While the summer growing season is nearing its end, the tables at the Northway Mall Wednesday Market are still packed with fresh vegetables.
This week, there were thick bundles of kale, collards and other leafy greens; bulging plastic bags filled with purple and gold potatoes; fresh herbs and piles of bright orange carrots. There were bunches of dark pink radishes, hefty zucchini and a tray of spicy, vibrantly colored nasturtium flowers for garnish.
That’s just one booth.
The Fresh International Gardens stand — part of the Refugee Farmers’ Market Program — sells produce from a community garden in North Mountain View. Developed in 2007, the program is a partnership between the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Cooperative Extension Service and Catholic Social Services’ Refugee Assistance & Immigration Services. A colorful sign hanging from the front of the Fresh International Gardens booth explains the concept behind the program; how it aims to cultivate business skills and help refugees strengthen their English.
Prem Niroula, 22, said his mother has been involved with the garden since his family moved to Anchorage from Nepal about three years ago. A native of Bhutan, he said it took two years of waiting and paperwork before he could make the trip to Alaska with his parents and three siblings. When they arrived, they spoke little English.
“They never learned English in Nepal or in Bhutan so it is a pretty difficult thing to speak,” Niroula said Wednesday.
He said the garden program helps his mother and many other new Alaskans put down roots in their adopted community.
For his mother, Niroula said gardening is pretty nearly a full-time job: She works at two other plots besides the garden on McPhee Avenue, and spends Wednesdays and Saturdays selling the produce at local farmers’ markets.
While Niroula doesn’t garden, he said he occasionally accompanies his mother to the Northway Mall market and the Spenard Farmers’ Market to help translate. On Wednesday morning, he helped affix sticky note labels to ziplock bags filled with green peas and a pile of red-brown beets. He said his family often cooks curry with potatoes and cabbage; he’s also fond of the big zucchinis. But if he could only pick one of vegetables grown from the Mountain View garden?
“I love carrots,” he said.
The Northway Mall Wednesday Market is operated by Anchorage Markets and runs 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Oct. 1. Fresh International Gardens accepts Quest tokens.