Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Four Tips for Fishing With Kids

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

Most of us remember our first fishing trip. Your kids will, too. Any day is a good day to fish, but If you need an excuse, the first week of June is Fishing Week, and June 18 is Go Fishing Day. Sounds like two great opportunities to make memories.
© iStock/BraunS

Fishing with kids is different than fishing solo or with other adults. It is both wonderful and challenging at the same time. The key to making a fishing trip with kids successful is to understand their needs and concerns.

Here are four things to consider if you plan to fish with kids, especially those who have never fished before:

  • It’s all about the fish. When kids go fishing, they expect to catch fish—lots of them. There’s no such thing as “the fish aren’t biting’.” To improve the odds, go to a proven honey hole or a spot recently stocked with fish.
  • Make things interesting. Kids get bored easily, so keep them engaged. One way to do that is to tell stories, maybe about fishing when you were a kid or about the ones that got away. Another way to keep kids’ focus is to teach them basic skills, such as baiting a hook, tying a proper knot or casting a line.
  • Keep it simple. Don’t make fishing more complicated than it has to be. For example, bait cast and spinning reels can be a challenge for kids to use, so leave them at home. Stick to spincast reels. Not only are they easier to use, they are relatively inexpensive to replace if they accidently end up in the drink.
  • Minimize discomfort. If you can keep kids warm, dry and fed, you improve the odds for a memorable outing. Bring along plenty of drinks and snacks. If there’s a chance of rain, pack raingear. A chilly morning? Bring a jacket, hat and gloves. Keep outings short, too. That’s especially true with first-timers. Kids can be impatient and get bored easily, especially if fish aren’t biting. Take your cues from the fish—and the kids.

In Pursuit of Prime Seafood
Red snapper is one of the tastiest fish in the Gulf, and the timing to catch your next meal couldn’t be better.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced the Gulf recreational red snapper season is as follows:

Open daily, starting the Saturday before Memorial Day, May 27, through Sunday after Independence Day, July 9.

Open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in September and October, plus Labor Day, Monday, September 4.

Outdoor App of the Month—First Aid
Accidents and injuries happen. The chances increase outdoors, where bumps, bruises, cuts and blisters are often part of the experience. That’s when it’s beneficial to have first aid information at your findertips.

There’s an app for that.

It is called First Aid, created by American Red Cross. It is available for Apple and Android phones. Best of all, it’s free—and ad-free.

June Mentionables
The first week of June is Fishing Week.
June 3: National Trails Day.
June 18: Go Fishing Day.
June 18: International Picnic Day.
June 24: Swim a Lap Day.
June 25: National Catfish Day.

Show-and-Tell Time
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected for publication, we will send you $25 for one-time use of the item. When sending a photo, identify people and pets, and tell us the story behind the picture. Email your submission to moc.stnerrucadirolfnull@ofni.

Many of Curtis Condon’s fondest memories involve outdoor adventures with friends and family, whether fishing with old school buddies, backpacking in the mountains of the Northwest with his sons, or bird watching along the Gulf Coast with his wife. He feels fortunate having the opportunity to write about the outdoors and other subjects for more than 30 years.

Confidence Course

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

Jennifer Harvey of Sandpoint, Idaho, appears to enjoy the confidence-building trail rides she offers as much as her young clients do.
Photo courtesy of Adventure Pony Rides

On a well-trodden, wooded trail, Jennifer Harvey leads a child on her first horseback ride. The pony, Comet, is well versed in giving children an unforgettable experience, and gently clops along while listening to Jennifer’s every cue.

“The only crying children on my ponies are the ones who don’t want to get off,” says Jennifer, who has given riding lessons for 30 years.

Located outside Sandpoint, Idaho, Adventure Pony Rides gives children and adults a real trail ride experience on a variety of well-groomed trails with scenic views of the area.

“My pony experiences encourage self-confidence and build self-esteem,” Jennifer explains. She says it is a unique, enjoyable and safe adventure.

Jennifer hand walks or trots riders through the woods, up and down hills, over logs and under branches while giving instruction and obstacles to help new riders develop their confidence.

Parents are encouraged to video and photograph their children throughout the ride.

Aside from pony rides, families can get a taste of life on the farm by hunting for chicken eggs, and playing with rabbits and dogs. Jennifer hosts camping and parties at her property, and pony parties at nearby homes and businesses.

“This experience is something that is fun and family-oriented,” Jennifer says. “It is cool to offer a service that people really like.”

For more information, visit

Seeing the Light: Treasures Around the House

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

Gus sits in a shaft of morning light, providing a beautiful, natural portrait of a time, pet and place.
Photos by David LaBelle

Many people love traveling and foolishly believe anywhere other than where they currently are will produce better pictures than those from home. We become so enamored with far-away places we can miss the beauty right under our noses.

We have heard someone say after viewing breathtaking travel pictures, “If I could travel halfway across the world, I could take stunning pictures, too.”

Unfortunately, it is not so easy.

Wherever you are, you still have to take yourself, your eyes, your vision, your curiosity (or lack thereof) and your attitude.

Good, watchful, sensitive photographers make great pictures everywhere, not just in exotic places.

While it is easier to interest ourselves and others with pictures of famous or glamorous places, great storytelling images can be found anywhere there is light—even in our homes.

I cannot tell you how many times I have been sitting and watched either early morning or late afternoon light crawl across a room or window sill, temporarily revealing a piece of a world I otherwise would have missed.

With every moving, magical inch of light, a new, beautiful, often surprising composition is revealed. It’s all new!

Because the angle—even the intensity—of the sun’s light changes during the time of day and season, we never see exactly the same picture. In other words, there is something new under the sun—the scenes offered that change by the minutes, hours, days and seasons.

If you have time on your hands, choose one interesting scene—a composition in your house or yard that receives different amounts or strengths and direction of light at different times of day. Watch how the light changes, and make a series of pictures documenting this incredible taken-for-granted light and life of a day.

A cross perched in the corner of a window sill, a shadow moving slowly across a room, open shutters—these common scenes become temporarily alive with a passing kiss of sunlight.

Another challenge is to see the picture and record it without moving any piece of it. You move, change angles or lenses if need be, but do not touch the components of the compositional scene—not even to move a curtain. Nothing!

This is an invaluable exercise in seeing and composing the natural, the given, the untouched visual gift with your camera.

Too often we get so busy doing—like eating without chewing—that we forget to see and appreciate light, which is the source of our livelihood, our adoration, our avocation and our very existence.

We don’t need to spend dollars (or euros) to travel to far-away places to make interesting and meaningful pictures. We just have to slow down and discover the world we are blessed with and bathed in.

Photography is not about gear or travel. It is about appreciating, seeing and challenging oneself to make a picture that somehow captures and communicates to others what you saw and felt.

Challenge yourself to see your home before you try to see the world.

David LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer who grew up in rural California. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the U.S. and taught at three universities. For more information, visit

Growing Greens In the Arctic

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

Joe Carr of Kotzebue, Alaska, is the only professional farmer north of the Arctic Circle. That will likely change when containerized hydroponics farms, such as this one designed by Vertical Harvest, become more prevalent.

Walking from the snowbound streets of Kotzebue, Alaska, into the Arctic Greens container is like being suddenly transported to the Amazon jungle.

Even when it is pitch black and below zero outside, the “sun” still rises, thanks to rows of high-­tech LED lights. Heaters keep temperatures a balmy 65 to 80 F. Rows of big, green plants line shelves the length of the container, leaves crowding the narrow walkway down the center.

This is where Joe Carr, the only professional farmer north of the Arctic Circle, comes to work.

The first thing he does after removing his jacket is check the computers that were programmed by Vertical Harvest—the company that designed the containerized farm. They control every aspect of this miniature ecosystem and keep it optimized for edible plant growth.

The Arctic Greens farm in Kotzebue is the Kikiktagruk Inupiat Corp.’s first step in an ambitious plan to provide locally grown produce to AC Stores throughout the Arctic. For now, the farm’s produce is sold exclusively in the Kotezebue AC Store.
If it works, more containerized farms will follow.

“The project has been extremely successful,” Joe says. “We harvest 450 plants every week, and they’ve been very popular in town. Before Arctic Greens, fresh vegetables and herbs were not good quality because they have to be shipped in, or they’re expensive—or both.”

Joe is an unlikely person to possess the job title “Arctic farmer.” The Pennsylvania native had been working as a mechanic in Philadelphia when he struck up a friendship with Dood Lincoln over the internet. Dood’s work took her to Philly several times, which allowed the couple to meet—and fall in love.
Marriage and a move to Kotzebue followed.

After training from Vertical Harvest and KIC, Joe is now a hydroponic­farming expert, tending to the plants from seed to when they are fully mature and ready to eat. He is also the company’s delivery guy, cutting and bundling the plants, then driving them to the AC Store in his wife’s car.

“KIC is working on getting a delivery van,” Joe says with a laugh. “Especially during the winter, we need something that will ensure the plants stay warm. But it’s only about a block from the container to the AC Store, so I get it there in just a couple minutes.”

After nine months in operation, the farm is successfully producing a variety of herbs and vegetables, including butter­leaf lettuce, romaine, red­ leaf lettuce, red and green mustard, basil, cilantro, chives, parsley and mint. The most popular item is green ­leaf lettuce.

In addition, Arctic Greens is trying to grow other produce such as kale, but has not yet arrived at the best balance to grow it in regular quantities.

The response in Kotzebue to regularly having fresh produce has been overwhelmingly positive.

“My wife, the first time she purchased some at the AC Store, she’d never gotten fresh greens before,” Joe says, “and Arctic Greens crops are grown right here in Kotzebue, which has never happened before. It was kind of a milestone for her. Everything’s good about it.”

The biggest challenge is power. With its artificial lighting eight hours every day and around­-the­-clock heating, the hydroponic system devours a lot of electricity, which is expensive in Kotzebue, as it is in any rural Alaska community.

This affects the price of the end product on store shelves, so KIC is investigating the potential for solar or another alternative energy source, which hopefully will lower prices for customers.

The two main reasons KIC started Arctic Greens were to provide fresh produce to rural communities at affordable prices, and to find solutions—such as alternative energy—that are just as innovative as the original concept.

“If you told me when I was living in Philadelphia that a small community way up in the Arctic would be able to regularly provide its people with fresh vegetables and herbs grown right there, I never would have believed it,” Joe says. “KIC is really doing a great thing for local people with Arctic Greens.”

Arctic Greens hopes to double down on its benefits to shareholders by expanding to other communities and increasing revenues.

Then again, that would mean Joe might lose his title as the only professional Arctic farmer. Joe doesn’t mind. He hopes KIC has dozens of Arctic farmers someday.

For more information about Arctic Greens or hydroponic gardening in the Arctic, visit or

Surviving Natural Disaster

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

An engine crew takes the night shift to battle the Ponderosa Fire in northeastern California in August 2012. The lightning-sparked wildfire burned more than 27,000 acres, destroying 52 homes and 81 outbuildings.
Photo by CAL FIRE

From tornadoes and wildfires to earthquakes and floods, learn what you need to do to protect yourself and your family from harm

On a stormy morning in October 2016, trained meteorologist Gordon McCraw was surprised to get a call about a water spout rolling ashore in Manzanita, Oregon.

Gordon, emergency management director for the Tillamook County Sheriff’s Office, says it was largely luck no one was injured when the water spout morphed into an EF2 tornado, with winds of 113 to 157 mph that damaged 128 structures across a three-quarter-mile path.
But luck does not always smile so kindly when disaster strikes, and it certainly is no substitute for being prepared. Preparation starts long before disaster strikes.

The first step is knowing the risks in your location. Is it prone to flooding or wildfires or, as is the case in the Pacific Northwest, vulnerable to earthquakes? Once you know the likely risks, devising a survival plan is fairly simple, generally calling for items most people already have on hand.

It is all about thinking ahead.

“I read that in an emergency situation, your cognitive skills are 80 percent diminished,” says Gordon. “The reality is that if you wait until the disaster to come up with your plan, you are already too late. You are going to be too stressed out and in shock over whatever the situation is to effectively do the things you need to do to keep your family safe.”

Althea Rizzo, geologic hazards program coordinator with Oregon Emergency Management, estimates only about 25 percent of the population is prepared in any substantial way.

“The issue is it’s not hard to be prepared,” she says.

Talk About Your Plans
An important part of an emergency preparedness plan is knowing where you will meet up with loved ones in the event you become separated or are apart when disaster strikes, and having a plan for where you will stay if you need to be away from home for a longer time, says Monique Dugaw, spokeswoman for the Red Cross office in Portland, Oregon.

“Having those conversations can be difficult because you are talking about something scary and unknown, but they are important in the event that situation occurs,” Monique says.

Critical to being prepared is assembling an emergency preparedness kit (see sidebar) with food, water, medicine, a first aid kit, flashlights and other necessary supplies. Be sure important documents such as birth certificates, driver’s licenses, property deeds, mortgage information and car titles are in a safe and accessible place.

Without those documents, it may be more difficult to get assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Keep a hard copy list of contact information, as well as cash in small denominations in case credit cards will not work.

“Plan ahead, and make sure we are prepared for not having technology at our fingertips,” Monique says.

Withstand Shaking
There are steps you can take to make your home safer from a disaster.

For areas where earthquakes are a risk, secure bookshelves and other heavy items by strapping or bolting them to floors or walls to keep them from falling on and striking people.

Taking that same step with the water heater will not only reduce the risk of fire in the case of a gas-fueled heater, but secured, it can provide a source of water after disaster strikes.

“If you lose your china, glasses, cookware—that’s not a big deal,” says Natalia Ruppert, seismologist with the Alaska Earthquake Center, “but if a water heater or boiler tips over it will be pretty impactful.”

Consider hiring an engineer to retrofit your home so it can better withstand a strong shaking. During an earthquake, Natalia advises taking shelter under a sturdy object such as a table. Once the shaking stops, it is OK to go outside, but individuals in multilevel buildings must take the stairs, not an elevator. Once outside, particularly in a city, beware of falling objects.

“Try to find out how strong the earthquake was,” Natalia says. “If it was really strong—a magnitude 7 or stronger—people should be aware of aftershocks after the main event.

“If they find out how strong it was, they can decide when it is safe to go back to the house. If it is not significant or it was centered far way, they don’t have to wait too long to go back into the building.”

Advice for Wildfires
In California, where wildland fires pose a significant risk, CAL FIRE promotes the “ready, set, go” plan.
Ready means taking care of your defensible space, says Scott McLean, CAL FIRE information officer.

“We’re not looking for moonscape, but we’re looking for a 3-foot area away from any habitable structure with fire-resistant plants that are thinned,” he says. “Thirty to 100 feet away, it’s not as severe. You’ll have more brush and trees, but they should be all limbed up. The whole idea is it slows down the fire so firefighters can get in there and manage the situation.”

Being set is having an evacuation plan, being sure pets have access to the vehicle, and having a full tank of gas and ample supplies, including personal hygiene items, a couple of changes of clothing, water, food, a cellphone and charger, and an emergency kit.

“Go is simply leave,” says Scott. “In the state of California, we have evacuation orders and warnings. Warnings are to let you know to be prepared. Gather your pets, your kit, have the car pointed in the right direction. When the order comes into play, it is time to leave.”

One lesson some members of Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative learned the hard way two years ago when wildfires struck was to keep a generator on hand. When fire threatened lines, crews had no choice but to de-energize the lines to keep firefighters safe. That meant sprinklers used to protect homes did not work. Some families lost their homes.

“If they had generators, when we de-energized the lines they could have fired up generators and sprinklers would have worked,” says Ned Ratterman, director of engineering and operations for OTEC.

In any natural disaster, odds are good power will be lost and lines will go down, posing additional risks. Always treat a downed line as live and potentially deadly.

“Some of the lines are as small as a No. 2 pencil, carrying in excess of 20,000 volts,” says Ned, “so keep your eyes open. But also be aware of a phenomenon known as ‘step potential.’ The electricity will go from that wire into the ground. It will energize the earth itself. If you get too close, it can go through you. It can be lethal. You don’t have to make contact with the line. It can be conducted through the ground and then through your body.”

Keep Safety in Mind
Natural disasters of all types can strike almost anywhere—even in places where they previously are unheard of, like tornadoes in Manzanita, Oregon.

Last fall when the tornado churned through town, many people were so surprised and curious they actually put themselves directly in harm’s way.

“Being such an unusual event, many people went to the window and watched it go by, which was very unsafe,” Gordon says. “We were walking through with the weather service people and there was a mature couple who said they went upstairs and watched from the window and there was a large amount of debris and it made their ears pop and it made a sound like a train.

“We were very fortunate that it was early in the morning, the businesses were still closed and it happened to be an in-service day for the schools, so the children who would have been in the very path of the tornado were still at home.”

Pack an Emergency Kit

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

Personal and household emergency kits should contain supplies sufficient to last at least three to five days.

One of the most important aspects of disaster preparedness is an emergency kit. The Red Cross recommends having kits in the three places you most likely will be when disaster strikes: home, work and your car.

The kit should include 1 gallon of water per person per day for a minimum of three days or, if planning for a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, two weeks.

“When we are talking about food for a preparedness kit, we’re talking items that don’t need to be refrigerated or cooked, such as peanut butter, energy bars, and canned fruits or vegetables,” says Monique Dugaw, spokeswoman for the Red Cross in Portland. “Don’t forget a can opener.”

A first aid kit is important.

“Depending on the type of disaster, you may not be able to get to medical care quickly,” Monique says. “We want people to be prepared to treat minor injuries themselves. A scrape left untreated could turn into an infection and a potentially much more serious condition than if treated.”

Other supplies include a battery-operated flashlight, a radio with extra batteries so people can get information from official sources rather than rumors, and any medication needed by family members.

Food, water and medications for pets also should be included.

Additional things to consider are a whistle, surgical masks, matches, work gloves, plastic sheeting, duct tape, scissors, household liquid bleach and entertainment items.

The Red Cross recommends keeping the emergency preparedness kit on the main level of the home so it can be grabbed quickly.

Keep camping supplies in a similar location, including a sleeping bag, tent and cooler. Some people opt to keep a kit outside of their home, such as in a storage unit.

How do you know when to stay or go?

“A general rule of thumb is to pay attention to what emergency officials are telling you,” says Monique. “If you are asked to evacuate, definitely do so. That’s another reason to have good access to a battery-operated radio so you can hear if there are evacuation orders.”

Download the free Red Cross app that provides information on weather alerts, local hazards and other resources, such as pet preparedness, first aid preparedness and tips.

Reconnecting to the Land

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

Mount Hood rises in the background as workers pick pears in the Hood River Valley.
Photo by Adam Lapierre

Michele and Dan Spatz have been visiting the Hood River County Fruit Loop since their daughters were old enough to pick pumpkins from a patch.

The couple from The Dalles, Oregon, has shopped at area farmers markets and fruit stands, celebrated the pairing of local food and wine at vineyard dinners and even bought yarn at an alpaca farm.

They are among a growing number of Americans traveling to rural landscapes and activities as an alternative to the country’s more expected tourist hot spots.

According to the U.S. Census of Agriculture, the number of farms providing agritourism—a combination of agriculture and tourism—and related recreational services increased 42 percent from 23,350 to 33,161 between 2007 and 2012.

Organized in 1992, the Hood River County Fruit Loop promotes agricultural diversity to ensure preservation of the area’s rich agricultural heritage. The collection of farms, orchards, vineyards, wineries and other agricultural businesses lines a scenic 35-mile loop.

Visitors can pick apples, pears and other fruit; tour farms ranging from berries or lavender to chestnuts or alpacas; sip a glass of locally made wine or cider; and bring home fresh produce and products.

Theresa Draper, who runs Draper Girls Country Farm with her three daughters, says she has seen a steady increase in customers at her u-pick orchard and farm stand since the 1990s, with more families with young children visiting in the past five years.

Many who come to this stop on the Loop to pick the more than 80 varieties of apples, pears, cherries and other fruit stay to picnic in the garden, enjoy a glass of apple cider from the Drapers’ licensed mill, feed the animals, and soak up the sights and sounds of farm life.

“I love it,” says Theresa, who still maintains the year-round, self-service fruit stand that her parents began in the 1960s. “I have met so many people from all over the world. Last summer, we had a family from Saudi Arabia stay at the home we rent on the farm.”

Connecting Urban to Rural
Alexa Carey of Travel Oregon says the Hood River Fruit Loop is the best example of agritourism collaboration in the state.

“It has grown from a small number of fruit farms to a destination,” she says.
More than half of Oregon’s tourists participate in some type of culinary experience—whether it is a farm, wine tour or farmers market, says Alexa.

“Agritourism has the potential to help connect people in urban areas to farms and food, and to keep these working landscapes alive,” Alexa says. “In urban areas, there is interest in local food, local producers and organic practices.

“For kids, there is a real disconnect from where their food comes from. Getting out to a farm for these experiences is fun, it is educational and it really helps kids put things together to see this is where their tomatoes come from.”

In regions of the U.S. with deep agricultural roots, agritourism has been around for generations, says Martha Glass, founder of the National Agritourism Professionals Association.

“In the late ’50s to early ’60s, that meant picking out a pumpkin at a pumpkin patch or cutting down a Christmas tree at a u-pick site,” Martha says. “Visitors to a peach or apple orchard took a bucket, picked and went home. During their visit, they hoped to see some machinery or buildings that looked like what they had on a farm where they grew up.”

By the early 2000s, nostalgia for the family farm experience became a driving force for many active, healthy grandparents who brought their grandchildren.

“That generation remembered going to grandma’s farm for a family reunion,” says Martha. “They wanted to take their children and grandchildren to show them where their food came from and what it was like to live on the farm.”

In the aftermath of 9/11, patriotism and nostalgia swelled across the country.

“We cared very much about our farms, and we realized that we were in danger of losing that way of life,” Martha says.

Expanding the Experience
From animals to crops, farmers realized they had something city people wanted to see.

Christmas tree farms expanded to include cut trees and a farm store with ornaments. The farm produce stand on the side of the road became an enclosed store with a front porch and rocking chair. Little country towns that surround these farms saw visitors coming into downtown to eat at local restaurants and buy gas.

According to Martha, about 80 percent of agritourism farms in the U.S. today have some type of activity—from hayrides to harvest festivals, u-pick produce to vineyard tours, horses to hens.

Farm-to-fork—also called farm-to-table dinners—feature meals with fresh, local ingredients, often in the settings where they are grown. Diners can tour a farm and talk with the people who made the products and prepared their meal.

Farm weddings are also popular. From rustic to lavish, outdoor or under cover, there are plenty of options for couples looking to get married with their boots on.

For those looking to enjoy the rural lifestyle for more than a few hours, farm stays provide creative and unique lodging. Accommodations range from a room in a farmer’s home or converted farm building to a guest house or campsite.

Some hosts welcome help with chores or offer classes in cooking, photography or cheese making.

Dude ranches offer another option for individuals and families looking to experience the rural lifestyle. At a working dude ranch, daily chores and activities—including cattle and horse drives—are determined by the needs of the livestock.

Horseback riding and other outdoor activities are the focus at dude ranches, while larger resort dude ranches offer diverse activities and facilities in addition to riding.

For 60 years, the Smith family has welcomed guests to the Cottonwood Ranch in Wells, Nevada, for pack trips and horse and cattle drives. The working horse and cattle ranch draws visitors from around the world who come to hike, fish, mountain bike or just relax and breathe the fresh air.

Set in Idaho’s Frank Church Wilderness, The Diamond D Ranch offers an all-inclusive traditional ranch stay with trail rides and multiday pack trips as well as guided fly fishing, hunting, hiking and family activities.

At the Triangle T Historic Guest Ranch in Dragoon, Arizona, 60 miles southeast of Tucson, guests can saddle up for an hour or a day on a desert trail. With more than 160 acres ranging from rolling grass-covered hills to rugged terrain, there is something for every level of rider. Afterward, guests can relax in the swimming pool or hot tub before heading to The Rock Saloon and Grill for dinner.

Capitalizing on Novelty
Alaska welcomes more than 1 million visitors a year. Margaret Adsit created Alaska Farm Tours to give travelers an intimate glimpse of the lives and livelihoods of farmers and ranchers in the Matanuska Valley north of Anchorage.

Many of those who work this land are descendants of early homesteaders who came in 1935 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal resettlement plan.

“People are producing copious amounts of food,” says Margaret. “We have one 6-acre farm that can produce food for about 600 people in the summer.”

With a growing season just topping 100 days and sunshine up to 20 hours a day, innovation is the name of the game for those who work the soil with limited resources to produce a variety of cold-weather crops, including potatoes, cabbages, lettuce and carrots.

Tours begin with an introduction to Alaska plants at the Palmer Grow program and the gardens of the Palmer Art Museum and Historical Center, followed by visits to three agricultural operations. At a local farm, participants have a catered lunch highlighting Alaska products.

Alan Finifrock lived in Alaska for two decades before moving to Minnesota. Now he teaches travel classes and leads tours to his former home. Many of those on his trips are from rural communities who caught the travel bug after watching TV reality shows set in Alaska.

When he brought a group to Alaska last year, Alan made sure Alaska Farm Tours was on the itinerary. He has a return visit planned this summer.

“Agriculture is so much different in Alaska,” he says. “It is a novelty topic for people from the Lower 48. They enjoy the comparison and contrast with Minnesota.”

Sharing the Life
Across the U.S., agritourism activities continue to grow and expand to meet the interests and curiosities of visitors, opening the barn door and pasture gate to the ultimate field trip.

The Hood River County Fruit Loop continues to be a popular day trip for the Spatzes when entertaining family from out of state—including their now adult daughters.

“Much of my family lives in big cities and are removed from the primary aspect of working the land and benefiting from its harvest,” says Michele Spatz.

She and her guests appreciate the friendliness of the business owners and staff, and their in-depth knowledge of their products.

“They are so proud of what they have accomplished and will share the secrets of their success,” Michele says.

Exploring Far Afield: Tips for Rural Visits

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

Rural settings let visitors slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures. Photos by Lori Russell

Looking for some country fun? Plenty of online resources are available to plan a rural getaway without getting your hands dirty.

For an overview, begin with state tourism websites. Search for agritourism attractions by location and activity at,,,,, and Washington state’s, or try one of the suggested trip itineraries.

Connect with regional visitor associations within a state to find exceptional food and farm experiences in the area.

A quick internet search by location and activity will yield everything from u-pick operations to wedding site venues, corn mazes to pumpkin patches. Most farms and ranches have websites with information about their activities, hours and rates.

Check out the local chamber of commerce or social media sites such as Facebook for current blossom, foliage and fruit availability dates in addition to seasonal events or festivals.

On small farms, the person who leads a tour may also tend the plants and feed the animals, so call ahead to arrange a visit—especially when traveling with a large group.

The U.S. Farm Stay Association provides a list of working farms and ranches with lodging at Accommodations and activities vary by location. Some cater to adults, and others welcome families. Go to the farm or ranch’s website or call directly to find out what a typical day and stay is like. Rooms or cabins for rent in a variety of rural locales can be found on (vacation rentals by owner) and

When choosing a dude ranch vacation, the size, location, accommodations and activities matter. A stay at a ranch with 10 guests differs from one with 100 people. Location determines the riding environment—from mountain trails to open pasture to desert. Is a swimming pool, TV or internet access important? Choose accordingly. The Dude Ranchers’ Association ( maintains a list of more than 100 all-inclusive working, traditional and resort dude ranches in the U.S., with offerings for riders of all ages and experience.

Before packing up and heading out on an adventure, remember that farms and ranches often are in remote locations where access to gas stations and ATMs is limited. Public transportation or ride-sharing services such as Uber or Lyft are rare or nonexistent. Cell service and GPS signals can be erratic. Fill up the gas tank and bring written directions and a map when traveling to a rural location.

Function trumps fashion when visiting rural landscapes. Washable clothing and comfortable, close-toed shoes are the dress code for most activities.

Safety is an important consideration on a farm or ranch, especially when traveling with young children or someone with a physical limitation. Depending on the tour or activity, ask about accessible pathways and instructions about livestock, landscape, equipment, and other hazards on and around the property.

Word of mouth is still one of the best ways to find out about agritourism opportunities. When visiting a business, ask about other attractions in the area. Rural business owners work together to promote tourism in their communities. They can recommend new attractions before they are on the map, or less- publicized places that are worth a visit.

Most importantly, slow down and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the rural lifestyle. After all, it is why you came.

Capturing a Sense of Awe

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

Tourists gaze up at the most iconic landmark in Florence, Italy: the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower, otherwise known as the Duomo.
Photos by David LaBelle

I saw it at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s old city, and see it over and again at the foot of the breathtaking, 375-foot-tall Duomo in Florence, Italy: that awestruck gaze washing over so many stunned and humbled faces.

Even when anticipated, such moments are able to capture us so completely our eyes water and our skin tingles.

For just a few seconds, we are bathed in the quiet wonder of the moment.

It is during these brief moments people actually experience the glory and feel the wonder, before they try to capture what is passing through their eyes.

I am confident I wore a similar awestruck expression at first sight of each of my four children.

However brief, this is a magical time, before the visitor awakens from their temporary trance and lifts their smartphone camera to make a record of the sight, or before they awaken and feel compelled to kiss in the shadow of the majestic site.

There is a phrase used when shooting film called the “latent image.” It is that hopeful time between the moment the shutter is pressed and negatives or prints are processed.

Essentially, latent means the hidden or concealed, but existing. I have always loved that thought, that state.

It might be a stunning sunrise or a spectacular sunset that stills us, wrapping around us in a reverent silence.

Or it can be coming face to face with a beloved celebrity that temporarily paralyzes us so much we are afraid to breathe, lest our breath pushes away the moment.

As a primarily documentary “moment” photographer, these fleeting capsules of authentic, unrehearsed emotion are what I hunger to witness and capture.

I have learned during these “trance” times that if I keep my distance and move slowly, the entranced are so focused with what fills their eyes they see neither me nor my camera.

While you can never plan for what you will feel when you see a breathtaking sight, you can prepare yourself to capture that sense of awe on the faces of others—especially if you have scouted the site and know where people are most likely to get their first glimpse of majesty.

The wonderful thing and difficult challenge about shooting authentic human moments is there is never a do-over. You cannot ask someone do to a thing again with the same expression.

There simply is never a second first time.


David LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He applies many of the lessons he learned during his magical boyhood years in rural California to photography. For more information, visit

Six Tips for a Comfortable Bike Ride

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

Shifting a multispeed bicycle is an acquired skill. Some consider it an art. For optimal smoothness and efficiency, take your time when shifting gears. Let each speed take hold before moving to the next. Shifting too fast may lead to the chain jumping gears or disengaging altogether. Also, try to anticipate changes in speed, such as uphills, downhills and changes in road surfaces, and time your shifts accordingly.
© Brian A. Jackson

May is National Bike Month. What better excuse to enjoy one of the region’s myriad biking hotspots.

Follow these tips to stay comfortable and maximize the fun.

  • The bike frame should fit your frame. On a properly sized bicycle, you should be able to straddle it and stand flat footed, with daylight between you and the bike. Generally, there should be about 2 inches of clearance.
  • Match your tires to the surface you ride most. For roads and paved trails, the best options are slick or semi-slick tires; they cause less friction and provide a steady, more comfortable ride on smooth surfaces. Knobby tires are best for dirt, gravel and off-trail riding.
  • Find a seat for every backside. Just because a bike comes with a particular seat does not mean you are stuck with it forever. A new seat is easy to install. Find one that fits your contours and provides the level of comfort you desire.
  • Add cush to your tush. Wider seats, cushioned pull-over seat covers and gel-filled seats are popular comfort options. For example, Cloud 9 cushioned seats are popular with recreational riders. Check out the company’s offerings at
  • Beat the heat. You can work up a sweat on a brisk bike ride. To stay cool, wear a helmet with lots of ventilation. The key is to find one that provides good protection, as well as optimal air flow.
  • Just add water. Last but not least, always carry a full water bottle. If your bike doesn’t accommodate a water bottle, consider a hydration pack. One advantage of a hydration pack—such as a Camelbak or Platypus—is it allows you to carry more water for longer, hotter rides.

Outdoors 101: Binoculars
Every pair of binoculars is described by a set of numbers that looks like a multiplication problem, such as 7×35, 8×40 or 10×50. But what do those numbers really mean?

The first number indicates the magnification power of the binoculars. The second refers to the diameter of the objective lens. The bigger the lens, the more light that can pass through the optics of the binoculars and the brighter images will appear.

Sweat the Salty Stuff
Perspiration and saltwater are the bane of multi-tools. They promote rust and corrosion. Generally, there are two ways to confront the problem. First, select a multi-tool that is corrosion resistant. Second, maintain it regularly. After sweaty, salty use, rinse the tool with fresh water, dry it and oil it with a light coat of machine oil. Make sure to get into the moving parts. Remove excess oil by wiping it with a dry cloth or paper towel.

Special Days in May
National Bike Month.
May 4: Bird Day.
May 16: Love a Tree Day.
May 27: Sunscreen Day.

Show-and-Tell Time
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected for publication, we will send you $25 for one-time use of the item. When sending a photo, identify people and pets, and tell us the story behind the picture. Email your submission to gro.etilarurnull@ofni.

Many of Curtis Condon’s fondest memories involve outdoor adventures with friends and family, whether fishing with old school buddies, backpacking in the mountains of the Northwest with his sons, or bird watching along the Gulf Coast with his wife. He feels fortunate having the opportunity to write about the outdoors and other subjects for more than 30 years.