Forest Service, community start Tlingit potato garden

By Mia Mares

Tlingit Potato Garden 2B Crop
Pacific High School volunteers and Community volunteers plant Tlingit potatoes


Sitka, AK - Forest Service staff, students, and community members, gathered at the Sitka Ranger Distict April 14, to plant Tlingit potatoes—kunz, in Tlingit. The Sitka Ranger District and Sitka Tribe of  Alaska (STA) joined forces to make the garden a reality, growing the potato project out of shared beliefs in the historical, cultural, and horticultural importance of these potatoes, as well as an investment in public education and local foods. Potatoes from the garden will be distributed to elders and tribal citizens through STA’s Traditional Foods program. 

“This project will teach people how to grow and sustain a traditional food, while supporting the growing need for food security among Sitka Families,” said District Ranger Perry Edwards. Tlingit Potato Garden 3

Students from Pacific High School’s gardening class came to help plant, and took home a few starter potatoes for their school garden. 

Tlingit potatoes, also known as Maria’s potatoes, have a long history. One volunteer at the planting recalled the story of his grandmother planting these potatoes in her garden in Hoonah and feeding the whole town during a flu epidemic. Going even further back, both Tlingit oral histories and recent genetic studies suggest that Tlingit potatoes descend directly from South American potatoes, providing evidence of trade routes along the Northwest Coast that predate European arrival in Alaska. 

Tlingit potatoes need only minimal tending aside from watering during dry spells and slug removal during particularly wet seasons. In the fall, STA and Forest Service representatives, students, and community volunteers will gather once again to harvest the potatoes. A portion of the harvest will need to be saved as seed potatoes to start next year’s crop, but the remaining potatoes will be distributed between STA’s Traditional Foods Program and the volunteers who helped plant them.

Check back here for updates on the garden and any upcoming opportunities to get involved.

 Tlingit Potato Garden 2





Pacific High School volunteers Vanna Scarborough and Ashley Weaver. Community volunteers, Alycia Witherspoon, Bethany Goodrich, and Helen LaFayette