FAIRBANKS - The stars aligned this year for rafting and skiing guide Nick Nyquist to settle down (sort of) and become a farmer.
Nyquist and his girlfriend, Crystal Dunbar, were enticed to start a business here when Nyquist’s father offered them 14 acres off Badger Road. To convert a gravel pit into a farm may seem daunting but the young couple met the challenge head-on. While the farm is near Badger Road, the name Badger Bend is a tribute to whitewater rapids on the King River in California.
When tossing ideas around about what to do on the land, Nyquist and Dunbar considered several options until Nyquist asked what they could do that would be fun and also support a healthy lifestyle. Recalling the time they worked on a friend’s farm in Kauai, Hawaii, they decided that was the answer.
“I started looking at trends,” Nyquist said. “People want to be more healthy. We just went for it.”
Because he loves auctions, Nyquist was able to buy mostly used material for the farm’s infrastructure, keeping costs down. “That’s recycling at its finest,” he said. In the first summer he built five greenhouses this way. ”If you put your mind to the auction stuff and search it out there is a ton of resources and you can take advantage of them.”
He also took an accounting class so he can keep the books. “The farm was a low-risk investment and the lifestyle is great,” Nyquist said. “I love working in the dirt and there is so much cool information.”
Nyquist hauled in peat moss and silica sand as a growing medium, since the land is covered in gravel. “We’ve got a blank slate to start with,” he said, which is both an obstacle and a blessing. Nyquist believes that starting from square one helped keep pests down. He uses chicken and horse manure to enrich the soil, makes compost and keeps worms. “We try to be as green as possible.”
Nyquist was born in Fairbanks but left at 3 years old to move with his mother to California; his summers were spent here. His step-father is a great gardener and inspired Nyquist to grow fresh food. “My step-dad’s love for it is impressive,” he said.
By accident, peppers became the stellar crop at Badger Bend Farms. The bell, sweet, plebano, hot, jalapeno and serrano peppers proved popular with customers. Another hot item was spinach. Kale, chard and arugula were a harder sell. “I grew too many tomatoes; I had buckets of green tomatoes,” Nyquist said. He made salsa and dilly tomatoes, similar to dilled green beans, and found them to be delicious.
The couple chose the Downtown Market as the venue to sell their produce. They enjoyed the Monday evening scene at Golden Heart Plaza so much they plan to repeat the visits next summer. They also came up with an innovative approach they call “mobile produce,” in which they deliver fresh veggies to doctors’ and dentists’ offices around town. “It’s CSA (community supported agriculture) style without the commitment,” Nyquist said. He said their customers grew out of their friend base. “I’m excited to grow enough vegetables to provide for others,” Nyquist said.
Even though Nyquist has taken to farming in a big way, he is an artist at heart. He earned a bachelor of fine arts degree at Montana State University. On his list of things to do is build a kiln at the farm, as he sees the agriculture and art as complementary to each other.
In the meantime he is off to Alyeska Ski Resort to gain experience in guiding helicopter and Cat skiers. In spite of all his adventures, Nyquist admits he really enjoys time with his family. “Last year I was in Alaska nine months; that’s the longest I’ve stayed anywhere since graduating from college,” he said.
One of the surprises he has experienced with the farm is the support he has received from other farmers. “There are all these great people with nice ideas,” he said.
His goals are for the farm to break even or start making a profit. “We just want to be part of the community and grow good food so people can be healthy and eat well. The benefits of good, local food are amazing. You’ll see a huge energy increase and better skin. I’m a firm believer you are what you eat.”
This column is provided as a service by the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. Nancy Tarnai is the school and station’s public information officer. She can be reached at email@example.com