Regenerative Agriculture: Delta family farm hopes to address food insecurity, help the environment

Updated: May. 22, 2021 at 5:05 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - For the Wrigley family, barley is a way of life on their 1,700-acre farm and flour mill in Delta Junction, Alaska.

“We turn barley into brownies, we turn barley into pancakes, cookies, couscous, hot breakfast cereal, and we have our regular barley flour,” Milo Wrigley, the General Manager of Alaska Flour Company said.

Wrigley Farm History

Hailing from Idaho, owner and farmer Bryce Wrigley moved after not being able to expand in his home state.

“I was the 3rd generation in the family farm and there was just no place to expand. All the other neighbors, their kids, and grandkids were coming back,” Bryce said.

After seeing a story in an agricultural magazine about opportunities to farm in Alaska, Bryce was ready to load up his wife and two kids and move north.

“I was 25 years old and immortal still, and it seemed like a good idea,” Bryce chuckled.

Farmer Bryce Wrigley stands in his fields of barley.  He switched to a no-till method of...
Farmer Bryce Wrigley stands in his fields of barley. He switched to a no-till method of agriculture in 2010 and has since incorporated more of the soil health principles into his farm.(Milo Wrigley)

With that, the Wrigley family moved to Delta Junction and started their farm in 1983. They grew various crops and even bred pigs for a while before settling into their true passion, raising barley.

Then in 2011, they opened the only commercial flour mill in the state, the Alaska Flour Company.

“We had three goals for the flour mill. One was to address food security in Alaska, one was to create new markets for the farmers around the area,” Bryce explained. “The third reason was to create the opportunity for our children to stay on the farm and pass that down, and that’s what so far is happening. "

Bryce’s son Milo Wrigley works and lives on the farm. He said the operation had seen a large increase since the pandemic hit. With flour and other essentials becoming scarce, many residents sourced local producers to fill their food pantries.

“We are a hundred miles away from Fairbanks; we are 300 miles away from Anchorage as opposed to 3,000 miles away to the closest state in the union. I mean, why wouldn’t we want to shorten the food supply chain?” Milo asked.

Regenerative Agriculture

But having the only flour mill in Alaska isn’t the only thing that makes this farm unique.

Farmer Bryce Wrigley follows the soil principles of regenerative agriculture. Developed by soil scientists at the Alaska Natural Resources Conservation Service, these principles guide farmers in working with the land and environment using regenerative practices.

These practices consist of four main principles:

  1. Minimize disturbance (avoid tilling the ground as much as possible.)
  2. Maximize soil cover (by using cover crops.)
  3. Maximize biodiversity (plant diversity above ground means there is diversity below ground.)
  4. Maximize the presence of living roots (by keeping a living root in the soil all year round; annuals or perennials.)

The Wrigley farm plants cover crops on fallow or rest years, and is planting a pollinator garden this summer. They also use a no-till tractor instead of the traditional tractors that dig up the ground and leave the topsoil exposed.

16 different varieties of cover crops were planted last season on fields going through a fallow...
16 different varieties of cover crops were planted last season on fields going through a fallow (rest) year.(Bryce Wrigley)

These practices help minimize soil loss, reduce fertilizer costs, and help the environment long term by keeping the soil “living” and pulling carbon out of the air.

Bryce said, “It’s important that the people who live on the land and work the land... that they recognize this is a temporary stewardship. So let’s do a good job so somebody else can come after us and pick up that mantle and continue that stewardship. If we destroy it, then there is not very much to do with it; but if we maintain it, then that land is there and it will feed generations and generations and generations.”

The farm is also conducting soil experiments for the Alaska Natural Resources Conservation Service. They are testing out cover crop variations and trying out new varieties of barley.

“There is a number of trials going on here,” Bryce said. “With a lack of funding for research, we have to figure out what it is we need and then move forward on it because we just don’t have any other way of getting that information.”

Living Soil Series

Join us June 1st through 4th as we investigate deeper into these healthy soil principles in our “Living Soil Series.” We will look closer at the Wrigley family farm and speak with soil experts from the Alaska Natural Resources Conservation Service on how you can practice these principles to give your garden a boost and help the environment.

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