Sitka Conservation Society
Tracy

About Tracy

Tracy Gagnon, Community Sustainability Organizer, landed in Sitka after teaching at the University of Oregon and working for food-based non-profits in Oregon. Most of her projects focused on connecting youth and adults alike to their food source through hands-on gardening, farm field trips, and cooking. Her passion is working on food justice issues to ensure everyone has access to healthy, fresh foods. Her focus at SCS is to manage the Fish to School program and begin a 4H Club that embraces the Alaska way-of-life by coordinating activities that connect youth to their environment and local food sources.

Aug 27 2013

Hunting for Meaning

If you had asked me a few years ago what I thought about hunting I probably would have said I didn’t like it. I appreciated the whole wild food thing but hunting = killing. And that was bad. Or wrong. Or something. But today I was called a huntress…let me explain.

Saturday was the day of the hunt but we woke to heavy raindrops and mountains hidden behind thick clouds. We weren’t going anywhere. So we snuggled deeper into our sleeping bags and let our heavy eyelids close. After a bit more sleep, we had pancakes smothered in peanut butter and homemade jam, a gooey blend of rhubarb and wild blueberries. We spent the next few hours playing cards and reading aloud from the “Princess Bride.” Not a bad way to spend a rainy afternoon.

The rain eventually let up enough for a little peak outside, so we pulled on our rain gear; my partner grabbed his rifle and I slung a pair of binoculars around my neck. I was the designated scout. We trudged through wet muskeg and noted fresh deer sign. We walked slowly scanning our surroundings, pausing occasionally at the edge of an opening or on a small rise for a better look. We saw plenty of sign but no deer–we would try again in the morning.

The four of us woke before sunrise and stumbled sleepily outside. We made a quick scan of the muskeg before climbing up a series of muddy deer trails, bushwhacking our way into the alpine. After a slippery few miles, the forest opened up into a rolling alpine. We fell silent. Silent because it was so beautiful and silent because we were hunting. I got flustered when we saw our first deer, how exciting it was! She was the first of many does we admired from afar (it’s buck season).

Is this how people used to interact with the land? Quiet, attentive, searching… hungry? I was different out there or perhaps more fully aware of myself. I was in tune with my surroundings, each step thoughtfully placed. My eyes active. Instead of taking up space, I became a part of it.

We never did see a buck but it didn’t take away from the trip. Hunting creates a space for deeper connection to place and that is enough. I kind of like being called a huntress because for me hunting is a process–an experience. It’s exploration and adventure. It’s intentional and fun.

Ask me now what I think about hunting and I’ll tell you I like it. Ask me again when I get a deer.

Alpine hunt in the Tongass National Forest. Photo Credit: Caitlin Woolsey.

May 21 2013

4H Alaska way-of-life Club Summer Registration

Join the Alaska Way-of-Life club for fun summer activities.The clubs will begin on June 10th and run through July 21st. To register, contact Courtney at 747.7509 or courtney@sitkawild.org.

Alaska way-of-life Hiking Club . Every Wednesday from 2:30 to 4:00 pm Every week, this club will explore a different trail in Sitka and learn new skills like wild edible identification and harvesting, tracking, and GPS/ map work. Open to all ages.

Gardening Club  Every Monday from 2:30-4:00 at St. Peters Fellowship Farm and Thursdays (community outteach/filed trips), Kids will be able to get their hands dirty every week at St. Peters Fellowship Farm while learning gardening techniques and skills. Open to all ages.

Water/Kayaking Club  Tuesdays 2:30-3:30 pm:
This club will incorporate classes in tides, tying knots, intertidal life, creating survival kits, and kayaking. Ages 8 and older

Registration Forms:
http://www.uaf.edu/files/ces/publications-db/catalog/akh/AKH-00007.pdf
http://www.uaf.edu/files/ces/4h/forms/4H-Emergency-Medical-Health.pdf
http://www.uaf.edu/files/ces/4h/forms/4H-code-of-conduct.pdf

May 17 2013

Wild Foods, A New Relationship

Arguably, to know a place is to know the plants. It’s one thing to appreciate the aesthetics of a certain habitat but another to really know the plants within it. To really know a plant creates a relationship. One that’s based on an understanding and appreciation of seasons, habitat, and life cycle. It’s a give and take—food and medicine (among others) for protection and stewardship.

The Sitka Conservation Society created an opportunity for community members to deepen their relationship to the land through a “spring edibles plant series.” This class explored edible plants in three different habitats: the forest, estuary, and coastline. Students learned how to identify plants, where they are commonly found, harvesting techniques, and preparation methods. And now, we hope, they have a deeper appreciation and connection to the Tongass National Forest.

This course was a partnership with the Kayaani Commission, which was established in 1998 to “preserve and protect the historical and traditional knowledge of the way plants are used.” Kayaani Commissioners shared a customary wisdom, complementing instructor Scott Brylinsky’s extensive knowledge of edibles and plants.

Click here for an online field guide to the wild edibles in the Tongass. Enjoy the tastes of the Tongass!

Feb 19 2013

First Annual FOOD Film Festival

Learn what is happening in the Food Movement locally, nationally, and globally. Check out the films, join the roundtable discussion, and tune into Rob Kinneen’s keynote presentation on the use of local and traditional foods. Sink into your chair, munch on some popcorn, and get your taste buds in on the movie-theater experience! Films are free but donations are encouraged. Check out the line up below!

Additional Sponsors: Art Change and Alaska Pure Sea Salt Co. THANK YOU!

Feb 06 2013

FOOD Film Festival February 22-24

A FOOD Film Festival!

Learn what is happening in the Food Movement locally, nationally, and globally. Check out the films, join the roundtable discussion, and tune into Rob Kineen’s keynote presentation on the use of local and traditional foods. Sink into your chair, munch on some popcorn, and get your taste buds in on the movie-theater experience! Films are free but donations are encouraged. Check out the line up below. Click on the title to learn more about the film.

 

Friday
8:30 pm: Feature Film @ Larkspur

Saturday
10:00 Ratatouille (Family Friendly Kid Movie)
12:30 Ingredients (111 min)
2:30 End of the Line (82 min)
3:45 Two Angry Moms (86 min)
5:30-6:30 Roundtable Discussion on Sitka’s Food Resiliency
8:30 Feature Film @ Larkspur

Sunday
10:00 Feast at Midnight (Family Friendly Kid Movie)
12:30 Food Fight (91 min)
2:30 Bitter Seeds (88 min)
4:00 Food Stamped (63 min)
6:00 KEYNOTE speaker: Tlingit Chef Rob Kinnen “Store Outside Your Door”
7:00 Economics of Happiness(65 min)

–”Store Outside Your Door” Shorts will be shown in between a few films on both Saturday and Sunday.
–All Movies screened in the Exhibit Room at Centennial Hall unless noted otherwise

Our Generous SPONSORS: SCS, Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, SEARHC, Sitka Food Coop, Art Change, Film Society, Alaska Pure Sea Salt Co., and the Larkspur Cafe.

Nov 14 2012

Tracy Hunts: Take 2

The morning light began to unfold as we motored south of town, a pod of whales to our right and the sun dancing in the still water. I am witness to the incredible orchestration of the ocean, the interconnection between everything. This is just the beginning…

At the hunting grounds, we anchor the skiff and pack up our gear. Now we hunt. I follow in my partner’s foot-steps, every step deliberate. We walk slowly with vigilance, our eyes constantly scanning. Every movement is intentional, every sign of deer noted. We push forward and find a spot to hunker down and call in the deer, a sound that can be described as a guttural kazoo.

This is only my second time out on a hunt and I’m somewhat unaware of how this day will unravel. I try to stay present and note how ironic it is to be searching for edibles when so many are underfoot. Cranberries, crowberries, and labrador tea are in abundance but we pass them by, our eyes intent on another prey. Will our goal to find a deer override the pleasure of exploring the wilderness? Will we feel unsuccessful if we have nothing on our backs but the wind?

We keep walking, our steps intersecting existing deer trails. I am aware of my feet and the gentle forgiveness of the sphagnum moss. I look back and see the moss literally bounce back; the land feels uniquely alive. We stop again on the crest of a hill looking below while blowing the deer call. Nothing.

I begin to think I am cursed. The last time I went out we didn’t even see a deer. Maybe I’m slowing my partner down or perhaps I am walking too loudly. But I remind myself that regardless of our intent, this is incredible. The sun plays with the clouds and mountain peaks surround me, I can’t imagine a more perfect place.

We note the time and keep moving, knowing we must inevitably turn back soon before darkness sets. My eyes start to get lazy, my focus less centered but I try to remain attentive. We perch ourselves behind a large rock and try to call in a deer. We wait. We call again. And then out of my peripheral vision I notice movement to the left. A deer! I quickly signaled to my partner holding the rifle. And then…it was over.

We walked up to the buck and paid our respects. A life for a life, gunalchéesh. We quickly set to work, pulling out the organs. I was astounded by the warmth of this creature, its heart beating just minutes ago. I’ve heard of others leaving tobacco or tokens of respect for the life given, so without a tradition of my own, I pulled out a few of my hairs and sprinkled them atop the organs that would soon feed others.

On the return, my step was light (my partner did indeed pack out the deer); I was overcome with a feeling of success. I noticed how the walk back was starkly different then our journey in. The intention and awareness I brought with me began to fade. Our quiet whispers turned into conversation. It is so interesting how our interactions with place can change with context.

We were right on schedule when we returned to the skiff. Still plenty of day light to make the trip home. The air was surprisingly warm and calm for November, everything about today just felt so right. I was at home here.

When we returned to Sitka, my body was numb and tired. The spray from the skiff drenched me completely and the cold bit at every extremity. Exhaustion was setting but the day was just beginning. I watched my partner skillfully skin and quarter the deer, his hands knowing the right placement of his knife. In just a few minutes this beautiful animal transformed. How quickly this happened.

Once the deer was quartered we began to process the deer into cuts that would soon become dinner. I followed my knife along the bone and began to cut away the fat. I was fascinated by every muscle, how it connected to the bone and other muscles. We worked side by side for hours, ensuring every piece of meat was used.

This morning we finished the process by packaging up our roasts, rib meat, stock bones, and sausage. All evidence of our expedition lies in a small chest freezer, but it doesn’t end there for me. The blood has washed off my hands, but I can still see it. It is through this experience that I find myself deeply connected to this place, to the interconnection of life. We are bound in this web and in the cycle of death and creation.

 

A heartfelt thank you to my partner who was a patient teacher.

 

 

Oct 09 2012

A Video to Celebrate Fish to Schools!

Check out this great video prepared by our new JV Americorps, Courtney Bobsin, on the importance of Fish to Schools. We hope this inspires you to choose fish for lunch tomorrow, the first for the 2012-2013 school year!

The script:

“In Sitka we, as a community, have an outstanding opportunity to have a strong relationship with the food we eat. We touch fish with our hands and get to transform it into a meal to fuel our bodies,  and that is something to be celebrated. Fish to Schools is a project that has been created to provide a healthy and local option to the school lunch menu and allow kids to explore all dimensions of their food: where does it comes from, what does it look like, and why is it so important. Students are able to go look at fishing boats, dissect a salmon, and learn how to prepare the food they catch.

It’s time to ask questions about where our food comes from. And it’s time to care about the answer. Kids will learn that the banana they ate for breakfast traveled thousands of miles to reach their doorstep and the lunch they ate at school came from Alaskan fisherman. Let’s cut the fish open. Let’s explore and investigate what we are putting in our bodies. Let’s treat our body well and see what comes of it.

Fish to schools encourages healthier foods by serving locally harvested fish every other Wednesday. We strive to teach kids about how the fish they are eating got from the stream to their plate and why we should care about the process because the origin of our food is too important to overlook. By fueling our body with good food, we are becoming healthier people who promote sustainable practices and protect our planet. So let’s celebrate our food and where it comes from! Let’s put that food into our body. And let’s be healthier and live more sustainably. We can change the way we see food.”

In partnership with Sitka Conservation Society and Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC).

May 29 2012

Devils Club Harvest with Alaska way-of-life 4H Club

When I first moved here seeing devils club would make me cringe. I would lament at its pervasive cover. Inevitably when hiking, I would grab onto a stalk for support or bushwhack through a thicket of them. I noticed on a recent hike that my feelings for devils club had changed significantly. I was excited to see the plants, the larger the stand the bigger my grin. Now I see devils club as a medicine, a prolific and powerful resource in the Tongass. Its healing qualities seem to cure any ailment and have been used by Tlingits for thousands of years.

Last week, I met with one of our families to learn the process of harvesting the plant. Always harvest from a large stand and leave little impact. Be careful to harvest stalks above new buds so the plant can put energy into those shoots. Before clipping a branch, thank the plant for its medicine and healing properties.

Over the weekend, 4H Alaska way-of-life members located a stand of devils club, harvested a few stalks, scraped off thorns, and peeled off the green bark. I had already made the devils club oil by heating the dried bark gently in a double boiler for three hours (the longer you infuse it the stronger the medicine). Together, we added beeswax shavings to the warm oil to make a salve. Its applications are limitless: chapped lips, sore muscles, bug bites, buns, etc.

**It is of utmost importance to be mindful in your harvest, maintain respect for the plant and its natural environment, and harvest only what you can use.

May 10 2012

Celebrating a Year of Fish to Schools

The Sitka Conservation Society’s Fish to School Program has nearly completed its first full school year with raving reviews, community support, and strong partnerships. These local fish lunches are served as a hot lunch option through the school lunch program. Lunches are available to all students, totaling about 700 students with about half of those students consistently eating hot lunch.

In just one year we have seen local fish lunch consumption rates almost double at Blatchley Middle School (BMS), at an average of about 39%. I remember a lunch at BMS where a student tempted her friend to try the fish fillet. She was very skeptical but after trying it couldn’t get enough and began to feed her other friends! Check out this video on Fish to Schools at BMS by local filmmaker Hannah Guggenheim.

At Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary (KGH), where fish was introduced this fall, we are seeing rates of about 30% participation, with a few lunches peaking above 40%. Students consistently rave about the local fish lunches. One elementary school student at a recent lunch said, “I don’t like the fish lunches, I love them!” Other students tell me that they always get fish when it’s on the menu even though they generally pack lunches from home.

This spring we were delighted to collaborate with two new schools, Pacific High School (PHS) and Mount Edgecumbe High School (MEHS). PHS has a unique school lunch program with students serving as cooks for their classmates while learning commercial kitchen skills that lead to a job-ready Food Handlers Certification.  In this program, they prepare unique dishes, including Caribbean rockfish with sweet potato fries, rockfish marinara, and crispy-baked rockfish.

MEHS finished off the school year with their first fish lunch after a year-long, grassroots student campaign to get local fish into their school. Student organizers from the Alaska Youth for Environmental Action (AYEA) Club led the charge by raising awareness about the environmental benefits of eating locally-harvested fish and polled students to see if they wanted to see fish at their school. 90% of students said, “Absolutely, yes!” Their efforts culminated in mouthwatering fish tacos this April.

Education programs were integrated into the third and seventh grade classes along with fish lunches. Students followed the cycles of fish from their native habitat to their lunch tray by interviewing local fishermen, hearing stories from Alaska Natives, dissecting and filleting salmon, and preparing tasty dishes with a local chef. Cultural knowledge, nutrition, and food systems were woven throughout the program. Local fish lunches paired with the Stream to Plate Curriculum brings students closer to their culture and the backbone of Sitka. Serving students local fish and exposing them to the fishing culture, connects them to their home and develops a sense of pride for being a part of a community that supports itself on the best (tasting and managed) seafood in the world.

The Sitka Fish to Schools program was awarded the Best Farm to School Project in Alaska for the 2011-2012 school year. It is a community-wide honor, recognizing all of the stakeholders involved in the program: food service, local seafood processors, fishermen, school district, principals, teachers, and community volunteers. Alaska’s First Lady, Sandy Parnell, came to a local fish lunch to recognize our local efforts in Sitka. We are thrilled that she personally came to show her support for our creative use of local foods in the school lunch program. We hope her interest will continue to increase the profile of this program and that we will see continued support for these efforts statewide.

The Sitka Conservation Society hopes that this program will create closer connections between our community and the natural resources from the environment around us.  Through its implementation, youth and stakeholders will gain an increased understanding of how we use and depend on the land and waters of the Tongass.  With the fish on our plates at home and at school, we will, as a community, make better decisions on the management and future of those resources that we intimately depend on.  Further, we hope that this program will influence the USDA, and the policy makers who direct it, to focus on a more sustainable school lunch food system by using local sources for food.  And, importantly, our school districts will teach children about local natural resources and the jobs and livelihoods in our community by using hands-on, real-world learning experiences.

Apr 17 2012

Fish to Schools to be Honored at Benefit Dinner on Wednesday 4/25

When people from the lower 48 think of Alaska, images of the Deadliest Catch, the debate around drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the open tundra of the north often come to mind. But, there is a lot more to Alaska.

Despite the long winters and short summers Alaska is joining the nation’s growing farm to school movement. There are only a few farm to school programs in the Last Frontier recognized by the Alaska Farm to School Program. One of those programs is Fish to School.

Sitka’s Fish to School program is coordinated by the Sitka conservation Society, but it relies on the entire community to make it happen. It is a stellar program that interweaves a stream to plate curriculum, hands-on learning, tours of local processors and fish options on the cafeteria menus. This is the second year running and it is getting better with age. Even Alaska’s First Lady Parnell had a Fish to School lunch with the students on April 11th.

The Alaska Farm to School Program also thinks it is an A-plus project. On April 25th, SCS’s Fish to School program will be honored with the award of best farm to school program in Alaska for the 2011-2012 school year. Johanna Heron from the state’s Department of Natural Resources will present the award during a special Benefit dinner that will raise funds to cover the cost of next year’s school fish lunches.

The Benefit dinner will be prepared by Chef Colette Nelson, proprietor of Ludvig’s Bistro, and Pacific High School students. Chef Nelson, has been creating recipes for students at Pacific High School throughout the winter. Students rotate the responsibility of preparing lunch for the rest of the small alternative school as part of their food handler’s license job training. And then, they voted on their favorite recipe.

Crispy Oven Baked Rockfish won overwhelmingly. That entrée will be featured at the Benefit dinner and will be a model for future school lunches. The menu also includes salad with Alaska grown beets, sweet potato fries, blackened broccoli, home made bread, and carrot cake with Alaska grown carrots.

This is a community wide award ceremony and Benefit. Sitka proves that it defiantly takes a village to feed local, healthy seafood to the children and teach them about the wonders of fishing. Volunteer coordinators, the school food management service, fishermen, Tlingit elders all make the Fish to School program the best in Alaska, and possibly the best in the nation.

If you are in Sitka on April 25th, Sitka Conservation Society invites you to celebrate Fish to Schools. Eat some fish, support this local initiative, have fun, and help keep local fish in the schools! It will take place at Sweetland Hall on the historic Sheldon Jackson Campus. Doors open at 5:30pm and dinner begins at 6:00pm. Pricing structure: $20.00 adults, $15 seniors/students, and $5.00 for children. Tickets are available at Old Harbor Books.

To learn more about the Fish to School program visit www.sitkawild.org and for information about the event, contact Tracy Gagnon at (907) 747-7509 or tracy@sitkawild.org

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