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They may have fans thanks to their reality TV series, but the Kilcher family can show visitors that homesteading still holds more sway with them than Hollywood.
Brothers Atz and Otto are the stars of the Discovery series Alaska: The Last Frontier, documenting how they and their sons continue to live off the land much in the way their father, Yule, did when they were growing up.
Yule had come to Alaska in the 1940s, to escape wartime tensions in his native Switzerland. When Alaska granted him 160 acres near Kachemack Bay to homestead, it was definitely still pioneer times in those parts. As he and his wife Ruth reared their eight kids, they did so without electricity or indoor plumbing.
But they weren’t totally cut off from the world—and in fact, Yule and his family gained a certain level of fame long before reality TV. In 1955 Yule was one of 55 delegates chosen to help write Alaska’s new state constitution. He also produced the first documentary of life on a homestead—A Pioneer Family in Alaska—which he exhibited all over Europe during the 1950s. In the 1960s, he served in the Alaska Senate, while Ruth, a poet and writer, penned a regular column for the Anchorage Daily News.
Even with the Kilchers’ notoriety, their eight kids—including Atz and Otto—grew up farming, fishing, herding cattle, and looking for coal along the beaches to build the home fires. During their downtime, they turned to music—singing, and playing guitar and piano. Over the years, Atz became famous around Alaska as a cowboy poet and singer-songwriter of folk, bluegrass and western—as well as being an expert yodeler. (There’s definitely something in the genes: one of Atz’s daughters is singer/songwriter Jewel). He and other family members still get together to perform from time to time.
Over the years, the homestead has grown to 600 acres, and a few conveniences have come along, too (like a road that goes to Homer). Today, assuming you call ahead for an appointment, you can visit the homestead and see a little about what life is like behind the scenes of the reality show. The eight siblings own the homestead jointly in a trust, protected by a conservation easement. One of the main log cabins has been turned into a living museum, where you can take a guided tour by one of the siblings. You’ll see old tools they used to use for working the land, and hear stories about growing up as 20th century pioneers.
One revelation most fans of the show might have is that the family really is a lot bigger than what you see on TV: Atz and Otto have six sisters, none of whom are officially on the show, but many of whom still live on or near the homestead. Sister Mossy, for instance, has produced folk albums of her own, and also runs Seaside Farms on the homestead, where you can pick raspberries in early fall, or stay overnight in a cabin, campsite or a youth hostel. The youngest sister, Catkin, also has a cabin on the homestead that she rents out to travelers.
Depending on when you come to the homestead, you might be able to try your hand at a little basic homesteading yourself. The Kilchers periodically offer art and music workshops, or workshops where you go birding, pick mushrooms, make wild berry jam, or learn about building fences. Come in July, and you can participate in the annual Homestead Games, featuring races, games, home-cooked food and music.
Tours are from 10 am to 4 pm. Advance notice is necessary, please call 907-235-8713.