Hoonah Food Assessment

In the winter of 2019 and spring of 2020 Hoonah residents were asked to participate in a Food System Assessment implemented by Sustainable Southeast Partnership (SSP), Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition (SAWC), Hoonah Stewardship Council (HSC) and Hoonah Indian Association (HIA). 

The data gathered was based on the main components that form Hoonah’s food system. Determined by HSC, the assessment gathered data from a local producer survey, a retailer survey, and a community (consumer) survey. The responses from each survey resulted in a “big picture” perspective of Hoonah’s local food system and proposed actions for future programing to better serve the community.  

Based on the survey information, population, geography, and potential opportunity, recommendations were made to assist and improve Hoonah’s subsistence strategies.  

Note: The producer and retailer surveys are pre-pandemic perspectives and the community survey took place in the beginning of the pandemic response. At the time of the survey Hoonah’s population stood at 760 persons with 60% being Native. In Hoonah, the cruise-ship tourism industry docked 106 ships in 2018. 

Food Systems

The current food supply chain in Hoonah runs in a straight line from beginning to end. The chain begins with producer to processor, distributor, consumer, and ultimately ends with remaining food, packaging, and waste placed in the landfill. This system doesn’t allow resources to return to the food system, but if resources were to return, it would create a renewable cycle. Reusing food waste is valuable, because waste retains nutrients that can be used to assist soil composition and promote growth. Closing the current Hoonah food system and following a renewable process increases food resilience.  

Image 1. A renewable food cycle.

Hoonah’s Traditional Foods 

Hoonah and other rural communities where residents lead a subsistence lifestyle rely on a plethora of traditional food resources harvested from Southeast Alaska’s natural ecosystems. Generations of Natives have perfected hunting and gathering techniques used today. Below is the data collected on what local foods are commonly relied on.

“Traditional food systems are critically connected to the health and well-being of indigenous communities. In addition to providing healthy, nutritious foods that are harvested locally by local people, these traditional foods support mental, emotional, and psychological health and well-being while also providing cultural education and leadership opportunities, such as the Haa Too Ye Yatee culture camp”.

Jennifer Nu 2020

There are 86 types of wild food accessible to Hoonah residents. The data for percentages of households in Hoonah that used wild meats is shown below:

Graph 1. Illustrates the percentages of wild meats used per household

Hoonah had used 31,637 pounds of produce. The most utilized resources used per person is shown below:

Type  Number of Pounds per Person
Blueberries 12 Pounds
Salmonberries 6 Pounds
Huckleberries  5 Pounds
Black Seaweed 4.5 Pounds

Chart 1. Number of vegetation measured by pounds per Hoonah resident

Other plants include spruce tips, Labrador tea, beach asparagus, and devils club. 

Gallery 1. Image credit to Bethany Goodrich & Ian Johnson (Sustainable Southeast Partnership)

Agricultural Potential 

The local area surrounding Hoonah is deemed unsuitable for agricultural practices. This is determined by the thick forested Tongass, lack of yearly sunshine, and landownership designated for timber production. Creating farmable land through clearing or draining will take away essential habitats and cause physical hazards such as mudslides. 

Recommendation: Utilize usable land located close in in town or domestic produce.  

Fish Waste into Compost 

Due to the thin topsoil layer from Hoonah’s forested areas and karst within and out of the town, soil amendments (any additive placed in soil to assist growth) are encouraged. Fish waste is a readily available soil additive in Hoonah. There is an abundance produced by households, commercial, sport fishing, and Hoonah Cold Storage (fish packaging facility). 

Recommendation: Kake Tribal Corporation and Petersburg Indian Association invested and planned composting systems. In addition, Kodiak and Anchor have achieved fish composting operations. It is highly achievable for Hoonah to follow these towns and create a composting system that best benefits Hoonah’s needs and resources.  

Local Soil and Soil Amendments  

A Waste Steam Assessment conducted by HIA in 2018 determined that Hoonah City Schools and the Icy Straight Lodge restaurant produced enough waste to supply a year’s worth of compostable waste. 

Recommendation: Create a municipal composting facility and program for Hoonah.  

Local Producer Survey

Rob Bishop, Game Creek Family Orchards

Image 2. Credit to Game Creek Family Orchards

A local producer survey was taken at Hoonah’s local Game Creek Family Orchards with Rob Bishop. Bishop has owned a 5.5-acre farm for three years, and works at the Game Creek 25-acre community farm that has been operating for 45 years. On average it costs $4,000-$4,500 per year to keep Game Creek running. Hoop houses are used to extend the short 4-month growth season to a potential 5-6 months. Game Creek produces 2,000 pounds of apples, 14,000 pounds of potatoes, 150 plants of kale, and 60 heads of cabbage. The farm is located 7-10 miles from town, and the rough old logging roads makes transporting produce to Hoonah difficult. To combat the hurdles of transportation Game Creek built a 16×32 ft barge to use during high tides.  

Game Creek Contributions

Bishop states that Game Creek could sell apples at a more affordable price than the current rate in town, if they produced enough. However, he is willing to teach interested members of the community how to grow produce. Those interested are welcome to help at the farm to earn experience and knowledge on food production in the field and from a business perspective.  

Recommendation: An increase of hoop houses and a large greenhouse built for all seasons would benefit Hoonah in a year-round capacity.  

Retailer Survey

Grocery retail in Hoonah primarily consists of Hoonah Trading Company and Colette’s Cupboard. Hoonah School District and the Hoonah Senior Center purchase food from them for their institutions. Restaurants in Hoonah primarily operate seasonally, excluding Icy Straight Lodge, which runs year-round.  

Hoonah Trading Company receives produce weekly by air and barge from Seattle. No local produce is purchased at this time, but there is maintained interest identified by the manager. Currently there is a lack of local produce for distribution, ideally lettuce, cucumbers, zucchini, and cilantro would be locally produced and sold. If there is any interest in selling local produce for distribution through Hoonah trading Company, contact the manager. 

Recommendation: To actively support local producers and encourage local production of traditional and nontraditional foods.  

Community Survey  

The community survey was created by SAWC and Hoonah Indian Association (HIA) in November 2019 and administered in a online format in February and March 2020. Of the current Hoonah residents in spring 2020, 34 participants completed the survey.  

The results from the Hoonah Community Survey are shown below:

Graph 2-5. Hoonah Community Survey Results Credit: Jennifer Nu

Local Food and Tourism 

Hoonah Locals have voiced concerns of higher rates of competition for resources and discomfort in harvesting due to the large number of tourists from cruise ships. Nonlocal hunters and fisherman also impede on the local’s ability to hunt and fish due to the reduced populations of deer and salmon. The opposing perspective argues that increased tourism will assist the economy by increasing the demand for groceries, and tourism will increase individual income and subsequently create opportunities for locals to purchase fishing and hunting supplies.  

Recommendation & Benefit Chart 

Recommendation Direct Benefit to Hoonah and Hoonah Residents 
Grow Domesticated Produce in Hoonah 1) Increased food security   
Fish Waste into Compost  1) Local production of soil and beneficial soil additives
2) Conserve landfill space 
3) For Hoonah Cold Storage: reduces cost grinding and environmental monitoring 
4) Promotes the development of a small business or jobs for solid waste disposal  
5) Future potential to profit off of exporting product to neighboring regions 
Local Soil  1) Locally produced soil and soil amendments (from gardens, commercial producers, and household scraps) 
2) Conserve landfill space for Hoonah Cold Storage: reduces cost grinding and environmental monitoring
3) Promotes the creation of a small business or jobs for solid waste disposal  
4) Future potential to profit off of exporting product to neighboring regions
Support of Local Producers  1) Increase food security
Opportunity for grocery stores to sell local produce  
Tlingit Potato Project Potential  1) Restore traditional Tlingit food respect and acknowledgment for those who have maintained the practice
2) Reconnect to Tlingit potato tradition and connect to food sovereignty practices 
3) Contribute to local food production  

4) Increase self-reliance  
5) Create time for community connection
6) Long term investment 
7) Contribute to ancestral pride and knowledge
Greenhouse  1) Increase local food production
2) Employment and local business opportunity
3) Increase food security
4) Export for profit to local regions for profit
5) Accessible produce for locals
Community Garden  1) Increased food security
2) Add to local workforce skillsets
3) Increase healthy food opportunity  
Wild Foods  1) Continuation of generational knowledge and practices
2) Increased food security
3) Community connectivity of 

If you want to learn more about any of the recommendations and steps to action, check out the original paper!



2020 Hoonah Food System Assessment. Jennifer Nu. Sustainable Southeast Partnership & Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition. 2020

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Written By:

Jillian Schuyler

AmeriCorps VISTA

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