Margaret Adsit wants to share a secret with the world.
The 29-year-old founder of Alaska Farm Tours is gearing up for her first season of getting the news out about Alaska agriculture -- and why it matters.
"We have over a million visitors to Alaska each year," she said. And as she sees it, that's a million people that could be part of the agritourism economy, paying for experiences on local farms and ranches.
Adsit had the idea a couple of years ago. "Some visitors wanted a farm tour complete with a meal and guide, and I was like, 'Sure -- I'll make some phone calls.' "
A former director of the Alaska Farmland Trust, Adsit already had relationships with local farmers and understood the importance of local food. She also had her own event planning company, and the Alaska Farm Bureau hired her to coordinate an annual one-day farm tour in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, mostly geared toward legislators and other people in the agricultural industry.
"I thought to myself, 'This could be bigger,' " Adsit said. "In general, these farms currently aren't being visited, but a lot of people are fascinated and want to go there."
Her goal is simple: She wants to show visitors Alaska's homesteading culture and history. "We are not marketing ourselves on a national scale -- why aren't we doing a better job at telling our story?" she asked.
Adsit's experiences living in the Matanuska Valley as well as abroad have helped shaped the vision behind Alaska Farm Tours. She's visited coffee farmers in Costa Rica, learned from potato farmers in central China and grew up in the upper Midwest, all of which helped cultivate her interest in farm cultures around the world.
Alaska Farm Tours is based in Palmer and will give its first tours this summer. Each tour will include three farm visits and a catered meal from Turkey Red using local ingredients. Individual tickets are $95 per day (all inclusive). A percentage of the proceeds from the tours will go to local nonprofits Alaska Farmland Trust, Grow Palmer and the Palmer Future Farmers of America chapter.
Participants will visit different farms and ranches in the Mat-Su. A tour might include a visit to Moonstone Farm to learn about organic vegetable production overlooking the Chugach Range. While munching pickled peas, visitors will learn why Alaska grows the sweetest carrots and the biggest cabbages. Next they might drive to Lazy Mountain to visit an elk ranch before stopping by Don Berberich's orchard to see the currants and fruit growing and taste his famous jams and juice.
Adsit has a lot of ideas and the energy to match.
"Our local agriculture has a lot to offer; it's a rich part of our cultural heritage in the state of Alaska," she said.
"This is just the beginning."
Shannon Kuhn lives in Anchorage, where she writes about food and culture. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.