One of the five focus areas for the Sitka Local Foods Network is to build a community greenhouse in Sitka. This will serve several functions, such as extending our growing season, allowing us to grow a wider variety of produce and expanding our capacity to grow fruits and vegetables in Sitka. The Sitka Local Foods Network has been looking at several locations around town and recently submitted a proposal for a possible site (more details as they become available).
Anyway, there is a model for a successful greenhouse here in Alaska, and it’s worth looking at so people from Sitka can see the possibilities.
Chena Hot Springs, located about 60 miles from Fairbanks, is working toward becoming a more sustainable community and an important element of this vision is being able to produce more of their own food locally. In 2004, Chena Hot Springs Resort installed a 1,000-square-foot test greenhouse that has become the only year-round producing greenhouse in Interior Alaska (click here to read more).
The hoop house greenhouse was able to maintain an interior temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit, even when outside temperatures dipped to minus-56 (the 134-degree difference is the largest ever recorded for a controlled environment facility in the U.S.). The greenhouse is heated by geothermal energy from the hot springs (165-degree water running through pipes embedded in concrete floor slabs). Click here for a downloadable report (as a PDF file) on the economic benefits of the project.
After the successful first year or two of production, Chena built a new 4,320-square-foot greenhouse to provide the resort’s restaurant with a greater variety of fresh produce on a year-round basis. Under optimal conditions the nearly 14,000 lettuce plants can grow nearly 150,000 heads of lettuce in a year. They also have 450 different tomatoes, including six Dutch varieties, a cherry tomato variety, a grape tomato variety, a beefsteak tomato variety and three intermediate cluster varieties. They also grow green beans, peppers, cucumbers and numerous greens and herbs (click here for a photo gallery). Chena Hot Springs Resort is working in partnership with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station (click here for a link to the UAF AFES).
Chena Hot Springs Resort, which uses geothermal and other waste heat for power, will host the Fourth Annual Chena Renewable Energy Fair on Saturday, Aug. 22. Click here for more information.