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-H Wild Edibles Series walks. Photos by Grace Harang and Emily Pound.
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
Citrus Herb Crusted Alaskan Salmon. Lox Platter. Salmon caesar salad. Pan Seared Alaskan Halibut. These are some of the menu options for patients at SEARHC Mount Edgecumbe Hospital in Sitka. Since Lexie Smith began as Executive Chef just over one year ago, she has been working to integrate local, wild seafood into both the patient menu and menu for the newly-renovated cafeteria, The Island Skillet.
The Island Skillet retail line offers al la carte, coffee, salad bar, and entree options to the public
For salmon specifically, there are “plenty of health benefits,” said Smith. “It’s a great source of protein, omega fatty acids, and Vitamin B and D. Some of those omega acids you can’t produce, so the only way to get them is through your diet, and salmon is a great way to do that.” But salmon isn’t only on the menu because of its health benefits. “It’s also just a local favorite. It’s very plentiful here but something that people resonate with,” explained Smith.
Smith’s team considers food as part of the healing process, so their patient line is always sourced as local as possible. The seafood served in this line is from Sitka Sound Seafoods, which means it is caught fresh from the ocean waters surrounding Sitka. “We obviously want to pay homage to the culture and the native cuisine that’s here,” says Smith. “A lot of our patients are natives, so that is part of what we feel is a full circle restorative process. Patients are seeing doctors, but we cater to the idea that it’s a holistic healing process and food plays a part in that. Having the local seafood definitely lends a hand.”
Fishing boats in Sitka Sound
The cafeteria uses salmon in many different ways, as well as rockfish, halibut, crab, squid, and clams. A highlight in the cafeteria is seafood soup Fridays. Each soup, whether it’s chowder, seafood gumbo, or bisque, is made from scratch the day it is served.
“One of our biggest hits is the smoked salmon lasagna”, Smith adds. “We smoke the salmon and do a bechamel sauce, which is a cream-based sauce instead of the marinara and that seems to go over really well. It’s fun to take the local foods and do our own little spin on it and find ways to reinvent them so it’s not monotonous.” Doing this while also keeping health in mind can sometimes be challenging, but even though a dish like lasagna might not be the first most healthy recipe, throwing in salmon is definitely a healthier alternative.
Additionally, using and consuming salmon and other local seafoods means less environmental impact and better food security. Sitka is far from any cow, chicken, or pig farm, which means all of those protein sources must be transported and barged up using fossil fuels. Large-scale commercial food production, especially involving cattle, also produces powerful greenhouse gases that contribute to nearly a third of the United States’ Agricultural emissions (www.epa.gov/ghgemissions).
Each patient plate is prepared individually. Here, Smith reveals seared and baked salmon accompanied by sautéed vegetables and rice
“We definitely take pride in what we do,” Smith shared. The kitchen crew is diverse, including Jamaicans, Norwegians, Filipinos, and Native Alaskans. “It’s fun to have the different backgrounds to try different things.” Since the menu ventures all over, having those varied backgrounds is really helpful. Traditional comfort foods, like meatloaf, are also desired and offered, however, the crew is always working to find ways to jazz things up with healthy and creative options that can keep customers involved and thinking about what they’re eating.
Nutritional information, ways to stay healthy and active, and comment cards are available outside the Island Skillet. Additionally, everything on the line and the menu has the ingredients, nutritionals, portion sizes, allergies, and calorie counts visible
Smith is currently working on a donation policy and program she expects will take two to three more weeks to finalize. The goal of developing a donation program is to ensure the patient line can be sustained year-round with wild, local ingredients.
SCS supports salmon diets in Southeast Alaska because locally-sourced protein is better for both our health and the environment. Additionally, wild salmon are an important resource that help sustain our communities and the natural environment surrounding them.
Story and photographs by Lione Clare, Sitka Conservation Society