Senior Voice -

By Maraley McMichael
Senior Voice Correspondent 

Farm tour surprises include familiar names, shared pasts

 

June 1, 2022 | View PDF

Maraley McMichael photo

Don Berberich with his berry products for sale.

My sister, Jeanette, who lives in Soldotna, made arrangements for the four of us siblings to go on a farm tour, though Margaret Adsit, original owner of Alaska Farm Tours. As the date got closer, it turned out that only Jeanette and I could attend. We showed up at the Palmer Visitor Center promptly at 9 a.m. June 18, 2018 and learned we were the only guests for the morning tour.

At that time, I'd lived in the Mat-Su Valley for a total of 22 years on and off since 1984, so I knew quite a bit about the geography, history and agriculture. Not so much for my sister. When Margaret learned that both Jeanette and I were "territory of Alaska" babies, she questioned how she should change her tour information compared to speaking to tourists.

I replied that I wanted to hear her usual spiel. I like to go into activities and adventure with an open mind, knowing that I always learn something new and interesting no matter the circumstances.

We began with a tour of the display garden adjoining the Visitors Center. I've been a fan of this garden since it was first developed in the 1980s, back when the display gardens at the Experimental Farm on Trunk Road were disbanded. I mentioned that I knew the lady who designed and installed the Visitors Center garden. Wendy was her first name, but I couldn't come up with her last name and I thought she'd moved out-of-state many years ago.

Next Margaret drove us out the Old Glenn Highway toward the Butte to Arctic Organics. Their family-run farm has grown up gradually and employed seven workers during the summer months to keep up with their Friday evening market at the farm and Saturday Anchorage market. Jeanette and I learned a lot exploring the fields, the hoop houses and the greenhouses. As we spoke to one lady while entering a greenhouse, she seemed familiar to me. It only took a minute before I realized she was the very same "Wendy" I had just spoken of and who I hadn't seen for at least 20 years. She was just as surprised as I was and I told her I couldn't remember her last name. It turns out that she returns to Alaska to work at Arctic Organics every spring for about four months and would be returning to California in two days.

As we drove the back roads to return to the Old Glenn, I saw Christy Marvin (of mountain racing fame) on a training run and asked Jeanette if she knew who we just drove past. I quickly explained that Christy was the daughter of two people Jeanette and I grew up with in Glennallen in the 1960s and 1970s. Christy wouldn't know us, but her parents certainly would.

While traveling to our next stop in the Springer Loop System, I discovered that Margaret not only knew where Slana, Alaska is located, but she actually worked at the Slana Ranger Station the summer of 2006. At that time, my husband and I were operating Nabesna House Bed and Breakfast out of our lovely log home right next to the Slana Post Office. Margaret and I shared several laughs while reminiscing about Slana people and activities.

We arrived at Don Berberich's berry farm where he and a helper were working on the irrigation system. After Margaret introduced us and I learned that Don had recently retired from 28 years of teaching at Palmer High School, I said that my son had attended Palmer High his freshman year, but then transferred to Colony High when it opened his sophomore year. I hadn't planned to say any more, but Don asked my son's name. It turned out that he remembered my son and his friend who was involved in the Future Farmers of America. That was his first year of teaching, Don said, and he had some very distinct memories all these years later.

Our last stop was the Spring Creek Farm off Farmer's Loop. We met the manager who had only been on the job for two weeks. Even so, she told us of the current plan of operation through a trust overseen by Alaska Pacific University. When I told the manager about our mother's connection to APU, we were invited to an upcoming alumni reunion. Mom came to Alaska in 1951 as a Methodist missionary nurse to the tuberculosis sanatorium near Seward. She followed the development of Alaska Methodist University which later became APU. In fact, mom attended AMU the summer and fall of 1967 to earn credit to receive her Alaska Teaching Certificate. We have a photo in the family photo archive that shows the sign stating "Future Home of Alaska Methodist University".

Maraley McMichael photo

Spring Creek Farm, May 2022.

While at Spring Creek Farm, we three sat at a picnic table under the pavilion and ate delicious Turkey Red sack lunches and continued our agricultural line of conversation. On the drive back to the Palmer Visitor Center my mind overflowed with information, but I found my thoughts focusing more on the personal interactions of the morning. The unexpected, inter-connection of various generations and locations in Alaska was more fascinating to me than the agriculture information, but none of it would have taken place if we hadn't been on the farm tour.

With a timeline that began in the 1950s with Mom and APU, then Christy's parents in the 1960s and 1970s, Wendy from the 1980s, Don Berberich from 1990, and on to Margaret from 2006, we'd covered almost six decades. This was not counting Jeanette, who I've now known for 65 years, but only see a couple times a year.

Our wonderful adventure ended promptly at 1 p.m. I have my sister to thank, and there is no one else with whom I'd rather share a memorable farm tour.

Maraley McMichael is a lifelong Alaskan currently residing in Palmer. Email her at maraleymcmichael@gmail.com.

Author Bio

Maraley McMichael is a lifelong Alaskan now residing in Palmer.

Email: maraleymcmichael@gmail.com.

 
 

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