From fishing to flowers: Adapting in remote Alaska
According to the USDA, EagleSong Family Peony Farm is one of America’s most remote farms. Located near the North base of Mt. Susitna, EagleSong grows over 12,000 peony roots in over 22 varieties. In addition to growing and selling peonies worldwide EagleSong also grows all types of vegetables to feed their crew throughout the summer and family through the winter, and hops for use by local micro breweries. EagleSong is one of the states largest peony farms and co-owner Mike Williams is the founding owner and managing partner of Alaska Peony Distributors, LLC, a commercial peony pack house that buys peonies for area farms. The peonies are transported to the pack house located at Lake Hood where they are inspected and graded, then marketed and sold around the world.
Before EagleSong became a success in the ever-growing Alaskan peony industry, Williams, along with his wife Paula purchased an old homestead and created the EagleSong Lodge in 1993.
“We were the traditional hunting and fishing lodge with some winter business catering to snow-machiners, dog mushers and acting as a checkpoint for various winter races. We gradually lost our salmon runs that sustained our summer business due to the invasion of northern pike. They ate up all the salmon. It is tough being a fishing lodge with no fish. During our peak there were over a dozen lodges operating around us. By 2009, we were the only lodge still open. We knew the end had come,” Williams said.
Forced to switch gears, the Williams family looked to peony farming to save their home.
“We didn’t want to leave our home of 15 years so we looked into farming and settled on peony farming since it primarily evolves around air transport which we had relied on since we moved here,” Williams said.
The homestead is a family run farm where the Williams family raised four children, as well as peonies and other vegetables. Beyond farming, other artistic endeavors that originate from EagleSong include hand carved birch and spruce sculptures by Mike Williams, an experienced commercial carver. While Paula uses her locally grown produce to further her culinary skills. A cookbook is in the works and is looking to be completed by 2017.
EagleSong is an avid host of volunteers from the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms organization, which matches volunteers and farms across the world for farm stays in exchange of labor and agricultural experience.
“We have hosted dozens of volunteers, WWOOF-ers and interns over the years and not one has gone away less than satisfied with their experience here. The farming experience coupled with the experience of living in back country Alaska is an opportunity that few ever experience,” Williams said. It is hard to put in a few words all the things our visitors can experience. Hard work at times, but the satisfaction at the end of the day brings them back for more. We insist all our visitors participate in the growing of the food we consume and give them the opportunity to create their favorite dishes so we can all experience their culture. It is not unusual to have WWOOF-ers from far flung parts of the globe. Last summer we had WWOOF-ers from Denmark, Germany, India, France, China and all over the U.S.”
EagleSong was the focus of a 13 episode series, called Building Alaska, last summer. The show finished airing in May and is currently playing in Europe.
You can find EagleSong at the Downtown Saturday Market selling peony roots, and a few flowers. They have been a fixture of the market for over ten years now.
For more information and to get in touch with Mike and Paula Williams at EagleSong you can visit their Facebook page or website, www.eaglesongalaska.com.