Although massive pumpkins garnered a lot of attention (and set new records) at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer this month, it’s the tasty gourds that deserve respect.
This time of year Virgil Severns is harvesting colorful, beautiful and appropriately sized pumpkins and squash at his Range View Farm, 6 mile Chena Hot Springs Road. His booth at the Tanana Valley Farmers Market throughout August and September fairly screams “autumn.”
Severns grew up on a farm in Kansas. He earned an agriculture education degree at Kansas State University and taught in Kansas for two years before returning to KSU for a master’s in livestock production.
Severns likes to say that it was Anne who got him to Alaska. He taught general science and biology at Lathrop High School for five years then became an agriculture agent for the Cooperative Extension Service. He served the Yukon and Kuskokwim areas from Fairbanks but for the last five years was based in Nome.
He and Anne raised six children.
While in the beginning Severns liked to try new and different crops he has lately focused on pumpkins and squash. He has also grown beans, beets, carrots, corn, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi and chard. He grows cucumbers for Pita Place and Homegrown Market.
Severns got his pumpkin seeds from the Division of Agriculture and the Agricultural Experiment Station and planted them in a 20-square-foot plot. He likes that they are much less labor intensive than some other crops.
His pumpkins are so picture perfect that at a recent Wednesday market a customer stopped in her tracks and asked Severns how he grew such gorgeous pumpkins.
“God did that,” Severns said quietly with a big grin.
Severns is pleased that Fairbanksans are becoming more interested in fresh food. He credits market research done by UAF’s Carol Lewis and the efforts of the Division of Agriculture’s Alaska Grown program.
He hopes to see more young people get interested in agriculture.
“Recognize you are not going to get rich but it’s a healthy job with fresh air and exercise and maybe you’ll make a little money,” he said. “The potential is here in my opinion. It isn’t as easy as getting a job at McDonald’s because it takes a lot of initiative.”
Severns intends to keep farming as long as he can. His secret to success is simple: hard work.
Range View 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.