Our first stop after leaving the state via ferry to Juneau was SEATAC, a way-point that should be familiar to any Alaskan. We headed to the baggage claim to retrieve our bicycles and an unreasonable amount of personal effects. We were elated to find the airport’s complimentary bicycle maintenance station and give SEATAC a gold star for bicycle friendliness. Bikes fully (over)loaded, we set out for the nearest gear shop to finish equipping for what would eventually be a ride down the West Coast. After several failed shopping attempts and a night camping in the suburban sprawl of Renton, WA due to a kind stranger, we continued on the next day by light rail, ferry, and of course bike, arriving to our destination on the Olympic Peninsula just in time to surprise my parents for a week-long family reunion.
The better part of the next week was spent catching up with family and exploring the northwestern portion of the Olympic Peninsula which was in the thrall of harvest season. The area from Quilcene up to Port Townsend and west to Sequim is a hotbed for small organic family farms. As luck would have it, our visit lined up perfectly with the Jefferson County Farm Tour. We spent several days visiting nearby farms which were as diverse in their styles as their cash crops. A nearby orchard brewed hard cider, managed a you-pick berry operation, distributed CSA boxes, and had a wood-fired mobile pizza oven. A long time cattle farmer who had been through several rounds of government funded experiments in agriculture had decided to follow his own path and was producing grass-fed cattle, as well as compost and soil amendments from their byproducts. We had the fortune of seeing a small family dairy contributing their milk to Organic Valley Cooperative, a young couple running a highly productive farm on five acres providing veggies to nearby markets and restaurants, as well as wool and alpaca farms, honey producers, people making all manner of fermented and pickled products, organic hops and grapes for breweries and vineyards…the list goes on.
It was easy to be excited by the sheer variety in operations and the bounty they produced; it was also easy to be a little envious of their milder weather and longer growing season. More than anything, it was inspiring to see such a diverse farming and gardening community. Almost every farm had their own particular specialty which filled a need in the community and contributed to an overall sustainability of the region. Many of the things they were doing would have insurmountable challenges to mimic in an Alaskan community but most would translate seamlessly.
The question remained: why haven’t Alaskans started these businesses that clearly have a strong demand throughout the state? How can we help encourage others to foster more food sovereignty and self-reliance? The possibilities are endless.
We look forward to finding new and interesting ways to use our crops and byproducts to fill needs throughout the state and we’d love to hear what is developing in your community. Please feel free to utilize this site as a place to share, exchange ideas, and connect. Although we were jealous of the farms we visited, we were motivated more than anything. We see goat dairies producing cheese, living sauerkraut filling our shelves, fish waste compost and fertilizer production, and you-pick apple orchards in our Alaskan future. What do you think is possible?