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  Matanuska Valley Colony


October 1936


October 5, 1936  page 3

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 other sources.

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 all there.

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 failures.

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 stand us.

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 believes.

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 own.