» Return to UAF News and Events

New book celebrates Alaska's first farmers

Submitted by Doreen Fitzgerald
Phone: 907-474-5042


The people who came north to Alaska for gold, furs and adventure had one thing in common, no matter their origin or their purpose: they all had to eat, and getting enough food was a struggle in the heart of winter. People with dreams of homesteads and good crops also arrived. These early Fairbanks farmers, dairymen, gardeners and greenhouse operators rose to the challenge, making the Tanana Valley almost self-sufficient in crop production.

Two Fairbanks women, Josephine Papp and Josie Phillips, have realized their longtime dream of recognizing these early Tanana Valley farmers by publishing their research in the book "Like a Tree to the Soil: a History of Farming in Alaska's Tanana Valley, 1903 to 1940."

The book chronicles the lives of the many unrecognized agricultural pioneers of the Tanana Valley. Some may be remembered in the name of a street or neighborhood; others' contributions have been almost forgotten. Family photos, photographs from Alaska library archives collections, interviews with pioneer farmers and excerpts from their writings complement information gleaned from the newspapers of the day and reports from the United States Department of Agriculture. Papp and Phillips also highlight the efforts of the colorful W.F. Thompson, founder of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, who cheered on the development of the Tanana Valley Agricultural Association, and the researchers at the Agricultural Experiment Station in Fairbanks. The researchers worked with local farmers to develop new varieties of grain, legumes, vegetables and fruit that would survive and even thrive in Interior Alaska. All of the information the authors could gather on fur farmers, roadhouse operators, drovers and woodcutters is also contained in the book.

The 264-page paperback book includes maps, black and white photos, illustrations, tables, appendices, a bibliography, notes and an index, and is priced at $26. Published by the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, the book is available at Gulliver's Books in Fairbanks or can be ordered by mail from the UAF Georgeson Botanical Garden, P.O. Box 757200, UAF, Fairbanks, AK 99775 (add $4 shipping and handling for one copy, plus $1.50 for each additional copy).

CONTACT: Doreen Fitzgerald, information officer, School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, at 907-474-5042 or via e-mail at fndlf2@uaf.edu