Deach the Greenhouses
Juneau, Alaska, USA
My daughter Ashley and I had an hour wait before boarding the plane out of Anchorage for Juneau. I left her with the luggage while I went off to the lady’s room. When I returned she was in lively conversation with Charlie.
“So, you have a greenhouse in Fairbanks, huh?” He queried.
“Yes, but I’m trying to sell the place. It’s listed right now.” I said.
“Well, I just finished a greenhouse symposium here. I have one, too in Juneau where I grow roses. My daughters help with the sales every year. We grow our own food, too.” Charlie said.
I jumped on the opportunity to inquire, “So, Charlie, are you interested in buying my place?”
“Never know, you have pictures? I’m ready to head out for work in other parts; it might be just the thing,” he replied.
He not only promotes the growth of the industry, which helps the economy, but he promotes tourism by acting as a tour guide to lost, lonely, wayward travelers. He invited me for coffee and to visit his greenhouse. I was interested, so I agreed to meet with him the next morning. The day after our arrival in Juneau he drove me to Mendenhall Glacier, downtown Juneau, across Gastineau Channel and bridge to Douglas Island, and up to the greenhouse for coffee. The greenhouse sat up the side of mountain off the Glacier Highway on a hilltop next to Glacier Gardens. I browsed the over fifty flats of thriving seed and watched as Charlie watered.
He then proceeded to regale me with complaints about the guy next door.
“He’s crazy as a loon,” he said, “uprooting dead tree stumps and using ‘em as planters.”
Charlie seemed a little hostile toward his neighbor. Later, I took the tour of Glacier Gardens on my own. Golf carts manned and ready drive tourists into the high wooded areas to an overlook where they can walk the boardwalk, fully fenced and safe, to view Juneau and the airport. It was gorgeous.
Charlie is a rock man by trade and heavy equipment operator; a hard-working transplant from the Midwest. Incongruously, he loves to grow roses. He has lived and worked in Juneau the past twenty-years and he relishes his privacy.
He calls his greenhouse business Sunrise Acres and his rose business does thrive according to him. It is not a commercial operation or at least not by commercial standards; it’s Charlie’s hobby. Many other homeowners in Alaska do the same thing.
Charlie agitation over his neighbors’ zany antics, which actually generated quite an income and gets nationwide attention, incited a fiery in him. We’ve all heard some time or other the old saying, “Life’s a beach and then you die.” Well, to Charlie life’s a deach and then you fly. Deach, that’s Charlie’s last name. Charlie has a saying. “Life isn’t made up of what you try to get, it’s made up of what you settle for.” Life is sedentary. To live is to do, move and shake. That is the key. Charlie is a mover and a shaker; a real high flyer.
“Oh, I’m just tired of it. I want to be a real Alaskan. I plan to own piece of land out in the middle of nowhere. I’ve had it with Juneau.” Charlie declared, “and neighbors like that.”
There are two commercial greenhouses in Juneau and many more private ones; eleven total in the entire southeast. Locals grow a lot of the their own food as a means to survive the costs of goods shipped in from the lower 48. The growing season is short in Alaska, but what does grow grows bigger and faster due to the long days and warm summer temperatures that promote rapid growth and maturity within a very short period of time.
|The force that drove Charlie to Prince of Wales|
The next time I saw Charlie, which was four years later, he had gone on the road, or water and air, as the case may be, and worked all over southeast Alaska and from Anchorage and Yakatat and Valdez to Ketchikan. Charlie and his boss Fred were at his home in Juneau when I showed up. They took up residency in the greenhouse, if you can imagine. He gave up on roses. Ripe cherry tomato plants drooped heavy-laden with fruit above their beds tucked in the corners. Rows of vines growing hydroponically reached toward the ceiling supported by string and tape. Renters occupied the house Charlie owns. A “For Sale” sign looms on the crooked fence.
Charlie is a character and high on life. He dug deachs if you get my meaning and worked damn hard for thirty-five of his fifty-six years. He showed me pictures of his new place. A hunting lodge on Prince of Wales that on May 16th he signed a purchase agreement to make his. At last, his Alaska dream lifestyle was at hand. The price ticket of the lodge was a cool $1.7 million. Signed, sealed and delivered. Charlie will literally have to fly since it sits forty miles west of Wrangell. He’s going to buy a plane. He has a sawmill! He’s like a little boy with all new toys.
I can find many excuses to go back to Alaska, for instance seeing the for-me-nots in bloom exploding in the roadside ditches, and to see Charlie. And someday I will take off on another adventure to surprise Charlie on Prince of Wales.
There are seventy-four commercial greenhouse businesses in the entire state of Alaska according to the USDA Department of Agriculture and of course, many more landscape-related contractors, nursery, garden centers, and the like. Thirty-four of these greenhouse businesses are located in the Anchorage area and Mat-Su Borough, eleven in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, and twelve on the Kenai Peninsula. The combined annual sales from the greenhouse businesses are $13.4 million with a peak labor force of 450 workers. No annual statistics have been compiled for the other related businesses, but employment is estimated to be about 2000 workers each year.
The University of Alaska provides little support for this industry in terms of post secondary education or workforce development. There is a purposed initiative to acquire $171,000 to design a horticulture program that meets the needs of this industry. A two-year zssociates degree program in horticulture at the University of Alaska will accomplish this.