Deach The Greenhouses
This shows a soft side of rugged Alaskan. But he got one too many speeding tickets and wants out of Juneau.
Who can afford the fuel costs in sixty-five below weather? I started out in Fairbanks learning about what not to do in Alaska with a greenhouse. First thing one should do is not attempting it unless you are independently wealthy. If you're not, forget it, at least in Fairbanks surrounded by the Alaskan Range and Mt. Hayes. On the way back to the lower 48 I visited a friend in Juneau for a week and learned even more. For instance, did you know that Juneau is not spelled ‘You Know?’
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 at 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. The guides drive tourists higher into the rainforest to view old growth and landslide devastation. According to the guide the trees are stressed from the climate, hot and cold, natural disasters, etcetera, which causes a weakness in the tree. And thus, the limbs of the hemlock wither and easily break falling on unsuspecting loggers, back in the day. The loggers that made it back home coined a loving term for the haggard limbs; "widow-makers".
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's agitation over his neighbors' zany antics, which generates quite an income and gets nationwide attention, incited a fury in him. More infuriates him. Like numerous speeding tickets and a fine for not renewing his auto insurance on time.
"The cops in this town, they really get my dander up. I've been all over this State working and I get ticketed for no insurance when I get back. It's just time I get out of here."
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.
Homeowners and commercial businesses across the state help make the greenhouse industry, which is the largest agricultural industry in Alaska, by a massive distribution of plants that takes place within a few short weeks in May and June. To operate in the winter in Fairbanks is unheard of, not that it couldn’t be done. The temperatures in Juneau are moderate in comparison. The fuel and electric bills would bankrupt the best of them, so most never attempt it anymore.
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 from Anchorage to 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 find many reasons to return to Alaska; for instance, the delight I get seeing blue explosions of for-me-nots in bloom along the roadside ditches, the thrill my ear gets at the sound of whales and sight of water spewing like Vesuvius from their blow holes, hiking ten hours at Bridget Point, and seeing Charlie. Someday I will take off on another adventure to surprise him at his new home on Prince of Wales. Charlie Deach left his greenhouse days behind and set off in the wilderness to be a true Alaskan.
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 Associates Degree program in Horticulture at the University of Alaska will accomplish this.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Linda also studied painting at the Art Academy in Loveland, CO and loves to travel, write, paint, design, and decorate.