Every new challenge is just another problem to be solved—according to Abby Ala, anyway.
"It keeps life interesting," she said. "If you have problems, you always have something to work on, that’s always there to be worked on."
Inside one of the greenhouses at Ridgeway Farm on the edge of Kenai, Ala reaches up to pull down a cucumber the length of a football. The towering cucumber plants are covered with ones like these. She stacks it with a number of others on the plain wood bench where the plants are rooted in buckets. This greenhouse is one of several on Ridgeway Farm where they grow the vegetables that they sell to local restaurants and in the farmer’s market on Saturdays in Soldotna.
Up until this year, too, the farm ran a popular Community Support Agriculture, or CSA program. Customers could pay a fee and receive a weekly box of fresh vegetables from the farm. Ala started the CSA program about 20 years ago, and it kept a solid customer base for years.
But it also took a ton of farm space and work. Krystal Ala, Abby’s daughter-in-law, said it took up just about every waking hour in the summer months.
“It’s 12, 13, 14 hours, even with multiple people,” she said.
Then, this winter, the heavy snow loads on the farm led to four greenhouses collapsing. Abby says it was in part because one of them was next to a fence that allowed the snow to build up too thick. So with less greenhouse space and the huge time commitment, the Alas made the difficult decision to stop the CSA program.
Abby said she’s sorry to disappoint the people who’d been using it for years, but it’s time for a change.
Ridgeway Farm is one of the Soldotna originals, and has gone through a lot of changes over the decades. Abby’s family homesteaded there, and she says she remembers bagging the potatoes that he grew. Soldotna was originally a tiny community with about six homesteading families, all of whom farmed, before it exploded with new residents after the Swanson River oil field discovery in 1957.
Abby says her father originally sold potatoes to the military, but when they stopped buying, there weren’t enough people on the central peninsula to sustain that kind of volume. So he made trips to Anchorage, but gradually, local produce began fading away. Today, Alaska imports about 95 percent of its food.
The local food scene has grown on the Kenai Peninsula, too. Abby says she remembers taking unsold vegetables home from the early days of the Soldotna Saturday Farmer’s Market. These days, they sell out and sometimes have to resupply.
Ridgeway has transformed over the years. Abby offered horseback riding lessons for years and sold vegetables and flowers straight off the farm. Though the CSA program is ending, they still supply local restaurants and the farmer’s market, and they’re planning to continue the Harvest Festival in the fall.
The younger generation is starting to take over, too. Krystal and her husband Brooke, Abby’s son, are learning to run the farm operations. They hope to try some new things in the future, Krystal says.
They’ve got help from their kids, and Krystal says she’s hoping to learn from Abby over the course of the next few years. Abby says the best advice she can offer is for people to just continue asking questions.
Abby says, like anything, the change is just a new challenge—just another problem to be solved.
Reach Elizabeth Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org.