Greens grow in the Tenakee Springs greenhouse run by Kevin and Carlene Allred. The greenhouse produces fresh produce all year long using geothermal heat. (Courtesy photo/Kevin and Carlene Allred)

Nourishing a community

Tenakee couple uses geothermal heat to produce fresh veggies

This story includes wording updates.

Despite snow on the ground and the chill in the air, Tenakee Springs residents are enjoying fresh, locally grown produce this winter — along with a side helping of community spirit and a heap of sustainability.

The New Moon Community Greenhouse, created and run by Kevin and Carlene Allred, furnished 48 large bags of greens to locals last month.

[On the Trails: Toxic birds and bugs]

The bags included spinach, swiss chard and bok choy–all produced by local volunteers using geothermal heat in the Southeast community of about 60 people. The cafe serves as a community gathering place for community members to meet and eat together.

“The greenhouse is a community greenhouse,” Kevin Allred said in a phone interview Tuesday morning. “It’s a place where people can gather and meet and eat. Volunteers sometimes cook, and people can go in there and have a treat and make a donation.”

Carlene Allred said the town’s small population during the winter means produce from the greenhouse can be shared with anyone interested.

Courtesy photo / Megan Moody 
Carlene and Kevin Allred stand outside their greenhouse in Tenakee Springs. The couple is using geothermal heat from an underground spring to heat the greenhouse and grow greens and other produce for local residents.

Courtesy photo / Megan Moody Carlene and Kevin Allred stand outside their greenhouse in Tenakee Springs. The couple is using geothermal heat from an underground spring to heat the greenhouse and grow greens and other produce for local residents.

“Our neighbors keep coming back for more salads,” she said. “In the summer, it’s mainly the greenhouse workers. There are more people here in the summer. In the winter, we all have all the salads we want.”

Carlene Allred does most of the planting and greenhouse work, the couple said.

“It’s a good way to enjoy fresh green salads three times a week,” Carlene Allred said, adding that each large bag of greens includes enough vegetables for a few meals.

This is the second winter that the greenhouse has created fresh produce for the people nearby. During the cold, dark months, the couple focuses on growing greens. However, Carlene Allred said that some tomatoes are about ripe this week.

The couple grows bell peppers, cucumbers, squash, and even okra in the summer. Last summer, they produced one pea-sized watermelon — an outcome they attribute to starting the process late in the season.

Geothermal heat from an underground spring keeps the greenhouse warm with dry heat. Grow lights supplement the sun during the dark months of the year.

[Flakes forecasted for February]

Carlene Allred said dry heat is essential because it helps the plants thrive by reducing the mold that can occur in a greenhouse.

Driven by a dream

The greenhouse is relatively new to the town, but the idea has been floating around for a while.

Kevin Allred said that a few years ago, a neighbor told him about a dream she had in which there was a greenhouse behind the local cafe.

Intrigued by the idea, Kevin Allred asked the owner of the cafe if he could build a greenhouse in the space. The owner rebuffed his offer.

However, a few years later, the cafe’s owner decided to leave town.

Based on an “odd set of circumstances,” the Allreds had just toured greenhouses on Prince of Wales Island and were full of excitement around the idea. They agreed to purchase the cafe with the plan to remodel it and build the greenhouse.

Kevin Allred said he found an opening to a warm spring on the beach near the cafe that allowed him to pipe geothermal heat into a greenhouse that he built using a kit he ordered from Alabama.

With the help of a Georgia-based nuclear engineer who happens to be an old friend of the couple, Kevin Allred created a system that captures the heat from the bedrock, circulates it into the building, and warms the soil.

Kevin Allred said the system creates enough excess heat to warm a nearby phone booth — giving Tenakee Springs what’s likely the world’s only geothermal-heated phone booth.

“The greenhouse is designed so that you eat fresh salads from the greenhouse in the greenhouse. That was my vision,” Kevin Allred said, noting that the temperature in the greenhouse is about 30 degrees warmer than the outside air, even on cold, winter days.

The couple hopes to eventually turn the enterprise into a nonprofit corporation so the work of the cafe and greenhouse can continue long into the future. They also hope to inspire others to look for ways to grow local produce.

“Alaska’s remoteness means we will have more and more need for an alternative way to get more fresh vegetables,” Kevin Allred said.

• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Jan. 29

Officer William Hicks stands with JPD Chief Ed Mercer and Deputy Chief David Campbell during a swearing in ceremony for Hicks on Thursday at the JPD station in Lemon Creek. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
New officer joins JPD’s ranks

The Juneau Police Department welcomed a new officer to its ranks Thursday… Continue reading

These photos show Nova, a 3-year-old golden retriever, and the illegally placed body hold trap, commonly referred to as a Conibear trap, that caught her while walking near Outer Point Trail last week. (Courtesy / Jessica Davis)
Dog narrowly survives rare illegally placed trap in Juneau

State wildlife officials outlined what to do if found in similar situation

Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Public defender agency to refuse some cases, citing staffing

ANCHORAGE — A state agency that represents Alaskans who cannot afford their… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police: Gift card scam connected to hoax Fred Meyer threats

This article has been moved in front of the Empire’s paywall. A… Continue reading

This is a concept design drawing that was included in the request for proposal sent out by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities seeking outside engineering and design services to determine whether it’s feasible to build a new ferry terminal facility in Juneau at Cascade Point. (Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities)
DOT takes steps toward potential Cascade Point ferry terminal facility

It would accommodate the Tazlina and or Hubbard, shorten trips to Haines and Skagway

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Friday, Feb. 3, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Daniel Winfree gets a standing ovation from the Alaska State Legislature as he enters the House chamber Wednesday to deliver his final State of the Judiciary speech. Winfree is stepping down next Monday when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Chief justice bids lawmakers a fervent farewell

Daniel Winfree, in State of Judiciary days before retirement, warns about mixing politics and courts

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, stands in the well of the House Chambers with other Democrats, including former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to hear Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., deliver remarks shortly after becoming the new minority leader on Jan. 6. The speech came after a nearly weeklong stalemate by Republicans in electing a speaker after they won a narrow majority in November’s election. (Screenshot from C-SPAN video feed)
Peltola learning the House party is over

Distractions and inaction replace honeymoon headlines as Alaska’s new rep joins minority.

Most Read