Last month, I had the privilege of visiting Alaska for the first time. I was one of the speakers at the annual Alaska VegFest, held in Grant Hall at Alaska Pacific University on Saturday, September 7th.
I’m from the cornfields of Indiana. Our nearly flat landscapes consist of telephone poles that line roads crisscrossing the state—and dotted with farms and groves of hardwood trees at the back edge of property lines. Of course, there’s also the urban sprawl happening around the few metropolitan areas, along with several state parks. But those parks aren’t the main attraction. Indiana is primarily known for the Indy 500, basketball, and festivals with food trucks.
So you can only imagine my delight as co-founder of the Alaska Vegan Society and my host, Delisa Renideo drove me to her and her husband Charlie’s beautiful home nestled on a pristine lake near Wasilla. The views from the outskirts of Anchorage to their place were stunning. . .my eyes were on overload already. . .and it had only been the scenery along the highway!
That day, I had no idea I was about to be introduced to the most gigantic garden plants I’d ever seen. Being the daughter of a horticulturist, I had always been around plants from my earliest memory. My father would plant a garden every spring, and he and my mother would preserve the various produce in the late summer months. Naturally, as an older adult, and especially after I lost 100 pounds eleven years ago by embracing a plant-based lifestyle, I like to grow vegetables now too.
After I put my luggage down and walked outside, I gasped at the most breathtaking garden I’d ever seen! It wasn’t merely a plot of soil tucked away in the corner of a backyard. No, it was the focal point of exquisite beauty between the house and the lake!
Delisa grew kale, collards, snap peas, potatoes, tomatoes, and a myriad of other colorful treats, including berries and gorgeous flowers. (Later, I got to visit her friend’s garden and pull carrots for the VegFest. Her plants were equally beautiful!) I’d envisioned igloos and snow as a part of the Alaska experience; not gardens that’d cause me to squeal with delight!
It was so much fun to enjoy meals centered around vegetables and fruit straight from the garden. Delisa is also the author of The Barefoot Gardener in the Kitchen Cookbook and is s a master artist in the garden and the kitchen. Her meals were simple, but incredibly delicious.
All of the speakers for the VegFest stayed at Charlie and Delisa’s home and thoroughly enjoyed their gracious hospitality (they own Lakeside Gardens B&B). The day after the VegFest, they took us to see Matanuska Glacier and Hatcher Pass, and we hiked Gold Cord Lake Trail. . .followed by an exquisite vegan dinner prepared by the board members of the Alaska Vegan Society. The dinner was hosted at their friend Peggy’s home (where I had pulled the carrots earlier). Indiana “Hoosiers” are known for their hospitality, but Alaskan hospitality wins the prize!
I’ll never forget my week soaking up Alaska’s beauty; nor will I forget the generosity and friendliness of its people.