A Fresh Take on Community Gardening

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Today we’re exploring a new kind of community gardening. GeorgeAnne Sprinkle works for the Alaska Community Action on Toxics, and she heads the group’s Organic Outreach Program. She recently started a community garden project called “Yarducopia,” and her reason was simple.

“A lot of times the anti-toxic and anti-chemical message is really negative, and we come off as a bunch of naysayers. So this program is a way to give back to the community that gives people something positive to do,” Sprinkle says.

The Yarducopia program works like this: A homeowner that wants fresh organic produce pairs up with a volunteer that wants to garden them. The homeowner provides the space and the garden materials, while the volunteer does all of the actual gardening. Afterwards each party splits the produce. Throughout the year, Sprinkle also consults with gardeners to give them growing tips. She says it’s like the Muni’s community garden program, but better.

“The Muni just kind of said ‘here, have a garden.’ And there was nothing to go along with that. So it was important to me there was an education component, and not just facilitating the meet up,” Sprinkle says.

The Yarducopia program also donates 10 percent of its harvest to charity. Sprinkle says that’s because she believes everyone should have access to organic food.

“What bothers me a lot about organic food movements is how it’s segmented to people of privilege, and they’re the ones who can afford to eat organically. I just wanted to be able to run this program, and if more people of privilege were a part of it, then make sure to be responsible and give something back to the community,” Sprinkle says.

For a firsthand look at one of these gardens I meet up with Alexa Mortensen, who is a volunteer. She lives just up the street from her garden, but she says her yard isn’t big enough for a setup like this.

“It’s just not really a possibility for me, which is why getting involved is great. Because if you don’t’ have space for a garden you can just garden someone else’s yard and reap the benefits,” says Mortensen.

Mortensen is here today to check the moisture on her garden, which she does a few times a week.

“You dig down about an inch and just grab a clump. Then you mash it between your fingers. You don’t want it bone-dry, but you don’t want it soaking wet either,” Mortensen says.

As far as the bounty goes, the produce is an Alaskan-proof variety. You won’t find any tomatoes or peppers here.

“There’s kale, Swiss chard, lettuce, potatoes, arugula, radishes, chives, and some pansies,” Mortensen says.

Mortensen describes herself as a novice gardener at best, and while she does love eating the produce the real draw of the Yarducopia program for her was the guidance and knowledge that is offered.

“We meet once a week at the garden and we get a little lesson and go over how the plants are doing. If we find aphids or slugs, we get advice on how to fix it,” Mortensen says.

This is Mortensen’s second year in the program, and she says it’s a perfect fit for now. But she has bigger future plans.

“Long term goals? I’d like to have a garden of my own on a larger scale so I can be eating my garden all winter long,” Mortensen says.

In the meantime Mortensen will absorb as much gardening knowledge as she can, and split half of her harvest with her homeowner counterpart, Jack. When I catch a glimpse of Jack I’m interested by the stark age difference between him and Mortensen, at least 30 years. And that is one GeorgeAnne Sprinkle’s favorite things about her Yarducopia project.

“We have one 89-year-old gentleman who’s hosting a garden, and we have 20-year-old counter-culture volunteers and we have UAA professors. So it’s a really diverse group of people that are interested in participating. It’s really….really great. I don’t know how else to say it,” Sprinkle says.