Visitors can interact with Muskox at one farm in Alaska. // © 2012 Mark Austin/Muskox Farms
Alaska agritourism is a sleeper industry that is growing in popularity, and wise agents are quickly discovering the gardens and farms across the state.
“Alaska’s long days and cool nights provide growers with perfect conditions to produce some of the largest vegetables in the world,” said Franci Havemeister, director of agriculture at the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Division of Agriculture. “Last year, the largest pumpkin in Alaska weighed in at 1,287 pounds. We also had a winning 35-pound broccoli and an 18.9-pound carrot. And let’s not forget our flowers that boast brilliant colors and berries that are incredibly sweet or farms that raise exotic livestock, such as bison, elk and muskox.”
In fact, the Muskox Farm, at Mile 50 on Glenn Highway, is one place where visitors can observe, photograph and interact with these Ice Age mammals. Guides and educational exhibits highlight the species’ evolution, natural history and domestication by humans, which gave us one of the warmest natural fibers in the world, called qiviut.
Nearby is the Reindeer Farm, home to 150 reindeer, 35 elk, 12 horses, two bull moose and one bison. The petting zoo here is popular with kids of all ages. The farm also offers hiking trails and scavenger hunts. Guests taking the one-hour horseback trail ride to the Butte, a popular geological landmark, will see panoramic views of the Mat-Su Valley farms, Cook Inlet and Knik Glacier.
Chena Lakes Farm, south of Fairbanks, offers a farm-stay experience that is one of the first for interior Alaska. Owner Tracy Pulido encourages guests to become involved in daily life on the 12-acre farm — from tending the garden and pulling weeds, to helping feed the donkeys, chickens and turkeys. She grows about 200 types of flowers on the farm and sells the seeds twice a week at the Tanana Valley Farmers’ Market.
Here, the guesthouse is a rustic log structure with room rates from $85 to $125 per night. This rate includes a hearty breakfast each morning of farm-fresh eggs, vegetables, jams and berries, along with Alaska-grown dairy and meats.
Georgeson Botanical Gardens, on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus, is the northernmost botanical garden in North America and is considered one of the best places to learn about high-latitude horticulture. Visitors learn about growing plants, exploring new crops and new markets, preserving traditional plant knowledge and expanding uses of native plants.
While it’s easy to purchase fresh produce from any of the 35 farmers’ markets found across Alaska during the summer months, visitors often like to get their hands dirty and harvest their own. At Pyrah’s Pioneer Peak Farm, guests just show up and pick their own produce at what is perhaps one of the most scenic farms in North America.