Pilgrim Hot Springs test garden sees its first harvest
The snowcapped Kigluaik mountains towered over the still lush green grass and golden leaves clinging to cottonwood trees as a small group of three caretakers began their joyous task of harvesting the first test crops at Pilgrim Hot Springs last Friday.
Shovel and pitchfork in hand and a giddy look on their faces, Bering Strait Development Corporation employees Dan Martinson and Tasha Lee, and Kawerak’s Anahma Shannon went about to dig out potatoes after having harvested onions, carrots and radishes.
During a previous harvest, the group had already harvested lettuce and other greens, which were distributed to elders in Nome via Nome Eskimo Community and the XYZ center.
The modest harvest signals the beginning of what can potentially be a larger operation, supplying Nome and the region with cover crops, potatoes, cabbages and other vegetables grown courtesy of the warmth emanated by the hot springs.
On a nice day, the 65-mile drive up the Kougarok Road is scenic and breathtaking; the last seven miles off the road to Pilgrim is just as scenic but a rough and bumpy ride. Closer to the entrance, Lee was all excited that her efforts to clear debris from a culvert worked and water gurgled busily through the culvert, instead of flooding the road as before. Another sign of new improvements was an outhouse, two shipping containers storing agricultural equipment and a sandy parking lot in front of a newly welded gate that prevents cars from driving into the hot springs area. At the hot springs, the so-called infinity pool is lined with rocks and is fed by hot water that can be regulated from inside a new cabin that functions as a changing room adjacent to the pool.
Pilgrim Hot Springs, formerly owned by the Fairbanks Catholic Diocese was sold in 2010 and its new owners are Unaatuq, LLC, a consortium made up of the Bering Straits Native Corporation, Sitnasuak Native Corporation, Kawerak, Inc., Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation, White Mountain Native Corporation and Mary’s Igloo Native Corporation. BSNC is the property manager and onsite project leader, spearheading the effort to explore community supported agriculture.
At the beginning of this year, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture National Resources Conservation Service granted $224,000 to conduct a market study and to come up with a business plan to sketch out what can be grown at Pilgrim, what the market possibilities are and how those efforts can be accomplished.
The first steps were to install said culvert to keep the property from flooding as busy beavers were damming a slough near the road. That mission was accomplished. Other improvements this summer included a fence, which protects the test garden from wildlife and the beginning of a soil enhancement project of composted horse manure mixed with seaweed collected from Nuuk. Also, water containers were placed in the garden to irrigate the crops that consisted of greens, lettuce, radishes, carrots, peas, cabbage, tomatoes and two sunflowers.
Calypso Farms from Fairbanks helped as consultants for soil enrichment.
A meeting of the Unaatuq board is scheduled for this Friday, Sept. 23 with a site visit on Saturday, Sept. 24.
Bering Strait Development Corporation’s Robert Bensin said, after the board provides direction, the next steps are that the core group of employees will coordinate with the community a discussion about what the plan is for the 2017 growing season.