The community gardens at Bragaw Street and 4th Avenue are finally bearing fruit – and vegetables. The Anchorage Community Land Trust negotiated with the municipality of Anchorage to take over the project in 2012 with help from state and grant funding. The ACLT will host the gardens’ opening celebration this Friday.
It’s hot. Flowers are blooming. Vegetables are growing. And tomatoes are actually ripening on the vine – in Alaska.
“I’ve been here 54 years and in that time I don’t remember a summer like this,” says Mountain View resident and gardener Kelly McDonald.
He says he’s a part of the Mountain View Lions Club. “We sponsor Lunchbox for Kids. And that’s what I’m doing with these veggies — they’re going to that.”
The unusually warm summer makes for an opportune time to finally get a community garden project going. The Gardens at Bragaw were originally part of a highway overpass and neighborhood redevelopment project, built by the state and managed by the municipality of Anchorage. But McDonald says the gardens have been lying fallow for years.
“You had these concrete lines in here and that was it,” he says. “It just sat here bare… for about four years.”
So the Anchorage Community Land Trust decided to take over. The nonprofit works in the Mountain View Neighborhood. Executive director Jewel Jones says the idea to have community gardens in the first place came from the Mountain View Community Council, but budgets and administrative issues almost derailed the whole thing.
“There was a point there not too long ago that they were thinking of just ripping up the gardens and getting rid of them,” Jones says. “So we decided that this might be an opportunity for us as a community engagement organization to step in. We had heard a lot from not only the Mountain View community, but we also received endorsements from Northeast, Russian Jack… to figure out if we could make this happen.”
AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer Radikha Krishna will be heading the project until February. She says she began by holding seed-starting workshops and community meetings this spring, and now the 44 plots are all full.
“The number of people who come here and work, I’d say it’s somewhere in the 50 to 60 person range,” she says.
One of the people who showed up early and often was local resident Linda Mathis.
“I kept checking online about the garden plots, and I said, ‘It’s not open yet, it’s not open yet!’ That’s why I was eager, because I wanted to be one of the ones!”
Now, she’s growing a variety of vegetables.
“I have collards, cabbage, onion, lettuce, spinach, potatoes, and beets. My daughter keeps asking me about the beets and the potatoes because she did help me plant them. And she says, ‘When are they going to be ready? When are they going to be ready?’ And I say, ‘Honey, we have lots more time to go.’ So, it’s going to be exciting to see the harvest come through.”
And, Mathis says, to be part of the gardens is also an opportunity to be a part of the neighborhood.
“Since I’ve been out here gardening actually I’ve met several people from the apartments next door… asking questions, what are you doing, what are you growing. So it’s a great experience to step out of your boundaries a little bit and begin to know your neighbors a little bit more.”
The Anchorage Community Land Trust says it will help provide activities for students and other programming at the gardens. And residents hope it will mark the beginning of many years of home-grown produce.