There were plenty of healthy crops and healthy spirits to be found on Saturday at the 28th Annual Juneau Community Garden Harvest Fair.
Hosted by the Juneau Community Garden board members, this year’s fair marked the first time the event has been held since the COVID-19 pandemic, and based on the large turnout, the community was eager to return, as well.
Cynthia Krehbiel serves as the event coordinator and had a hand in orchestrating many of the fair’s events, such as the farmers market that featured food straight from the community garden, food concessions and bake sale, exhibits and tours, along with children’s activities and live music. Krehbiel said this year’s turnout was better than expected given that the morning had started with a lot of rain.
“It’s been even better than I could have ever anticipated, I thought with the weather it might be a little questionable, but it’s been awesome, so great to see so many people not only from the garden but the community enjoying the events,” Krehbiel said.
Contests were broken into separate groups for adults and youths and featured judges casting votes over a wide selection of categories. The winners for the Harvest Fair Grand Champion for adults were Doug Edgar for his celery in Division A vegetables, Kim Keiffer for largest and most unusual pumpkin, Heather Muller’s tarragon for Division C herbs, Odette Edgar’s raspberries for Division D fruits, Cynthia Krehbiel for best flower arrangement, Paul Dzwonski for mixed berries in prepared foods, and Kim Garnew’s vegetables for best harvest baskets.
In the youth division, Evelyn Hochstoeger’s cabbage won for Division A and her carrots won for Division B. Hannah Dolan’s Rainbow Silence Dahlia’s won Division F Flowers.
Earlier in the week each plot within the garden was judged for a variety of different categories such as “corniest” and “pumpkinest”, best scarecrows, mintiest, glorious gladiolas, tallest sunflowers, most cruciferous, most floriferous, best lilies and many more. The garden, which is located on a 4-acre spread of public land, was started in 1990 and consists of 168 plots with 29 small beds for climbing plants.
Odette Edgar along with Pat Harris volunteered to judge some of the various items submitted in the exhibits and this year. They both shared their excitement and surprise over just how many submissions they received given that it has been mostly a rainy summer in Juneau.
“Pat ran the exhibits before I did, so between us we both have a lot of years of putting this on and it’s like a scramble, it starts at 9 a.m. and it’s done by noon,” Edgar said. “So, all of these entries come in and we have 10 judges from the community, usually from outside of the garden, who judge and award prizes. This is our first time back since 2019 and it’s just really a great thing to be able to finally be back at it.”
Harris added: “We had sunflowers this year, which I don’t think we’ve ever had before. Sunflowers and pumpkins, this seems to be the year of pumpkins; more ripe pumpkins than we’ve ever seen in the garden before, it’s just fantastic.” “It really enforces the idea of a community garden when you can get together at the end of the season and show each other what you’ve been able to grow, that’s what I love about it.”
Odette Edgar and her husband Doug have been in Juneau for over 30 years and have spent the last 14 of those years volunteering with the garden as well as growing and maintaining three plots of garlic, asparagus and lettuce among other crops. Like many others, they, too, look forward to every year’s harvest and appreciate being part of a special space they feel gives so much back in return.
“The garden’s been here for quite some time, more than 25 years, and it’s just a beautiful place to come during the week; I’m retired so coming out here is like coming to a park, the birds are singing, the sun’s shining, you can’t ask for much more,” Doug Edgar said. “It’s a great community here at the garden, we’re always finding new people to learn things from.”
Pat McLear has served on the board of trustees as the secretary for the last 8 years, and despite her strong Boston accent, she’s been a proud Juneau resident for the last 42 years. McLear said it was nice to see the crowds back at the fair.
“It’s nice to be back in the groove of things. This is the City and Borough of Juneau land, we are guests on this and we rent the plots, anybody in the public is welcome to get on the waitlist from the website, folks and go on there and get more information,” McLear said. “The board of trustees is all volunteers; anybody who has a plot is required to put in five hours of service towards what needs to be done around here, so many hands, light work.”
McLear said that since the garden collaboration has an agreement with the city, a certain percentage of the plots are designated for charity. McLear added that a lot of pride is taken by the fact that they donate much of what they grow to many different food pantries around Juneau such as Douglas Methodist Church, Temple Sukkat Shalom, Shepherd of the Valley, Resurrection Lutheran and more.
This was Mae Wu’s first year as a volunteer and her first year growing vegetables in her own plot. Wu said she chose to grow bok choy because it’s not very popular in the area. Wu said she’s been overwhelmed by the acceptance of the garden community and inspired by how dedicated everyone is to their individual plots within the garden.
“It’s fabulous, it’s beyond expectation from just what I know about the garden since I’ve been here just this past July. I signed up for a plot here in mid-July, which is a little late here for everything, and I can see a lot of flowers and a lot of people working hard here and now on the harvest day, I haven’t been here for the last two weeks and I see the sunflowers growing so big, the amount of how much people put their care into this garden and the support from the community, it’s really beautiful.”
According to Delores O’Mara, vice president of the community garden board members, they’re now taking plot applications for next year for anyone within the community who might be interested in getting involved.
“We’re taking applications for plots for next year. It’s actually turning over fast enough now, our waitlist is down enough now that people can expect to get a plot within one season,” O’Mara said. “A lot of what people enjoyed today was seeing the giant sunflowers and the corn and the things people think won’t grow here but then you look around and it’s amazing what you can actually grow here; we’ve had a really good year.”
• Contact reporter Jonson Kuhn at firstname.lastname@example.org.