Ridgeway Farms near Soldotna has one of the area’s only community supported agriculture programs, which helps distribute locally grown produce to local residents, Wednesday, July 17, 2019, near Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Ridgeway Farms near Soldotna has one of the area’s only community supported agriculture programs, which helps distribute locally grown produce to local residents, Wednesday, July 17, 2019, near Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Lettuce, zucchini and rhubarb!

Local CSA offers fresh fruits and vegetables right down the road

During long summer days, peninsula residents can take advantage of fresh, locally grown produce. Local farmers offer several ways for residents to find food, whether it’s at a local farmers market, through U-Pick events or through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs.

On the central peninsula Ridgeway Farms offers one of the only CSA programs. Abby Ala, who runs the farm, said they first started the program in the ‘90s but quit until about 10 years ago. The program runs all summer, and residents pay an initial $50 down payment, and then pay at the first of each summer month. Support for the program allows locals the chance to stop by the farm once a week and pick their produce. Ala said spring offers the least amount of vegetables, only seven different types. Right now, residents get 13 different types of produce to take home.

“The idea of (Community Supported Agriculture) is for the community and the farm to work together,” Ala said. “The farmer needs to be able to know she has a place to sell their vegetables.”

Some locals may have already tried Ridgeway’s produce. The farm provides produce for Odie’s Deli in Soldotna, the Flats Bistro in Kenai and the Reindeer Hut food cart.

The program attracts locals who are interested in buying produce that is fresh and free of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, Ala said. Residents who are interested in supporting locally grown agriculture are also attracted to the program, she said.

“People who want this kind of program — they like the idea they’re supporting locally grown agriculture,” Ala said. “It’s not picked at some farm somewhere and then shipped up and sprayed and done this and done that.”

Ala said the program has seen some growth over the years.

“We could use more growth, though,” she said.

Locals can find lettuce, zucchini, tomatoes, carrots, rhubarb and more at Ridgeway.

Residents interested in learning more about the program can show up at the farm, located on Strawberry Road, off the Kenai Spur Highway, between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Wednesdays.

“They can see if they like the operation and join in on a Wednesday,” she said.

Ala said the program has changed slightly over time. She used to create the baskets for residents to pick up, but now residents have the freedom to choose what goes into their weekly package.

“At first we did do baskets and you just came and picked up your basket, but now people get to go around and pick what actual lettuce plant they want,” Ala said.

She said the farm began as one greenhouse that her daughter started through a Caring for the Kenai project. Now the farm has 14 greenhouses and several hydroponic set ups.

Ala has been farming her whole life.

“I’ve been driving tractors since I could almost reach the pedals,” Ala said.

Her parents homesteaded about 2 miles down the road from her property in 1948. Her dad grew 70 acres of potatoes on the land she farms on today.

“He had over 70 acres of potatoes before he quit,” she said. “The reason he quit raising potatoes, was because the Army quit buying locally grown products. There was no place to sell that many potatoes.”

Volunteers, some of whom have been helping Ala for over 25 years, help make the operation possible. Volunteers help with everything from accounting to advertising to setting up the vegetable pickup spot.

“They are my muscle and my brains,” Ala said.

Two of her volunteers include her granddaughters, Ashley Ala and Neka Cooper, who also sell baked goods at the Wednesday vegetable pickup spot. Proceeds from the baked good sales go toward their college fund.

U-Pick

Other farms in the area offer U-Picks, which give locals the opportunity to find and pick locally grown produce themselves.

At Jackson Gardens Nursery, at 48195 John’s Road, Soldotna, Bobbie Jackson grows a huge list of produce. She’s been growing flowers since 1979 and started doing the U-Pick operation about five years ago, which she says is doing well.

This week, she has everything from summer squash, peppers, green tomatoes, basil, edible flowers, chard, collard greens, kale, lettuce, onions, beets and more. She says locals can expect corn, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, nectarines, apples, parsnip, currants, gooseberries and even more later this summer.

Locals can keep up to date with the garden’s offerings by following their Facebook page, Jackson said. Residents can also reach Jackson at 907-252-9459. Jackson Gardens Nursery is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

O’Brien Gardens and Trees in Nikiski is also starting their U-Pick season. Locals can keep up to date with what the farm has to offer by following their Facebook page. They have announced a U-Pick event for their strawberries, which residents can enjoy from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

According to the 2019 Kenai Peninsula Local Food Directory, Grace Acres Farm also offers a U-Pick. For more information locals can call them at 907-727-4839.

Ashely Ala, Neka Cooper, Caroline Correia and Elijah Cooper are all volunteers at Ridgeway Farms where they help Wednesday pickup days for the farm’s program.

Ashely Ala, Neka Cooper, Caroline Correia and Elijah Cooper are all volunteers at Ridgeway Farms where they help Wednesday pickup days for the farm’s program.

Kale Morse places produce at the pick up center for Ridgeway Farm’s community supported agriculture programs, which helps distribute locally grown produce to local residents, Wednesday, July 17, 2019, near Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Kale Morse places produce at the pick up center for Ridgeway Farm’s community supported agriculture programs, which helps distribute locally grown produce to local residents, Wednesday, July 17, 2019, near Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

photos by Victoria Petersen / Peninsula Clarion                                 Kale Morse places produce at the pickup center Wednesday for Ridgeway Farm’s Community Supported Agriculture programs, which help distribute locally grown produce to residents near Soldotna.

photos by Victoria Petersen / Peninsula Clarion Kale Morse places produce at the pickup center Wednesday for Ridgeway Farm’s Community Supported Agriculture programs, which help distribute locally grown produce to residents near Soldotna.

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