After earning a degree in space physics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz., Amber O’Dell-Andersen had a shocking revelation. Her heart was much drawn to soil than the atmosphere.
“It hit me that farming was what I wanted to do,” O’Dell-Andersen said. “And now I am working my way there.”
At Frozen Fireweed Farm in the Steele Creek area off Chena Hot Springs Road, O’Dell-Andersen and her husband Nathan are getting a start in agriculture. Having grown up on a farm in Colorado, O’Dell Anderson is no stranger to producing food, but learning to do it in Fairbanks has its challenges. Prior to moving here, the Arizona climate offered different problems. “I wanted out of the desert,” she said. “I was done with heat and sand. When Nathan got a job offer in Fairbanks it was a 30-second decision to come here and we love it.”
She keeps layer hens all year long and raises broilers and turkeys in the summer and grows barley and all manner of vegetables.
She also has German Angora rabbits that need to be sheared every three months. Frozen Fireweed is one of the few farms in Alaska that raise this type of rabbit, which is a large, gentle breed. “The fiber is very soft and warm,” O’Dell-Andersen said. “I like the fact that you shear them. Other rabbits you have to pluck and comb every day. These produce a lot more fiber.”
The rabbits are kind of delicate so O’Dell-Andersen doesn’t mind pampering them, even keeping them in her basement when it’s cold.
While in college in Arizona, O’Dell-Andersen kept a garden and when she moved to Fairbanks five years ago she knew she wanted enough land to start a farm. Her day job is with Doyon Drilling as a document control specialist and Nathan is a database administrator with Utility Services of Alaska. The farm is Amber’s but Nathan is in charge of watering and building things. “It’s probably not what he thought when he proposed,” she said. “There is no way I could do this if he wasn’t on board.
“The farm speaks to me,” she said. “I like being outside when it’s warm and smelling the dirt. I like eating what we grow and knowing where things came from. I have this idea that it’s important to help other people get food that hasn’t come 18,000 miles.”
O’Dell-Andersen will be at the Downtown Market this summer (Mondays from 4 to 8 p.m., June to September, in Golden Heart Park) to sell fiber, veggies, chocolates, honey, lip balm, soaps, jams and jellies. The eggs sell without any effort. “I don’t even have to try,” she said.
She enjoys making jams and jellies so much that she is going to put in more crabapple and other fruit trees and more berries. She has honey berries and saskatoons now. “I’m impressed how well the berries do,” O’Dell-Andersen said. “It was less than ideal conditions when we put them in but I kept watering them.”
Her planting style is a bit unusual, as she uses box-type planters and covers them with hoop houses that she moves around for crop rotation. She has learned by doing, and by asking. “I talk to people,” she said. “We have great resources, like Calypso Farm, the Sustainable Ag conference and Steve Seefeldt” (UAF Cooperative Extension Service agent).
Her goal is to move to a location where she can put more land in production. “I hope to make this a viable enterprise and provide food for my family and our community,” she said. “Alaska needs a little more food security.”
As for challenges, O’Dell-Andersen said, “I have the same problems all farmers have, being time and money. I split my time between the farm and my regular job. I can’t afford to be a farmer full time so I work late at night planting seed starts.”
The secret to her success has been hard work and the midnight sun. “We’ve done well because I’ve had good support and a husband who doesn’t mind being up late at night planting seeds with me.”
When not working or farming, O’Dell-Andersen enjoys spinning, crocheting, weaving, sewing and cooking.
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. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.