Words and photos by Ryan Chernikoff
The Spenard Community Garden, once located behind Cook Inlet Housing Authority’s Church of Love, has moved to a new location. The garden plot now sits at 1303 W. 33rd Ave., behind the Lutheran Social Services of Alaska building in Spenard.
“We knew the location [behind the Church of Love] was going to be temporary.” Alivia DeBusk, co-founder of the community garden said. “[Cook Inlet Housing Authority] offered us the space and water for a year and we knew it was a good start, so we went from there. I really feel that if that had not happened, we would not be where we are at today.”
The Church of Love will soon begin renovations which, among other improvements, will include a remodeled entryway that will make the space fully accessible. Part of bringing the building up to municipal code was adding parking spaces, which won’t leave room for the community garden.
The search for the garden’s new space started almost immediately after it was built in May 2018.
“In order to keep utilizing the building as a community art space, we had to make renovations to get the building up to code,” Candace Blas, manager of the Church of Love, said.
The Lutheran Social Services of Alaska’s food pantry has benefited from the garden’s produce. During a busy month, Lutheran Social Services serves over 1,200 households.
“Many of the families we serve are faced with the tough choice of paying their utility bills or eating,” Alan Budahl, executive director of Lutheran Social Services, said.
A few Lutheran Congregations in Anchorage have built gardens, including Spenard-based Lutheran Church of Hope, which also supplies Lutheran Social Services with hundreds of pounds of produce during an average growing season.
“We are always happy to be able to hand out as much food as possible to struggling families, and to have the ability to hand out locally grown, nutritious produce is a wonderful feeling,” Budahl said.
The initiative started as a group project led by community volunteers and organizations like the Alaska Community Action on Toxics’ Yarducopia, the Anchorage Permaculture Guild, Adrift Gardens, Anchorage Community House and the Anchorage Community Land Trust. The garden was funded by a mini-grant through the Anchorage Mayor’s Office.
The garden now sits where two condemned apartments connected to the Lutheran Social Services building once stood. The dilapidated structures were torn down in 2016, and left a large, undeveloped area that needed a new purpose.
“We have wanted to construct a garden in that space for a while,” Budahl said. “We just could not find the resources needed to break ground.”
In late 2018, staff at Lutheran Social Services reached out to Alivia DeBusk for advice on how to get a garden started on their property; their original meeting was postponed after the November 2018 magnitude 7.1 earthquake. The group finally met in April and decided to move the garden to the Lutheran Social Services of Alaska property.
“I went into the meeting expecting to help [Lutheran Social Services] build their own garden, I ended up leaving that meeting with a new space for the Spenard Community Garden, I was very happy.” DeBusk said.
The new garden space was built June 1, with the help of community volunteers and organizations who helped give the garden its start. Much of the garden was built in one day, with planting happening the following week.
With the garden now located next door to the Lutheran Social Services food pantry, DeBusk hopes to get families who use the pantry involved in the gardening process.
“I want to use [gardening] as a way to connect people to the food and to the earth,” DeBusk said.
Those interested in volunteering at the Spenard Community Garden can contact DeBusk at firstname.lastname@example.org.