For many local farmers, the growing season is almost finished on the Kenai Peninsula, and surplus produce is yet to sell.
Oblong green peppers, bulbous kohlrabi and protuberant tomatoes line the wooden table in front of Glenn Sackett’s organic vegetable stand in Sterling. For reasons unknown, his end-of-the-year yield remains unripe later into autumn than expected.
Inside the main towering greenhouse, 650 tomato plants are laden with heavy green bulbs. Dried yellowing leaves cover the vines because their water source was recently cut off.
“That’s seems to be the only way they get ripe,” Sackett said. “They are the best crop I have.”
Last year 800 tomato plants stretched from floor-to-ceiling in the larger of two greenhouses on his property. He cut competition by weeding down the number of stems stuffed into the space, and as a result, has bigger, better fruiting bodies.
Sackett has tweaked a few other things since the 2014 season, but in his third year, he says, most operational procedures have been kept the same. In the second, smaller greenhouse, he has staked beans with vines that wrap and rise into the rafters, and raised beds with beets, carrots, turnips, kale and onions among others.
He still uses Fritz Miller’s all-purpose fish fertilizer, and pickles much of his yield including cases of whittled, white cauliflower heads. Thursday morning, the stuffed quart jars were the “daily special” listed on a whiteboard posted beside the greenhouse door.
Richard Auclair, originally from Maine, has lived in the area for 7 years, and has started shopping at Sackett’s regularly this year. He came to sift through a bucket of cleaned carrots, Thursday.
“Why carrots? Because I like them and they are tasty,” Auclair said with a laugh.
The stand is cheaper than buying from stores in town, such as Fred Meyer, Auclair said.
“It’s fresh and it’s right here,” Auclair said. “That’s the biggest selling point for me.”
Sackett said his customer base has significantly increased through social media outreach and word-of-mouth, which he said, is the most effective method of advertisement in Alaska. His “right-hand-woman” Melissa Cates, a long-time patron of Sackett’s other business endeavor, Sackett’s Kenai Grill in Cooper Landing, has been the push behind the stand’s online presence. She said she “thinks it’s helped.”
Mostly, Cates, said, customers are word-of-mouth, as Sackett observed, and returners. Sackett said they are coming from all over the Kenai Peninsula now from Nikiski, Kenai, Cooper Landing to Moose Pass.
Cates works in the greenhouse weeding, picking and watering three days each week, adding an essential pair of hands that keeps the operation going, Sackett said.
In previous years Sackett has been looking to expand his sales to operate out of the large empty building that sits between his two greenhouses, but that may be a better option years down the line now. He said it hard paying the mortgage only off of tomatoes, but for now he is going to keep trying.
Thursday Sackett unloaded an industrial-sized food dehydrator, which will take care of any produce that doesn’t sell from the stand.
“It just takes time to make things happen,” Sackett said. “It takes years, but we have a lot more people talking about us.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org