Alaska Village Initiatives: Offering Help In Gardening In Copper Valley

Local Villages Invited To Learn About Gardening Techniques  Gakona potatoes, overlooking the Copper River bluffs.  In a bid for "food s...

Local Villages Invited To Learn About Gardening Techniques 

Gakona potatoes, overlooking the Copper River bluffs. 

In a bid for "food security" in rural Alaska, the Alaska Village Initiatives is launching a three year program to assist Native villages in Southcentral Alaska.

The idea is to run a 20-course, 3-year program on gardening. "The hope is that an individual or group within the villages is interested in building a small farm or big garden to alleviate food insecurity," Red Bradley, who is spearheading the program, told the Copper River Country Journal on Tuesday, December 7th, 2021.

He said the project is reaching out to villages from Ninilchik to Port Graham, to Seldovia, Eyak and up the road system into the Ahtna region and over to Cantwell and Nenana on the upper Parks Highway. 

During the first year, the topic will be the steps you need to take to start a garden, he said. The second year in the program, you apply for USDA loans and get high tunnels. The third year is involved with hydroponics (using water with nutrients instead of soil to grow things) and "Seed saving." There will also be options of collecting traditional plants, and a soil testing program.

Because of the enormous range of latitudes, temperatures and types of soils, he said that differing ways of planting will be experimented with. For example, planting directly into the ground, or using raised beds. 

The program will probably start around mid-February or early March with the first classes. The organization is waiting to see the grouping of villages that are interested, and may have a school in Anchorage, or may work out of the villages. Digital outreach will be used. Military veterans are also invited to join the program. 

When the first outsiders came to the Copper Valley, in 1885, the soldiers were on the lookout for places to grow things. The small Gold Rush town of Copper Center ran an agriculture station from 1903 to 1908. But it was very expensive to run, since the supply line through the pass from Valdez was difficult and expensive, and summer weather in the Copper Valley is not as good as in Fairbanks, according to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. 

After the Gold Rush, "agriculture" in the Copper Valley region was mainly limited to lodges and roadhouses, which here -- and in the rest of Alaska -- grew food for passing travelers in outdoor truck gardens. Entrepreneurs also grew hay in fields around their lodges, for example at Gakona Lodge. 

The hay was for the horses that pulled sleds over what was to become the Richardson Highway. In a sense, the hay was like gasoline for the horses, and in return, the horses gave the lodge owners manure for their gardens -- a valuable additive to the sterile Copper Valley soil. 

Fannie Quigley, a lodge owner near what is now Denali National Park. (Photo, NPS)

Captain Abercrombie and Lt. Henry T. Allen were both charged with trying to determine the agricultural potential of the Copper River Valley when they first came to Alaska on exploratory expeditions. 

There have been enclaves in roadside Alaska where agricultural activities have really taken off. For example, Kenny Lake, Delta Junction, Russian Old Believer villages near Homer, and Palmer. 

Some Alaskan places had agricultural potential in the past, but lost it. Hope, across Cook Inlet from Anchorage, was once a truck garden for people in the city. Then the great Alaska Earthquake destroyed the land's potential there, when ocean water from the tidal wave flooded the gardens and salted the earth.  


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