Growth Inside and Outside of the MOBY Greenhouse in Hoonah, Alaska

Growth Inside and Outside of the MOBY Greenhouse in Hoonah, Alaska

In April 2016, “MOBY”, the mobile student greenhouse, rolled off the ferry in Hoonah. The trailer-become-greenhouse had a mission in the small community of 750 – educate students and community members on to grow in a greenhouse and to inspire conversation around a larger, permanent greenhouse in Hoonah. Four months later MOBY had produced beans, peas, tomatoes, sunflowers, swiss chard, kale, spinach and more. The green growth experienced in the greenhouse is a metaphor for the growth in individuals and community.

MOBY’s Timeline in Hoonah 

April 17th, 2017 was planting day for the greenhouse. Melissa Thaalesen paired the greenhouse with her middle school health class. Students absorbed the sun rays outside of Hoonah City Schools where MOBY was parked. They got their fingers dirty and planted many flats of leafy greens. Once planted, the health class cared for the small plant starts each day.  

Three weeks after planting the greenhouse school ended for the summer. With the release of the students came a change in location and intent for the greenhouse. It was moved to the Hoonah Indian Association and paired with the Hoonah Community Garden. The exposure to the community garden members provided great outreach. Twelve of the community garden members used starts to populate their gardens.

For the rest of the summer, the responsibility of the greenhouse was spread among different people. Ian Johnson, Community Catalyst, worked with student Ted Elliot almost daily. Their work was boosted by Tesh Miller who worked with her student Duane Jack, and five other community members periodically helped with planting, watering, and care of MOBY throughout the summer.

“As a community member who was raised in a subsistence lifestyle, this has taken me back to the idea of clean eating and knowing where our food comes from.  After seeing MOBY my family has picked a place in our yard to build a greenhouse, and have begun talking about the items that will go into the greenhouse, how it will look, and how to make it yearly produce.” — Hoonah Community Garden Member

MOBY greenhouse engaged 17 students during the school and during the summer. These students had a great opportunity to be involved in the initial setup of MOBY, however, throughout the summer, one student maintained regular involvement with MOBY. In late June, 12-year old Ted Elliot took his first harvest of swiss chard, kale, and spinach home to his family. Soon after he was regularly snacking on peas draping from heavily laden vines and bringing those to his family too. The produce from the greenhouse was subsidized by Ted’s community garden plot and was well received by the Elliot family. His mom, Elleana, posted to Facebook several times to express her gratitude.

When asked whether a greenhouse could be viable part of Hoonah City Schools, Tesh Miller thought so. “Yes, I could see a greenhouse become a huge part of school.  Starting with growing our own produce to growing produce to share with our elders and also growing produce to sell.  I could become a class for students to take and learn.  The possibilities are endless.”, she said . Shery Ross from Hoonah City Schools added that the MOBY curriculum was useful to teachers and that integration was pretty simple in the classroom to get students interested. “The staff all have a copy of the [MOBY] curriculum. This has provided support for our teachers. The list of seeds and when planting occurs was extremely helpful to new gardeners. The elementary students planted within their own classrooms.” She also added that students were able to bring the successes home to their family, “Grandparents and parents were thankful to receive lettuces and herbs this summer from their student. We see an opportunity to supply fruits, veggies to our school cafeteria and culinary department. The students were very engaged and thoughtful with the planting process. We see this as a viable lifeskill in Hoonah; teaching our students how to plant, care for, share and preserve a garden.”

“I had three students involved with the greenhouse during summer.  I included it in their daily summer program session so their involvement depended on their attendance.  One of my students had a garden plot also which he was very proud of.  He was able to take produce from his garden plot (the starts came from the greenhouse) to his grandmother’s house one afternoon for a snack.  The pride in his eyes as he left to share what he had grown with his grandmother shined through his face.  He is still talking about going and watering the greenhouse and also is talking about the day he saw produce come from his garden and was able to share it.  Another student who helped water has discussed with her parent the possibility of growing her own veggies in the spring. She has talked to me about ideas for what she can grow in garden containers.”  — Tesh Miller, Hoonah City Schools

What’s Next?

The arrival of MOBY was paired with a tour of the biomass-heated greenhouses on Prince of Wales Island. The tour brought five people from Hoonah to review how the systems and lessons learned at Coffman Cove, Thorne Bay, Naukati, and Kasaan can be brought to Hoonah. Since the tour, the greenhouse group has met 6 times to lay the groundwork for a biomass greenhouse in Hoonah. Most recently, the greenhouse group hosted a MOBY outreach event which will show off the greenhouse through a MOBY greenhouse culinary demonstration. This was also a brainstorming session with the community to understand the opportunities and hurdles of a future greenhouse project.  In Hoonah, we believe MOBY is the stepping stone that Hoonah needed for future greenhouse projects that will positively influence food security issues in the long term.

Thinking about bringing MOBY to your community next year?  Here are some lessons learned in Hoonah that you can “grow” from. These are based on the advice from the community and school members who were involved in the project.

  1. I think MOBY’s biggest success was that it was highly visible – near the community center and on a walking path that many people use – such that community members and particularly children got to see it.  It was attractive, had informational panels, and was clearly of interest to many who wandered past.  Our family used a number of starts from MOBY that grew reasonably well and kept us from 1) purchasing expensive starts from Juneau, or 2) being behind the growing season because we direct seeded.  
  2. It seemed that there needed to be more clarity about who was watering, etc. as there were many, many days when it needed to be watered and wasn’t.  I was afraid to water because I didn’t know the schedule. Many starts were never planted and were consequently “wasted.”  Even unplanted starts can be used for salads, etc.
  3. The starts were “over-planted” so roots didn’t fully develop.  They likely should have been thinned considerably in the flats so they could develop a better root system before separating for planting.  
  4. Need to think through what the community will likely use the most of when planting.
  5. I love the idea of MOBY and wish the school could be more involved.  That said, it feels to me that we are sometimes overly ambitious with garden plans, etc. and when summer rolls around we are all overwhelmed.
  6. Hinderance was that it was a summer thing – and people are busy in the summer!
  7. The greenhouse needs to be a part of the school throughout the year. Moving the greenhouse down to the community plot was a great idea but the school staff and students lost the feeling of ownership. They were glad to share with the community but the learning process of how to work together needs further development and organization.
  8. I feel that MOBY was successful with those that knew and were involved with it.  To touch more people, the greenhouse needs to be shared, possibly hosting a few community classes on growing produce and having it more visible to the public from the beginning to the end, combined with the community garden plots could improve its community impact. 

Growing Sunday dinner in rural Alaska: Ted Eliot on Gardening

Written and published with Alaska’s Capital City Weekly

The days are getting shorter and full of rain. Many Southeast Alaskans are dreading the impending seasonal shift. In Hoonah however, one 12-old boy is pretty excited. Standing over his garden, Ted Elliot pops another snap pea into his mouth.

“The most exciting thing is the end of fall when you get to harvest all your stuff and have a good green meal,” Ted said.

Tucked into the center of town behind the Fishermen’s Daughter, a local restaurant shaped like a boat, sits a grid of raised garden beds called the Hoonah Healing Community Garden. These beds are free for community members to use. Exploding out of the bed that Ted has cared for over the past two years stands impressive snap pea bushes laden with pods. This season, Ted has been bringing fresh produce home to feed his family. His mother, Elleana Elliot, is beaming about it.

“I made jojos the other day from his potatoes! I invited his grandpa down and fed the whole house. We have a family dinner gathering every Sunday and different houses come down and its tradition. Ted has been bringing fresh greens to those Sunday dinners,” Elleana said with excitement.

Located on Chichagof Island, Hoonah is an isolated Tlingit community that is home to roughly 750 year round residents. Like all Southeast Alaskan communities, the great majority of store-bought food travels at a snail’s pace from the lower 48 by barge. Serving quality, fresh produce for family dinner is both challenging and expensive. Residents who aren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty, however, see this challenge as an opportunity to learn how to grow more locally.

“At first it wasn’t like this, the way we ate. It was more store bought carrots, more store bought potatoes, store bought snap peas which my mom don’t like that much,” Ted explained. “With gardening, we save a little bit of money and it’s tastier.”

And Ted’s green thumb isn’t just caring for one single raised bed.

“This is Moby,” Ted said as he marched into a small, bright, wooden structure beside the community garden. “Moby is a great and wonderful greenhouse on wheels.”

Moby the Mobile Greenhouse is a project by the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition and the Sustainable Southeast Partnership to kickstart greenhouse growing in rural Alaska. The structure was designed by students at the University of Alaska Southeast and built using local lumber by Juneau-Douglas High students. Moby comes equipped with raised beds and classroom curriculum.

When Moby first came to town in April, Hoonah teacher Melissa Thaalesen used the greenhouse as a tool to teach nutrition and healthy eating. Moby also provided starts for 12 community members looking to jumpstart garden growing. With the help of those seedlings, growers in the Healing Garden celebrated the lushest and most successful growing year since the community beds were raised in 2012. When school ended, Hoonah moved Moby to the Community Garden where volunteers, like Ted and his mother Elleana, began caring for it.

“It’s been a good food provider for us,” Ted said as he showed off chard, kale, peas, green beans, tomatoes and more. “It’s solar powered too! Not many greenhouses are solar powered which really saves on electricity and what not.”

A solar panel installed on the roof powers a fan that helps circulate air and regulate the temperature.

Below the solar panel and the growing space is another unique characteristic of Moby: wheels. Moby is made to move. Like many residents of Hoonah and Southeast, Moby gets a ticket on the Alaska Marine Highway System and can travel to different rural communities. Last year, Moby spent the growing season in Kake. This year, Moby paid Hoonah a visit. Next spring, Moby will begin its journey to a third community.

“I’m going to be sad when Moby moves to a new community but I’m excited that someone will go through the same experience I got to go through,” Ted said.

Where will Moby go? Applications will open in late October and any Southeast Alaskan community can apply. Teachers, individual schools, school districts and community organizations are eligible.

Ted’s advice for the next cohort of gardeners who get to fill Moby with greens:

“Be nice to Moby and Moby will be nice to you. If you weed its gardens it will give you whatever you planted. And if you don’t, you don’t get what you really want or maybe you get half as big as what you were thinking.”

Despite its transitory lifestyle, the impacts Moby leaves behind appear lasting in Hoonah. “It’s almost like Moby helped me,” Ted said. “My garden last year wasn’t that good. It helped me learn that daily weeding would lead to success.”

Community wide, Moby has helped seed momentum for a more permanent greenhouse project. Hoonah Indian Association and the City of Hoonah teamed up to initiate a feasibility study analyzing the economic viability of a district biomass heatloop. This proposed heatloop would connect and heat five downtown buildings with renewable energy. Community volunteers are itching to tether a greenhouse structure into that loop.

For now, as long as there are greens to gather in Moby or his raised bed, Ted will keep sharing.

“He will come home with a handful of snap peas every day and we put them in salads. He comes home all muddy and it’s nice to see him getting dirty again,” Elleana said.

Ted is currently deliberating how he will plant his garden next year. He’s considering focusing on carrots and potatoes. Of course, he plans to keep space for his famous snap peas.

“When he comes home, he tells me all about his snap peas and he has pride in his eyes. He’s learning, you know? He is getting involved and it’s pretty cool. We are very impressed and proud of him,” Elleana said.

 

Learn more about Moby the Mobile Greenhouse by clicking here!

 

On the Road with Moby, Alaska’s First Traveling Greenhouse

Written by Lia Heifetz for Edible Alaska

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Adam Davis drives the Mobile Greenhouse off the Alaska Marine Highway ferry to Kake.

Puzzled drivers look on as the greenhouse cruises down Egan Drive toward the Juneau ferry terminal. There it is delicately backed down the ramp and on to the Alaska Marine Highway ferry. After a seven-hour journey through fjords and around the numerous islands of the Inside Passage, it touches down at its new summer home in Kake, a small coastal community of about 400 residents. In Kake the greenhouse is towed off the ferry and to the school where the Organized Village of Kake, the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, and students of Kake High School get to try out their green thumbs.

Meet Moby, Alaska’s first classroom greenhouse on wheels. Moby’s walls rise about ten feet high from an 18-foot long flatbed trailer. With clear polycarbonate walls and ceiling, a solar powered fan for ventilation, a water catchment system, sturdy wooden raised beds, and hanging baskets brimming with rich topsoil, the greenhouse is nearly an all-inclusive growing system. All Moby needs is now sun, water, seeds, and some TLC, and it comes to life.

The beauty of a traveling greenhouse is its mobility. Moby travels with a mission: to share knowledge and food production skills with schools, and to support healthy students while growing vibrant, sustainable, and food-secure Alaskan communities. It’s a steppingstone that helps communities whet their appetite for local foods by providing a space for students and community members to engage in hands-on cultivation and education.

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Jaquelin Bennum, Simon Friday, Anthony Gastelum, Charles Duncan , and Loretta Gregory display fresh veggies produced in the greenhouse with pride. 

Throughout the spring, summer, and fall, Kake residents will use the greenhouse to kickstart local food cultivation. “The availability of fruits and vegetables is a challenge, the stores are expensive. Additionally, energy is expensive and there are not many jobs,” says Jacquelin Bennum, a senior at Kake High School and the president of the newly formed Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter here.

Moby’s visit to Kake is what prompted the group’s formation. “FFA and the greenhouse have taught me a lot about responsibility,” says Jacquelin. The FFA students oversee the planning, watering, weeding, thinning, and harvesting to maintain the greenhouse crops. “We have the opportunity to learn how to run a business. The greenhouse is a place where we can go to unite with people our age, to get to know each other, and get to know a little more about our wonderful land around us and how we can grow where we live,” says Jacquelin.

Cucumbers crawl up the windows, while squash, tomatoes, and giant Swiss chard burst from the beds. By late summer, Moby is full of life. and expanding its reach beyond the indoor space. Raised beds have been built outside, and the students are gaining skills and inspiration to grow food in the open air. “I learned how much water things need and how often I need to be up here. The rainy days I can pass by a day or two and it will still be moist,” reports Charles Duncan.

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Charles Duncan  holds up his harvest.

Charles is a 10th grader and the treasurer of the FFA in Kake. He harvests a handful of chard from the raised beds to reveal a couple of smaller plants growing underneath. “The plant I have to pay attention to the most is the chard, which absorbs the most water,” he says. A raised bed dedicated to chard is harvested by Jacquelin and Charles, and brought to the senior center to be shared with the elders for lunch. It’s a tradition in Kake to share the first harvest of the season. The rest of the day’s harvest is sold to raise funds for the FFA club.

Education, community, and student engagement have been priorities from Moby’s inception. The greenhouse was designed by Kaden Phillips, a University of Alaska Southeast student in the Construction Technology department. It was then built by Juneau Douglas High School students in their Basic Construction class using local cedar sourced from Icy Straits Lumber & Milling, based out of the nearby town of Hoonah. Juneau start-up AKReUse, a local company offering high-quality repurposed materials, also provided materials to construct Moby.

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Simon Friday gets to work in the Mobile Greenhouse learning hands-on skills in food cultivation in rural Alaska.

Kake is only the first stop for the traveling greenhouse. Each fall, rural communities in Southeast Alaska can apply to be Moby’s next home. Community partners are encouraged to submit applications and explain how using the greenhouse will help community food cultivation goals be realized.

The possibilities are endless – school gardening and farming allow the future leaders of Kake to recognize the potential for local food production. “It doesn’t mean we have to start big. Start small, slowly add on to it. Over time we could start an actual fresh business out of it,” says Jacquelin. Charles agrees, “What we planted has flourished and almost everything has grown. There is a giant possibility for something to happen. It is a great opportunity.”

Next spring Moby will be on the road again, with hopes of inspiring a new crop of Southeast Alaskan gardeners and farmers by planting seeds of awareness throughout the region.

Want Moby to visit your Southeast Alaskan school? Applications are Open, Click Here to Apply

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Kake School was so inspired by Moby the Mobile Greenhouse that the students built raised garden beds to continue growing fresh veggies in. 

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