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!
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.
Alaska Ocean Film Festival
Sheet’ ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Community House
Thursday, March 15th
Tickets available March 2nd at Old harbor Bookstore or at the door
Brought to the good people of Sitka by the The Alaska Center for the Environment in conjunction with the Sitka Conservation Society
2012 Alaska Ocean Film Festival Program
Click the link below for previews.
Monsterboards, Holland, Matthew McGregor-Mento, 8 mins
Combine a crack up sense of deadpan humor, small waves, eco art surfboards, and a horrific fear of sharks … what do you get? Monsterboards, of course. Surf’s up, enjoy the ride!
Into the Deep with Elephant Seals, USA, Sedva Eris, 11 mins
Meet the UC Santa Cruz marine biologists using high-tech tools to track elephant seals along the San Mateo coast. Some of these marine mammals weigh 4,500 pounds, can dive for a mile, and hold their breath for an hour. The elephant seals incredible come back from near extinction is a testament to the power of protected areas.
Capture: A Waves Documentary, Peru, Dave Aabo, 22mins
This piece dives deep into the impoverished community of Lobitus, Peru and the experience of surf travelers who share their passion with the youth. Witness the opportunity for empowerment as kids learn about creativity and self-expression from international surfers turned humanitarians.
The Coral Gardener, United Kingdom, Emma Robens, 10 mins
Coral reefs are like underwater gardens, but who would have thought you can garden them in just the same way? Austin Bowden-Kerby is a coral gardener. He has brought together his love of gardening, and passion for the underwater world, to do something very special that just might save the coral reefs of Fiji. Directed by Emma Robens.
Landscapes at the World’s Ends, New Zealand, Richard Sidey, 15 mins
A non-verbal, visual journey to the polar regions of our planet portrayed through a triptych montage of photography and video. This piece is a multi-dimensional canvas of imagery recorded either above the Arctic Circle or below the Antarctic Convergence.
Eating the Ocean, USA, Jennifer Galvin, 21 mins
Narrated by Celine Cousteau, this film is a journey to the heart of Oceania where an international team of researchers studies the rapidly changing diet of French Polynesians. Through the scientists’ investigation and by spending time with families, fishermen and school children we discover a public health crisis brought on by western influences.
Birdathlon, USA, Rachel Price and Karen Lewis, 4 mins
Who will win a race that involves both air and sea? Find out when our intrepid Rhinoceros Auklet is pitted against an Arctic Tern in an Olympic-caliber spoof that demonstrates the unique physiology and biology of the Alcid species.
Team Clark Goes Canoeing: Valdez to Whittier, USA, Dan Clark, 9 mins
Simply mesmerizing. This is the story of six weeks solitude and simplicity, the rewards of submersing children in the wilderness, and the challenges that make it memorable. A dream trip for many of us, no doubt, but does that dream include diaper swap outs at the re-supply? You’re not gonna believe this one!
The Majestic Plastic Bag, USA, 4 mins.
A brilliant mockumentary about the miraculous migration of “The Majestic Plastic Bag” narrated by Jeremy Irons. It was produced by Heal The Bay as promo in support of California bill AB 1998 to help put an end to plastic pollution.
At SCS, we know that getting people outside and participating in the stewardship of our environment is the single best way to realize our vision of a sustainable community living within the Tongass National Forest. Last summer, SCS, the Sitka Ranger District, and Sitka High School established a long-term monitoring study that will evaluate the efforts made to restore deer habitat in young growth forests in Peril Strait. Students built four “deer exclosures” to support this study. The exclosures will allow us to study the plant growth that occurs without being browsed upon by deer. Students will revisit these study sites each year. Through this project, students are being active participants in ecological restoration and gaining valuable insight in what it takes to be good stewards of our backyard!
The Sitka Conservation Society strives to blend sustainable community development with policy advocacy through projects and initiatives that demonstrate our ideals while building community and community assets. Along the way, we organize stakeholders to work together with a commonly shared vision. The ideal projects are those that bring people together working face-to-face/shoulder-to-shoulder to jointly and collaboratively build our community under a vision of sustainability. If we are not working with new and different partners, if we are not working toward institutionalizing our values within existing agencies, or if we are simply working within one closed group, we are not successful.
The Fish to Schools program is accomplishing all of the above as it organizes fishermen, integrates traditional Native cultural values around locally harvested fish in the school classrooms, teaches youth about fishing livelihoods and fisheries management by bringing community members into the classroom, and, above all, improves the school lunch program by finding creative and economically sustainable pathways to integrate locally produced food into the USDA school lunch program. The program works with all the schools in the local school districts, all the major fish processors, multiple fishermen, parents, youths, USDA staff, State of Alaska agency staff, and many more. Recently we won a statewide award which received national attention in the USDA Farm-to-Schools program.
Our hope is 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. Our hope is that in its actions the USDA, and the policy makers who direct it, will choose 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.
In this way, SCS is working to build a socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable community living within the splendor and beauty of the Tongass.
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.
Winter doesn’t slow down field science in Sitka! The four Sitka High School students and their mentors in the Science Mentor Program are in the full swing of their projects. In the photo at left, Justine is measuring tree diameters to quantify the forest stand where she is collecting soil samples. She will then conduct genetic analyses of microbial fungal communities in the soil. Sarah and Tahnee are mapping habitat types that are critical for deer overwintering survival in Starrigavan Valley. And Spencer is learning statistical tests for calculating fish stocks. Follow our progress on the blog
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.
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.
School Lunch Coordinator
This is a guest post by Bonnie Loshbaugh about her reflections on SCS’s Tongass Salmon Forest Residency. This unique position was a partnership with the Sitka Ranger District and was tasked with telling the story of the Forest Service’s work restoring salmon habitat in the Tongass.
Be sure to check out the fantastic slide show of Bonnie’s photos at the bottom of this post.
I arrived in Sitka in May, after the herring opener had ended and before the salmon season had really gotten fired up, for a six month stint as the Tongass Salmon Forest Resident. The position, a collaboration between the Sitka Conservation Society, The Wilderness Society, and the Forest Service, was a new venture for everyone. For the Forest Service, it was one of the tentative steps the agency is taking towards a transition from a timber-only to a multi-resource management approach for the Tongass National Forest. For the Sitka Conservation Society and The Wilderness Society, it was part of a long term shift by environmental organizations towards collaborating rather than fighting with the Forest Service in Southeast Alaska. For me, a newly minted master of marine affairs, the residency was an opportunity to position myself at the crossroads of public policy and science, practice my science writing abilities, to return to my home state, and—I’ll be honest—to eat a lot of fish.
In Sitka, I got a room in the Forest Service bunkhouse and started a crash course in island life, Forest Service safety training, NGO-agency collaboration, and NGO-NGO collaboration, with a refresher on small town Alaska. Growing up on the Kenai Peninsula, I already knew a great deal about salmon as food. Now I started learning about salmon as an economic driver, natural resource, cultural underpinning, keystone species in the coastal temperate rainforest, and salmon as the life work and primary focus of many of the people I had the honor of working with during my time in Sitka.
During the summer field season, I went with the fisheries and watershed staff on quick projects—a day trip by boat to Nakwasina to help add large wood to a salmon stream—and long projects—and eight day stint at a remote camp on Tenakee Inlet with a crew using explosives to decommission an old logging road. Although I was mainly in Sitka, I also visited Prince of Wales Island and the restoration sites at the Harris River and worked up a briefing sheet that was used during USDA Undersecretary Harris Sherman’s visit to the same sites. By the fall, I had a large amount of information and photos which I worked up into several brochures for the Forest Service, and also a Tongass Salmon Factsheet, and a longer Factbook.
My main contacts at the Forest Service were Greg Killinger, the Fisheries Watershed and Soils Staff Officer for the Tongass, and Jon Martin, the Tongass Transition Framework Coordinator, both of whom made the connections for me to work with and ask questions of the top fisheries folk on the Tongass, as well the rank and file staff on the ground carrying out restoration and research work. The residency gave me a chance to learn about salmon on the Tongass, and to immediately turn that information around for public distribution. Along the way, it also allowed me to see how a federal agency works, a particularly enlightening experience since I have mainly worked for non-profits in the past. While collaboration is not always the easy way, the joint creation of the Tongass Salmon Forest Residency is a recognition that it is the best way to manage our resources, and I hope to see, and participate in, many more such collaborations in the future.