Harvesting Alaska: History at Port Alsworth garden grows along with community
The story of Alaska food has some deep roots in places like Port Alsworth, a town of about 200 on the eastern shores of Lake Clark. Today, it’s part of the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve — about an hour’s flight southwest of Anchorage.
The community was originally homesteaded by a bush pilot, Leon “Babe” Alsworth and his wife, Mary.
To feed their growing family, they planted a garden right next to a gravel airstrip, where they ran an air taxi operation, which later grew into a lodge and flightseeing business.
That was almost 70 years ago.
Today, you can still hear the sound of airplanes buzzing, next to rows and rows of big, leafy vegetables that grow to perfection in the rich and pristine soil, against a backdrop of fresh air and mountains.
This garden has fed four generations of Alsworths — and now, also feeds the community — in addition to visitors at family’s Farm Lodge, who get to dine on salads and other vegetables that go directly from the farm to table in a matter of hours.
College students like Anna Portillo tend the gardens.
Instead of insects, Portillo says they have to protect the outdoor crops from moose.
“At nighttime, we’ve had moose come in, and they love all the cabbage family,” Portillo said. “We call it moose nip. They go for the head. It’s really funny.”
Every night staffers cover up the outdoor rows of vegetables with big sheets of vinyl.
Plants that are in the high tunnel greenhouses, which were recently added, grow in relative peace.
Amy Rose, another student, says they’ve had some surprising results.
“They let you grow things you could never grow otherwise,” Rose said. “Tomatoes. Cucumbers. We grow jalapenos, bell peppers and squash.”
You’ll also find part of one greenhouse dedicated to corn and a bushy patch of asparagus, which Rose says takes a lot of work and patience.
The Alsworth farm also has a root cellar, where potatoes harvested last September are still hard and fresh.
The garden feeds about 65 guests a week in the summer, with plenty of produce left to sell.
Anna Burrows usually comes with several big plastic shopping bags.
Since Port Alsworth has no grocery store, she often has to have goods flown in from Anchorage.
“I thought I’d come here first and definitely get all the fresh stuff that I can from here – and I’ll just have the rest shipped in,” Burrows said. “For me, it’s worth it to buy it here and buy it local. It tastes so much better.”
In recent years, the garden has begun to provide produce for neighboring communities, delivered by air taxi.
“I think people really, really appreciate having a garden here," says Portillo. “It’s a real luxury to get fresh vegetables like those grown here. They ask for more and more, every year.”
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