Farming Couple Adds Midwestern Color to Alaska Springs

Get blooming

If the Bakers can grow beautiful peonies in Palmer, Alaska, chances are good you can grow them where you live. These peony-growing tips come from

  • Peonies prefer a chilly reception. They do better in Vermont than in the Deep South.
  • They love direct sun but can tolerate some afternoon shade.
  • Plant roots (only experts use seeds) with their tops just below the surface of the soil (no deeper than one or two inches). Fall is the ideal time to plant.
  • If peonies get less than an inch of rain a week, you should water them, but they should never be in soggy soil

It’s not unusual for students from rural communities to meet at Nebraska Wesleyan, get married and eventually make a go of it as farmers. But Craige (‘71) and Kathy (‘70) Baker’s path to success in agriculture has been anything but typical.

The Bakers haven’t ridden the recent rise in corn prices to higher incomes. They plant no soybeans. Nor do they manage thousands of acres. Tending a mere 40 acres, the Bakers were named their state’s “Farm Family of the Year” in 2011.

Farming in Alaska is a different business.

“Their 40-acre Gray Owl Farm north of Palmer in the Matanuska Valley, is, like most of Alaska agriculture, a niche business,” wrote Lori Potter for the Kearney Hub. “The Bakers sell bluegrass sod, hanging flower baskets and, starting in 2012, fresh-cut peonies.” They make the most of Alaska’s short growing season with greenhouses.

“Now it’s a pretty good gig,” Craige said of their Alaska operation. “We work seven months of the year and have five months off, and it’s 40 acres.” While Craige grows nugget bluegrass sod, Kathy focuses on plants and flowers in the greenhouses.

The Bakers have learned you don’t need to sell food to satisfy hungry customers. “People, because of the long winter, are ready to spend on color,” Kathy said, “and they want it big and right away after Memorial Day.”

The Bakers feed that hunger for color with 23 varieties of peonies ranging from white to red. Together, they helped to found the Alaska Peony Growers Association.

Kearney Hub article on Craige and Kathy Baker