It's mid April and both snowing and raining - the complete opposite of the previous day’s sunny skies. Nonetheless, ten 4H-ers ages 5 and up from the Sitka Spruce Tips 4H club and several volunteers, along with the property owners, are squelching around in muddy gravel planting relocated sitka spruce and western hemlock trees, and some yellow cedar tree starts. This is a reforestation project spearheaded by sailor, fine woodworker, and Tongass steward Frances Brann. The project is happening on a cleared building lot adjacent to her property that she purchased in order to restore after feeling disheartened by the way it was being developed. She wanted to involve the 4H youth to provide an opportunity for them to learn about planting trees and stewardship.
The 4H-ers are working hard, shoveling holes and carrying buckets of mulch with mud smeared all over their snow and rain gear and even on some cheeks and noses. There’s no complaining, and one can tell the kids are having a blast regardless of the weather. One young boy even exclaims, “I could do this forever!”
Frances thoughtfully directs the various teams working together to dig slightly deeper holes or make sure the trees are standing upright. But, she says, “It’s not really about how the trees are planted, it's more about teaching the kids about planting trees.”
After all the 60-70 trees are planted, we grab a quick group photo by a lovely handmade sign reading ‘4H Grove 2021’ that Frances carved. Before parents show up, the 4H-ers get sprayed down with a garden hose to avoid getting their family’s vehicles too muddy.
We would like to extend our wild gratitude to Mike Mayo, Andrew Thoms, and Frances Brann for their stewardship of the natural environment of Southeast Alaska and passing on those values to future generations. Both Mike and Andrew have been nursing young yellow cedar saplings here in Sitka, and along with Frances, love to share these trees with friends and neighbors, and hope that yellow cedar will continue to thrive across the Tongass for many generations to come.
About our 4H program:
The Sitka Conservation Society has the goal of connecting youth to the natural environment of the Tongass through hands-on experiential education and leadership opportunities. The Sitka Spruce Tips 4-H program is our primary tool for achieving that goal. Our program focuses on teaching youth how to live with the land and sea, the Alaskan way. The learning-teaching model facilitates leadership development as youth learn skills from elders then pass on those skills to their 4-H peers and their families back home.
More info: https://www.sitkawild.org/4_h
Story and photos by Storytelling & Outreach Specialist, Lione Clare
4-Hers building a shelter. Photo by Lione Clare.
As we approach April, Alaska-Way-of-Life 4-H club concludes its second quarter of programming for youth ages 5-18 in Sitka for the 2020-21 year. We focused on the 4-H value of “Heart” in the months of January, February, and March, with a focus on the life skills of sharing with each other and nurturing relationships. Especially when the weather is cold, it is important that youth have a chance to build connections with each other and mentors in the community outside of just a school setting. By providing youth opportunities to try new activities and talk to various community leaders in a relaxed setting, we hope to give them the chance to discover new interests, make new friends, and learn by example from these role models.
Our programming covered a wide range of topics these past few months, but the highlight of all of it was the help from community mentors. In January we had the Winter Play series, which was weekly meetings to play and explore outdoors in the cold while also learning about winter survival. Some of the sessions included working in teams on skills like building shelters and starting fires. Another week, Marnie Chapman, a professor at University of Alaska Southeast, led a session on finding and cooking edible seaweed. Beyond providing valuable information about intertidal edibles, Marnie exemplifies what a career of staying curious about nature and science can look like. For the fire-building session, Kevan O’Hanlon, former leader of 4-H Alaska-Way-of-Life, came back as a guest instructor and reunited with the youth she worked with 2 years ago. Curriculum and supplies lent to 4-H by AMSEA were critical for putting this series together.
Sitka 4-Hers on a "night hike." Photo by Amy Li.
In February we held a Hiking series, with three night hikes and one sunrise hike -- the highlight being the sunrise hike on the Cross Trail after a fresh snowfall. We met at different locations all over Sitka and during the hikes 4-H’ers had a chance to bond with each other and connect with their surroundings in a completely new way and time of day. We also met for a virtual series called Heart-to-Heart where we learned how to make pop-up cards, collaged together, and wrote penpal letters to 4-H members in Bethel, Alaska and residents at the Sitka Pioneer Home. These activities will hopefully help nurture relationships with elders and other youth outside of the Sitka community, with a goal to broaden the social network of the Sitka 4-H members.
In March’s Spring Break camp we spent lots of time hiking, shelter-building, playing games, and crafting. Campers also got to spend a day with Chuck Miller of Sitka Tribe of Alaska, and he shared stories and personal experiences about seal harvesting in Sitka. In the Cooking series we met weekly on Zoom to make healthy, immune-boosting recipes that are also kid-friendly. We were lucky to have Leah Murphy of the Spinning Moon Apothecary share her expertise on seasonal eating at our first session, and she also shared a special tea blend made just for the participants. We are so grateful to these community leaders who are willing to share their knowledge with 4-Hers and connect with them on a personal level; they are the ‘heart’ of what makes 4-H so special!
4-Hers crafting during 4-H Spring Break Camp. Photo by Amy Li.
We are excited to continue with more programming in April emphasizing our next theme: Hands! The 4-H kids will have chances to practice new skills and work with each other as a team at our activities this month, including a Photography series, the Family Eco Challenge, and more. Reach out to [email protected] with any questions.
– Kate Grumbles, Living with the Land and Building Community Jesuit Volunteer
4-Hers masked up and ready for a hike during 4-H Spring Break Camp. Photo by Amy Li.
The Alaskan Way of Life
The Sitka Conservation Society has the goal of connecting youth to the natural environment of the Tongass through hands on experiential education and leadership opportunities. The Sitka 4-H program is our primary tool for achieving that goal. Our program focuses on teaching youth how to live with the land and sea, the Alaskan way. The learning-teaching model facilitates leadership development as youth learn skills from elders then pass on those skills to their 4-H peers and their families back home.
Sitka Spruce Tips 4-H is supported in partnership by Sitka Conservation Society with UAF Cooperative Extension. This club has many local adult volunteers who are committed to youth development and community service. In addition to the Alaska Way of Life programs, 4-H projects in Sitka currently include sewing, shooting sports, knitting, photography, and food and nutrition.
The Alaska Way of Life programs vary throughout the year. Thus, 4-H member participation is flexible due to interest and availability. Fall programs have included hiking, wild edible harvesting, and food preservation techniques such as jams, drying, and smoking. During winter, 4-H members have enjoyed workshops on risk management, survival skills, deer tracking and processing, using your senses, and repurposing crafts programs. Spring programs have included Leave No Trace camping skills, compass navigation, and Earth Day activities. In the summer, we keep 4-H members busy with gardening, hiking, kayaking, and art projects. Throughout the year, we work with community partners and local expert naturalists to learn about the natural history of the Tongass. These have included bird and mushroom identification, the role of herring in the food web, whales, stream ecology, forest ecology, nature art, bear aware skills, intertidal life, slugs, and so much more!
4-H members commit to learning together, sharing knowledge, and giving back to the community. These opportunities are available to school-aged children 5-18 years old. Thanks to community support, there is a very minimal cost.
Interested in joining 4-H? For questions or information about current programs, contact Andrew at [email protected] or call (907) 747-7509.