I spent a day with Alaska Farm Tours near the tail end of harvest season last fall, when farmers were winding down from summer labors. It was perfect. ~EK
If not from a climate that boasts a summer growing season of only four months, it might be hard to understand the sheer joy Alaskans feel when walking across a garden plot during the harvest. I know I didn’t before moving here. It only took a few weeks to discover that vegetables flown or barged north were far inferior to produce I had grown up eating, and was exponentially more expensive. The lettuces or broccoli and other vegetables I took for granted as a consumer in the Lower 48 now cost twice as much, and often were old, tired things I didn’t want to put on my family’s dinner plates. So I started following farmers markets around the state, then noticed an influx of opportunities to pick my own produce in the fertile Matanuska-Susitna Valley, where colonists had settled in the 1930’s as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal. Was it truly possible to farm in Alaska? Certainly, and now we have Alaska Farm Tours to show us why, and how.
Alaska Farm Tours is the brainchild of farmer and farming advocate Margaret Adsit, founder of the company. Margaret is the former director of the Alaska Farm Trust, a land trust organization dedicated to preserving the state’s agricultural properties. Margaret met with and listened to farmer after farmer, and eventually those farm-centric stories, along with the rich ecosystem of food and breweries that sprung up in tandem with these farms, led Margaret to want to share Alaska’s incredibly rich food culture with anyone who might be interested. Alaska Farm Tours tells of this food culture through the lens of the farms, restaurants and breweries that provide for us here in the Last Frontier.
I took part in the “Rise and Shine Palmer Food Tour,” four hours of soils, plants, and the people who love them, interspersed with snippets of tasty produce and a hearty lunch. There’s something about standing in a field just after a rainfall and before the frost, smelling the goodness coming from the plants. Rich and earthy, mud crusting on my boots, the fields were full of flowers, vegetables, and activity. Farmers from three different properties gave us an opportunity to learn about weather, growing cycles, and strategies to start as early as possible and end as late as possible during Alaska’s fickle season of plenty, when things grow fast but weather could change at any time. We crunched carrots, picked peas, and thumped ripe pumpkins at this last tour of Margaret’s year, and I thought throughout the day that there couldn’t be a better time, as an Alaskan, to appreciate the effort and resulting yield of our state’s farmers. Our end of tour lunch at Turkey Red restaurant in Palmer, with its own commitment to locally-sourced foods, was the perfect encore to place us exactly where we could truly understand the farm-to-table concept.
As the granddaughter of a rancher, I know somewhat the value of land and its bounty, and just how much work it takes to eke out a living. But up here, it’s even more tenuous. It’s work, every day, all the time, for the sake of other people’s health. No kidding, it really is. I came away from my day in the Valley wiser, more conscious, and determined to purchase or grow as much as possible from local resources.
Alaska Farm Tours is also committed to educating the next generation, whether they live here or not, so tours are specific to kids, with home brew sodas, shorter garden walks, and farm visits where youngsters will be most engaged. Palmer tours leave from the Palmer Museum (worth a stop anyway), or Knik River Lodge. There is also an Anchorage Urban Farm tour that explores Alaska’s largest city and its role in the food supply scene. At five hours, it’s the perfect trip for foodies.
Bring warm layers, rain gear, and rubber boots for tromping around the farms.
For a full listing of farm tours, including pricing and details, go HERE. *There’s a special Mother’s Day Greenhouse Tour and Brunch on Sunday, May 12 which sounds like a blast. Get tickets soon, though. This will be a sell out.
“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” ~ Masanobu Fukouka