Park would teach students where food, fiber comes from

Cultivating education

Posted: Sunday, January 15, 2006

With some reluctance, Blair Martin has accepted many requests from teachers to bring students to his family farm. The teachers want students to learn about where their food comes from, but Blair, a lifelong farmer and certified teacher, says students deserve more than his family farm can offer.

“They keep coming back year after year despite all of the discouragement I give them because what we have to offer is the best they can find,” Blair said.

Martin, who owns the Diamond M Ranch on Kalifornsky Beach Road, and his father hope to change all of that with a 240-acre plot of land they are leasing halfway between Kenai and Soldotna behind the Duck Inn and Trinity Greenhouse on K-Beach. The Martins would like to transform the lot into an educational agricultural park where young people can learn hands on about cultivating crops, farm animals and animals that live in northern climates.

“A lot of kids grow up thinking eggs come from a carton and milk comes from a plastic jug,” Martin said. “How can they make good ecological decisions if that’s their understanding of natural science? ... It’s important that today’s students, who are going to be tomorrow’s political and corporate leaders, understand where their food and fiber comes from.”

The Martins plan to erect a riding arena, educational complex and get U.S. Department of Agriculture zoo status so the park can keep an eclectic collection of animals including bison, reindeer and musk ox. Zoo status also would enable the park to accept orphan animals from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, animals that would otherwise be euthanized, such as moose.

The park would create solidarity between animal user groups who could bring their resources together to support the park, along with money from various donors, said Terry Best, acting president of the equestrian association and an enthusiastic supporter of the park.

“Hopefully we will get all of these user groups together as users of one facility,” Best said.

The park will create new educational and recreational opportunities as well as ensure the continuation of some that already exist, Best said.

Horse enthusiasts, for example, have been holding rodeos at Soldotna’s Equestrian Park, but their time there may be limited.

Although no decisions have been made yet, the city of Soldotna is considering redeveloping the property into something that might generate more income, such as a sports arena or camper park, Best said.

“Then the agricultural-based part of it doesn’t come into play,” Best said.

The new park would not only continue to provide opportunities for horse enthusiasts, but expand upon them and could provide a grounds for fairs and carnivals, as well, Best said.

“It’s a good community builder,” Best said of the project.

With suburbs growing and the land available for park projects shrinking, now is the time for the community to pull together to make an agricultural park happen, Martin said.

“Fifty years from now there isn’t going to be a a real good place for a park and educational farm facility unless we do something now,” Martin said. “It’s such an important aspect of the community’s future that I think various businesses and nonprofit foundations ... and other groups would be willing to stand behind it.”

Martin also would like to see the community become heavily involved with the project.

“We’ve donated our time and money just to get the ball rolling and now we’re ready for the community to jump in and work with us,” Martin said.

A meeting will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Bridges in Soldotna to give community members the chance to offer ideas for the future of the park.

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