By Kathy McCrobie
SEARHC Traditional Foods Project Assistant
Creating the Hoonah Healing Community Garden was Bob Starbard’s idea. He is the Hoonah Indian Association‘s (HIA) Tribal Administrator. He worked with Bob Christensen from Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC), and by 2012 our first plots had been built.
I was hired by SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) as the Traditional Foods Project Assistant. When I took over for the 2013 growing season, I really had no gardening experience. I posted notices for the community to let them know the garden was available. We had 22 plots available for growing, and that summer half were in production.
Many community members made important contributions; our gravel business donated two large loads of fine sand and the time and skills shared made building the garden easier. Soon there was a dirt sifter to screen out the many rocks in the local dirt and heavy equipment leveled the ground. The Southeast Soil and Water Conservation District in Juneau sold us 14 berry plants at a discounted price. A community member donated 30 strawberry plants. Our space was soon coming together.
Most of our gardeners have prior gardening experience. Some used their own soil. Last year the zucchini, broccoli, potatoes, beets, bush beans and snap peas did well. The biggest challenge came from the ravens. After putting in starts, out of their curiosity, they would fly down when everyone left and pull them up.
We ask that our gardeners not use fish in their compost so the bears won’t come by to check us out and so far the deer have left the plots alone. Lia Heifetz from the Sustainable Southeast Partnership was a big help with our garden last year; she acquired some fence to protect our plots from critters. We hope to get the fence up this year. Lia also came to the William and Mary Johnson Youth Center to teach the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hoonah about composting with her worm bin and then we gathered seaweed for the garden.
For 2015 we are off to a great start with six returning and four new gardeners. Community members donated 20 raspberry plants and 20 gooseberry plants. Through the program, I purchased and planted a Nadine plum tree and a Terry Berry apple tree. My husband volunteers at the Hoonah Senior Center and is helping me with the traditional foods plot, as well as planting three plots for the seniors.
I just received an email from Lauren Hughey, a Community Health Educator based out of SEARHC Sitka. What exciting news! They just received a diabetes grant carry-forward. With the approval of this grant, Hoonah will receive $1,650 with the main goal of reducing the financial barriers to gardening for American Indian/Alaska Native diabetic patients. This grant will pay for plot fees and gardening supplies in the community garden: soil, seeds, raised-bed repair supplies, shovels, pots, gloves, buckets, and cold frames.
If you are ever in Hoonah please stop by to see us. The garden is in town next to the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Sharing about the Hoonah Healing Community Garden lets our and other communities be informed that food security starts with us. Also that it really does work! For additional information, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A slideshow of Hoonah community garden photos from former Sitka Local Foods Network board member Cathy Lieser is posted below.