Matanuska Valley Farms Are a Harvest of Family Fun

Image courtesy Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Image courtesy Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

by Mariah Brasher

Everyone loves July with its sunshine and warmth. Newcomers and sourdoughs alike rejoice in December’s snow and shining aurora. But – I’m here to tell you – September is one of the most beautiful and busy months in Alaska, from Fairbanks to Juneau.

While it’s easy to get caught up in the rigamarole of settling in to school routines, dragging the canoe in off the dock, and searching for last year’s snow boots and suits, and while the Alaska State Fair may be over (sigh), remember that a beautiful, blustery, golden autumn isn’t … yet! Yes, winter is coming, but before it does, get out and enjoy some of the most amazing experiences of the year, the harvest season.

Alaska’s Matanuska-Susitna Valley, located about 25 miles north of Anchorage, is one of the most fertile areas of the state and, as such, is home to some of its most productive farms. From the Mat-Su’s verdant potato fields, the produce of which can be purchased in grocery stores state wide, to berries, fresh vegetables of all kinds, and even fruits — there is a lot to see, pick, and learn at farms across the valley. After all, we wouldn’t get to see those 1,200 pound pumpkins and cabbages at the fair if somebody wasn’t out there growing them, and since the 1930’s, the Matanuska Valley has been one of Alaska’s go-to destinations for gardeners and farm enthusiasts.

Pyrah's Pioneer Peak Farm is a steadfast Matanuska Susitna Valley favorite of local families. Image by Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Pyrah’s Pioneer Peak Farm is a steadfast Matanuska Susitna Valley favorite of local families. Image by Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Palmer is home to one of the most established pick-your-own farms in Alaska: Pyrah’s Pioneer Peak Farm. Located at 4350 S. Bodenburg Loop Road, Pyrah’s is easily accessible from Anchorage and offers a huge variety of produce with variable pricing.

While Pyrah’s welcomes visitors of all ages, they do ask that children under 10 stay out of picking areas and on paths. For those curious about bringing furry children, pets are not allowed on the farm. Pyrah’s also hosts an annual Fall Festival, where they welcome members of the community to come to the farm and celebrate the harvest. This year’s festival will take place on September 26 from 12-7:00 pm. Festival tickets $6 per person or $20 for a family of four (with $3 for each additional family member). The festival includes hayrides, games, a petting zoo, face painting, live entertainment, and loads of food. It promises to be an exciting way to send out summer and welcome winter back to the Matanuska Valley.

 

Trying a few varieties of jam at Northern Fruits is a bonus of any visit. Image by Mariah Brashar

Trying a few varieties of jam at Northern Fruits is a bonus of any visit. Image by Mariah Brashar

Palmer is also home to the whimsical Northern Fruits Farm (call 907-745-1070 for directions), located off of Clark-Wolverine Road in Palmer (near the base of Lazy Mountain). Northern Fruits boasts 450 fruit trees, several varieties of berries, and honey bees. While early September would usually be prime time for Alaskan apple picking, this summer’s hot weather ripened the fruit earlier than usual. However, it’s still worth a look around Northern Fruits — even if just for a taste of owner Debbie Daniels’ black current jam! Northern Fruits also offers berry and tree cuttings (along with a healthy helping of advice) for any aspiring young arborists in the family, since fall is the time for planning (and in some cases, even for planting) next year’s harvest.

If you’re looking to travel a little farther afield, Birch Creek Ranch and Kingsbury’s Talkeetna Farm in Talkeetna offers a rustic, remote look into Alaskan farming. Birch Creek Ranch offers superb self-harvest berries (the farm encourages calling to check on berry conditions before heading out: 907-733-1090), a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm share, and wholesale green house. While the berry-picking season is quickly winding down, Birch Tree Ranch stays open through September and is certainly worth a stop, especially if you’re headed to Talkeetna.

A wee apple is ready for picking at Northern Fruits in Palmer. Image by Mariah Brashar.

A wee apple is ready for picking at Northern Fruits in Palmer. Image by Mariah Brashar.

Need to Know

  • Contact farms to see what is available before you set out. Later in the season, fewer plants will be available.
  • Know rules about kids, pets, and prices; these differ from farm to farm and it’s always good to know what to expect.
  • Picking is fun, but it can be challenging. Set aside a certain amount of time to pick, bring a snack, and be sure to explore the farm
  • Bring warm clothes. It’s fall in Alaska — that 55-degree sunshine can turn into a windstorm before you know it, and rain is NEVER out of the picture. Make sure to bring rain gear, too.
  • Bring a food bag, or several. While farms may provide plastic bags to carry your goodies home in, don’t count on it. Plus, isn’t it a lot more fun to pick veggies with an adorable basket on your arm? Uh…YEAH! Remember, though, you’ll have to weigh your haul, so don’t carry anything too heavy.
  • Add snacks, a camera, and extra clothing(oh my!). It’s hard to be a good picker if you don’t have food to eat while picking! Your little farmer is likely to get pretty dirty, too, so a change for the ride home is a good idea.
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