In America's largest state, in a valley tucked between the country's tallest mountain and most expansive national park, Margaret Adsit introduces travelers to another Alaska superlative: giant vegetables.
The founder and owner of Alaska Farm Tours showcases the state's innovative producers and unique farm-to-table culture through small-group excursions that explore the agricultural regions north of Anchorage, near the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Valley towns of Talkeetna and Palmer.
"Vegetables are bigger here, and it's not even because the farmers are trying. It's just what happens with the long daylight. It shocks people," said Adsit. "I love to hear guests say, 'I had no idea...' when we show them what's really possible."
Adsit, who grew up on a grain farm in southeast Wisconsin, built connections with regional agricultural producers through her work with the Alaska Farmland Trust. Those relationships inspired her to launch her own company in 2016.
A dozen Palmer-area farmers participate in Adsit's outings, and she chooses daily stops based on what's in season that week and what each tour group might find interesting.
"No two farms here run the same way or use the same technologies to operate," she said. "Without the infrastructure to support them, these people have to support themselves. What comes out of that are a variety of really unique and interesting production systems."
Several partners are among the first or second generation to clear their land and establish their operations.
"We're looking at farms that are so young-in some cases, it's like walking back in time 200 years, compared to other places. Interacting with that first generation is really inspiring for the folks who go on our tours," Adsit said.
For its third season of operation, the company has introduced the new five-hour Talkeetna Farm and Food Tour. Built around Alaska Railroad arrivals to and departures from the town, it's conveniently timed for guests traveling by train. Participants catch the tour at the train station, pause for lunch at Flying Squirrel Bakery Cafe, and continue on to Birch Creek Ranch. After learning about the farm's history and crops, guests move to Denali Brewing for a behind-the-scenes tour.
A final stop at the Kahiltna Birchworks spotlights birch-tapping techniques and the syrup-production process, and then ends with a syrup tasting.
Alaska Farm Tours will also offer the four-hour Palmer Farm and Brewery Tour this season, with departures scheduled on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Guests visit two area agricultural operations before stopping at Bleeding Heart Brewery. The small, on-farm facility south of Palmer pours beer samples that incorporate Alaska-grown staples and surprise elements such as beets.
On the company's original four-hour Rise and Shine Palmer Farm Tour, guests receive an introduction to urban gardening efforts in the community and then visit two regional farms. The morning outings conclude with tastings at Bleeding Heart Brewery and a lunch that features local ingredients.
Palmer-area excursions by Alaska Farm Tours begin and end at the Palmer Museum. For an additional cost, round-trip transportation is available from the Knik River Lodge or from Anchorage.
Regularly scheduled outings accommodate between three and 14 people. By special arrangement, the company can welcome larger groups or provide step-on guides.
Starting tour rates range from $95 to $130 per person, with discounts available for seniors and children.