What does it take to garden in the Arctic?
The ground in Anaktuvuk pass has barely thawed but Casey Edwards is ready to get her plants in the ground.
“Last year I had way too many. I was super ambitious,” Edwards laughed. “This year we’re just sticking to cucumber, cabbage, squash.”
This is just her second year testing out her green thumb, seeing what she can and can’t grow in the Arctic.
“I almost had corn,” she lamented, holding up a sad, wilted stalk from last year’s harvest.
Anaktuvuk pass is tucked in the Brooks Range, high on the North Slope above the Arctic Circle. Even with 24-hour sunlight in the summer, Edwards says not much grows in the sandy soil.
With the exception of subsistence caribou, all the food has to be flown into the village. The selection of produce at the Nunamiut Store is slim; even a prepackaged salad will cost you $7.95.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are even harder to come by.
“[My friend] calls, ‘There’s cabbage at the store!’ So we go running to the store for $12,” she laughed. “Yes, I will pay $12 for cabbage.”
It was Edwards’ friend Rainey Hopson that introduced her to gardening.
“Our tiny house is completely overrun with plants,” Hopson said. “There’s corn in the corner,” she pointed out in her pantry.
Hopson also has a love of leafy greens she’s willing to pay top dollar for.
“I bought a cabbage once and it was tiny and partially frozen and I was so excited! I was going to do so many things with this cabbage,” Hopson said.
After she quit smoking, Hopson wanted to live a healthier life but didn’t want to go broke feeding her family. That drove Hopson to her backyard to try gardening herself.
“I started with four boxes back here. Threw some dirt from the river into them to see what happened and it was horrible,” she laughed.
But she kept at it because food security is a major issue in Anaktuvuk Pass, especially when the caribou herds quit migrating through the area.
“Nothing is grown in the village, so I want to change that,” she said.
Hopson started an online fundraising campaign to begin her agriculture business Gardens in the Arctic. She raised $4,000 to get the basic supplies to get her neighbors into backyard gardening. With the help of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, she was able to purchase a high tunnel greenhouse where people will be able to grow greens in bulk.
“I think it really aligns with our Inupiaq values, of our Native values of being self-sustainable, self-reliable and relying on our land to survive,” Hopson said.
The high tunnel will go in Edwards’ backyard behind her make-shift greenhouse her husband built. Together the two plan to get the whole community involved after the greenhouse is installed June 1.
“We’re going to hire a couple kids to water and maintain and learn. Having that ability to pass it on to the next generation is going to be awesome,” Edwards said.
She hopes what started out as a small idea will soon grow into something bigger—a new way of life for the Nunamiut people on the North Slope.