FAIRBANKS - Even before they owned land, Theo DeLaca and Allison Wylde couldn’t wait to grow food, so they improvised. In the bed of a “dead” pickup truck filled with dirt, the couple grew their first garden. DeLaca was a little heavy handed with the fertilizer and “burnt the heck out of everything,” but it was definitely a learning experience.
“It’s been a slow evolution,” DeLaca said. “We love food and growing our own stuff.” Their farm has evolved based on producing what the family needs.
They started with chickens, then expanded to vegetables, goats, turkeys, ducks, rabbits and pigs. “Everything goes together,” DeLaca said.
Today they own Feedback Farm in Two Rivers and provide most of the food for their family and seasonal supplies of fresh food for the dozen members of their community supported agriculture business.
DeLaca grew up in California and the East Coast and started visiting Alaska as a teen to spend summers with his father. He earned a bachelor’s degree in natural resources management at UAF and is working on his master’s now. Wylde hails from Virginia and was lured to Fairbanks by a friend. She earned a biology degree with a pre-veterinary focus at UAF. Both say their education helps them with the farm. Wylde gained practical experience working at Rosie Creek Farm. Neither was immersed in agriculture in their childhoods, but Wylde loved to grow strawberries.
The land is a big part of the family’s lifestyle. Elias, 10, and Cora, 7, help with the garden and animals. Baby Nils will assist as soon as he is old enough.
“We have no TV and we grow our own food. We came here to live a natural, healthy, clean lifestyle,” DeLaca said. “We live meagerly so we can be with our family,” Wylde said.
They assist Two Rivers School with its community garden and Learning Landscape, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife program to foster a schoolyard habitat with trails and wildflowers.
Wylde taught Agriculture in the Classroom at the school last year and helps with the science fair. “Education is my passion,” she said.
DeLaca has a reforestation business and works for the university off and on. He cleared areas of the 20 acres they own and built their house, barns and greenhouses. He used the wood to make dog sleds, chicken pens and birch bows for the children. “Everything plays a role,” DeLaca said. “We take advantage of all the resources and make things as efficient and useful as we can.”
More plans are in the works. DeLaca has started the foundation for another house and wants to build more greenhouses and a sauna. He is figuring out a way to use farm waste for animal feed and wants to start growing grains.
So far only one acre is in production but more will be put to use in the future.
“Time and money have kept us from expanding,” DeLaca said.
“Being a farmer and a graduate student doesn’t provide much income.”
After 10 years DeLaca and Wylde are still learning how to run a farm. “We try to be really conscientious about the decisions we make,” he said. They follow organic principles and have discovered that “organic and sustainable are not the same thing.”
While they face many challenges, including water, weeds, weather, voles and resources, the rewards are evident. “We sure do eat well,” Wylde said with a big smile.
In addition to all the vegetables, they grow strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb, as well as perennial fruits like sea berries, saskatoons and honey berries. Herbs are an important element. The tea that Wylde makes from an assortment of chamomile, sage, anise and other herbs is so tasty the children clamor for it. The newest project this year will be beekeeping for honey.
Goods are sold to Homegrown Market, Pita Place and occasionally the Tanana Valley Farmers Market. The main buyers are the CSA members, who meet throughout the summer at Funtime Park in Fairbanks for distribution day. The children play while the adults sort out the week’s bounty.
Sharing the food they grow is part of the joy at Feedback Farm, along with the help they get from friends when extra hands are needed.
Still another is the way the children are being raised. DeLaca said, “They may not appreciate it til they go out into the world and people say ‘you did what when you were a kid?’”
Contact information: Feedback Farm firstname.lastname@example.org 488-5993
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.