Like a Tree to the Soil: a history of farming in Alaska's Tanana Valley, 1903 to 1940

by Josephine E. Papp & Josie A. Phillips

To order this book, contact the Pat Holloway with the Georgeson Botanical Garden Society at

The men and women who came north to Alaska's great wilderness for gold, furs, and adventure had one thing in common, no matter their origin or their purpose: they all had to eat. Along with the miners and trappers came farmers and dairymen, people whose dream was a homestead and the joys of growing good food. Getting enough to eat could be a struggle in the heart of winter, but early Fairbanks farmers, gardeners, and greenhouse operators rose to the challenge, making the Tanana Valley almost self-sufficient in crop production. Their work a century ago can provide insight to today's movement toward creating sustainable agriculture in the circumpolar north. 

Recorded in these pages are the efforts of the colorful W.F. Thompson, founder of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, who cheered on the organization of the Tanana Valley Agricultural Association, and the researchers at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm of the Alaska Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, who worked with local farmers to develop new varieties of grain, legumes, vegetables, and fruit that would survive and even thrive in the interior of Alaska. Fur farmers, roadhouse operators, drovers, and woodcutters are also listed here.

The authors, farm women themselves, record the names and lives of the many unrecognized agricultural pioneers of the Tanana Valley, some of whom may be remembered in the name of a street or neighborhood, others whose contributions are unremarked and almost forgotten.
Family photos, photographs from Alaska library archives collections, interviews with pioneer farmers, and excerpts from their writings complement information gleaned from the newspapers of the day and reports from the United States Department of Agriculture.


Other book-length publications (available as PDF downloads):

2006. Wildland Fire in Alaska: A History of Organized Fire Suppression and Management in the Last Frontier, by Susan K. Todd and Holly Ann Jewkes. A history of the Alaska Fire Control Service and fire control and management efforts in Alaska from 1939 through 2005. Bulletin 114.

2004. Reindeer Roundup: A K-12 Educator's Guide to Reindeer in Alaska, by Carrie Bucki with Greg Finstad and Tammy A. Smith. A curriculum on Alaska history and natural resources, focusing on reindeer, their biology, behavior, and their history in Alaska. MP 2004-07.

1991. Wildlife Production: Conservation and Sustainable Development. Compiled and edited by Lyle A. Renecker and Robert J. Hudson. Proceedings from the Second International Wildlife Ranching Symposium. ISBN 0-987090-000-5, paperback. AFES MP 91-6. (offline only, no pdf)

1980. Eskimos, Reindeer and Land, by Richard O. Stern, Edward L.
Arobio, Larry L. Naylor, and Wayne C. Thomas. A report on an interdisciplinary study undertaken to investigate the social, economic, and aspects of reindeer herding in northwest Alaska.

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