Agritourism builds in the valley

Nancy Tarnai

Tracy Pulido is jumping on the “farm stay” band wagon, a movement popular in Europe for decades and growing like a weed in the U.S. now.

At her Chena Lakes Farm, Pulido has built a charming farmhouse to accommodate guests, who are welcome to view daily life amidst the plants and animals. Some visitors even go to work pulling weeds.

Best of all, the farm’s overly friendly ambassadors, five mammoth donkeys, are standing by to greet the guests. The animals were chosen for their ability to mow the pasture and they provide a bonus of pure organic manure for Pulido’s plants. It is the plants that Pulido is most passionate about;; she raises over 200 types of perennials, all from seed.

“I don’t grow much of anything useful,” she said. “But they are all North Pole tested for five years.”

Photo by Nancy Tarnai
Tracy Pulido with her donkeys, whose job is to "mow" the pasture and provide organic matter for the garden.

The former teacher hails from a Wisconsin suburb where she grew up with goats, chickens and a big garden. She arrived in Barrow 30 years ago and came to dwell at her 13-acre farm outside of North Pole with her husband with a goal of becoming more independent.

Pulido is a familiar face at the Tanana Valley Farmers Market, where she sells perennials and dispenses free advice about shrubs, fruit trees and flowers. “It’s all trial and error,” Pulido said. “I study the seeds. If they are close relatives I will try a sub-species.” She starts the seeds in pots, then plants them in the garden for a couple of years. “You have to have patience,” she said.

Her mission with the shrubs has been to determine which ones are hardiest. Spirea, which grows five feet tall and has pink flowers, is one of her favorites. “I like to visit people and dig up shrubs that have been growing for 30 years,” she said.

“Hard work and research are the secrets to success.”

If it’s not Wednesday or Saturday when Pulido is at the market she is likely home on the farm tending the plants or caring for the animals. She finds the donkeys fun to ride and has even tried having them pull a plow. The donkeys aren’t the only critters on the farm; Pulido also raises chickens and turkeys. With turkey eggs bringing in 50 cents each, Pulido said she would turn the place into a turkey farm if she had the room.

Photo by Nancy Tarnai
Simple country furnishings create an appealing look in the dining room at Chena Lakes Farm.

The “farm stay” aspect is fairly new and the guests are only trickling in, but Pulido has high hopes of building up agritourism for the area. The guest accommodations are a beautiful rendition of an American farmhouse, Alaska-style. The logs were cut in Tok and Pulido peeled them herself. The interior floors are covered with real linoleum and the furnishings are simple Americana style. The house is country without being cutesy. And guests get an all-Alaska breakfast prepared by Pulido.

She envisions building up the guest business and having the farm become a tourist attraction for visitors who would like to see Alaska agriculture in action. The house and grounds could be used for weddings, receptions or holiday parties. A gazebo was built in back of the house for events such as these. She built a 28 x 40-foot greenhouse but uses it sparingly due to the high cost of heating it. On a recent visit it was being used as a place to line dry the laundry.

Her newest idea for hosting guests is something she read about called “weed dating” where single people gather at a farm to pull weeds as they socialize. “That would be fun,” Pulido said. “You can tell a lot about a person by how they weed.”

Visit or learn more about Chena Lakes Farm.

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.