Grow North Farm (GNF), operated by Catholic Social Services (CSS) Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services (RAIS) Program in partnership with Anchorage Community Land Trust (ACLT), is the largest community farm in Anchorage. Situated in the heart of Mt. View, the farm brightens the commercial corridor of Mt. View Dr and serves as the center of commerce for refugee entrepreneurs. GNF is an incubator space for entrepreneurs from around the world. CSS RAIS and ACLT partner to offer agricultural training, business technical assistance, and English language learning opportunities. Each season, over 30 refugee and immigrant clients from Somalia, Nepal, Bhutan, South Sudan, DRC, Afghanistan, Myanmar and more grow produce at GNF to sell onsite and at other local farmer's markets. Client's participating in the program have reported increased social and emotional well-being, better access to fresh food, and a stronger connection to their community.
In 2021, refugee entrepreneurs earned $130,000 through programming provided by RAIS and ACLT. This is exponential growth from the first year of GNF operations (2019), when farmers earned $19,000. Participants have utilized these earnings to make down payments for home ownership, towards their child's college savings account, and on meaningful trips back to their home countries.
GNF has become a place of community in the summer for not just refugees, but for all Anchorage residents. Last year, over 200 volunteers donated 1,500 hours at GNF. The GNF Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has 50 subscribers. Beyond economic opportunities, GNF has hosted World Refugee Day celebrations, refugee health fairs, and a civic engagement fair for refugees and immigrants. GNF has centered itself as a place for our community to come together.
Between the daily farm stand, CSA, and partnership with the CSS St. Francis Food Pantry, GNF serves as an important part of food security for our community. The daily farmstand accepts WIC, Senior Coupons, and SNAP (food stamp) benefits, increasing access to fresh food for the most food insecure in our community. GNF is the only operating daily farm stand in Anchorage.
Since the establishment of Grow North Farm, it has become apparent that client economic opportunity on site is tied to two distinct challenges: farmable land space and extension of the grow season. Currently GNF is 28,000 sq feet of farmable land. Last year, due to the lack of farmable land space some farmers were sold out of produce completely with nearly a month left in the growing season. The demand for local Alaska grown produce and the customer base of GNF both continue to grow. To meet these rising demands GNF would like to expand the growing space on site. To do this we will need to complete expansion construction and purchase additional soil. This project would be supported by large scale volunteer workdays. It is anticipated that for each 1,000 sq ft. of additional growing space clients could earn $1,500.
Due to the short growing season in Alaska, there are several crops that are unable to historically grow in the Arctic climate. For example, refugee clients have requested support in growing African eggplant, dodo (edible amaranth common in the DRC), and njama njama (garden huckleberry common in Cameroon). To facilitate growth of these crops GNF needs more season extending technologies. Increased production of food common back home would increase client health and well-being, while introducing new products to the Anchorage food market.
CSS RAIS expects that increased growing space and season expansion technology will allow for higher earnings for refugee entrepreneurs, increased social and emotional well-being as the growing season can be expanded, and better fresh food access for Anchorage residents.