Even though the Stamey family has lived in other locations around the world, their hearts were always tied to 20 Mile Farm. After residing in India, Saudi Arabia and the Pribilof Islands in Alaska, Roy Stamey, Joyce Hannan and their daughter Mackenzie Stamey are now happily ensconced at their farm off Chena Hot Springs Road.
Roy and Joyce landed teaching jobs at American schools overseas, raising their children abroad. They met in Juneau in 1987 and wherever they lived had a garden of some sort. “When I was overseas I wanted Two Rivers,” Roy said. “This is our home.”
Mackenzie grew up hankering for farm life after hearing tales of her dad growing up on a farm in Georgia. “I liked the ideal of subsistence, of living off the land,” Mackenzie said. A student of natural resources management and biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, she is an integral part of the family farm, according to her parents. This summer her involvement wasn’t what it usually is because she worked for Risse’s Greenhouse and traveled to China on a fern-collecting expedition.
However, Mackenzie, 19, is in charge of ordering seeds and planning what the farm will grow each summer.
Her brother Michael is a chef at Seattle’s Coastal Kitchen, a restaurant that uses fresh, local ingredients.
“We were always interested in eating good food,” Joyce said. Even in Saudi Arabia they had a little garden and in India they grew herbs and lettuce in pots. “We have a real desire to eat our own food,” Roy said.
In India, Roy attended a week-long session at Navdanya, an educational farm, lead by Vandana Shiva. The program emphasizes the importance of saving and sharing seeds. “I learned about long-term sustainable practices and clean agriculture,” Roy said.
Five years ago 20 Mile farm was established and the next year the family began selling produce at the Tanana Valley Farmers Market.
The farm keeps expanding but Roy insists they are the “newbies” in the local agricultural realm. “I look at other farms and feel like we are pretenders,” he said.
The abundance of vegetables at their beautiful farm belies that sentiment. “We try to grow what people want,” Joyce said. “We’re trying to find our own niche,” Roy said. “We have good produce and good sales at the market but we’re producing what everybody else is growing.”
“It’s always a work in progress,” Joyce said. They have focused on greens but also grow 55 different varieties of vegetables. Honey is another of their products. Joyce enjoys introducing people to new vegetables at the farmers market and to discussing ways to prepare them. “It’s fun to talk about food,” she said.
“We experiment every year,” Roy said. “We’re starting to settle down to the crops we know are certain.” Mackenzie enjoys trying plants like purple cauliflower, Asian greens, amaranth, barley and even artichokes.
The farm is situated on 25 acres with about half an acre in production. “It’s mostly forest but we have room to expand,” Roy said. “We’re at that point in our lives where we are wondering do we expand or wait for Mackenzie to take over.”
One of the biggest challenges is time, especially since the couple continues to teach. Roy is an English tutor at UAF’s Interior Aleutians Campus and Joyce teaches at Two Rivers Elementary School.
They participate in the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms program, which places volunteer workers at farms. They’ve had good experiences with a Swiss woman last summer and a Japanese woman this summer. “They were a tremendous help,” Roy said. Just keeping up with weeding is a constant challenge.
The family is concentrating on building their soil through composting. Their goals are to continue improving the farm and slowly expand it. “We want to refine our products and proceed with caution,” Roy said.
“And continue to eat well,” Joyce said.
The family has learned a lot in five years, Roy said. “We understand it’s a long term thing and we started late.”
“We’ll catch up,” Mackenzie said.
Look for 20 Mile Farm at the Tanana Valley Farmers Market on Saturdays
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.