By noon most days, the kitchen of the XYZ Senior Center in Nome is bustling as employees prepare food for the several dozen residents and visitors that arrive for lunch.
Fresh vegetables were the centerpiece of one recent meal — a menu of veggie frittata, hash browns and pumpkin bread.
Crates of fresh produce line a walk-in storage room behind the kitchen. Director Sarah Huntsinger gestured at a box of bright orange carrots. “All of these have been just bursting with flavor,” she said. “They’re amazing.”
In October, the XYZ Center received a grant to buy local produce for its elders. But, like most places in western Alaska, fresh fruit and vegetables are in short supply by the onset of fall.
Enter Tim Meyers, who owns Meyers’ Farm in Bethel. Over the last 15 years, Tim has cultivated a commercial farming operation on the Lower Kuskokwim, which now includes 15 acres of enclosed greenhouse space and an underground root cellar for winter storage. Indeed, Tim says he’s now able to grow and store more than he can bring to market.
There’s only one problem: Freight is expensive. And most customers can’t afford to pay the shipping cost for several hundred pounds of veggies.
So when Sarah contacted Tim about produce for the XYZ Center, he told her he’d be happy to help – even throw in some extra veggies – as long as she could line up a cargo carrier. Sarah says additional assistance came in the form of Ravn Airlines, who flew the whole order to Nome without charge.
Laura Martin has been a cook in Nome for nearly twenty years. She now cooks for the XYZ Center, and said the vegetables were a welcome addition to her kitchen.
“Today we made hash browns with fresh potatoes,” she said. “Tomorrow we’ll have carrots. Carrot raisin salad. And then we’ll have a stew or something. Probably put some in that too. And I’d like to thank all those people who donated them.”
This gratitude was echoed by many during the hash brown lunch. Native Yupik-speaker Rose Attayak came forward with her own message of thanks for Tim and the employees of Ravn Airlines.
“I thank you so very much for the vegetables that you send,” she said. “They are so delicious, and God will bless you. Quyanna.”
Rose says the vegetables, for her, represent more than just a nutritious meal –they remind her of home in St. Michael and the garden her mom had when she was little.
For Sarah, the real joy is in seeing elders, who she views as part of her own family, remembered.
“I know they appreciate, not only the generosity within the community, but seeing that the community cares,” she said. “Because sometimes you just have that sense maybe you got forgotten. You don’t hear from someone or you don’t get that letter in the mail. So when you see the community do something simple like that, you see their little spirits liven up. It’s neat to see.”
She says the remaining Meyer’s Farm veggies will liven spirits — and meals — at XYZ for the next few weeks.