July 30, 2010
Ted and Katie Pyrah began farming 277-acres in the shadow of Pioneer Peak in 1979. They originally ran the farm for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). The LDS Church discontinued the farm in 1988 and the Pyrahs began leasing the farmland. They continued to operate under the U-Pick model used at the LDS farm, and though they've tried other ways of selling produce, they now sell their 30 varieties of vegetables strictly through U-Pick.
As the Pyrah's five children grew, each left to attend college out of state, because their father, himself having earned several degrees, stressed the importance of education. Eventually, three of the five children returned. In 2007, Ted and Katie left the farm to go to Kirtland, Ohio for a year and a half to serve as missionaries for the LDS church. Their daughter Janet and her husband Joe stepped up to keep the business afloat. Later, their youngest son Lucas came to join his sister and work as a farm mechanic. Since then, the Pyrah parents have returned and the family decided to run the farm as a big group.
In addition to U-Pick vegetables, the Pyrahs also grow sod, hay, and are experimenting with trees. "We do what we can to diversify as technology evolves," Janet Dinwiddie said.
The Pyrahs are also committed to creating a positive atmosphere for the community, which is why they started their annual Fall Harvest Festival five years ago. The festival was Janet's idea, and though it started small, last year there were 4,000 people in attendance. "[The festival] is a way to give back to the community," Katie Pyrah said, "and offers families a budget-friendly and positive farm experience."
The future of the farm is not clear. Since farming is such a risky endeavor in Alaska none of the children want to say definitively if they will take over the farm. Right now, however, it remains a cornerstone of the valley and provides a shining example of a true family farm.
The Farm Family of the Year award, sponsored by the Matanuska Valley Federal Credit Union, was established by the Fair in 2000 to honor an Alaska farming family and show appreciation for all the hard working Alaskan's committed to agriculture in the State. "I am pleased to support the Farm Family Award to the Pyrah Family and their dedication, determination, and contribution to successful farming in Alaska" says Franci Havemeister, Director of the Division of Agriculture.
Nominations are accepted annually, and a committee chaired by the Division of Agriculture selects the winning family based on production of quality Alaska Grown products, community and agricultural organization involvement, and overall image. "The Alaska State Fair is honored to again host the Alaska Farm Family of the Year ceremony" says Ray Ritari, General Manager of the Alaska State Fair. "We appreciate the Matanuska Valley Federal Credit Union's sponsorship of the award and the Alaska Division of Agriculture's work in the nominating and evaluation process. Congratulations to the Pyrah Family for winning this prestigious award."
Previous Farm Family winners include the Huppert Family (2000), the VanderWeele Family (2001), Havemeister Farms (2002), Rempel Family Farm (2003), P & M Gardens (2004), Calypso Farm & Ecology Center (2005), Wrigley Farms (2006), Insanity Acres (2007), Brad Lewis Family (2008), and the Oberg-Kenley Family (2009).
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