Musty warmth carries the sour odor of fresh manure inside Sackett Family Farms Organic Produce second greenhouse. The sharp smell is distracting.
Glenn Sackett, owner of the small organic produce stand in Sterling, said the stench was actually fish fertilizer- not cow manure- which he uses to feed more than 1,000 plants with weekly.
In the adjoining greenhouse, 800 towering, tangled vines wound around wooden stakes fruiting yellow, orange and green tomatoes; the area smells of fresh dirt and water.
Sackett is nearing the end of his second year growing organic produce on the Kenai Peninsula. His two-greenhouse and one-outdoor-garden operation has been generating a harvest since early spring.
“Everything you see now has had a lot of tender, loving care,” Sackkett said, gesturing to his rows of tomatoes that range from cherry-size to bulging, one-pounders. He has grown a strain of open pollinated, heirloom tomatoes for 30 years.
Sackett has owned Sackett’s Kenai Grill in Cooper Landing for 17-years and recently turned over daily operations to his son. Now he is working on opening the first organic grocery store in the Central Kenai Peninsula.
“I was a farmer and a beekeeper in a past life,” Sackett said. “Before I was a restaurateur.”
For decades Sackett cultivated a 70-acre farm in the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon. He said it was nice and warm, and a great place to raise his kids. When the money ran out he moved up north and went to work in the kitchen. Twenty years later he calls himself a farmer again.
Standing beside a garden bed with pointed, shining green bell peppers, Sackett reaches down and supports a large vegetable held aloft by only one thin stem.
“It’s heavy,” Sackett said, weighing the pepper in his hand.
Each bed takes 45 wheelbarrows of dirt to fill, and each wheelbarrow takes 35 shovels, Sackett said. He built the 16 beds in his second greenhouse by hand.
When he bought the developed land two years ago, snow was falling through the roof, Sackett said. A pile of dead tree branches behind the buildings is all that is left of the brush that covered the property.
Sackett said he plants vegetables that grow well in Alaska, and produce that can be used in the Grill. He is also selling his harvests outside of the greenhouse that is filled with his tomatoes.
The stand has a few regulars, Sackett said. People come when the signs are up and food is out, he said.
Looming above the neighboring tables covered with tomatoes, cauliflower, kale and broccoli is the empty soon-to-be organic grocery store. Inside is a large square space with a gravel floor, where Sackett will sell his jarred and fresh produce, and an adjoining, area that will be converted into a full kitchen, he said.
Sackett plans to renovate the rooms and move his produce indoors within the year. While he is making plans for the long term, he works on improving his operations one step at a time.
The next installment will be a watering system, Sackett said. It is time consuming watering 1,000 plants every day.
Beside his outdoor garden, looking over rows of deep-green kale and heads of vibrant purple cabbage, he laughs at a patch of stubby stocks, which he calls “his futile attempt to grow corn in Alaska.”
Sackett said he loves doing farm work. It does not feel like a job until the day has gone by and the work is done, he said.
“No one teaches you how to be a farmer,” Sackett said. “It is a work in progress. I know I will never know everything. I am just happy to be here. It doesn’t feel like work until 5 p.m.”