What started as a “Caring for the Kenai” idea and entry in 1990 to provide sustainable produce to rural communities and reduce the carbon footprint of shipping vegetables to Alaska today has become a thriving agricultural business known as Ridgeway Farms. Amber Ala, a SoHi junior submitted a model of a polyculture greenhouse for her CFK entry and today her son Henry Ceffialo, who lives in Brooklyn New York is spending his summer on the farm harvesting produce for the community. As Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) sweeps the nation in 2016 local homesteader Abby Ala is a champion of CSA locally and continuing to expand. “My kids say I’m obsessive, compulsive, but I’m commercial and over produce everything. We’re adding another 300 ft. of high tunnel capacity to our present greenhouse and hoop house gardens and have another 4.5 acres of outdoor gardens with moose fencing around it,” said Abby.
CSA is a model of farming where customers consciously agree to share the risk and benefits of farming explained Ala, “Everyone wants to eat healthy but finding fresh vegetables in the Last Frontier has always been a challenge. As Alaskans we go to great lengths to grow our own food. The gas bill goes through the roof in March when greenhouses have to be heated. Then there is the rototilling in May when the ground thaws. Next is fighting the moose and other wild life that want to ‘help’ us harvest our crop. Well, there is an easier way. For only $40 a week, you can get loads of fresh vegetables without all the trouble of trying to be a farmer yourself. Ridgeway Farms is geared up for it. Acres of colorful goodness are found in rows both in large gardens and giant greenhouses on our 50-acre farm off the Spur Highway. These vegetables are the epitome of fresh. The moment a vegetable is harvested it starts to disintegrate. That is why the vegetables you buy in the store are not near as good for you as fresh vegetables bought from a local farm. Stores get vegetables from big corporate growers who know their product will sit in trucks and storage units for days or even weeks. They use chemicals to keep them looking nice. But at Ridgeway Farms, every Wednesday, local folks come to get their haul for the week and they know those vegetables were just picked that day,” she said.
However, that is not the only reason people buy locally grown vegetables according to Ala, “In Alaska in the 1950’s, we produced fifty percent of what we ate. Today it is only two to three percent.” Ala, whose parents started homesteading here in 1948 says, “Supporting local agricultural makes us a more stable community and there is more of an advantage to signing up for a subscription of fresh vegetables all summer than just healthier food. Coming out to the farm once a week is a great experience for kids. People love to have the kids come out and see the horses and the sheep. It’s good for children to see where there food comes from.” Ridgeway Farms is located on Strawberry Road just outside of Soldotna and is still signing up people for subscriptions. If you are interested, give Abby Ala a call at 394-3181 or just stop by the farm.