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Introducing Palmer

From Eklutna Lake Rd, Glenn Hwy continues north, crossing Knik and Matanuska Rivers at the northern end of Cook Inlet, and at Mile 35.3 reaching a major junction with the George Parks Hwy. At this point, Glenn Hwy curves sharply to the east and heads into Palmer, 7 miles away. If you're driving, a much more scenic way to reach Palmer is to leave Glenn Hwy just before it crosses Knik River and follow Old Glenn Hwy into town.

Born during President Roosevelt's New Deal, Palmer was one of the great social experiments in an era when human nature was believed infinitely flexible. The mission was to transplant 200 farming families, who were refugees from the Depression-era dustbowl (the worst agricultural disaster in US history), to Alaska where they would cultivate a new agricultural economy.

Trainloads of Midwesterners and their Sears & Roebuck furniture were dropped off in the Matanuska and Susitna valleys, deemed suitable by the government for such endeavors. Soil rich by Alaskan standards enjoyed a growing season just long enough for cool-weather grains and certain vegetables. There was little margin for error, however, and any unexpected frost could destroy an entire year of seed and sweat.

The farmers' perseverance paid off, however, and today the Mat-Su Valley is Alaska's breadbasket, producing 75% of the state's total agricultural output. Palmer is famed for its 90lb cabbages and monster root vegetables but what is grown commercially, from potatoes and peas to carrots and broccoli, is the same size found in markets in every other state. To Alaskans the attraction of Mat-Su veggies is not their size but their freshness: produce that comes from just up the road, not 2000 miles across the country.

The attraction of Palmer to tourists is that of a small farming community with a Midwestern appearance but almost encircled by mountains. For those who want to skip the city hassles and high prices of Anchorage, Palmer is an excellent option with just enough choices in lodging, restaurants and sights to keep you satisfied for a day or two.