Fresh International Gardens Teaches Refugees Farming In Alaska

Fresh International Gardens is a program run by Catholic Social Services in Mountain View – a neighborhood in northeast Anchorage, Alaska. They have recently been teaching refugees that are new to the state the necessary skills to farm successfully in Alaska.

“Most of our clients come from countries where they spent most of their lives eating fresh produce,” said CSS refugee program director, Issa Spatrisano. “They’re from countries where they walked up to a tree and picked a coconut off or a mango off a tree, and they come here and they’re shocked that 95 percent of our food is imported.”

All the vegetables grown on a quarter acre in size plot are sold at a farmer’s market. Last year, refugees in the program earned $13,000, which worked out to about $8 an hour each. More importantly, the refugees learn business skills and also get to practice English and social skills with their customers.

The program has plans to expand, as Anchorage Community Land Trust and Catholic Social Services recently purchased a plot of land directly behind the Mountain View Farmer’s Market where the produce is regularly sold. Named ‘Grow North Farm,’ it will provide a much larger space for refugees and other urban farmers to work.

“It’s in the heart of our neighborhood on our main commercial corridor,” said Emily Cohn with the Land Trust. “And not only do we run the market here, but we will have this great community space where families can come and grow their produce– and sell their produce– on the same lot.”