Alaska’s Fairbanks SWCD educates residents, creates two community gardens

Guest column by Lindsay Cameron

Sister Carlene running a bobcat to move soil into raised beds at Corinthian Baptist Church.

“The one thing I need here is a grocery store” is often heard on the south side of urban Fairbanks, Alaska – an area designated a food desert by USDA. In an effort to change that, the Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District (FSWCD) is working with its partners and utilizing a grant awarded through NACD’s Urban Agriculture Initiative to teach Fairbanks residents how to grow their own food in their own “grocery store outside their door.”

This summer, FSWCD offered 12 educational classes on topics ranging from seed starting, soil care, container gardening, planting, and cooking. To ensure universal accessibility, all of these classes were hosted in low-income, USDA-designated food deserts (neighborhoods further than three miles from a grocery store) and were free to attend for anyone willing to join, including children, who were always afforded an age-appropriate class option. In one workshop, FSWCD even offered free donated containers and gardening soil for participants to take home.

Happy garden beds at the Chinook Community Garden in Fairbanks, Alaska.

It’s easy to get people excited about gardening in the spring, but the initial logistics of garden space can often deter new gardeners from growing a full garden. Not everyone can simply tear up their front yard or has the time or interest to do so. To help offer easily accessible gardening space, FSWCD partnered with the Corinthian Baptist Church and Fairbanks Neighborhood Housing. By utilizing recycled materials of garage doors and donations of warped wood, the district helped create two new community gardens of raised beds on a small budget.

The community is excited about the gardens and almost every business the district has approached was also excited to support the gardens in any way they could — often donating compost, soil, wood, garage doors, buckets, and/or labor.

Lindsay Cameron is the natural resources education assistant for the Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District in Alaska. She can be reached by email at lindsay.fswcd@gmail.com.

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