Cultivated by community: Spenard’s first neighborhood garden debuts in May

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This article was originally written for The Spenardian.

A group of Anchorage women have banded together to build the first community garden in Spenard.

Leading the charge is Michelle Wilber, program manager for the Alaska Community Action on Toxics’ Yarducopia, Alivia DeBusk, a member of the Anchorage Permaculture Guild, board member of Alaska Cold Climate Permaculture Institute, and owner of Adrift Gardens, Julie Leonard, Spenard resident, and Iris Crook, North Star resident who assisted with efforts that began as part of a university senior project.

DeBusk’s dream for a community garden bloomed around two years ago.

“Everyone who wants to should have a chance to garden,” DeBusk said.

Through mutual contacts, she met Caitlin Taylor, Anchorage Community Land Trust’s community development associate.

Taylor was one of ACLT’s members who helped the women write grants. ACLT focuses on neighborhood revitalization work in Anchorage’s low-income neighborhoods: Mountain View, Fairview and Spenard.

Taylor and the women received a grant from the Mayor’s Office called a Local Mini-Food Grant through Cities of Service. Their proposal was accepted for $877.

“We believe in the neighborhoods that we work in and we want to promote the positive. Gardens and parks are just examples of community development work where you get to empower residents as advocates,” Taylor said.

DeBusk is a Spenard resident who teaches a gardening class called the Green Thumb Course at Anchorage Community House, which recently relocated to the Church of Love. The course lasts from March until September and teaches everything you need to know about gardening for beginners.

The garden plot sits behind the Church of Love, which is owned by Cook Inlet Housing Authority. CIHA will be letting the gardeners use the land in a pilot program this summer, as well as donating water to the project. The plot is about 90 by 140 feet in size. Regardless of whether or not the pilot is successful, DeBusk will continue to push for more gardens in the city.

Meg Zaletel, ACH’s manager, met DeBusk through the permaculture guild.

“A garden is much more than a space to grow food, it’s a communal gathering space, one that can facilitate art and other activities as the community needs,” Zaletel said in an email.

The gardeners and ACH have partnered with Lutheran Social Services to donate a portion of the excess produce to them.

“I feel like food is something everybody can get behind. Being out in nature is something most people can get behind,” DeBusk said. “While everybody doesn’t like gardening and it’s not for everyone and that’s okay, there are enough people in this world who want to, and we should give them those opportunities to do it.”

For updates, visit the Spenard Community Garden’s Facebook page.

The Author

Hi! My name is Sam Davenport. I am a freelance writer and lifelong Alaskan who loves reporting on the state’s history, food and culture. I am a graduate of the University of Alaska Anchorage, where I received bachelors degrees in journalism and political science. I was the executive editor of The Northern Light — UAA’s student-run newspaper — for 2.5 years During my time at UAA, I completed internships at the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media. I am the managing editor of The Spenardian, an award-winning hyper-local news blog and magazine for the neighborhood of Spenard. I have been published in Vice, Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Dispatch News, The Rasmuson Foundation, Alaska Magazine, Alaska Business, The Northern Light, The Anchorage Press, The Frontiersman, Alaska’s Energy Desk, KSKA, KTOO, Last Frontier Magazine, Crude Magazine, Mountain View Post, The Spenardian, Alaska Contractor Magazine, Wildheart Magazine and True North Magazine. For freelancing rates or a copy of my resume, please email me at

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