What is Alaska Seeds of Change?
This nonprofit, also referred to as “Seeds” is a division of Alaska Behavioral Health Services. Seeds employ and empower Anchorage-area youth by promoting self-reliance and community involvement to grow and sell fresh produce. Young people, ages 16-24, develop the vocational and personal skills to become successful adults. Paid apprentices come via McLaughlin Youth Center, Cook Inlet Tribal Council, or Nine Star. Other youths get there by earning school credit with King Tech High School, SAVE High School, or through the Anchorage School District’s Gifted Mentorship Program. Youth who work at Seeds of Change also receive training on housing, higher education, future planning, and money management. Program staff work with the youth to connect them to financial, educational, employment, parenting, and housing supports. Youth also have the option to enroll in mental health services with Alaska Behavioral Health such as formal case management, skill development, and clinical therapy. The kids who work at Alaska Seeds of Change are encouraged to come back often, even after their apprenticeship or employment ends, to continue receiving support and to share their experiences and mentor others in the program.
One Shining Example
Two years ago, Christine didn’t think she would graduate from high school, let alone be prepared for and ready for a full-time job. In May, she successfully graduated from high school, and now she says she’s confident she will be able to find a job and support herself. What happened? Christine became involved with Alaska Seeds of Change, first as an Apprentice, then as a greenhouse grower, and eventually working her way up to be the program’s Skills Development Specialist. She left Seeds this summer because she was ready and excited to try a different job, but confident that she had learned the management and customer service skills to get an even better job.
How Does the Growing Work?
Alaska Seeds of Change grows a variety of crops hydroponically (without soil) using what is called ZipGrow Towers. Herbs and greens grow vertically, which maximizes space and energy inside the facility. Seeds are germinated in the “seed sauna” for a few days, then they move to “sprout city.” After a few more days, workers move the sprouts to a tower where they constantly receive water and nutrition to grow. Crops can take anywhere from 30 to 60 days until they are ready to harvest.
Whose (Brilliant) Idea Was This?
Alaska Seeds of Change planted their first seeds in the facility in December 2016. The program was founded by Michael Sobocinski, the former Chief Operating Officer at Anchorage Community Mental Health (now called Alaska Behavioral Health), who envisioned teaching kids hydroponics while offering them needed mental health services by focusing on each person’s strengths. The program has become a huge success.
“We are so much more than a greenhouse,” says Ryan Witten, Program Manager at Alaska Seeds of Change. “We empower youth to move up through our business, and then to move on to adulthood with the skills they need to be successful.”
What Happens to the Produce That is Grown By Seeds?
The lettuce, kale, basil, mint, dill, chervil, swiss chard, bok choy, chives, cilantro, and other greens that are grown at Alaska Seeds of Change are sold to grocery stores and restaurants. You’ll find their produce at the AC Stores in Nome and Dillingham. Restaurant customers work with Arctic Harvest Deliveries to receive the greens. Current restaurant customers include Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop, Pangea, Spenard Roadhouse, and Sweet Caribou. Nothing that is grown in the program is wasted. Every month, greens that are trimmed off are given to local families who raise chickens and ducks in exchange for eggs that participants can take home to eat. When they have greens that can’t be sold, they are donated to Bean’s Café or Alaska Food Bank. Alaska Seeds of Change also operates Evies Brinery. Hydroponically grown herbs from Seeds are added to Alaska Grown produce to make naturally fermented sauerkrauts, kimchis, and salsas. All of the products are made in small batches, making them nourishing and easy to serve.
Do They Grow Outdoors, Too?
In addition to the Alaska Seeds of Change facility off Arctic Blvd. in midtown, they also have several outdoor areas where they can grow crops that don’t work well hydroponically, including cabbage and tomatoes. Outdoor crops are grown in raised beds outside of the midtown facility, as well as at Steller Secondary School. This summer, they will add another outdoor growing location when they take over an area at 3rd & Ingra at the former Alaska Native Medical Center.
What Else Does Seeds Do?
Alaska Seeds of Change is co-located with another program called the Power Center. Youth are encouraged to “hang out” in the Center where they can get a hot meal and get food to take home. Staff is available to help connect youth to services they need. They also have lots of donated supplies of clothing and general hygiene products that youth can take as they are needed. The Center is a great place to just hang out with friends, to watch some TV, or to work on homework.
Alaska Seeds of Change also offers hydroponics classes, hosts field trips, and does workshops for the general public. Learn more at www.akseedsofchange.com Like them on Facebook or call them at (907) 261-5330.