Calypso Farm has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a field of tree stumps and seed money that literally included buying seeds.
More than 20 years later, with three acres of vegetables, herbs and flowers in meticulously tended rows, plus sheep, goats, chickens, honeybees, berry bushes and an orchard, the nonprofit Calypso Farm & Ecology Center in Ester has become an epicenter for teaching self-reliance and sustainable ways of living.
In addition to growing, selling and donating organic food in the Fairbanks area and beyond, the farm’s education center offers classes in all-things farming, from soil preparation to seed collecting to preservation and storage, as well as animal husbandry, blacksmithing, spinning, knitting and other folk arts taught by founders Tom Zimmer and Susan Willsrud and others.
And then there are the farm’s whimsical contributions to Ester’s 4th of July parade, from its Rutabaga Band, with instruments fashioned from plants and veggies, to zombies staggering down the road with an “Eat Locals” banner, handing out radishes rather than candy.
Many of the farm’s offerings engage kids — through school classrooms, homeschool curriculums, fieldtrips and summer camps. Calypso wants them to know where their food comes from and to be inspired to grow their own. Some who attended earlier programs now bring their children to the farm.
In addition to farm buildings, Calypso has a woodworking shop, a blacksmithing shop, a fiber studio, a 30-foot classroom yurt and a wraparound deck overlooking the lower field so people of all abilities can enjoy the farm.
“People who are less mobile can be on the porch and feel like they’re in the garden,” Zimmer said. “Even though they’re not walking through the field, they can see it and can experience it. We bring the animals and vegetables to them.”
Promoting food sovereignty in rural Alaska, Indigenous Agriculture is an extension of Calypso’s Farmer Training Program, weaving agriculture with traditional knowledge. Calypso is partnering with Alaska Native activist Eva Dawn Burk to build a network of Indigenous farmers.
Coming soon is a covered, screened-in, treetop platform for teaching about life in the boreal forest.
Sharing food and knowledge is Calypso’s bottom line.
“We grow food but we are also trying grow farmers,” Zimmer says.
Alaska farmers in particular. Zoe Fuller is among them.
Fuller had farming experience, but after attending Calypso’s two-week intensive, learned more about the business side, and now heads Singing Nettle Farm on Lazy Mountain above Palmer.
“Their approach is so wholistic,” she says. “It let me see a model for how people do this in a way that sustains people and communities. It’s a way I can tangibly contribute to my community.”