Deliver Benefits to the Public

Volunteers unearth the Tlingit potato community garden

Potato Harvest. Forest Service photo by Caitlin Purdome. Forest Service photo.

ALASKA — More than a dozen community members came together September 25 at the Sitka Ranger District office to harvest potatoes and learn about nutrition, sustainability, science, cultivation, and cultural memory from Tlingit potato researcher Elizabeth Kunibe. The potatoes will be used as seed stock for next year's planting and be distributed to elders and tribal citizens throughout Sitka.

The Sitka Ranger District and Sitka Tribe of Alaska joined forces in April with the planting of the garden to create an educational opportunity and traditional food source for community members. The Forest Service and the tribe wanted to share how to grow Tlingit potatoes, as well as the biology, history, and cultural aspects of these interesting potatoes.

The Sitka Ranger District provided the sunny plot of land for the shared potato garden and tended the garden over the summer after volunteers from the Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program, the gardening class from Pacific High School, and others from the community planted the potatoes in April.

“We hope to share the harvest among those helping out and possibly share potatoes through the Sitka Tribe’s Traditional Foods Program and Social Services,” said District Ranger Perry Edwards. “This project will teach people how to grow and sustain a traditional food, while supporting the growing need for food security among Sitka Families.”

Leading Tlingit potato researcher Elizabeth Kunibe joined the group at the harvest to present information on the biology, history, and cultural aspects Tlingit potatoes. Topics included harvesting potatoes, learning to store potatoes for seed and for food, preparation for next year’s garden, and the cultural aspects of Tlingit potatoes and native gardening.

Tlingit potatoes (sometimes called Maria’s potatoes) have been present in Tlingit gardens for over 200 years. The potatoes originate from Mexico or Chile and were a trade item in Southeast Alaska in the early 1800s.

More photos from the event may be seen by visiting the Tongass National Forest’s Facebook page.