By Melinda Munson

A portion of USS 994 Lot 1, previously leased by the municipality to Jewell Gardens, was set aside for a community garden at the June 18 assembly meeting.

The lease to Jewell Gardens expired over one year ago.

“During Covid, unfortunately, operations became unrealistic,” said owner Max Jewell who took over the business after his mother, Charlotte, died. Jewell also cited problems with bookkeeping that prevented him from reestablishing the lease. Jewell requested he be allowed to negotiate the purchase of the 1.3 acres, where he would set aside space for a community garden.

“The land is not for sale, it has never been for sale,” said Assemblymember Dustin Stone, who noted, “Sometimes sitting up here, doing your duty doesn’t necessarily feel good.”

The current community garden, consisting of 26 beds and various fruit trees and berry bushes, is located behind the playing fields at the school. Garden organizer Laura Mabee said the location is small, with the ever present possibility of being ousted.

“Community garden spaces are incredibly important. It’s a quality of life issue,” said Assemblymember Potter. “…If you’re lucky enough to have a place to live in Skagway, there’s a very strong chance that you do not have space to garden and grow your own food. And that’s why I support this.”

Assemblymembers Sam Bass, Orion Hanson and a few citizens present suggested postponing the vote. Mayor Andrew Cremata pointed out the resolution, 22-18R, had been reviewed and recommended by the Parks and Recreation Committee and that a vast majority of the correspondence to the assembly was in favor of the measure.

Stone spoke to the necessity of making decisions quickly to have the community garden ready for next year and maintain soil quality. 

“So I believe the intent of moving this forward at this point was so that we could start working out there to prepare it for the next season and keep those existing beds and that existing soil viable … We’re all very busy in this community and it is a short season. So it’s sort of boots on the ground time,” he said.

Hanson eventually voted for the resolution but cautioned the body “that it is in the best public interest to collaborate with Jewel ownership.” He noted that parking access for the lot was complicated due to its location.

Bob Fink, garden enthusiast, expressed his gratitude for the original community garden. Started in part by Dorothy Brady, it contained just four garden beds. 

“I want to thank the city for allowing me a space to have a garden. I was one of the first people there, and I’m still gardening there. It’s been a part of my emotional, spiritual healing. It kept me here. Without that garden, I wouldn’t have stayed in this town as long as I have,” he said.

Jewell said the loss of the land lessens his brand.

‘Without this [land] we are just a restaurant and glassblowing company,” he said.

Municipal staff will now “pursue a survey of the property, create a long-term design and maintenance plan, and recommend budget allocations for implementation and maintenance of this plan,” according to the resolution.