Walking toward the garden, my dogs running beside me in the warm sun, I am filled with the anticipation of picking my own food. For several years my family has been adopting a more self-sufficient lifestyle. We’ve been focusing on reducing our carbon footprint and producing for ourselves. We started by composting, then began raising chickens shortly thereafter. I read extensively and asked countless questions of friends and neighbors.
Now I raise a small flock of meat birds, and am a weekly visitor to the Tanana Valley Farmer’s Market in Fairbanks. I began to wonder if I could grow my own vegetables to supplement what I purchase locally. I don’t remember how I first arrived at The Big M Farm, but one summer afternoon I found myself ankle deep in grass with a wide expanse of gardens before me.
There’s something delicious about the smell of dirt, growth, green. In Alaska the aroma rises to the surface — if we’re lucky — in late May. It was July, late July, and the air was ripe with the joys of summer. I had come to pick carrots. Planting my own garden would take at least a year of advance planning, and this was practically the same thing. Minus the prep, the timing, the back break, the sweat.
Surrounded by someone else’s talents, I searched for carrots. All the vegetation was lush. Bushy hints at what lay hidden beneath. I had to return to the house at Big M Farm to ask for directions to the carrots. Oh, those right there in front of me? Got it. Unfortunately, a follow-up visit was required. How do I pick them? With a friendly smile, the proprietor himself walked me to the first row and demonstrated the uprooting of a carrot.
With childlike wonder my eyes grew wide and my joy increased with every pull. This was it. This was my new definition of summer. Inquiring about what else I could pick (and receiving the necessary instructions on how) I filled my baskets. Carrots, beets, spinach, dill, green beans, snap peas, peppers, raspberries, honeyberries. I would return every week for the remainder of the growing season. As the days began to cool and dusk came earlier and earlier, the squash and corn ripened and my pleasure became immeasurable.
I soon discovered that Big M was not the only farm to offer a U-Pick experience in the greater Fairbanks area, but this one holds a sense of home. The Big M Farm is owned and operated by a small family whom I now cherish and call friends. Driving the short distance south of town with its mesmerizing views of the Minto Flats and the Alaska Range became one of the highlights of my week.
Soon enough, the snow will dissipate, the growing season will start, and the sensory experience of collecting locally sourced food to nourish my family will begin again. The lengthening days prove it’s inevitable. My first tomato seedlings are germinating beneath the soil in my sunny kitchen window. Today, I awoke to -16˚ Fahrenheit, but tomorrow spring will give way to summer and a small green stem will push its way up, into my first garden.