Glory Hole plans downtown garden

Project to provide shelter patrons with healthy activity, food

Posted: Monday, September 07, 2009

The Glory Hole is preparing for growth next spring - edible growth, that is.

Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

The downtown homeless shelter and soup kitchen is planning to create a terraced community garden behind its building on South Franklin Street along with the first public rooftop garden in Juneau.

The project sprouted from the idea of providing patrons of the nonprofit with a healthy activity, Executive Director Mariya Lovishchuk said. It is also a sustainable way to produce some fresh food for the soup kitchen and a tool for the Glory Hole to connect with more people in the community and destigmatize the shelter, she said.

"We do serve a certain segment of the population, and anyone can be in the segment of the population, but I think it's important to reach out to other people too," Lovishchuk said. "I thought we could do that with this garden."

The idea is to reserve two-thirds of the garden for public use. Community members will be able to sign up for a plot for $10 for the summer gardening season.

"I think if you have a meaningful project that people can work on kind of side by side regardless of their socioeconomic issues, it really is super helpful to everybody," Lovishchuk said. "It contributes to a better community."

There are a number of patrons of the Glory Hole that have mental health and depression issues that spend much of their day aimlessly milling about the homeless shelter, she said. The garden will provide the patrons with something to do, and also a responsibility. The plan is for gardening to be one of the required chores for people staying at the Glory Hole to help with, Lovishchuk said.

"I think it is really helpful to people when they can be responsible for something and create something," she said.

Darren Snyder, a University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension service agent that is involved with the project, said community gardens provide myriad benefits to the community. First and foremost is fresh and healthy food, he said, plus healthy activity and a good social environment.

"People are saying they want to be able to garden and some people don't have enough space," he said. "Some people want to garden with other folks and some people want grow their own food close to their homes."

There is limited space downtown so the terraced garden is an exciting and appropriate way to utilize the land, Snyder said.

"This is going to be kind of neat model for people to see how we're doing it there," he said. "There are so many hillsides around here that could be cultivated that are not, so it's a nice model for that."

And it will be exciting to have the first community rooftop garden in Juneau, if all goes as planned, Snyder said.

Christopher Mertl, a landscape architect for Jensen Yorba Lott Architects working on the project, said it is becoming more popular to restore urban areas into sustainable landscapes that are actually producing food.

"Green roofs are definitely becoming very popular throughout the United States, especially urban areas where you have limited open space," he said.

Mertl and other project planners are still working out the details of the roof gardening, which may or may not be ready next summer because of the permitting process and the scope of the project. The planners are restricted by the load capacity of the roof and are still investigating soil mixes that would work and protect the integrity of the roof membrane, Mertl said.

"If we have flat roofs we might as well use them, and growing on top of them just makes sense so we're trying to get that going," Snyder said.

It's too early to know what the cost of the project will end up being, but there have already been donations through the Wal-Mart Foundation and the Juneau Community Foundation, Lovishchuk said.

The community garden planners will host a public meeting on the project at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Glory Hole.

"The community should come to the meeting and get informed with what we are doing," Lovishchuk said. "People's input is really welcome."

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or

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