The home that CIRI shareholder Jeanette “Jet” Tautfest and life-partner Elwin York have created in the backwoods of Sutton is a botanical wonderland of rock gardens, perennial beds and a quirky collection of garden art. In one bed is a plastic skeleton riding atop an old rusty seed-spreader. In another, somebody’s discarded ceramic bust. A Buddha here, an alien there, and flowers everywhere else. It’s like the aftermath of a collision between a floral delivery van and a second hand truck.
The creativity that turned their property into an outdoor gallery can also be found in the nursery business they’ve created together, Lulu’s Garden, which sells annual and perennial plants and flowers for wholesale and retail markets.
Lulu’s has no storefront. The place is so tucked away in the foothills of the Talkeetna Mountains, drivers can get dizzy from all the twists and turns along the way. So Tautfest and York bring their plants and flowers to the people, filling basket orders for local residents and businesses, and setting up booths at events in the Mat-Su Valley.
The greenhouse business is a big switch from the kind of work Tautfest is accustomed to with her long history of Slope jobs, including driving trucks, working as a welder’s helper, a sheet metal worker and a pipeline insulator.
“I know a lot about flowers now, not nearly as much as Elwin by any means,” she said. “He’s the plant dude. He can grow anything, I swear he can.”
Tautfest and York are life-long Alaskans who first met 35 years ago in Soldotna.
“We re-met on the Slope in ’99 and just hit it off, and here we are today,” Tautfest said. Tautfest has three children, Kelly, Kenny and Kyle Tautfest.
When Tautfest is not working up north or helping run Lulu’s, she’s involved in some kind of art project, like carving on cottonwood bark or doing scrimshaw on baleen. She and York also do as much subsistence as they can, hunting and fishing and growing their own food; then drying, smoking and canning for winter.
For more information about Lulu’s Garden or to place an order, call (907) 746-5745.
The mission of CIRI is to promote the economic and social well-being and Alaska Native heritage of our Shareholders, now and into the future, through prudent stewardship of the company’s resources, while furthering self-sufficiency among CIRI Shareholders and their families.
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Cook Inlet Region, Inc. (CIRI) is one of 12 regional corporations established in Alaska by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. CIRI is owned by over 9,100 Shareholders, primarily of Athabascan, Southeast Indian, Inupiat, Yup’ik, Alutiiq/Sugpiaq and Aleut/Unangax descent.