The Power of Urban Gardens

Anchorage Food Mosaic Word Map

By Shannon Kuhn

The question was simple: why is gardening (in Alaska of all places!) important to you?

The responses were thoughtful, witty, and it quickly became clear to me that a garden represents something different to each person. It is a small, yet powerful act of self-sufficiency, localism, and in some cases rebellion. It is a way to plant something real in defiance of our industrial food system that seeks to isolate us from our food, and each other. It is science, math, art, and economics. It is beauty, peace, tradition, and taste. It is community, family, home.

I was originally planning on writing a “Top 10 Reasons to Garden this Summer” article, but the responses to my question blew me away. I decided instead to let them speak for themselves. Here are quotes from people in our community. I hope they inspire you as much as they did me.

Why is having a garden important to you?

  • I like knowing where my food has come from.
  • It’s great being able to pick lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, and vegetables and eat them 2 minutes later!
  • Home-grown food tastes better and fresher!
  • I live in a town house and we are not allowed to change the outside of our homes with paint or fixtures or adornments — except lights in winter, and plants in summer. So, It’s wonderful to be able to personalize my home by planting vegetables, herbs, and flowers, that I also get to eat!

-Anne Gore, Girl Scouts of Alaska

“I grew up in Queens, a borough of the city of New York. My parents were social workers, not farmers. I moved to Alaska in 1969, when many people my age were ”getting back to the land.” In Fairbanks during the 70′s, we all had gardens. To me, its always been a big part of living in Alaska. We hunt, we fish, we grow big gardens.

I also work with Alaska farmers every day, using USDA programs to help them be financially successful. To do my job well, I have to literally get my hands dirty to really understand the challenges of growing food in Alaska.”

-Danny Consenstein, USDA

“It is a great way for kids to learn where food comes from. My son’s friends were over when I was harvesting carrots and potatoes. They had no idea that they grew in the ground. They had a blast helping me harvest.”

-Lisa Wedin, UAF Cooperative Extension

  • Weeding is more fun than mowing.
  • For the food, duh.
  • For the moose to eat. Doh!
  • To make my anticipation of summer even greater.
  • To raise the property value. (ha)

-Kim Wetzel, URS Corporation

“When I garden I feel reconnected to the earth. I feel fortunate to be a property owner and feel a responsibility to use our land wisely, even if it means building above ground beds in downtown Anchorage!”

-Cindy Shake, Ukpeagvik Iñupiat Corporation

“FRESH HERBS! Anyone can have an herb garden!! You don’t even need a green thumb. Basil in pasta dishes, cilantro in mexican dishes….SO much cheaper and easier. And SO satisfying to go out to your windowsill or deck and snip snip some herbs
You can avoid the grocery stores. Who wants to be stuck in Costco on a gorgeous sunny evening when you can mosey on back to your own garden and harvest your dinner right there?

It’s important to me that I am doing my part to provide for myself and not consume products that are supported by unfair labor practices and immigration policies. Even if it’s just picking my kale and lettuce for my salad, I know I am doing my small little part.”

-Kate Powers, Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center

  • Another way to one-up your neighbor.
  • Mandatory skill for zombie apocalypse.
  • Chicks dig guys with gardens.

-Nick Moe, Alaska Center for the Environment

“Meet your neighbors! An interesting yard is a great conversation starter.”

-Nick Treinen, Black Dog Gardens

  • Low cost, high nutrient food right in my backyard.
  • It’s a meditative and artful way to spend time that is so different than my workday or my exercise or the other pieces of my life
  • What else would I do with my backyard?
  • We can grow Colombian vegetables (papas criollas, chuguas, and acelga) that we can’t get in the U.S.
  • I know it doesn’t have pesticides on it.
  • I want to teach these skills to my future kids, so I have to hone them myself.
  • Low carbon footprint food

-Laura Avellaneda-Cruz, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium

“I love urban gardening! I love to sit out on the edge of my raised beds in the morning, drinking coffee and watching my bees busily fly in and out of the hive and buzz about the ever changing landscape of my backyard.

I love the seasonality of urban farming, ordering my seeds from Alaska companies in March, starting my seeds in April and planting the garden in May. The summer is filled with anticipation and appreciation for the sweetnesses and crunch of fresh picked veggies and the excitement of harvesting and experimenting with the ever growing pile of new found canning recipes that have accumulated throughout the year. The winter of course isn’t too bad either, the hardest part is to determine which tasty good to eat when and making sure I don’t use up all of the rhubarb and raspberry preserves too quickly, a goal I never seem to achieve. ”

-Melissa Heuer, Renewable Resources Foundation

“Reason #10 – you’ve got to do something productive with all that chicken poop! ”

-Matt Rafferty, Alaska Conservation Foundation

“Reason #7 – turn that park everyone is afraid to go near in to the vibrant community space it is supposed to be! We have what 243 parks? Not all of them are going to be top-notch. The way I think of it is from an urban development/redevelopment standpoint and the opportunity to transition troubled or vacant land (blight) to productive use. Turning something back in to a community asset – that’s the real story of the Gardens at Bragaw. We’re amazed by how many people are mobilized around that space already (neighbors, schools, business, nonprofits) and they are all thankful to have that space back to take their kids and dogs and see lively activity that makes our neighborhood more livable.”

-Kirk Rose, Anchorage Community Land Trust

“Connection- with nature, increased observation skills, fostering curiosity with natural world, taste, texture, less need to spend time in store, learning about varietals, understanding the process and work involved in food production, beauty, and community.”

-GeorgeAnne Sprinkle, Alaska Community Action on Toxics

“Gardens are beautiful! It makes our neighborhood feel so much nicer, just to walk down the street past the garden.
Survivor skills! You know, when the zombie apocalypse comes, I’m still going to want to eat and Carrs might not be open.
Gardens teach us where food comes from. So many people have never been to a farm! Kids are growing up not knowing that vegetables can even be grown in Alaska. Gardening is a great educational tool, even if it’s not feeding your whole family, to show us what is possible with some dirt, water, sun and seeds!”

-Megan McBride, Alaska Youth for Environmental Action

Share your reasons with us at!

The Anchorage Food Mosaic’s mission is to build and celebrate community through our cultural foods.

In our current conventional agricultural system, a monoculture replaces lots of genetically diverse plants with one uniform crop, which is highly susceptible to disease and failure. In the same way that monocropping is dangerous to the future of a crop; we must encourage diversity within our community to prevent disease.

In order for our community to thrive we need to embrace and nurture the “mosaic” of people in this city.

The Anchorage Food Mosaic features different community members through photos and traditional recipes. Let us cook each others cultural foods and share our stories with one another.

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