Fall in Alaska is a beautiful time, leaves turn color, the air is crisp, and produce grows huge! Pyrah’s farm near the Butte is full of colorful vegetables and fruits. I had the opportunity to catch up with one of the owners and her adorable dog. Below is our interview and some beautiful pictures of Pyrah’s Pioneer Peak Farm!
What is the history of Pyrahs farm?
In 1979 my dad was asked by the LDS Church to run and manage the farm. It was a welfare farm for families in need that church members assisted with. In the 1980s the welfare program was discontinued by the church and my father was offered to lease the farm. He said yes and our family has been farming here since. I went out of state for college but eventually found myself back on the farm. My parents wanted to go on a church mission and my husband and I took over the farm. I never planned to be a farmer, but here we are today! The church recently decided to sell and we are now purchasing it.
How many different vegetables do you grow?
We always say 35… the number is dependent on weather and other factors. Pyrah’s has enough variety that we are always able to count on our produce. For example, potatoes almost always do well. We occasionally experiment with new fruits and vegetables, we recently started growing cherries.
What is your favorite festival that Pyrahs offers?
The fall festival is my baby, so I would say it is my favorite. We want to give the community a place to gather. Fall in Alaska is a bit different from other places, but I wanted to highlight it nonetheless. Having gone to college down in the states where corn mazes and pumpkin patches are everywhere, I wanted Alaskans to have a similar experience. In the first year, we had 200 people, and we had a great time with fall games and family-friendly activities. Since then, it has grown exponentially, and last year we had 6,000 people.
This year we limited the number and held the festival for two days in order to consider Covid mandates. It was wonderful for the community because the kite flyers and local rocket club came out and did demonstrations (at different times)! We were also able to offer our space to local vendors. We also offered a special needs day for members of that community. Special Olympics is involved and it is my favorite day of the whole festival.
Does Pyrah’s Farm sell produce year-round?
It is hard to sell produce year-round due to the processing and storage of vegetables. We have found that food security is a problem in Alaska. During winter we found that if something were to happen where we would be cut off from lower 48 supplies, we would only have 24-48 hours worth of fresh supplies. Pyrah’s wants to be prepared in case something would happen, so we store seed potatoes through the winter. We also are trying to grow oats that could easily be processed. We are so happy with how the oats are turning out, they taste amazing! Our goal is to ultimately provide long-term food in case of an emergency.
How is COVID affecting your business?
In the spring, it was quite challenging due to all the lockdowns. We were trying to get workers in and they needed to quarantine and get tested. Luckily the community wanted to get outside and do something. Community members also found an interest in processing and storing their own foods.
What are CSA subscription boxes?
CSA means Community Supported Agriculture. The idea behind this is whatever the consumer invests in us, they will get their return on investment with fresh produce. Winter and springtime are hardest financially for farmers in Alaska because nothing is being grown. So starting in November, people are able to invest in the boxes for the following summer. We pick all the produce for people and they are able to pick it up weekly at their leisure. The box changes throughout the season, starting with items such as rhubarb and ending with pumpkins and onions!
How is Pyrahs involved in the community?
I believe education is power and people need to know where their food comes from. We love teaching the community how to grow their produce and understand the process better. As a you-pick-it farm, we give families the opportunity to pick their own produce without the hard work of growing their own garden. We also had a wonderful event this year called the fields of Ruth. Named after Ruth from the bible who was a gleaner. Pyrah’s invited the community to help glean the fields at the end of the season and we donated that produce to Bean’s Cafe.
What is the Butteathlon?
The Butteathlon happens during our summer Strawberry Festival. It is a run, bike, and climb up the Butte. Unlike a true biathlon instead of swimming there is the climb. During the Strawberry Festival we also have a family fun 5k.
What makes Palmer such a great place to grow produce?
I grew up in Palmer and I felt the need to get out, which I did for college. In the end, I realized how wonderful the community of Palmer is and I wanted to raise my children here. It is also one of the most beautiful places to grow produce, it’s hard to beat working while being surrounded by mountains. Although the winters are long, summer days give vegetables and fruits the ability to get huge! The opportunities here are spectacular and I think there’s a certain tranquility that comes with that.
Thank you to the amazing Alaskan community that supports Pyrah’s Pioneer Peak Farm. For more information check out Pyrah’s website: http://pppfarm.net/