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.

Mar 05 2012

4H Alaska way-of-life: Following wild game from forest to stew.

The much anticipated deer stew has been put up, 37 pints worth! After months of patience, 4H members got to see their skinned and butchered deer turn into a shelf-stable food. And a delicious one at that! 4H members gathered around a large table full of ingredients that needed prepping. We rotated through different stations of washing and skinning potatoes, chopping garlic and onions, dicing carrots and celery, and slicing up deer and moose meat. We all commented on how together, as a community, we could accomplish so much. It brought me so much joy to be working alongside my new friends (young and younger..) putting up food until hunting season begins again next August.

After our raw ingredients were prepped we filled our jars with a little of this and a little of that. Potatoes, meat, carrot, onion, garlic and celery were layered in each jar and topped with salt, pepper, spices, and a little bit of a stock mix before carefully cleaning each jar rim and capping with a top and ring. The jars were then placed in two large pressure canners and once they reached a pressure of 10#s were cooked for 110 minutes. Once the timer alerted us that they were done, we turned off the heat letting the pressure and temperature come down naturally. Once it was safe to open, we removed the jars and delighted in the popping sound that comes with a finished product!

I have to say that this was an activity that I was really looking forward to. I feel more empowered when I can put up food for myself, knowing every ingredient and its source. I have learned that hunters are very close to the land, know its subtleties and patterns, and have a deep respect for the lives that they are taking for food. That respect is carried through the entire process from the hunt, to processing, and cooking. These 37 pints of deer stew carry with them stories of community and the gratitude of a life for a life. We will share these delicious jars with 4H volunteers, mentors, and elders to continue the story…

A big thank you to 4H Parent and Subsistence Biologist for the Forest Service, Jack Lorrigan for sharing this important skill with the 4H Alaska way-of-life Club!

 

Feb 29 2012

4H Cloverbuds — Pies and Illumination

The Tongass provides an abundance of wild salmon berries, blueberries, and huckleberries—what better way to enjoy their wild summer flavors than in a pie shared with friends and family? The Cloverbuds 4H Club learned how to bake pies this week, mastering a home-baked good that many shy away from. Each Cloverbud went home with a pie ready to bake; for many it was their first (and for the parents too!).

Each member made their their dough, patted it into a round, and rolled it out to fit in the pie dish. Fillings were poured in and tops were added. It was great to see youth who were overwhelmed by the thought of making pie or touching butter get into the process and see (and eat ) their final product. Sharing foods, especially ones with locally-harvested foods is a deep pleasure that connects us to place.

After our pie-baking extravaganza, we met to create light. Candles today often add ambiance to rooms but historically they were a critical light source. Students got to rotate through different stations, creating three different types of candles. They each dipped candles, resulting in chubby little pillars perfect for the next birthday cake. They filled a votive mold and also decorated jars with glitter, marbles, stones, and sprinkles to create personalized candles. After the melted wax was poured, wicks were placed in the center, and we patiently waited for them to dry. The candles turned out beautifully—putting a few in our survival kits wouldn’t be a bad idea for emergencies.

A big thank you to parents Eric Kaplan and Susea Albee for leading the activities for the month and parents Paty and Scott Harris for hosting!

Feb 28 2012

Tanning Deer Hides with the Alaska way-of-life 4H Group

Earlier this month 4H members went to Ed Gray’s local tannery at the Sawmill Industrial Park. We were instantly immersed in his world of preserving hides, the process between skinning an animal and the hide that sits nicely on your couch or lines your mittens. Ed Gray took us through this process step by step. What I write below is an over-simplification but will give you an idea of what it takes to preserve an animal hide.

First the hide needs to be scraped to remove any remaining flesh that could rot, this process is appropriately called “fleshing.” Ed has his own unique method, but I won’t share his secret here! It is then salted, which acts as a preservative and pulls out excess liquid. Once the skin is dry and the hair is set, the skin is rehydrated and placed in a pickling solution of water, salt and acid (Ed uses a plant-acid). This swells the skin so it can be shaved, creating a softer pelt. Ed said it took him over 300 hours to master this fine technique. The hide is then placed in another solution with an adjusted pH allowing it to react with the tanning solution where it sits for 15 hours. Then the skin is removed and allowed to dry overnight before it is oiled and dried almost completely, about 90%. The skin is then tumbled in a hardwood powder to finish the drying process by removing any remaining oils. The process is complete once it is tumbled in a wire cage to remove the wood flour and then buffed creating a soft and shiny hide for the proud hunter.

Students got to touch a number of hides in different stages of the process and got to test (under supervision of course) the acidity level of the solutions using pH strips. Ed showed us how a number of his pieces of equipment worked (some ingenious yet simple and others more complicated needing very refined motor skills). Ed works with all animal hides ranging from sea otter to marten to bear and will be working individually with one of our 4H members on his very own deer hide.

This skill continues to be cherished in the local community, with two operating tanneries in Sitka. Traditionally tanning hides (often with the natural acids found in the brain) was a source of warmth in the cold winters. Today it serves as a connection to the past, to keep the tradition alive. It is a skill that we find valuable to share with 4Hers as a reminder of how we used to survive using only local resources native to the area. Although we had an introduction on how to tan on a commercial scale, we may continue to explore this topic if there is interest and learn how to tan hides as a survival skill.

THANK YOU to Ed Gray for sharing his local knowledge of tanning animal hides.

Feb 13 2012

We Love our Fishermen!

Check out this incredible video created by our good friend and local filmmaker, Hannah Guggenheim, documenting the “We Love our Fishermen Lunch” on 2/8/2012.

WE LOVE OUR FISHERMEN!  The Fish to Schools Program began as a vision at the 2010 Sitka Health Summit and with community support and leadership from the Sitka Conservation Society, we are now working with over half of students enrolled in the Sitka School District. This program is a component of our Community Sustainability efforts and we hope through this program we can begin to build a stronger, more resilient local food system. Fish to Schools ensures that students, whose families may not generally be able to afford local fish, have access to it directly through the school lunch program. These lunches provide a boost of nutrients and Omega 3 fatty-acids, supports the sustainable fisheries of Alaska, and validates the backbone of this community and culture.

On February 8, 2012, fishermen were invited to both Keet and Blatchley Middle Schools. They joined students for their bi-monthly local fish lunch, bringing with them stories from the sea, fishing gear, and photos to make the connection between this profession and the fish on their plates. Both schools plastered the cafeterias with student-made posters, cards, and valentines thanking fishermen for their contribution to the program. Fishermen led students around the cafeteria with lures, created a longline set in the middle of the lunch room, and generated a lot of hype around the lunches.

Sitka Conservation Society would like the individually thank the following groups and individuals for making this special lunch a success: Seafood Producers Coop, Sitka Sound Seafoods, Nana Management Services, Staff at Keet and Blatchley, Beth Short, Wendy Alderson, Lexi Fish, Hannah Guggenheim, Andrianna Natsoulas, Jason Gjertsen, Terry Perensovich, Doug Rendle, Sarah Jordan, Eric Jordan, Matt Lawrie, Spencer Severson, Jeff Farvour, Beth Short-Rhodes, Stephen Rhodes, Kat Rhodes, Scott Saline, Charlie Skultka, Kent Barkau, Lew  Schumejda, Bae Olney-Miller, and Jeff Christopher.

This lunch coincided with the beginning of the “Stream to Plate” lesson series with seventh graders in Ms. Papoi’s science class. The first of five lessons introduced students to how fish are caught in SE Alaska through subsistence, sport, and commercial fishing methods. The class began “back in time” as AK Native, Charlie Skultka, shared with students traditional methods of fish harvest. With models and relics from the SJ Museum, he demonstrated how fish traps and halibut hooks worked. Roby Littlefield, coordinator of Dog Point Fish Camp and Tlingit language instructor at Blatchley, showed students photos of students actually participating in current subsistence traditions. She told stories from camp and demonstrated how these practices continue today. Following their presentation, local fishermen Beth Short-Rhodes, Steven Rhodes, Jeff Farvour, and Steven Fish, shared with students how they commercially fish for salmon, halibut, rockfish, and blackcod. Students had the opportunity to interview and ask guests questions in small groups, developing a relationship with community members in town. This week students will learn about the importance of conservation and sustainability in fishing and more specifically how the Tongass is a Salmon Forest.

Feb 06 2012

Fish to Schools live on KCAW with three Sitka students!

Listen to a live radio broadcast of the Sitka Conservation Society’s Fish to Schools Program. This program exemplifies our commitment to community sustainability by connecting students to local, healthy, and affordable seafood. Twice a month students are served local fish for lunch at Keet Gooshi Heen, Blatchley Middle School, and now Pacific High. To supplement the program, third and seventh grade students participate in a “Stream to Plate” curriculum, learning the story behind their lunch.

On this KCAW morning interview, Sitka students, Grace Gjertsen (3rd grade), Zofia Danielson (6th grade), and Sienna Reid (7th grade), join Beth Short and Tracy Gagnon to talk about the local fish lunches. These three students typically bring a lunch from home, but on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month, they stand in line for local fish. They share fishermen valentines and tell us why these lunches are so special. Check out the radio broadcast here.

Feb 04 2012

Thank you Fish to Schools, Sincerely Pacific High

Dear Sitka Conservation Society,
Thank you for bringing fish into our school, Pacific High School. You are not only forging a new path in the National School Lunch Program, you are changing the system. Each fish you provide to the schools in the district enriches our student’s nutrient profile as well as connecting them to their food source. Thank you for making Pacific High School’s Lunch Program the best it can be. The Fish to School Program supports an educational program that is in alignment with PHS’ belief in connecting each student to their surrounding environment and foodshed. We look forward to forging a lasting relationship between Fish to Schools and PHS for years to come.

Johanna Willingham checking on the Carribean Rockfish lunch. YUM!

Thank you,

Johanna Willingham
Pacific High
School Lunch Coordinator

Feb 03 2012

Sitka Black Tailed Deer: Traditional Subsistence Meat in Southeast Alaska

Nov 2011. On an autumn Saturday afternoon, a group of kids gathered around a deer hanging in the Sitka Sound Science Center barn. At first they stood a few feet back, taking the deer in slowly with curious gazes. They got more comfortable as Jack Lorrigan, the father of one of the children, began to explain how to skin the deer and butcher it into choice cuts of meat. Over the next two hours, Jack, the Subsistence Biologist with the Forest Service, demonstrated the various cuts and allowed kids and parents alike to wield the knife. Jack also shared stories of how he learned to hunt from his mother, carrying on indigenous traditions, and he offered important ecological considerations from his work as a subsistence biologist. Andrew Thoms, executive director at the Sitka Conservation Society, helped Jack teach the lesson. Andrew shot the deer along with Joel Martin and Paulie Davis on Kruzof Island about 10 miles from Sitka.

For the people of Sitka, Alaska, subsistence hunting and gathering is an important part of life.  The Tongass National Forest that surrounds Sitka provides many of these resources.  SCS works to protect the resources of the Tongass as well as helping pass along the conservation skills and values that will allow us to live as part of this landscape forever.  The Alaska-way-of-life 4H club is part of the ways that Sitka youth are learning about their environment and being part of the community.

We will follow the deer from forest to plate in the month of February. Members will learn how to tan hides from Ed Gray at his local tannery and will can deer stew for future enjoyment of this local food source.

Note:  In following with time-honored subsistence traditions passed down from peoples who have occupied this landscape for millennia, at least half of the deer meat from this activity was shared with neighbors, friends and elders.

Jan 30 2012

The Alaska way-of-life 4H Club Goes Tracking

For the month of January, the Alaska way-of-life 4H club focused on tracking and trapping in the Tongass National Forest. These important skills further connect us to the natural environment as we notice the habits of the animals and birds in our shared ecosystem. Tracking as a skill gives us more capacity to understand the workings of the forest and thus the compassion to protect it. Traditionally this activity was fundamentally crucial, and continues to be, as a source of food and animal pelts (for clothing, warmth, and trade).

We began the unit earlier this month by gathering around a table overflowing with animal pelts. We identified the animals native to the island and began matching each animal to its print. Ashley Bolwerk from the Science Center taught us the steps involved in tracking animals: 1) know your location and the animals native to it, 2) note the size, pattern, and type of track, 3) check for distinguishing details like number of toes, nails, etc., 4) note other animal signs like scat, fur, feathers, eating patterns, etc.

In addition to learning the basics of tracking, Kevin Johnson and Tyler Orbison, both local trappers, met with the older 4H group to show them the fundamentals of tracking mink and martens. They got to practice setting up the different traps (more difficult than one may think) and directed question after question to our guests.

On Saturday, we got to put study into action. We had a blast roaming the coastline and snowy forest searching for tracks and signs of animals nearby. We successfully saw the tracks of deer, mink, marten, squirrel, raven, and swan including scat and signs of grazing. The older kids were joined once again by trapper, Kevin Johnson, who demonstrated where and how to place traps in the forest. He also, to our delight, showed 4H members how to skin a marten in the field. Everyone was awe-eyed and attentive as he quickly removed the hide from body, an excellent lesson in anatomy.

Check out the pictures—they tell a better story than words ever will. These activities would not have been possible without the help of: Kevin Johnson, Tyler Orbison, Jon Martin, Kent Bovee, Ashley Bolwerk, Andrew Thoms, and the Science Center. THANK YOU!

**Although a bit out of order, 4Hers have learned how to identify deer tracks, skin and butcher a deer, and in February will learn how to tan hides and can deer stew. A forest to plate series!

Jan 05 2012

4H Way-of-Life Club: General Information

The Alaska Way-of-Life 4H Club seeks to connect youth to their natural environment through a number of hands-on, outdoor activities. Through parent and volunteer-led activities, youth are taught the skills to feel equipped while out in the Tongass National Forest. They are taught skills that relate to safety, like building survival kits and shelters, to  wild-food harvest and preservation, to outdoor hobbies like bird identification. As with all 4H Clubs, our group seeks to incorporate elements of the 4H’s: Head, Heart, Hands, and Health. We also strive to develop a healthy community through family and youth participation.

For the 2012-2012 school year, we will focus on a variety of topics: mushroom hunting, berry picking, cooking, shelter building, tracking, plant ID, survival kits, and food preservation.

We meet the first and third Tuesday of the month and every last Saturday. There are two groups: Cloverbuds, ages 5-8 and 4H, ages 9+. The cost to join is $20.00, which is divided between registration to National 4H, insurance, and the Activity Fund. If cost is an issue, please ask us about scholarships.

Check out our briefing sheets for more information:4H Briefing sheet

Please contact Tracy Gagnon at tracy@sitkawild.org or call 747.7509 if you are interested in joining!

Dec 30 2011

Fish to Schools, A Third Grade Reflection

With so many programs already dedicated to teaching students about fish biology and lifecycle, The Sitka Conservation Society chose to take a different angle. We wanted to answer the question, “How did fish end up on our dinner plate?” Modeled after the Farm to School program, we developed a series of interactive lessons to illuminate the steps fish take from stream to plate. We invited a number community members and organizational partners into the classroom to share their part of the story.

We began with third graders in early October by teaching students about fishing methods. We answered the question, “How are fish caught?” Through a number of silly, hands-on activities, students learned the differences between commercial, sport, and traditional harvesting methods. To reinforce commercial methods, local fishermen were invited to give presentations on their chosen method(s). One fisherman father, Dan Falvey, went so far as to have students set a longline with baited hooks (magnets). After a good soak, students landed their catch… of paperclips!

Fishing, a familiar pastime for many of the students, was well understood. But less known was what to do with them next. Students were invited on a tour of Sitka Sound Seafoods, a local seafood processor, where they saw a boat unload fish, a halibut fillet demonstration, shrimp, crab, and sea cucumbers processed and packaged. Back in the classroom, Alaska Native Tom Gamble, took students through the process of gutting, filleting, and preserving the catch. He shared native traditions and emphasized respect for the salmon throughout the entire process for feeding him and his family.

Next in line was cooking, a final and very important step in the journey from stream to plate. Students gathered around wisps of steam as they watched Alaska Native, Charlie Skukla Jr., place fire-hot rocks into a traditional bentwood box. In less than minute the water began to boil chunks of local fish. Boiled fish couldn’t be simpler and the students loved it.  One class got to work with Chef Colette Nelson of Ludvigs Bistro. Together students created delectable tastes of sesame salmon and toasted rockfish. Paired with cooking, we taught students why fish is good for their bodies. They all seemed to know that seafood was good for them but few could articulate why. Students learned a simple mantra–that “fish are healthy for our head, heart, and make us happy.”  This really stuck; over 70% of participating students increased their health knowledge after the program.

The underlying thread that connected all of these steps was conservation. After playing a game to demonstrate a salmon food web, students learned how fish are connected to the livelihood of other plants, animals, and habitats. They learned that salmon feed the Tongass, not because the forest has teeth but because it absorbs all the nutrients of the salmon carcasses that act as a fertilizer. Students were also asked to consider what would happen if people overfished. Along with extreme answers like, “We would die,” were other answers like, “Other animals need fish to survive,” and “They won’t be able to reproduce.” It is our hope at SCS that students feel more connected to the food they eat and that they now know it is our responsibility to protect and care for the habitat and waterways that are home to these incredible animals. –Dec. 2011

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