You may think of peony farming as a newer crop here in Alaska, but you may be surprised to realize it’s really just a continuation of early Homer homesteading. Many Homer farmers who established themselves in the 1940s and 50s have now begun growing peonies. Homer’s unique agricultural history has helped develop peony cultivation in the area, leading to Homer being known as ‘the City of Peonies’. Over the next couple of weeks we will share the stories of local Homer farmers as part of the 3rd Annual Peony Celebration. So, follow us on social media to follow our Peony Celebration coverage.
The Pratt Museum has teamed up with Alaska Beauty Peony Co-Op to tell these stories. To start our collaboration we interviewed Allison with Willow Drive Gardens. As board chair and member of Alaska Beauty Peony Co-Op she was able to share some of the history of peony farming in Alaska and share with us how the local co-op is progressing.
Why are co-ops so necessary for small farms? The co-op provides the necessary marketing and distribution that its members need. All of the members of the co-op are small boutique farms focused on quality, it would not be sustainable for each farm to do everything themselves. Having a co-op provides necessary infrastructure, allowing members to focus on growing and harvesting their beautiful peonies!
Alaska Beauty Peony Co-Op is currently in its 10th year of operation. As the oldest co-op of peony growers in the state of Alaska they have formed partnerships with the Homer area beekeepers association and have even received funding for food security to help fund co-op infrastructure projects. According to Allison, Alaska peony farms are not going to reach the size and scale of the industrial farms of the Netherlands as their country has invested heavily in the mechanical infrastructure required for such large scale production. Our local Homer peony farms tend their fields by hand and use wheelbarrows to move the blooms, you won’t see tractor trailers with conveyor belts going into the fields.
The Alaska Beauty Co-Op particularly focuses on sustainability and reducing environmental impact. For instance, Allison does not use any harsh chemicals or toxic pesticides on her farm; instead utilizing lower impact substances like baking soda and potassium bicarbonate to inhibit mold growth and neem oil to inhibit thrips.
In addition to environmental sustainability, the co-op also focuses on economic sustainability. Helping their farmers stay involved and up to date by answering questions like: How does the co-op continue to succeed within the industry? What scale do they need to reach? What markets make the most sense? They aim to help their farmers by branching out and facilitating new ideas like making bath salts from imperfect blooms to reduce waste and increase profits.
Alaska Beauty Peony Co-Op is a huge part of our community here in Homer. If you are interested in supporting the co-op go to their website at https://alaskabeautypeony.com/collections/in-state. Check out our upcoming videos on Instagram and Facebook @prattmuseum to learn more.