Giant Cabbages and Colony Beginnings
Palmer, Alaska, is one of the only Alaska communities to stem from an agricultural lifestyle. Established in 1916 for the Alaska Railroad's branch line to the Chickaloon coal mines, little development occurred until 1935, when 203 families reeling from the Great Depression were relocated to Alaska with the promise of a better life.
The Matanuska Colony was one of more than 100 New Deal projects created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in an attempt to end nationwide unemployment and help Americans rebuild their lives.
What began as an ambitious farming experiment put Alaska on the map and cultivated the Mat-Su Valley as Alaska's agricultural heartland. Due to an extraordinary growing season (fertile soil and 19 hours of summer daylight), the giant size of some vegetables have become the area's trademark. At the Alaska State Fair, you'll see world record cabbages and pumpkins being weighed in each August.
Many descendants of the original colonist remained in Alaska and some are operating original colony farms today. Explore the Mat-Su Valley and discover this unique heritage.
Matanuska Colony Farms
Built during the Palmer Colony days in 1935, the Havemeister Dairy Farm remains the only working dairy farm still in existence from the original colony. Bob and Jeanne Havemeister have been recognized as Alaska State Fair Family Farm of the Year in appreciation for their commitment to Alaska's agriculture and aquaculture. Touring the milking parlor, barn and gardens is a fun and educational experience for both children and adults. (907) 745-2040
Take a scenic drive along Farm Loop Road to discover more surviving colony farms. From Palmer, follow West Arctic Avenue to the Old Glenn Highway about seven miles to Bodenburg Loop Road.
A number of hiking trails in this area offer grand views of the Matanuska Valley and its farms below. Access the 1.5-mile West Butte Trail to climb to the top of this landmark rock formation.
Colony House Museum
Learn more about the Matanuska Colony families at the Colony House Museum in downtown Palmer. One of the original farm homes built by the pioneers, it is located behind the Palmer Visitor Center and across the street from the Colony Inn, which served as a women's dormitory during the 1930s. The museum is furnished in period decor and artifacts.
Nearby, the Mat Valley Agricultural Showcase Garden has hundreds of perennials and vegetables on display. But, don't get caught picking the crops. Go to Pyrah's Pioneer Peak U-Pick Farm to pick vine-fresh, Alaska grown vegetables. Located near Palmer at Mile 2.6 Bodenburg Loop, they grow more than 35 different kinds of veggies. Prices are by the pound, and hours of operation vary by season. (907) 745-4511
ALASKA STATE FAIR
Palmer's agricultural spirit lives on at the Alaska State Fair, where fun, family farm rivalries and giant veggies attract huge crowds. (The record cabbage is 138.25 pounds!)
The Alaska State Fair is also home to Colony Village, which began in 1975 as a bicentennial project. Of the five preserved buildings, four were part of the original Matanuska Valley Colony and include two houses, a barn and a church.
Check out the Alaska State Fair website for events, exhibits and dates.
MAT-SU VALLEY FARMER'S MARKETS
Feast your eyes on the freshest veggies in Alaska. In summer, visit the Farmers Market at the Historic Wasilla Town site at the Dorothy Page Museum on Wednesdays, 12-6 pm, or the Friday Flings in Palmer, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. Fridays, May through August. Local vendors vary each week, but expect to find produce, jams, fresh bread, flowers, arts and crafts.
At Bella Farms and Gardens, purchase unique blue poppies, giant lilies, Alaska carrot marmalade, herbs, vegetables, plants and antique-style and Alaska gifts. Open May through August. (907) 892-2292