With more than 60 years of farming under his belt, Brush Bush is an expert in everything from growing potatoes to cooking them.

“I pick the Yukons fresh out of the ground and put them in the fryer. They turn a really nice golden brown. Beautiful potato,” Bush said.

Potatoes are a “bread and butter” crop for his farm, Bushes Bunches.

Ben VanderWeele shows off his crop of lettuce.

Bush is also the president of the Mat-Su chapter of the Alaska Farm Bureau and knows how important the industry is to the Valley’s local economy.

The USDA estimates Alaska has about 760 farms that have an economic impact of about $60 million a year.

“I like the excitement of growing stuff and trying to get it to the public is a big challenge,” Bush said.

That challenge is one of the reasons the Mat-Su Farm Bureau started an annual tour. Now in its ninth year, the visit gives people a better idea of where their food comes from and when it’s available.

“The idea that it’s fresher, it supports farmers, it’s not an easy life. If I’m going to buy groceries why not buy them local,” said Kathleen McCoy from Anchorage.

She was one of about two dozen people on the tour on a rainy Thursday morning.

At the VanderWeele’s farm down the road, McCoy got to sample one of his newer crops, red romaine lettuce.

“It tastes good. Very fresh. Kind of chewy, in a good way," she laughed.

The VanderWeeles plant about 200 acres every year that grow tons of potatoes and carrots, as well as leafy greens.

“This was potatoes last year and is vegetables this year,” Ben VanderWeele pointed to the patches of lettuce. “We never grow the same over and over again.”

Red romaine lettuce at Ben VanderWeele's farm.

Farming is a tough business with Alaska’s short growing season. Bush said he hopes the tours can be a different way to bring in revenue. This tour included lunch and product sampling and cost $75 per person.

“There’s a whole industry doing farm tours. This is something we’re branching into, too. Finding any way to make a dollar so I can keep this place,” he said.

Farmers hope sharing their experiences will encourage more people to buy local and keep that money in our community.

Alaska Farm Tours also offers visits to local growers and brewers around the Mat-Su Valley.

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