IN THE GARDEN: Community Gardens in Alaska

Thursday, August 3, 2017 - 12:12

Author’s note: This was my report to the Pacific Region Garden Clubs, (the eight western states) concerning Alaska’s Community Gardens of which I am a Chair. I choose to share this information and I hope that you are encouraged by it:

How wonderful it is to see the excitement for gardening and “growing your own.” In Alaska we are seeing an increased interest in the growing of vegetables, herbs and fruits within our communities, cities and in the Bush.

With our short growing season, 24 hours of sunlight, and a pioneer spirit, Alaskan’s are passionate about their gardening. Out of need we grow food, hunt, fish and put up our food for the winter months.

The Cooperative Extension Service through the University of Alaska Fairbanks is an active partner in our success to gardening in this land. Through their Master Gardener’s program, they have taught and graduated 1,250 Master Gardeners who have been instrumental in the Community Garden movement here. Our many garden clubs with their monthly educational programs encourage new gardeners to give gardening a try. Between these two organizations, community gardens in Alaska have exploded.

Here are some examples of active community gardens tracked by the Cooperative Extension Service:

In the Municipality of Anchorage, there are designated areas in the city of 183 plots total for rent that are 10x20 feet. These are for private use by individuals in the community.

Interestingly, churches and faith-based organizations are growing community gardens and encouraging their parishioners’ involvement as a way to help each other and give to those in need.

With the help and interest of educators, schools have encouraged involvement of children to learn about gardening and have embraced hands-on training to grow, taste and share their food with others. From elementary schools to high schools, kids are involved and excitedly participating. Schools have built greenhouses and many volunteers have helped educators teach our youth the principles of gardening. Our Alaska Botanical Master Gardeners have an after school program called 21st Century. This program was set up at schools for at risk children and has been very successful. Master Gardener volunteers, through our Cooperative Extension, have assisted staffing this school program.

An Anchorage high school has been growing transplants for the Refugees Farmers market project where refugees have worked an 8,000-square-foot community garden plot. They sell their food at a weekly summer market in downtown Anchorage. This neat program was started by the Cooperative Extension Service and Catholic Social Services though a grant.

Several state facilities have partnered with Cooperative Extension and started community gardens at prisons and youth detention centers to help rehabilitate prisoners. This program has been supported by our community of volunteers.

The Master Gardeners have been very active in the planting and maintaining the gardens of the State of Alaska’s senior facility, The Pioneer Home. Last year, these gardeners planted 750 flowers and cared for them summer through fall to the delight and appreciation of the residents. As more and more local and state funding becomes tighter, volunteers are needed to step up and help out communities in caring for our public gardens to keep them looking great. Our garden clubs are in a perfect position to lead and encourage this participation.

Another area of community gardens has been within neighborhoods and community associations. From apartment complexes to condo associations, these residents have wanted to and have planted a garden plot on site to grow food. Several private senior homes have placed community gardens in the master plan for their residents and employees to participate in the love of gardening.

In the heart of Anchorage, we have a Centennial Rose Garden that is cared for by active garden club volunteer gardeners. The Blue Star Veterans Memorial Hwy marker at the split of 5th and 6th Avenues is planted, watered and weeded every summer by the Anchorage Garden Club members, each involved member taking responsibility for a week of the summer season.

The Alaska Botanical Garden has a Junior Master Gardener program to actively involve children to learn to garden. Several 8-week sessions are well attended every summer. These kids have a great garden plot they plant and care for. As they learn about gardening, they will no doubt carry with them a love for growing their entire lives. In the Alaska Botanical garden, the Wildflower Garden Club maintains a lovely native wildflower path that weaves through this beautiful garden.

As we look around our community, we see the need for the care of public plantings that are overgrown and abandon to fend for themselves. Specifically, the loop road plantings and the new Eagle River sign areas. The Municipality of Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department has a volunteer coordinator, Michelle Fehribach, who can be reached at 343-4587 and would love to hear from you if you or your group would like to care for one of these abandon areas.

Chris Wood is a Certified Master Gardener from Eagle River. She serves as president of the Greater Eagle River Garden Club and the Alaska Garden Club. Write her at [email protected]

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