Alaska State Fair Farm Family are peony pioneers

Zaz Hollander

PALMER -- Michael and Paula Williams want to share the story of Mat-Su peonies with the world, and that calling has earned the couple the title of 2014 Alaska State Fair Farm Family. 

A committee chaired by the Alaska Division of Agriculture selects the winning family “based on production of quality Alaska grown products, community and agricultural organization involvement, and overall image,” according to the division.

The Williamses,  owners of EagleSong Family Peony Farm, moved to the base of Mount Susitna, 40 miles from the nearest road system, in 1994 and opened a lodge. When fishing declines led to a drop in customers, the couple switched to peonies after seeing a PBS special on the new trend in Alaska.

They flew and hauled in equipment, built a barn, cleared land and planted 5,000 peonies in 2010. Today, they run a marketing and distribution company -- Alaska Peony Distributors LLC -- and maintain 11,000 peony roots with a goal of 50,000 plants in production.

Their four children play roles in the family business, as does Paula Williams’ brother. The family will be honored at the fair on Thursday.