Shannon Kuhn: Why garden? Depends who you ask

Shannon Kuhn

Urban gardens are transforming our nation's yards, porches and vacant lots. You can find them in schools, churches, rooftops and community plots. In Anchorage, I've seen veggies planted in everything from old drawers to gutters (that would be me).

Ron Finley is an urban gardener in Los Angeles. His TED talk went viral last year when he made the case that "Growing your own food is like printing your own money." Harvesting veggies and canning or putting them up for the winter is like putting money in the bank. But more than being utilitarian, gardens are often deeply personal and meaningful.

The question I posed to the urban gardeners I know was simple: Why are gardens important to you?

The responses I received were from neighborhoods all over Anchorage. It quickly became clear to me that a backyard or container garden represents something different to each person.

Planting a garden can be a small but powerful act of self-sufficiency, localism and rebellion. For some, it's defiance of our industrial food system. It can also be an act of love, bringing a family and community closer together. I built raised beds with my family and hoophouses for my mom on Mother's Day. We are looking forward to harvesting herbs and greens for our family dinners throughout the summer.

I was originally planning on writing a much different column, but the responses to my question blew me away. I decided instead to let them speak for themselves.

Why is having a garden important to you?

"We love being able to teach our kids about all the care and science that goes into growing our own food! It's gratifying to eat the fruits of your labor, and helps the kids nurture a love for nature, vegetables and Alaska-grown foods."

-- Jorie Paoli

"I grew up in Queens, a borough of the city of New York. My parents were social workers, not farmers. I moved to Alaska in 1969, when many people my age were 'getting back to the land.' In Fairbanks during the '70s, we all had gardens. To me, it's always been a big part of living in Alaska. We hunt, we fish, and we grow big gardens."

-- Danny Consenstein

"Home-grown food tastes better and fresher!

-- Anne Gore

"We can grow Colombian vegetables (papas criollas, chuguas and acelga) that we can't get in the U.S. I want to teach these skills to my kids, so I have to hone them myself."

-- Laura Avellaneda-Cruz

"For the moose to eat. D'oh!" -- Kim Wetzel

"It's important to me that I am doing my part to provide for myself and not consume products that are supported by unfair labor practices and immigration policies. Even if it's just picking my kale and lettuce for my salad, I know I am doing my small little part." -- Kate Powers

"It is a great way for kids to learn where food comes from. My son's friends were over when I was harvesting carrots and potatoes. They had no idea that they grew in the ground. They had a blast helping me harvest."

-- Lisa Wedin

"Chicks dig guys with gardens." -- Nick Moe

"I love the seasonality of urban farming, ordering my seeds from Alaska companies in March, starting my seeds in April and planting the garden in May. The summer is filled with anticipation and appreciation for the sweetness and crunch of fresh-picked veggies and the excitement of harvesting and experimenting with the ever-growing pile of newfound canning recipes that have accumulated throughout the year. The winter, of course, isn't too bad either; the hardest part is determining which tasty goods to eat when and making sure I don't use up all of the rhubarb and raspberry preserves too quickly, a goal I never seem to achieve."

-- Melissa Heuer

"Meet your neighbors! An interesting yard is a great conversation starter."

-- Nick Treinen

"When I garden, I feel reconnected to the earth. I feel fortunate to be a property owner and feel a responsibility to use our land wisely, even if it means building above-ground beds in downtown Anchorage!" -- Cindy Shake

"Reason #10 - you've got to do something productive with all that chicken s---!"

-- Matt Rafferty

"Turn that park everyone is afraid to go near into the vibrant community space it is supposed to be! We have (about) 243 parks in Anchorage? Not all of them are going to be top-notch. The way I think of it is from an urban development/redevelopment standpoint and the opportunity to transition troubled or vacant land to productive use. Turning something back into a community asset makes our neighborhood more livable." -- Kirk Rose

"We garden because we enjoy being able to show our daughter how food grows and being able to go out and pick our salad or vegetables in our yard." -- Alex & Lee Post

"Survivor skills! You know, when the zombie apocalypse comes, I'm still going to want to eat and Carrs might not be open." -- Megan McBride

"I love pulling my garden vegetables out of the freezer or from cold storage in the middle of winter. They're so much tastier than store-bought, and I know exactly what went into them -- the labor, the anticipation, the tending, the harvesting, the processing, and no chemicals."

-- Susan Sommer

"The joy of sharing home-grown dishes with friends and family is wonderful."

-- Joanne Partain-Phelan

"A garden reminds me to slow down. To be curious. To experiment. To have faith and trust in the unfolding of life. To live with patience. To make decisions, educated or spontaneous. To take of myself and others. To lend attention to the details while keeping the bigger picture in perspective. To enjoy the little things, the simple pleasures. To play, get dirty, breathe, and let go. 'To take care of myself and others.' A garden is a wonderful teacher, full of color, flavor, hard work, and so much bounty." -- Jennifer Kehoe

Why is having a backyard, container, or community garden plot important to you? Share your reasons with us at


Shannon Kuhn
Food & Culture