Flo Kenney spends 10 days each summer scavenging for Arctic wormwood near the town of Wiseman in northern Alaska. It's the key ingredient in her internationally-renowned healing salve, "Caribou Leaves."
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"I've gotten orders from Mexico, Germany. From Norway. It just started out really small," the 72-year-old woman said. Kenney, who said she comes from a long line of shamans, makes the salve in the kitchen of her assisted-living apartment in Juneau.
The salve serves many functions - as a painkiller, an antiseptic, and even a bear-mauling relief cream.
"It is just a powerful Native medicine. It has been in my family (for a long time) and a lot of the native people up there use it," she said.
For the fifth straight year, Kenney will set up shop at Juneau's Public Market, which opens today and runs through the weekend at both Centennial Hall and Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall downtown. She is one of about 175 vendors who hail from all over Alaska and the western portion of the United States. She is also one of many who use materials native to Alaska in their products.
Diane Sheridan, who owns Leather Trails in Anchorage, said "I do (use local materials) as much as I can."
She makes zipper pulls for her leather bags from reindeer antlers that she has collected in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley.
Robin Underwood is a co-owner of the Copper Center Wild and Woolly Subarctic Spinners Cooperative, which specializes in handspun sled dog fur. Underwood said the co-op was started more than 15 years ago after she and several dog musher friends realized they could market the yarn they spun out of sled dog fur.
"We brush shedding dogs and we collect the underfur. It really is comparable to angora rabbit," she said. They then mix it with wool and hand spin it into a fuzzy fur. Since Alaska doesn't have the kind of wool industry needed by Underwood to buy that part of her product locally, she has to order it.
This will be Underwood's first venture in the Juneau Public Market scene, but she's not alone. Market organizer Peter Metcalfe said roughly one-quarter of vendors are new this year.
He is constantly searching for new vendors, however, who might have something unique to offer at the market.
"Unfortunately longevity doesn't get them any points in the Public Market," he said. Some long-time Juneau vendors have been turned away because Metcalfe wants market visitors to experience something different when they enter the doors at Centennial Hall.
Oftentimes vendors who use native Alaska materials are just what he's looking for, but not always. He recalled a recent market where seven vendors were selling the same glacial silt bath products.
"That was too much," he said. This year vendors who specialize in local materials are distinct and have a good quality product, he said. "The vendors have a good product and the fact that they are making them out of native Alaska materials makes it more interesting to me. And it turns out most of those types of products are desirable."
Metcalfe expects more than 6,000 tickets will be sold this year - which doesn't account for those who only visit the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall, which is free.
He recommended people come early in the day, just before closing time, or on Sunday to avoid the crowds.
Brittany Retherford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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