A plan to take a city property in Downtown Anchorage and turn it into an urban farm is taking shape.

The 15-acre parcel near 3rd Avenue and Ingra Street is owned by the municipality and is the former site of the Alaska Native Hospital, which was torn down in 1992.

Assemblymember Christopher Constant, who is spearheading the project, said the lot has been vacant ever since. He said the idea for a farm came originally from the Fairview Community Council, which wanted to see a more positive use for the property than hosting homeless campers.

"And maybe something that inspires people," said Constant. "We can't spend all of our time and money focusing on the suffering and the decay. We need to tackle those issues, but this can become a benchmark or a model for Anchorage. It can say we do have a vision, our Downtown is going to be vibrant and healthy."

The Alaska Food Policy Council is another group backing the farm.

Council member Danny Consenstein said they recently received a temporary permit from the city to start some planting this summer.

"We are going to get on this site," said Consenstein. "Put in some small-scale raised beds and start to grow some food here."

Consenstein said a long-term project for the site could include a much larger farm, possibly a farmer's market, and some type of training program to increase the number of young farmers.

He said food security is also an issue.

"If we can produce and grow more food in Alaska, we are going to be in a much better situation."

Whether a farm will occupy the site will be up to the Heritage Land Bank, which is currently working on a management plan for the property. Holly Spoth-Torres, a consultant for the Land Bank, said the farm is one of several uses suggested for the property. She also said the site is large enough for mixed-use development.

Spoth-Torres said much of the land is in an area considered at higher risk for earthquakes which could limit the type of development there. But, it does appear the property is relatively free of contamination. Bill O'Connell with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said a leaky heating oil tank was removed from the property in the 1990s but no widespread contamination was found at that time.

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