St. Croix sheep graze on pasture at Blood Sweat & Food Farms. Courtesy Blood Sweat and Food Farms.
This article was originally published in Alaska magazine and is republished here with permission.
The terms “locally sourced” and “farm-to-table,” have gone past the buzzphrase stage to more of a norm in the national food lexicon these days. Whether it’s reducing shipping distances, finding a way around pandemic-related supply kinks, or just opting for the fresher option, consumers are increasingly seeking a local choice.
Those terms apply to Alaska as well, as does “food security,” two words familiar to residents of a state where more than 90 percent of the food supply is shipped from the Lower 48.
Alaskan farmers are eager to cut into that number, as farming in the state continues to grow and thrive. A U.S. Department of Agriculture 2017 census showed Alaska had a 30 percent increase in the number of farms from 2012, while nationally that number was down some three percent. Forty-six percent of Alaska’s producers were new and beginning farmers, while 47 percent were women.
Support organizations like the Sitka Local Foods Network continue to earn national recognition with farmers markets and outreach programs, and the Alaska Farmland Trust has established Alaska FarmLink, a clearinghouse for beginning farmers starting a business or landowners who want to see their acreage farmed.
And as sustainable farming and ranching continues to carve out a bigger niche, so does agritourism. From the Interior to Southeast Alaska, farm owners are either offering private tours or joining a list of featured farms on organized excursions to showcase their operations.
Following are some notable Alaska farm and ranch tours for 2022.
For those visiting the Golden Heart City, the Fairbanks Economic Development Council organizes an annual Tour of Farms each summer. Participants can engage in a self-guided tour to each participating farm, which differ from year to year and represent a variety of crops—from livestock to peonies to produce.
Learn about other Interior farms and ranches.
In Palmer, Alaska Farm Tours owner Kristi Short is hopeful that 2022 will be a return to a more normal season after pandemic-related restrictions curtailed her offerings—and guests.
Short bought the business in January 2020, just weeks before the pandemic would grind tourism to a halt in Alaska. “I pretty much used my van to deliver boxes for the food bank that summer,” Short said. “Last year was better; we’re hanging in there.”
Short offers tours of several established—and often historic—Palmer-area farms as well as a Talkeetna tour that includes a birch-tapping operation and tour of Denali Brewing Company. “The Talkeetna tour is popular with the cruise ship passengers who stop on their Alaska Railroad trips,” Short said.
In past years, Short has offered a farm-to-table, sit down meal. “We always provide some kind of locally sourced food,” she said. “We’re really hopeful to bring back the larger, Alaska-grown meal in 2022. It is really popular.”
In Soldotna, Fresh365 is a year-round hydroponic farm located near downtown that produces a variety of greens, lettuces, and herbs for the community as well as Addie Camp, the restaurant next door. Ask for the lemon basil house dressing.
Down the road in Kasilof sits Ionia, a multi-generational community of families who offer tours of their gardens and renewable energy systems.
On the southern peninsula, Blood Sweat & Food Farms in Homer produces pasture-raised lamb, pork, and poultry. Tours are offered on request and visitors can book through Airbnb throughout the summer.
Also in Homer, Synergy Gardens co-owner Lori Jenkins—also the founder of the Alaska Garlic Project—offers tours on request. Along with its role in offering shares as a Community Supported Agriculture farm, Synergy sells garlic as seed, edible decorative braids, or bulbs.
To view a comprehensive list of peninsula farms, visit kenailocalfood.org. The organization will host its annual Harvest Moon Local Food Festival Sept. 10.