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Project aims to spread community gardening in Mountain View

Devin Kelly
Master gardner Joel Bos, left, helps Mountain View resident Juanita Zetino with her raised bed garden on Thursday, June 5, 2014. With them is Bos’ 4-year-old son Summit Bos. The raised beds are part of an Anchorage Community Land Trust initiative to encourage local food production in the neighborhood. Loren Holmes photo

In a square wooden box in the corner of a backyard in Mountain View, small green tendrils peeked up from the soil.

Juanita Zetino’s vegetable seeds were sprouting, fast.

“It’s beginning to come up,” Zetino said on a recent morning.

After living in Anchorage for nearly three decades, the 57-year-old has begun her first foray into vegetable gardening with the help of a pilot project that delivered a garden right to her backyard.

Starting May 15, the Anchorage Community Land Trust, a nonprofit community development organization in Mountain View, began the installation of 20 raised beds throughout the neighborhood. The wooden boxes measure 4 feet by 4 feet and were delivered to homes as well as apartment buildings.

It’s the latest step to foster gardening in the area. In 2012, the trust was awarded a $100,000 legislative grant to support community gardening in Mountain View. Part of the grant has funded the Gardens at Bragaw community plot, which is now in its second year.

With limited land and capital for another community garden, the idea for the raised-bed project emerged earlier this year, said Radhika Krishna, community development associate with the land trust.

The overarching goal is education, with members of the Alaska Master Gardeners of Anchorage volunteering to give tips and guidance. A side benefit is that the gardens will provide residents with a renewable source of fresh, healthy, low-cost food. The project attracted a wide range of participants, from longtime gardeners to novices.

“If there’s anything that will make this a success, it’s connecting people both to their neighbors and to other gardeners,” Krishna said.

Zetino, a teacher’s aide at Ptarmigan Elementary School in Mountain View, is among the novices. She learned about the raised-bed project through a card in the mail and said she’s hoping to lose weight and eat healthier by growing her own vegetables, like radishes, squash and cucumbers.

She already loves flowers and fondly remembers gardening with her grandmother in Mexico as a little girl. But in her 29 years in Anchorage, she’s never learned how to grow vegetables.

On a recent sunny morning, Joel Bos, an Anchorage master gardener, knelt next to Zetino’s raised bed and pulled out a Swiss Army knife. He flipped out the screwdriver and jabbed it into the soil, showing her how to loosen the earth around the seeds.

He talked as he worked, and Zetino listened closely. He spaced the seeds into rows 2 inches apart.

“That way, you’ll get more food out of what you planted,” Bos said, pointing out that Zetino’s cluster of radish seeds had been planted a little too close together.

With almost two years of training as a master gardener, Bos said he’s observed that the startup costs associated with gardening are often the biggest deterrent for newbies. That’s where he sees the raised-bed program making an impact, he said.

At the end, Bos promised Zetino that he’d come back in a couple of weeks to see what sprouted.

Zetino works in the special-education resource department at the elementary school and said she and other staffers hope to launch a gardening program with the students -- and she’ll spend this summer learning what to do.

Several blocks east of Zetino’s house, Joe Frank and his 6-year-old son, Rayden, had used a pen to mark the names of vegetables on the edge of the raised bed: Radishes. Turnips. Onions. Their work began right after the raised bed was installed a week earlier.

Frank, 69, grew up in the Interior Alaska missionary community of Holy Cross and was raised pulling potatoes and lettuce out of the ground. Those childhood memories are intertwined with the imprints of priests and nuns gardening around the buildings of the mission.

Among those lessons: Digging into the ground to store the vegetables, Frank said.

Before moving to Anchorage in 1995, he tended a community-garden plot in Fairbanks. He’s semiretired now. (“He’s a full-time job,” Frank said, referring to son Rayden, who had retreated inside to watch TV.)

Frank glanced around his front yard, neatly kept behind a fence. Most of the other vegetation and trees he planted himself. Across the lawn, a wheelbarrow and shovel rested on the ground next to a trench that Frank was preparing for other vegetables.

The raised bed, situated on the left side of the lawn, is for Rayden. Frank learned to garden as a youth. Now, he said, it’s his son’s turn.

“I want to teach him,” Frank said. “He’s happy about it.”

Reach Devin Kelly at dkelly@adn.com or 257-4314.