Some 1,100 participants in the 2013 International Master Gardeners Conference were in Sitka on Wednesday, Sept. 11, when the Holland America Lines cruise ship Westerdam docked in town.
As part of the visit, the Sitka District office of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service prepared a walking tour for the conference participants to show off local gardens and other highlights. The walking tour was a unique opportunity to showcase the challenges and methods used to garden in Sitka as well as interact with Master Gardeners from various locales. In addition to visiting Sitka, the Sept. 7-14 cruise took the conference from Seattle to Juneau, Glacier Bay, Sitka, Ketchikan, Victoria (British Columbia) and back to Seattle.
The Sitka walking tour started at Harrigan Centennial Hall and included a stop to look at apple trees by KCAW-Raven Radio, a stop at the Sitka Pioneer Home to look at the roses and other gardens, a stop at the Russian Bishop’s House (where kindergarten students from nearby Baranof Elementary School plant vegetables in the spring and harvest them in the fall when they return as first-graders). From there the walking tour went to St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm (where the Sitka Local Foods Network grows veggies to sell at the Sitka Farmers Markets), then it was on to the Sheldon Jackson Museum and on to Sitka National Historical Park. The final two stops were at a garden on the Sheldon Jackson Campus (between the Yaw Art Center and Hames Athletic and Wellness Center), and on to the US Geological Survey Geomagnetic Station and UAF Cooperative Extension Service demonstration plots (at the site of the original USDA Sitka Experimental Farm (Page 7), which was the first in Alaska and had more than 100 acres of crops from 1898-1931).
Also at Harrigan Centennial Hall, Sitka filmmaker Ellen Frankenstein hosted a couple of showings of her movie “Eating Alaska,” which examines the food choices one makes, especially when they live in Alaska where produce can be marginal but fish and game are widely available.
The Master Gardener (MG) program started in Seattle in the 1970s as a way to extend the horticulture resources of Washington State’s land grant university to the urban horticulture public in Seattle. The Master Gardeners receive 40 hours of training, similar to a basic three-credit-semester-hour, college-level horticulture class.
In return for this low-cost education the MG participants provide 40 hours of service to their community using Cooperative Extension information resources from their home states. The MG service may be in food gardening, pest management, youth gardening, tree and landscape care, public gardens, etc. Since the initial Seattle project, Master Gardener programs now exist in every state in the U.S., as well as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries. A Master Gardener course was taught in Sitka in April at the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus.