Palmer: Alaska's Agricultural Hub

The speed limit is 25. People walk or ride a bike instead of drive to the local bookstore or coffee house. Gardens sprout up in almost every yard. This is no accident. Palmer has grown slowly over the years, but residents work hard to keep that small town feel and their farming roots intact. Most fresh produce and milk products grown or produced in Alaska come from here. Community supported agriculture, or CSAs, are starting to pop up in the Matanuska Valley. You can pick your own produce at a handful of farms. Or visit an outdoor market.

Palmer was nothing more than a small railroad stop until the 1930s, when 202 farm families were voluntarily relocated from the Upper Midwest to the Mat-Su as part of the Depression-era New Deal project, better know as "The Colony Project." The community blossomed in just a few years, as these hearty farmers cleared trees and planted crops, raised dairy cows, and carved out a living in the Far North. Some 60 percent of them left after the first 10 years, but the others continued to farm, and today, Palmer is still Alaska’s agricultural hub.

You can check out the produce and local food products (like fireweed honey or birch syrup) each Friday during the summer at the town’s Friday Fling. You can also tour local farms—including a ranch where they raise reindeer and elk—and visit original Colony Homesteads in the area just outside of town.

Palmer still feels like the quaint, small town it is, with a Main Street that’s lined with local shops and restaurants, and a log-cabin visitor center/museum. Palmer also hosts the Alaska State Fair in late August and early September, featuring nationally renowned musicians, carnival rides and food vendors, plus displays by local beekeepers and farmers. (Don’t miss the 100-pound cabbages and 300-pound pumpkins—the product of the rich soil deposited by glaciers and long hours of daylight!)

And the mountains visible from town are easily accessed by road for great hiking or wintertime skiing. You can also take a jet boat up to the Knik Glacier, visit the old Independence gold mine on Hatcher Pass, or go wild blueberry picking near Pioneer Peak.