Published on Monday, November 7, 2016
Raised on a farm in Nebraska, Russ Pinkelman never imagined he’d grow up to be a farmer in Alaska. But after coming to Alaska with friends in 1977, Russ never looked back. However, it wasn’t agriculture that drew him to The Last Frontier.
In the beginning, he was offered a construction job in Fairbanks and decided it was time to see some country. “I was in the construction world, running jobs and carpentry and heavy equipment and everything else for some big contractors,” Russ recalls. “Then one thing led to another.” He met his now wife, Jeannie, in Fairbanks and life started drawing them south to the Delta Junction area.
Jeannie’s parents, Doug and Cathie, moved to Alaska from Montana in 1968. They bought 320 acres near Delta Junction from the State of Alaska to start making their home. Doug’s passion for agriculture continued as he researched cattle breeds and farming practices that would be suited for Alaska’s harsh environment. In the mid-80s, Doug and Cathie began their beef herd with 17 heifers and a Galloway bull from North Dakota.
“It’s all about feeding ourselves. It started from wanting to raise something a lot better tasting than a store had. That’s how he got his start on all these cattle. A lot of times the beef you bought up here was like end-of-the-road beef. So with the ranching life that he had in Montana, this was something Doug really wanted to do when he first moved up here.” Russ recalls.
By the late 1990s, with Russ’ construction expertise, Doug and Cathie had turned a vacant John Deere building into a USDA certified packing plant, Delta Meats. From there, Russ says Doug is responsible for getting him into agriculture. Today, they have a true family business, with Doug and Russ managing the family’s livestock, and Cathie and Jeannie managing the pigs that are processed at the plant. “Without either one of us, or the two gals, it wouldn’t fly like it is. We’re all together here.” Russ smiles.
In addition to their pork and beef, Delta Meats processes buffalo, yak, elk and reindeer from local farmers. During hunting season, the family business processes big game exclusively. Moose and caribou fill the coolers. “We shut down domestic completely because it’s too overwhelming to put it all together.” Russ says.
When he has time, Russ also enjoys hunting. “Me and my boys, we hunt with horses. We hit the big country with horses. They pack out our moose.” He explains. “We’re way into the deep where a lot of people can’t get, so it really makes it nice. It’s just another way to hunt, of course, but it’s sort of neat because you get away from the crowd.”
The family enjoys knowing they’re providing their community with fresh, healthy and delicious meat. “We’re trying to raise as clean of an animal as possible. These beef, they’re just hay finished and they see some ground barley for the energy maybe, and that’s it.” Alaskan soils are deficient in minerals so some fertilizers are used to grow quality forage. Because the herd is so remote, vaccinations aren’t necessary.” With a waiting list for their beef, Russ knows the family is doing something right.
“It’s just a family oriented thing. Without that, I don’t think it ever would have stayed together. It takes a lot of love between each other to do it and make it work.”
That’s why Russ Pinkelman farms.
Author: Natalina Sents
Categories: Why I Farm, Why I Farm Roadtrip
Tags: Beck's Blog, Why I Farm, Beck's Hybrids, Natalina Sents, Why I Farm Roadtrip, Alaska, Bison, beef farmer, cattle farmer