Who Dares to Farm in Alaska?

  The Future of Alaska Food Security

Rayna Reynolds, 9, is a farm girl in the Matanuska Valley.


When 200 farm families were selected from three mid-western states to be moved to Alaska’s Matanuska Valley for a farming experiment in 1935, nobody was certain what would happen. During the early 1930s Alaska agriculture was in its infancy as drought and the Depression were ravaging the Great Plains and the hearts of American farmers, according to authors of the book “Matanuska Colony 75th Anniversary Scrapbook.[1]

Desperate times required desperate measures.

 The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, on January 15, 1935 reported: “A government corporation
will be organized for the sending of the settlers to the North. It is declared this corporation will be financed by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration.

 So began Alaska’s quest for food security with agriculture. Today we produce a fraction of what our population requires, but our agriculture  community is robust thanks partly to the 4-H program.

Providing outstanding accommodations in Eagle River since 1991

From the 4-H web page:

 We are part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks; Alaska’s land-grant university.  Alaska 4-H is one of many programs  in the Cooperative Extension Service, a division of the School of Natural Resources and Extension at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

4-H is the largest youth development program in the US, engaging more than 7 million young people in hands-on projects in science, healthy lifestyles, citizenship, communications, leadership and many other areas. 4-H projects are taught by certified 4-H volunteers so youth are in a safe place with caring adults. 4-H is a program you can trust to help your children become career and college-ready.

Alaska 4-H is the state’s premier youth development program that is open to all youth from kindergarten through high school.  4-H is the only youth program affiliated with a university and using research-based information and strategies.  4-H gives young people the extra edge for
life success by teaching essential life skills such as confidence, competence, character and community service.  Through 4-H, today’s young people become tomorrow’s leaders, creating a positive vision
of the future.  In 4-H, youth work together with adults to make a difference in their communities, helping build a stronger nation.  Let 4-H become your child’s first class from the University of Alaska.[2]

“Alaska has quality in our stock,” explained the owner of Knik River Veterinarian Services, Dr.
Sebrieta Holland.
“One animal in Alaska is from a line of Alaska cattle that has been here for 6-7 generations and that bull is number three in the world for demand. The way that was made possible was through DNA Transfer. DNA is the same no matter what state you are in and he was measured on the same scale as every other bull and judged as having that high quality.”

I met Dr. Holland at Frozen Oak Farms where she was engaged in artificially inseminating 12 cows.
This is a family farm where everybody has jobs to keep the farm producing. Rayne Reynolds, his wife Marian and nine-year-old daughter Rayna, were all part of the activity on this early fall afternoon.

Dr. Sebrieta Holland prepares the instruments needed to artificially inseminate a cow.

Artificial Insemination (AI) Means Healthy Gene Diversity

On this occasion the goal was to breed Alaska cattle with semen from Wagyu Bulls in Texas; they have a higher degree of marbling in the meat for the Japanese Kobe Beef delicacy. Increasing marbling in the meat enhances the eating experience.

“AI is a totally different ball game,” explained Reynolds. “It is difficult to fly up a whole cow to Alaska; it isn’t impossible, but it is cost-prohibitive. By flying up semen we can improve the genetics. We don’t AI everything, most of the cows are bred naturally, but this is a special project to enrich the herd over the long haul.

It costs a lot of money to ship the semen up here. Success rate can be 50-70 percent. The important thing is to bring new genetics into Alaska. A 50-60 percent success rate is expected.

The Zyprexa Papers by Jim Gottstein

First Paragraph "It was just a normal day before Dr. David Egilman called me out of the blue on November 28, 2006. The days are short that time of year in Anchorage, Alaska, and it was getting dark by mid-afternoon. Dr. Egilman told me he had been hired as an expert witness by one of the law firms representing patients who had taken Zyprexa and contracted diabetes or other metabolic problems. He wanted to know about documents relating to Zyprexa I might have. In truth, he was feeling me out to see whether I might be willing to subpoena him, so he could legally send me secret documents. These documents revealed the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly (Lilly) had from the beginning suppressed information showing Zyprexa caused these life-threatening conditions. In addition, they showed Lilly had illegally marketed this powerful and dangerous drug for use in children and the elderly. He wanted me to then send them to Alex Berenson, a reporter for The New York Times with whom he was already working on a Zyprexa exposé." Continue Reading...

Less than a month later The New York Times began a series of front-page stories about the documents subpoenaed by Jim Gottstein, which became known as the Zyprexa Papers. A month to the day after the first of these New York Times articles, Gottstein had been hauled in front of the legendary United States District Court judge, Jack Weinstein, of the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn. Although Mr. Gottstein believed he obtained the Zyprexa Papers legally, Judge Weinstein decided he had conspired to steal the documents, and Lilly threatened him with criminal contempt charges. The Zyprexa Papers by Jim Gottstein is a riveting first-hand account of what really happened, including new details about how a small group of psychiatric survivors spread the Zyprexa Papers on the Internet untraceably. All of this within a gripping, plain-language explanation of complex legal maneuvering and his battles on behalf of Bill Bigley, the psychiatric patient whose ordeal made possible the exposure of the Zyprexa Papers.

Alaska’s Mental Health Crisis Predates Statehood

Editor's Note: Read about how the Law Project for Psychiatric Rights (PsychRights) and Alaskan Public Interest attorney, Jim Gottstein took on the State of Alaska AND Big Pharma and Won!

Obviously Alaska is contained: “We have a mixture of cattle; Murray Gray, Black Angus, Hereford, Black Baldy,” Reynolds continued. “Traditionally Alaska genetics has been lacking with only a few breeds here: Primarily Galloway, Scottish Highland, Black Angus and Hereford. A lot of ranchers in Delta and some on the Kenai Peninsula started bringing in better genetics from Outside: like Red Angus, and constantly improving their breeding stock. There are ranchers in Delta who have brought in entire herds of certain breeds.”.

Dr. Holland has had a great influence on this diversification process as well. In her liquid nitrogen tank are stored thousands of dollars of semen inventory from all over the world, including horses, yaks, reindeer–even sheep from Australia going back to the 1980s. She successfully bred a sheep from the 1980s, from Australia, and that offspring is now here in Palmer, Alaska!

Dr. Holland also artificially bred the second yaks ever in North America here in Alaska two years ago from some bulls in Montana. She explained: It’s almost impossible to get that here. We collected the semen and I bred them in Willow at Sunny Hill Ranch. Yaks are becoming popular animals, but the gene pool is too small.

Explaining the process: The semen is placed in a syringe and heated by the veterinarian by placing the stainless steel instrument next to her own skin prior to the procedure.

The future of Alaska food security with agriculture

One of the big things for us is involving the next generation of Alaskans in the industry, declared Reynolds as daughter Rayna helped manage the enclosure mechanism containing each cow so
Dr. Holland could administer the semen through the syringe. He continued: It is important to teach children where food comes from. People are so disconnected with their food. At one time summer vacations were so the children could participate in bringing in the harvest. I had that experience of picking fruit at the end of summer but I would say a lot of the kids today don’t have that experience.

Dr. Holland had that experience as a child raised in the Palmer/Butte area herself: I was in Grow
‘em and Show ‘em 4-H Club
 when I was 9 years old!
she explained. I resurrected that name when I had kids and became a 4-H Leader myself.

What Alaska Agriculture Needs

This industry needs people to make it work, explained Reynolds. We are lacking a workforce. We are able to run our operation with only family but there is a general lack of people with
the skills and willingness to do this kind of work. This is hard labor; none of it is easy.

Agriculture is a good life; but you’ve got to love it. We don’t make a lot of money but we eat well and enjoy a unique quality of life–mentoring young people on the farm through 4-H
and Future Farmers of America (FFA),
he continued. Look at what Rayna has been exposed to. She raised that calf as a bottle baby and has a good relationship with it. When we get a good heifer we keep it in the herd but feed cost is a challenge. We have to manage the herd to make a profit.

We appreciate businesses supporting healthy locally grown food, like Mike’s Quality Meats, Mt. McKinley Meats, Mat-Valley Meats and Three Bears Alaska.[3]

Reynolds concluded: Farming is a tough business. It is hard anywhere, whether in the Midwest or in Alaska, farming is demanding. We have unique challenges in Alaska; longer winters,
availability of feedstuffs, those and other challenges are different here–but farming is hard everywhere.

 What began as a tent city filled with hopeful new arrivals in Palmer is today still a quaint community in the fastest growing region of Alaska. It’s economic foundation is still food security. Back on May 23, 1935 a drawing was held for colonists to choose from 209 plots offered for settlement. The land was not “given” to the settlers, they went into debt to own it.

This was an investment in the future of Alaska that endures today.


[1]Lynette A. Lehn and Lorraine M. Kirker, “Matanuska Colony 75th Anniversary
Scrapbook,” 2010, Self Published ISBN 978-0-692-00887-4

[2]Alaska 4-H


[3]Can Alaska Gain Food Security?


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