More than 80% of Anchorage’s food supply arrives through the Port of Alaska, which sits on rusted pylons that could crumble in an earthquake. With this aging infrastructure and less than a week’s supply of food on grocery store shelves at any given time, food security is an ongoing concern for the city.
With funds, technical assistance, and increased capacity provided by Cities of Service, Anchorage took a multi-pronged approach to educate the community about local food security and production:
- AmeriCorps VISTA members, along with city staff and Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, went door to door in vulnerable communities to speak with residents and raise awareness about food security.
- City staff and AmeriCorps VISTA members worked with residents, schools, and carpenters and other skilled volunteers to build new community gardens and greenhouses with funds from Cities of Service.
- AmeriCorps VISTA members developed a curriculum called “Kids for Resilience” and worked with resident volunteers to conduct container garden workshops and classes to educate residents about food systems in Anchorage and how to grow food locally.
- Modeled after the Cities of Service Love Your Block mini-grant program, all Anchorage residents were invited to apply for grants of up to $1,000 for projects that improved food security and community resilience.
The city created new educational gardens that have engaged more than 100 volunteers to teach young students about the importance and value of growing food locally. The issue of food security is now much higher on the city’s agenda and awareness has increased across the city.
- Cities of Service AmeriCorps VISTA members helped Mountain View Elementary, located in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country with a high rate of unemployment, recruit volunteers to build a greenhouse for an after-school program that teaches students to grow their own food.
- The city also helped volunteers and teachers in the Fairview neighborhood to replicate the successful project in Mountain View, building a container garden and greenhouse at Fairview Elementary to teach children about growing food and healthy eating.
- Residents worked with the city to begin a formal school garden network with a dedicated advisory board and representation from the school district, university, various school garden support organizations, and government agencies. Building on the knowledge gained in Mountain View and Fairview, the network will provide curriculum and gardening resources, trainings for teachers, and a forum for communication and collaboration.
- The mini-grant program, funded by Cities of Service and the Alaska Department of Health and Human Service, awarded funds for 17 projects that involved more than 400 volunteers.
Keys to Success
The increased capacity in city hall provided by the AmeriCorps VISTA members was essential to the success of the program.
- AmeriCorps members spent considerable time out in city neighborhoods connecting with community groups and talking to residents find out their concerns and what they were passionate about.
- They also shared office space with the community development organization Anchorage Community Land Trust two days a week, which help them become familiar with the community members who came to the office for support.
- They used these connections and knowledge gained to create new programs, working with the city’s local community councils, skilled volunteers, and residents to facilitate projects proposed by teachers and other citizens, like school gardens.
“Having that ability for our [Cities of Service AmeriCorps] VISTAs to be in these communities on a daily basis gives us all a connection that we never had before.”
— Ona Brause, Deputy Chief of Staff to Mayor Berkowitz