Our week in Palmer, Alaska was more than a little exciting!
It started with my motivational talk the night we arrived—3 minutes prior to beginning the presentation. Then continued with a gorgeous ride through a stunning riverbed next to huge mountains. Then it took us to a small local brewery called Lazy Mountain, owned and operated by retired pilot Neil Gotshall.
“This was a dream of mine for a long time… now I can brew my coffee, walk to my own brewery and start making beer,” he said with a wide smile over a delicious dinner at his house.
As luck would have it, we were in Palmer for a very special Monday—Drive Your Tractor to Work Day! I am riding to help preserve and celebrate our western heritage, cultures and community spirit. So it was a true blessing to be in Palmer for this extraordinary initiative.
“Farmers are the real stalwarts of this land and we need to celebrate and be proud of the work we do,” said Arthur Keyes, the events organizer.
According to several of the farmers I spoke to that day, the most fertile land in Alaska is found in the Palmer Valley. It’s at the Palmer Fair that world-record vegetables can be seen on display every fall. Unfortunately, in recent years farms are being replaced by parking lots and subdivisions in this area.
More than two dozen people participated in the third annual Drive Your Tractor to Work Day. Tractors of all makes and models took off from Glacier Valley Farm, owned and operated by Keyes, and drove the back roads to downtown Palmer.
Two days later, accompanied by Amy Pettit, executive director of the Alaska Farmland Trust Corporation (AFTC), dedicated to preserving Alaska’s farmlands for future generations through land conservation, we visited Todd Pettit’s bison ranch.
“Welcome to my home,” Todd said with a strong handshake.
I liked Todd right away. He was a big, strong man in his 40s who grew up ranching. His grandfather started the ranch, and when he was a young boy, he spent every moment possible learning from the elderly gentleman.
“My grandfather was a special man… I learned so much from him,” Todd told me after explaining how hard it was losing his childhood hero.
The ranch, in the midst of tall mountains, is home to about fifty bison. They also used to raise elk, but have recently stopped.
“Those animals [elk] are hand to keep in,” he said.
Amy, originally from coastal Oregon, also grew up ranching. Four generations of her family have raised premier black angus and angus-cross cattle on their 2,000-acre property. She told me about her work with AFTC.
“We envision a future with thriving local food markets that will give Alaskans access to fresh, healthy food, and keep our farmers farming,” she told me.
It was amazing seeing Todd’s and Amy’s passion for the land and our natural world.
I can’t thank Amy and Tom enough for their time and their work in educating others on the importance of local agriculture and farmland preservation.