Sarah Lewis takes Extension on the water in Southeast Alaska

sidebar menu toggle button Sarah Lewis takes Extension on the water in Southeast Alaska

Communities in Southeast Alaska are dotted like jewels along the emerald archipelago with no roads connecting them. With the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system slashed in recent years, coupled with reduced travel budgets, Sarah Lewis had to look for an alternative way to reach the communities.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Lewis
The JunieBell is a 36-foot cruising trawler that Sarah Lewis and her family lived on for more than a month as she visited Southeast Alaska villages to conduct workshops.

On July 4, Lewis, the Juneau-based University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Home, Health and Family Development faculty member, launched (literally) her first Maritime Extension Project at the helm of her family’s 36-foot cruising trawler, the JunieBell.

“It was an opportunity for me to go into some of these communities where my program has a relatively small footprint,” she said, noting that the amount of equipment she carries makes flying between communities unfeasible.

COVID-19 mitigation practices required tents, a portable kitchen, and propane cooking equipment to hold classes outdoors. Along with all of Lewis’ usual canning and outreach gear, she described her setup as a “traveling circus.”

She tested canner gauges, taught food preservation workshops, and met with existing and future community partners in Kake, Sitka, Angoon, Tenakee Springs, Haines and Skagway.

She pulled cartloads of gear up low-tide harbor ramps and biked around each community pulling a trailer to transport gear and ingredients for her tent-covered classes.

“I’m sure I was a sight the communities won’t soon forget, which was part of the point, I guess,” she said.

She taught 10 food preservation workshops (a few workshops less than planned due to COVID-19 spikes in some of the communities); three food entrepreneurship/Cottage Foods classes; two 4-H/youth local food focused classes; six food preservation demonstrations at the Southeast Alaska State Fair in Haines; and tested more than 50 canner dial gauges for accuracy. Lewis noted that some of the gauges hadn't been tested in more than a decade and several needed to be replaced.

“Tenakee Springs gets the award for the most pressure gauges tested per capita,” she said.

Lewis also visited a Haines farm to complete a complementary produce safety assessment with another member of the statewide produce safety team.

“That was an awesome bonus,” she said.

coast in fog
Photo courtesy of Sarah Lewis
Sarah Lewis on a tiny islet in Southeast Alaska. “Though other (foolish/uninformed) opinions may exist, there is no place in the world more beautiful than the Inside Passage of Southeast Alaska.”

Lewis traveled with her husband, Sean Boily, who served as co-skipper/mechanic, and son Axel, a crab-pot and fishing pole maniac, crediting the two with “keeping the boat underway and its crew well fed with the bounty of the Southeast waters.” Her red heeler, Chili Pepper, came along for the ride, as well.

Lewis had originally planned to launch the project in 2020, but the pandemic’s arrival in Southeast Alaska put it on hold.

In 2022, Lewis hopes to embark on a few smaller MEP trips instead of one long voyage. Tentative plans for next year include two routes: Kake-Petersburg-Wrangell, and Hoonah-Gustavus-Pelican. She also hopes to repeat the Haines-Skagway route to coincide with the Southeast Alaska State Fair. She said she has already heard from leaders in several communities.

“Though other (foolish/uninformed) opinions may exist, there is no place in the world more beautiful than the Inside Passage of Southeast Alaska,” Lewis said, “or more welcoming and enthusiastic about the work of the Cooperative Extension than the communities here. My local contacts are dedicated to their communities and were endlessly helpful during my time in each town. I am fortunate and thankful to get to work in Lingit Aani! Gunalcheesh to all my community hosts!”