If slow and steady truly does win the race, Nancy Davidian and Chris DuBois are on the right track at Arctic Roots Farm.
When the couple bought their 74 acres four years ago they weren’t even seeking to purchase that much land. “You can’t buy five acres,” DuBois said. “They’re either zoned inappropriately or priced for prime real estate.”
Davidian considers the property to be a heavenly place so they went ahead and settled on the old homestead. It took the first year to clean everything up, and because it came with three residences, they focused on getting the houses up to par to provide income for the farm.
Slowly, the couple has been working to get the farm operating. Every corner of Arctic Roots is ship-shape and the animals are fat and happy. In addition to 25 acres of hay, Davidian and DuBois raise geese, ducks, turkeys and chickens and they have bee hives. They are also steadily working to create a perennial garden in a one-acre moose-proof fenced area with gooseberries, cranberries, raspberries, currants, asparagus, horseradish and a variety of fruit trees.
Since Davidian and DuBois are both nurses, the farm is a second job for them. Davidian is a public health nurse and DuBois works at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. They rent their “extra” houses as “bed and breakfast” lodging or as temporary lodging for newcomers.
“We are still trying to get off the ground,” Davidian said. “We spent a lot of time on infrastructure.” Carefully strategizing for the future, the couple created marketing plans for an on-site market, a you-pick farm and a community supported agriculture model where customers pay a flat fee at the beginning of the summer and get shares of whatever grows all season.
Davidian and DuBois greatly admire Calypso Farm and Ecology Center in Ester. “They are a role model for us,” Davidian said. “Promoting health and community are what we are trying to do too.” Though Calypso is a nonprofit and Arctic Roots is a business, the couple admires the foundations that Calypso has laid.
They even created a mission statement: “In a warm inviting atmosphere, Arctic Roots Farm is dedicated to a sustainable approach toward the production and sales of diverse, naturally grown whole foods and agricultural products that promote community, nutrition and health.”
While DuBois grew up on a wheat farm in eastern Colorado, he said he didn’t really have a strong knowledge of farming. “I’ve always been a gardener,” he said. The rest has been self-taught.
Davidian hails from an Ohio suburb and though she had an appreciation for the outdoors she wasn’t familiar with farming at all. But she appreciates the “back to basics” kind of life at Arctic Roots where it’s easier to see where food comes from and to make a cup of tea with herbs growing on the land.
Butchering their own birds causes Davidian to pay more attention to what she is consuming and to have more intention about what she eats, she said.
“I love being here,” she said. “I love the animals and dream about having more.” She finds it particularly sweet to share farm life with children from the neighborhood. The downside? Farming puts a damper on travel. “The animals depend on you, which is a nice thing but you’re always thinking about them.”
DuBois finds that farming keeps him physically fit. “It gives us a little better control of what we eat,” he said. The challenge to it is trying to stay out of debt. “We’re doing everything out of pocket so it is taking so long. By the time I’m 70 maybe it will be done.”
One thing he is wistful for is the close-knit farm community he recalls from his childhood. “You knew all the other farmers,” he said. “It’s not like that here.”
Arctic Roots supplies Homegrown Market with honey and Julia’s Solstice Café with eggs. The couple looks forward to establishing a CSA, even if it is only to people on their street, Esro Road at 4 mile Chena Hot Springs Road.
In the winter they enjoy cross-country skiing and Davidian knits, but this time of year they are devoted to the farm when they are not at their nursing jobs. “It’s definitely a learning place,” Davidian said.
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.