The Alaska Way-of-Life 4H wrapped up a fall foraging and wild edibles series in October. 4H is a positive youth development program throughout the nation that challenges youth to engage their head, heart, hands, and health for themselves and the community in which they live. We spent the month learning, gathering, and working with wild edibles in the Tongass National Forest. Subsistence truly is the Alaska way-of-life here in Sitka. The 4Hers learned how to preserve foods by canning jelly and making fruit leather. We concluded the series with a distribution of gifts to give back to our community members.
Rose hips are the bright red fruit of the wild rose, or Rosa rugosia, which are abundant in Sitka. Many of them grow in town, providing beautiful color to the lawns of many homes. The Alaska Way-of-Life 4H club learned how to harvest the fruit and preserve it into jelly and fruit leather. The kids had fun mashing the rose hips in a food mill to create a puree for the fruit leather and squeezing them in cheese cloth for the jelly.
Kitty LaBounty, UAS biology professor and mycologist, was a special guest on the 4H mushroom hunt in September. In the forest, we found puffballs, winter chanterelles, and various russulas. The kids experienced the Tongass with a new perspective and learned about the interdependence of the forest ecosystem: how the fungi work with the plants in decomposition and forest diversity. We got up close and personal with the mushrooms by creating spore prints on paper by setting the cap down overnight. The print reflects the shape of the gills, folds, spines, or pores, which helps to identify the mushroom. We used a fixative to set the spore prints in order to make Thank You cards for those who helped us with our series. The 4Hers were able to practice creativity with the print: one 4Her made a person out of the spores!
Our last challenge was in the muskeg to search for Lingonberries. The small waxy-leaf plants are found on the dry mounds of the muskeg and grow far and few between. They can blossom in clusters as big as 5 berries, but in our experience those are rare. It takes patience to find these little berries and the 4Hers seemed to be up to the test after the mushrooms hunt! The day was very cold and rainy, but they were successful at finding berries. Lingonberries are very popular in our fellow arctic polar region of Scandinavia for sauce and jam!
The Alaska Way-of-Life 4Hers are learning by doing and giving back to the community that supports them here in Sitka. The more they know about the Tongass, the more appreciation they will have for the Alaska way-of-life. They embraced the process from Tongass to the table, and share with their friends what they now know about living with the land here in Sitka. They are excited to be able to identify the plants in the muskeg, forest, and urban settings, and make food from what they find. It was also heartening to see their enthusiasm for giving to community members at the Sitka Pioneer’s Home and those who helped make this series possible.
The Alaska Way-of-Life 4H club is currently engaged in an outdoor survival series!
After a summer of exploring, examining, and identifying, kids in the Alaska Way of Life 4H clubs are walking away from these 7 week clubs will a whole new skill set. During June and July, clubs in gardening, hiking, and kayaking met every week to build community, interact with their landscape, and learn new skills.
Gardening club spent every Monday at St. Peter’s Fellowship farm learning how to plant, weed, water, harvest, cook, and de-slug. Every Thursday we explored other gardens in Sitka to learn different gardening techniques. We learned how chickens are helping Sprucecot Garden, saw how bees are pollinating plants at Cooperative Extension’s Greenhouse, and the many different styles of gardening present at Blatchley’s Community Garden. Kids walked away a little dirty and wet, but with smiles and plants in hand.
Kayaking Club incorporated more than just how to paddle a boat. We learned how to tie bowlines, clove hitches, and double fishermen knots. We had another 4H’er teach us how to build survival kits. Every kid learned how to use and put together their own kit to keep us safe on our kayaking journeys. Rangers at Sitka National Historical Park showed us why we have tides and how they change during the course of the day. Finally, after weeks of preparation, 4H’ers learned how to put on gear, get in and out of their boat, and paddle before we took to the water at Swan Lake and Herring Cove.
This summer’s hiking club learned how to interact with the Tongass in new ways. We learned foraging skills and how to properly harvest spruce tips and berries. We collected leaves and flowers and created plant presses to preserve them. The kids learned flora and fauna of the muskeg before gathering labrador tea leaves. For our final hike, we learned how to use a compass and GPS to find treasure hidden in the forest. Even after learning all these new skills, we made time to hike seven different trails in Sitka.
25 kids participated in these three Alaska Way of Life 4H clubs over the summer with ages ranging from 5 to 12. These clubs were a great way to get outdoors and understand more about the amazing wilderness we live in. Look for more Alaska Way of Life 4H programs in the future! For more information or to sign up for 4H email [email protected]
Enjoy photos from the summer programs! For the full album, visit our facebook page.
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 [email protected]
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
The Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) Northwest has placed volunteers in various organizations all over Sitka for nearly two decades, focusing on issues of social and ecological justice. This year, I joined the Sitka Conservation Society team as their first Jesuit Volunteer (JV). Many of the core values of the JVC Northwest program align closely with those of Sitka Conservation Society. Social and ecological justice are important aspects of the work I do at SCS and are crucial values in the JVC Northwest program. My position, Living with the Land & Building Community Jesuit Volunteer, works toward ecological and social justice in several capacities.
My involvement with the Fish to Schools program at SCS is one of many examples of these two organizations, JVC Northwest and SCS, working to achieve the same goal. Fish to Schools coordinates local salmon and rockfish to be served in five Sitka schools. This program promotes not only social justice by allowing students with free and reduced lunches–who may not always have a balanced diet– a chance to eat a healthy local meal at school, but also ecological justice as well. By supporting our local fishermen and teaching students about sustainable fishing, we are influencing students to work towards ecological justice. Aside from my projects, the Sitka Conservation Society has a myriad of programs that advocate and work for ecological justice. Programs like Stream Team, where 7th graders get to spend 3 days outside learning about restoration and proper land management, is only one example in a long list of programs that SCS has created to encourage ecological justice.
Another core value of the JVC Northwest program is community. I live with three other Jesuit Volunteers who are placed at other non-profit organizations in Sitka. We live together, share food, have meals as a community, and support one another. Helping to foster a sense of community continues from my home into my projects at SCS. I lead Alaska Way of Life 4H classes at SCS. One of my main goals is to create a sense of community within our groups. Before every class we play a game or do an activity that allows us to learn about one another. Having weekly classes allows 4H kids to get to know their peers and makes them feel more invested in the community that they are helping to build. After these community building activities, we get to learn and practice new skills together that teach kids how to live with the land. The Alaska Way of Life 4H program has taught kids everything from harvesting wild edibles to tracking.
I am currently working on a project with a third grade class at Keet Gooshi Heen called Conservation in the Classroom. Many aspects of my lessons tie in to the value of simple living from JVC Northwest. My lessons are focused on water conservation in the Tongass. Our projects always take a hands on approach with “project based learning”. The students have done everything from building water catchment systems out of recycled materials to making their own water filters. We do all of our projects of recycled materials to live more simply and sustainably.
Social and ecological justice, community, and simple living are three values that JVC Northwest and the Sitka Conservation Society share and both works towards. It’s been a great opportunity to be a part of SCS and see the parallels between the two organizations.
Over the last year, the Sitka Conservation Society has offered lots of exciting Alaska Way of Life 4-H programs! In 2012 4-H kids learned how to track deer, make devils club salve, identify wild mushrooms, harvest berries, and much more! 4-H kids were able to walk, touch, eat, and experience everything the Tongass has to offer. 4-H is an amazing program that focuses on four H’s: head, heart, hands, health. Head refers to thinking critically, heart focuses on caring, hands involves giving and working, and finally health emphasizes being and living. Every 4-H class builds community and enhances our understanding of our natural environment by learning these skills together through hands on activities in the Tongass.
By living in Sitka, we must be invested in the Tongass because hurting it would mean damaging our own home. 2012 was filled with dedicated 4-H members who wanted to dive into the Tongass and learn all about its beauty and complexities. As a community, we all were able to experience these things through Alaska Way of Life 4-H clubs. Thank you to all 4-H participants for a terrific year! Please enjoy a sneak peak of our slideshow celebrating the wonderful skills we learned together in 2012! To see the full album with all the pictures from the year check out our facebook page.
It’s never too late to get involved with 4H! We are always excited to welcome new members to participate in our clubs and workshops that explore the natural world. In the next few months, members will get to go on night hikes, identify wild edibles, monitor beaches, and much more! If you are interested or want to get involved in 4-H please contact Courtney at [email protected] or 747-7509.
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.
While teaching a Discovery Southeast introduction to eco-systems at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School a student blurts out…”Aren’t you supposed to be teaching us this stuff”? I stop writing on the board, thrilled to hear this. I think she just gave me away.
Our educational system tends toward rote memorization by having the student repeat an answer over and over. This is unexciting and exclusive to students who have the knowledge. This particular student figured out an educational method called the art of questioning. This teaching technique opens up space for thoughts, giving the class time to think about an answer. Sometimes, weeks go by and students will stop me in the hallway and present me with an answer to an old question or mystery.
I ask the fourth grade class a few questions. What plants and animals live outside your school? This builds confidence in the class and hands start going up. Many of the students know the answers. What is an eco-system? What do you know about Alaska’s eco-systems? The students are ignited by the questions. This is their opportunity to be creative by developing original answers. I continually ask more questions, building on the students answers.
Eco-systems are a big and difficult concept for fourth graders to understand. First, you have a population of plant or
animal such as salmonberry or deer. Then, add these individuals living in communities and interacting with the environment. Then, tack on the earth as a giant biosphere. Nature based educators make connections that help the classroom teachers explain this complex subject.
The school is seven minutes from one of Alaska’s eight eco-systems, the coastal temperate rainforest. Naturalists at Discovery Southeast use this proximity to teach hands on nature based education and connect students with real science experiences. There is not a computer, T.V. program, or book that can connect those students with the science subjects better than the forest itself.
When the students leave the heated box of the school they are energized by being outside. Calming the students down and focusing their attention is a very effective way to prepare the class for a fun learning experience. Our journey begins down a road. We are ready to discover mysteries about our flora and fauna. There is an important step we must not forget. It is what Discovery Southeast naturalists call “Opening the Gate.” Opening the Gate involves crossing your right hand over your left hand, interlocking your fingers, and then bringing that into your chest. Next cross your right leg over your left leg holding that stance for a minute. Changing the hands and feet to the reverse position completes this procedure. This is an exercise that gets kids to focus their attention on their body and senses, a meditation of sorts. A silent moment at the end of the exercise helps us make the transition from the pavement to our natural surroundings.
The fourth grade class is ready and soon discovers a set of deer tracks. As they quiet down, I start asking the students questions about the relationships between the deer, plants and the other animals around this place. They do not seem to realize that they are explaining to each other the make-up of our eco-system. The class starts listing individual plants and animals such as red alder, salmonberry, Sitka spruce, Sitka black-tailed deer, raven and even a northern goshawk. One student adds another important piece about the abiotic components and asks me if a rock is alive or dead.
We step outside for forty minutes and our experience equates to just a fragment of the life around those children. The class accomplishes a few really important ideas. We ask questions, share each others’ nature intelligence and slow down enough to pay attention to the natural world. This inquisitive and inclusive approach to learning makes us all feel part of our outdoor science class.
There is much meaning in inquiring deeper into a subject. By asking questions the class creates unique layers of understanding probing into the life of a deer, alder or goshawk. New ideas, questions, and perspectives become part of our learning experience. In Dennie Wolf’s article” The Art of Questioning” she points out a range of questions, inference, interpretation, transfer, reflective questions, and questions about hypotheses. How educators ask the questions will bring us closer to a mystery, make a subject more exciting and keep us pondering for weeks.
Kevin O’Mally Kevin has spent six years with Discovery Southeast and is currently acting as lead naturalist for the Auke Bay elementary Nature Studies program. He leads Early Dismissal Mondays at Glacier Valley and is the assistant naturalist for the Nature Studies program there. He’s coordinated a variety of special projects such as GPS-mapping classes and winter shelter-building field trips to bring outdoor and nature education to local homeschool students. Kevin has a degree in Cultural Anthropology and recently graduated from the Kamana 4 Naturalist Training Program. He has also completed a nine-month residential naturalist training program through the Anake Outdoor School at the Wilderness Awareness School. He grew up within walking distance of Lake Erie and the Cleveland Metroparks, which helped spark his connection to nature. Even when he isn’t outside, you may catch him reading nature field guides.
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!
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.