Growing local in Naknek

Jul 10, 2017

Jodie Hazenberg of "Jodie's Ideas" has found new retail success with her produce and flowers in Naknek. And she likes a challenge: "They said you cannot grow corn in Alaska. Well I’ve had corn for 10 years, every year,” she says.

Jodie Hazenberg said she learned one has to shake the corn seeds to yield a better crop.
Credit Caitlin Tan / KDLG

Growing conditions in Alaska are unlike anywhere else in the U.S., with summer nights where the sun barely sets, winter days where the sun rarely rises and sub-zero temperatures.

But Jodie Hazenberg has found a way. She has been growing gardens in Naknek for 21 years and today she has five greenhouses and supplies locals and two lodges with produce.

“And they said you cannot grow corn in Alaska. Well I’ve had corn for 10 years, every year,” she said. “You put the seed in the ground and you water it. I’m telling you it’s as simple as that.”

After moving from Southern California 31 years ago, Hazenberg said she missed green vegetation. She originally started just selling flowers, but later saw a demand for produce. Today her business, ‘Jodie’s Ideas,’ is nestled in right next to her house.

“The guys would come in to the retail and say where’s the groceries? You got anything to eat?,” Hazenberg said. “I went 'just like a guy, always wants to eat.' But it dawned on me that well I guess yes, it’s time to start growing food.”

Tomatoes are her specialty, as she went to a tomato growing school in Arizona. But Hazenberg grows everything, including corn, melons, herbs, flowers, greens, roots, apple trees, peppers and squash, just to name a few. She said there is nothing she will not try to grow.

“I will try it. That’s what happened with the ghost peppers. My friend said, ‘The hottest pepper there is is a ghost pepper and I bet you can’t grow that.’ And I did it,” Hazenberg said.

Sure enough, she has a plant with a dozen ghost peppers sprouting.

Jodie’s grandkids help her in the greenhouses, sometimes working, but often just with their company.
Credit Caitlin Tan / KDLG

Hazenberg has three greenhouses that support mostly flowers and some produce. Her larger structures are two tunnels – almost exclusively produce.

She built them last year after receiving a grant through the Foraker group. Ironically, the money originates from the Pebble Mine, but Jodie is a strong anti-mine activist, wearing her ‘no-Pebble Mine’ hat.

“I asked them at the meeting. Just because I’m getting money from Pebble does that mean I have to affiliate with them? Because I’m 100 percent anti, and they said no,” she said. “And I said good because Pebble Mine cannot be, because it would kill the fishing industry and then there’d be none of us living in these villages.”

As this is an inaugural year for the tunnels, Hazenberg said she is excited to see how it goes. She is on her third harvest of the season now. She starts seeding in March inside her house to keep the plants warm and transplants in April.

For this to all be financially feasible, Hazenberg has two other gigs. She owns Redline Taxi and mows 20 lawns in the community. She is either on the clock or on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

She said at the end of the day she is probably only making $4 an hour.

“Do I make any money? Kind of but not. I do make money I do get a paycheck, I get payed meals, I get to have a little vacation,” Hazenberg said. “It’s a labor of love. Sometimes I get outside and I’ve sat there and thought why am I doing this? But someone will come up and say thank you for doing what you do. These different people didn’t come right when I needed them who knows maybe I would’ve given up.”

Hazenberg has faced other challenges with gardening in Alaska, one being too much sunlight. She said the plants bulk up too quickly with the 20-plus hours of sunlight in the summer. She is hoping to implement man-made shade in the future.

Another problem, surprisingly given Alaska’s cold climate, is heat. The tunnels are well insulated and can reach temperatures upwards of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. To counteract this Hazenberg has fans, vents and sometimes she opens the main garage-like door, as well. The ideal temperature for the plants is 80 degrees.

She also has radios on in every greenhouse to ward off bears.

Hazenberg said what keeps her motivated is feeding the community.

“You’ve been in the grocery stores right? And you’ve seen the condition of the vegetables?,” she said. “When you get a head of lettuce and you have to peel off 10 layers of paper because it’s no longer something you can eat it’s just disgusting. I know these stores try but there’s a lot to keep it fresh and they’re two weeks out.”

Hazenberg does not use pesticide on her plants. She and her grandkids will eat snap peas fresh off the stem.

In the future she said she hopes to provide more locals with fresh produce. She is even entertaining the idea of creating an “afternoon delight” type of place, renovating an old boat into a seating area for people to drink tea and enjoy the nature. She said as the gardens grow she might even do a $10, you-pick and eat deal.

Reach the author at caitlin@kdlg.org or 907.842.5281

Jodie has two tunnel greenhouses, which are new to her operation. In this picture is her self-proclaimed “corn field.”
Credit Caitlin Tan / KDLG