Interior Alaska. Many people have come up in search of gold or work on the oil pipeline. I’ve come here to garden, and to teach students to do the same. Before driving to Fairbanks, I spent four days in Anchorage and a night on the Elmendorf Air Force Base with my friend Rick and his wife Megan, neither of whom I’d seen since high school. We reminisced and laughed over memories, they told me of their three years at a base in Italy, I told them of my travels to Northern Ireland and New Zealand. When their friends came over, Rick introduced me and said, “She’s going to do some gardening thing in Fairbanks!” General confusion and a look of slight bewilderment crossed each face at this statement. Why would you come here to garden? Do things even grow in Fairbanks?
As it is, things do grow here and all over Alaska. Hardy greens like kale, and most other brassicas, thrive in Alaska’s planting zone of 2-3, and greenhouses help fruits and veggies that like warmer temperatures get a head start in the spring. This spring has come early, and we may be able to get the first plantings in by mid-May.
On Friday I spent the morning at Hunter Elementary, where I am the School Garden Supervisor, mapping out rows and getting ideas for garden expansion. Throughout the week I went into classrooms and started seeds with the kids. Next week I’ll begin broadforking, loosening up the soil in order to plant potatoes with classes before school lets out for the summer. I feel blessed to be working at Hunter where the teachers and administration are as excited about the garden as I am, maybe even more!
Each time I walk into the school I am welcomed like the first spring flowers that pop up from the ground. Elementary students call me “Miss Katie” and give me hugs. They see me in the garden and run to the fence, yelling, “Miss Katie! Can we help!” when all I am doing is measuring bed feet and borders; I know that 10 children running in the garden will not help me with this but I say yes and they come sprinting in. “Remember the number 127,” I tell them, and then ask, “Who wants to help me find my pencil?” They scatter along the rows, eyes darting, racing to see who will find the pencil that fell out of my pocket.
This summer I’ll be working with students from 6th grade up through high school, teaching them how to seed, transplant, maintain, harvest and sell vegetables at a farm stand and through a CSA, but for now I’m still working on understanding how to plan for a CSA myself. Susan, my boss at Calypso Farm and Ecology Center, has been trying to teach us the basics of garden planning, but total comprehension won’t come until we actually do it. She smiles with enthusiasm when she says, “It’ll all fall into place once you get into the garden and start planting!”
I’m excited to start. And I’m glad I came here to garden. The earth fascinates me in its ability to give, especially in places one wouldn’t expect. As the spring unfurls, the snow is transforming into water and the garden soils are thawing. One of these days I’ll wake to see greenup—the sudden popping of tree buds that happens all at once, bringing a wave of green to the forests—and I’ll know the garden is ready to plant and ready to give once more.