Above: 4-Hers at Salmon Celebration with Renée Trafton. Photo by Lione Clare.

For this year of 4-H Alaska-Way-of-Life Club, we decided to separate our programming thematically into four quarters with each quarter representing one of the four H’s: Head, Heart, Hands, and Health. This fall, “Health” has been the theme, with a specific focus on healthy lifestyles and stress relief. Health has been a concern for all of us recently, given the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is important to have good habits in place for ourselves and the people around us. 


4-Hers with Kitty LaBounty at the Wild Edibles Series. Photo by Grace Harang.

We began with the Wild Edibles Series as a chance to explore Sitka and harvest together. Experiences building healthy habits such as these can be invaluable for youth. Every chance that 4-Hers have to become comfortable picking berries and identifying plants now will mean increased confidence in these abilities later in life. If we make a cup of tea with labrador leaves we picked from the muskeg, we are reaping the benefits of our local environment without plastic, packaging, shipping, and other intermediary steps, which also contributes to the health of our planet. In addition to cooking and consuming wild plants, we also found ways to use them in art. We sketched mushrooms, created watercolor paints out of berries, and made 3-D collages out of fallen leaves. When creating art with natural materials, it is important to think about how much and where you are collecting from. The health of our natural resources depends on our ability to collect and consume them in thoughtful ways. 

Mindfulness is a helpful tool to relieve stress. We ended most of our programs with short meditations that serve a similar purpose to creating art; quieting the background noise of our minds and focusing on what we sense directly around us. One program that focused on this idea specifically was the Five Senses Walk through Sitka National Historic Park. We stopped at different points on our walk to focus on each sense; for example, counting how many different sounds we could pick out or using our sense of touch to guess what kind of rock or shell we held in our hands. 


4-H Salmon Celebration. Photos by Lione Clare.

In our Salmon Celebration, Renée Trafton of Beak Restaurant demonstrated how to filet a salmon, and 4-Hers were able to practice on coho donated by the Sitka Sound Science Center. We also learned how to cook the salmon together. One health benefit of eating local salmon is they are high in omega-3 fatty acids that help us to maintain healthy brain functions. We are so lucky to have fresh salmon found right in our backyard!

Other programs we had this fall included healthy holiday cooking and gift-making, a wild foods celebration, and a “Movement Mondays” series. In the holiday series, we made gifts with reused materials, like wreaths using fallen plants and seashells. For some youth participating in the Wild Foods program, it was the first time they had cooked with rockfish or eaten locally grown kale. 4-Hers who participated in the movement series sampled different kinds of movement with guest instructors on Zoom: tae kwon do, yoga, strength training, and Inupiaq dance.

As we enter into the winter season, programming will shift to our second theme: Heart. Keep an eye out for the January calendar and programs like Winter Play, Storytelling, and Knitting Club coming up. It has been a joy to work with 4-Hers this fall, and I cannot wait to spend another season learning and exploring Sitka with you all!

– Kate Grumbles, Living with the Land and Building Community Jesuit Volunteer

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