Village Gardens

Sister M. Eulalia planting cabbages with three unidentified young women at the Holy Cross Mission school, circa 1940s - 1950s
Sister M. Eulalia planting cabbages with three unidentified young women at the Holy Cross Mission school, circa 1940s - 1950s

Non-Native traders, teachers and missionaries planted gardens wherever they settled. Gardens augmented local fish, berry and animal resources, and were tangible reminders of places left behind. Large gardens and farming operations were key components of the Jesuit mission schools and BIA schools.  

Gardening remains popular among village residents. Many maintain small plots by their homes or at fish camp. Quite a few villages have community gardens. Most of these are fenced, with the tribe or city providing annual tilling, and if available, free or low-cost seeds and supplies.     

Not surprisingly, the most common varieties found in village gardens are those that are hardy and do not need a lot of specialized care to grow in Alaska's climates. Potatoes, turnips (both greens and root), cabbage, carrots, lettuce, onions and peas are perennial favorites. 

Recently, in response to escalating fuel and transport costs, village governments and residents are thinking about ways they can make their communities more food secure. While game, fish, wild plants and berries form the foundation of village food systems, the high cost of fuel impacts these activities as well. Village hunters and fishers must use snow machines and boats to obtain food; likewise, most plant harvesting and berry picking occurs in places some distance from the village. 

Harvest from the Tanacross community garden
Harvest from the Tanacross community garden

Gardening is not inexpensive either, since seeds must be purchased, and soil augmentation (bone or fish meal, chemical fertilizers) is usually necessary for any type of reasonable garden yield. A $25 bag of fertilizer can cost $85 to ship to a remote village. However, there are ways  through cooperative efforts and vehicles like Community Supported Agriculture to leverage small amounts of funds into the means to support village hunters, fishers and gardeners in their efforts to procure and grow local foods.  

Practicality and economics aside, village gardeners demonstrate ingenuity, creativity and energy in designing and maintaining their gardens. Many undertake the challenge of growing crops, like corn and watermelons, that require temperate climates, while others focus on vegetables that are reliable and proven in the Interior climate. 


Back to Top