Thursday, November 12, 2015

SNRE profiles: Sarah Lewis offers programs in Southeast

Sarah Lewis makes chowder at the Harborview Harvest Fest in Juneau.
Sarah Lewis is what you might call a renaissance Extension agent. Based in Juneau, Lewis became the Southeast Alaska family and community development agent after working as an architect for 12 years and receiving a master’s degree in social work.

The connections between serving as an architect and an Extension agent are stronger than you might think, she says. The skills one develops as a project manager, solving problems, researching and writing, all transfer well to her Extension role. Lewis served as a project manager for the City and Borough of Juneau architecture division for nine years before coming to Extension in January of 2013.

Lewis already had a strong interest in food security and emergency planning. She trained as a Master Gardener and served on local foods groups for several years before joining Extension. She also wrote a freelance column for the Juneau Empire called Main Street Homesteader with articles about cooking, urban homesteading, food security, sustainable architecture and other topics.

She says her food preservation skills were definitely at the hobby level, however. Other Extension agents and a food focus group in Juneau helped improve her skills, her knowledge of food safety and her ability to teach educational programs.

The agent has offered a variety of programs since then, including food preservation and cooking classes, emergency and disaster planning, and sessions on starting a small food business. This past year, with support from the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, she traveled to 12 Southeast communities to test pressure canner gauges, teach food preservation and talk about establishing a food business and the state’s requirements.

“In Southeast, we really need to build up our local foods network,” she said.

Lewis taught classes in Sitka, Haines and Ketchikan, but also in a string of smaller communities — Skagway, Klukwan, Tenakee Springs, Thorne Bay, Hoonah, Craig, Klawock, Hollis, and Hydaburg. Classes ranged from Canning 101 to Making Pickles and What to Do When Your Freezer Fails. She taught several sessions of Cooking for One at senior centers.

The travel grant allowed Lewis to make connections in communities she might not have reached otherwise, but since continuing travel funds are limited, she is piloting a program aimed at training community members to teach safe food preservation classes on their own. After a weekend of training, individuals will take an exam to be certified as a home food preserver. She hopes to offer the training in Ketchikan, Juneau and Sitka.

She is also experimenting with teaching workshops offered in libraries through the OWL network. She taught a Halloween session on freezer failure, which was attended by folks in several communities, including an enthusiastic contingent from Coffman Cove.

Lewis has been a Girl Scout leader since her daughter, who is a sophomore in high school, was in first grade, and she is also branching into 4-H. She has taught at the last two summer 4-H camps, and she and her husband recently started a 4-H sailing club using the family’s 42-foot sailboat and a friend’s 34-foot sailboat.

“I’m decent crew and I’m really glad my sophomore daughter loves to sail,” she said. She handles the administrative details and a friend, her husband and daughter teach the 4-H’ers, who are between the ages of 11 and 16.

The family likes to sail around Juneau and has made week-long trips through the Inside Passage. Lewis grew up in Juneau and moved back to the community in 2003.

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