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The Alaska Experience; A Farmer's Perspective!

Announcing our 2016 Agritour to Alaska
June 10-21, 2016

By Jane Eckert

I’m very excited to announce that our June 10, 2016 Agritour is going to stay in North America for a very special inland look at the state of Alaska! This is not the coastal cruise your friends have taken—we are going to go inland Alaska to explore the fields, farms, fauna and flora, where 20 hours of sunshine can result regularly in 90 pound cabbages!

While Alaska is the largest U.S. state with over 365 million acres, the number of acres in farmland is fewer than one million.  And talk about some interesting challenges—those of us in the lower 48 often feel our own farm location has challenging growing conditions, but imagine the limited time for planting and harvest in Alaska.  It is also fascinating that while Alaskans endure months of darkness and very wintry days, they also have over 20 hours of summer daylight and have recorded some of the largest sizes of many popular vegetables, including a 127 pound cabbage and a 19 pound carrot. 

These are just a few of the reasons that I chose Alaska to be my next Agritour destination, June 10 -21, 2016.  We intend to thoroughly explore and experience this very unique way of life.   Like all our agritours, we will share our time between the traditional attractions of the area, and the very unique agricultural features…so first, let’s look at the farms, nurseries and unique dairies (musk ox!) we will visit in Alaska.

The timing for the 2016 tour is a little later in the year to allow us to see the real Alaska and offer some very unique opportunities to meet the farmers and learn about their growing conditions.  One of the major growing areas is in the Mat-Su Valley just north of Anchorage, at the confluence of the Matanuska and Susitna Valleys.  During the Great Depression in the 1930s, the New Deal program relocated Midwestern families to this fertile valley, and it has remained the state’s agriculture center since then. 

There are only 762 farms in Alaska but you may be surprised by the diversity of their operations, as well as the agritourism components that have emerged through the farmers’ perseverance. Our first stop will be to the Forget-Me-Not Nursery & Garden, just south of Anchorage.  Not only will we tour their greenhouse but we will also hear how they have developed weddings, corporate events and educational tours to be part of their business. We will then visit the historic, family owned Crow Creek Mine, and walk through their gardens to the creek where we will try our hand at prospecting for gold.

We travel to Palmer, Alaska to meet 10th generation farmer Ben VanderWeele and learn how his farm has been recognized as the premier source for Alaskan grown vegetables. Ninety pound cabbages and 7 pound turnips are the rule, not the exception!  I expect he might share his secrets on getting these heavy weight veggies to market. Located nearby, in the foothills of the Chugach Mountain, is the Little Pitch Fork Bison Ranch, home to over 600 acres and surrounded by breathtaking scenery. They now concentrate on the wild game of bison and elk and will provide us some up-close encounters with the animals.

Our next stop will be to the Musk Ox Farm that is dedicated to the domestication of the musk ox, an Ice Age mammal that once roamed the earth alongside other woolly mammoths. These animals produce qivuit, said to be the finest wool in the world, and we will have the opportunity to make our purchases in their gift shop. Then on to the Havemeister Farm—the Havemeister’s are the last remaining original dairy farmers of those settlers who were voluntarily relocated here from the Midwest in the New Deal program. Plan to enjoy some very special homemade ice cream after our tour.

Our trip will include the Fairbanks area where we will visit the AWE Farm owned by Jimmie & Laura Hendricks.  Jimmie’s experiences as a professional teacher, wilderness educator, wilderness guide, homesteader, cabin builder, mountain climber, and sailor have given him a broad foundation to draw from for their wilderness living educational tours and presentations about his farm.

Another must see stop will be to the North Pole Peony Farm.  Peonies can be grown in Alaska in July and August, a time when the lower 48 doesn’t harvest even a stem.  Now, over 50 growers in the area have formed a co-op and packing facility to collect, chill and ship for out-of-state orders to the U.S. and Canada.

Later we visit the Calypso Farm and Ecology center, a non-profit, educational farm based in Ester, Alaska.  They provide hands-on education to Fairbanks school children and various educational programs.  The farm also operates a CSA to feed a number of local families. Their mission is to encourage local food production and environmental awareness through hands-on education in natural and farming ecosystems.

Our last farm stop before returning home will be to the family run Rosie Creek Farm located at the confluence of Rosie Creek and the Tanana River, just outside of Fairbanks.  This family is committed to organic production and using sustainable growing methods to harvest both vegetables and beautiful cut flowers, marketed through their CSA and sales to local markets and restaurants.

Of course, no trip to Alaska would be complete without spending time to explore the natural beauty and wildlife of this magnificent state.  We will take a half-day small-boat cruise to explore the Blackstone and Beloit Glaciers in Prince William Sound.  This will bring you up close to two active tidewater glaciers and one hanging glacier, and we’ll be there long enough to maximize our chances of seeing spectacular glacier calving, where massive chunks of glacial ice crash into the water. At a safe distance, we will float among the icebergs, the towering waterfalls and have plenty of time to watch the harbor seals, sea otters, eagles and much more of the native wildlife.

We will also get to see the real Alaska with two trips on the Alaskan Railroad, passing through many quaint little towns along the way.  I suspect you will truly enjoy the incredible scenery and commentary by a local guide.  This agritour includes two unique lodging experiences.  The first will be to the Knik River Lodge where we will stay in cabins in the midst of the wilderness.   Gourmet dinners will be served with full silver service in a large community yurt lite by candle lanterns.  We will have time here for hiking and photography, and for those more adventuresome, there will be optional tours offered including summer dog sledding and helicopter flight, glacier hiking, kayak tour and heli skiing.  

No trip to Alaska would be complete without visiting the Denali National Park, and we will be spending three of our nights at the Denali Education Center.  The center focuses on educational classes at night to learn about the “subarctic” and how these extreme conditions shape life in this region.  We will also have one day in the park to hike and to have a day-long journey to view the breathtaking views of the Alaska Range and its many peaks, and, weather permitting, to behold the majestic Mount McKinley.  It is here in Denali that one always needs to have their camera ready to capture the caribou, grizzly bears, Dall sheep, moose, wolves and unique flora that call this land their own.

This Alaska Agritour is truly one of a kind and meant for those that have an interest in farming and want to see the real Alaska.  While the cruises take you to several commercial port cities, our Agritour will take you on the inside to meet the people and the pioneers who call this place home, while still getting full flavor of the Alaska experience.  This is truly a personalized agritour for those interested in following the unbeaten path to the farms of Alaska.

For more information and pricing on this agritour:

Brochure on Alaska 2016
Registration form-Alaska Tour
or Please Call Our travel agency, 1-800-325-6708 to reserve your spot.  

Jane Eckert is the founder of Eckert AgriMarketing (www.eckertagrimarketing.com), a full-service marketing and public relations firm that helps farmers to sell directly to consumers, diversify operations and become tourist destinations. She is also CEO of www.RuralBounty.com, a search directory for agritourism farms and ranches in North America. Jane can be reached at 314-862-6288 or you may email her directly.