|IRONWOOD DAILY GLOBE
October 5, 1936 page
Exhibits at Matanuska Fair Give Good
Proof of Valley's Fertility
Colonists Find They Can Grow
Many Varieties of Vegetables
by Theron Luke
|Anchorage, Alaska, Oct. 5--(AP)--More
than two months before the official celebration of Thanksgiving Day,
Alaska's Matanuska Valley has already celebrated its first bountiful
harvest by staging what was proudly called the First Annual
Matanuska Valley Fair.
No one who saw the prize products
of the 150 colonist families spread out on long tables in the
spacious new community hall and school at Palmer could fail to
recall another Thanksgiving. Pioneer colonists celebrated that
one, too, at Plymouth in 1621.
For four days the Matanuska
colonists gloated over the fat livestock housed in special barns,
the bundles of vegetables, the golden sheaves of wheat, the bunches
of clover that were their answer to those who said they couldn't
grow anything in Alaska.
The new fair buildings added to the
notable growth of Palmer, which was little more than a postoffice
and a general store before the Alaska Rural Rehabilitation
Corporation took hold there.
Land Productivity Proved
None of the colonists now doubts
the valley's ability to produce such troubles as have cut the colony
down from the original 200 families to the present 150 arise from
Ross L. Sheely, manager of the
corporation, pointed proudly to his own garden to show what can be
grown, and is being grown. Potatoes, radishes, turnips, beets,
rutabagas, parsnips, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, lettuce,
kohlrabi, peas, beans, onions, spinach, Swiss chard and celery were
Tomatoes even ripened during the
past favorable summer.
Wheat, oats, barley, rye,
buckwheat, and flax, clover and several varieties of hay and vetch
were shown at the fair. Tree fruits, melons and alfalfa were
Fret Over Farm Costs
The fair and its exhibits did much
to reassure the colonists as far as the farm possibilities of the
region go. But there are complaints, even among the most
industrious, about the financial end of the colonization scheme.
In the first place, they find it hard to get used to the Alaskan
prices, substantially higher on everything than in the states.
"We can't find where we
stand as to what we owe the government," said a colonist
with a splendid record. "We get statements on what we
owe the commissary for food and clothing, but we can't find
out what our houses, land, and improvements are going to
Typical of Matanuska Valley homes and farm
buildings are these, owned by Walter Pippel,
colonist who already has started repaying his
government load. He was an expert truck
gardener in Minnesota before going to Alaska.
Striking proof that virtually every variety of
vegetable can be grown in Alaska is given here
in an exhibit at the first Matanuska Valley
Fair. M.D. Snodgrass, old settler in the
valley and chairman of the fair, is shown with
onions, carrots, cucumbers, cabbage, lettuce,
turnips, celery, potatoes, wheat, and clover
raised by colonists.
Opinions in Conflict
"We now find our farms are going to
cost us more than we were told," he continued. "Even my debt
will be more than $5000, and I have done all my own labor in
building my house and improving the land. Others who have
labor bills will have debts higher than mine."
Another colonist's more extreme
view was, "There won't be any farmers on these farms when they find
out what they're going to cost. No one is going to pay 10 or
15 thousand dollars for a 40-acre farm in Alaska."
But still another says, "They
couldn't chase me out."
Manager Sheely says he has made
vain efforts to get the appraisals made and reports sent. He
thinks the average debt will be around $5000.
Most of the colonists do not fear
the oncoming second winter. Their houses are built now, and it
wasn't any colder last winter than in the homes they left behind
them in the states.
Nineteen below zero was the
coldest, a relatively mild winter, and snow was only a few inches
deep. Old-timers say 16 inches is a good average.
Mosquitoes Are Handicap
The mosquitoes were bad, the
colonists admit, but the season for them is only about a month and a
half long. You could stand them, if you wore a veil when you
went into the forest.
It is now more than two months
since any colonists have left to go back to the states.
Fourteen or 15 families who were residents of Alaska have been
accepted to replace some of the 55 families who left and others who
are paying their own way up from the states will also be accepted to
fill vacancies on the 171 farms which now have houses on them.
Sixty children have also added to
the population of the colony since arrival, and there will be many
more within the next few months.
Three colonists, Virgil Eckhart,
Joseph Puhl, and Walter Pippel, have already declared their
independence of further government credit, and have started paying
back their loans. There will be several more this fall, Sheely
Barns Being Built
New barns are rising now, to
supplement the houses built last winter, and the colonists have
cleared an average of eight acres apiece. The first creamery
in the region, which will market co-operatively for the whole
valley, will soon be in operation. Poultry will also be
handled. These facilities will serve old settlers as well as
the new colonists. Matanuska's first harvest has been
impressive enough to give it a real northern Thanksgiving Day of its