Roadtrippin': Alaskan farmer goes green in Manley Hot Springs

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MANLEY HOT SPRINGS, Alaska (KTUU) - In Manley Hot Springs, several hundred miles from Alaska's largest city, you'll find a man by the name of John Robert Dart.

A farmer by trade - and by education - Dart made a Manley farm his life's mission nearly a decade ago.

That farm happens to be geothermal, and one that has committed to green energy development.

"This is the magic behind the plants," he said. "It’s in the water, folks."

Dart's land has a long lineage of farming, including John F. Kirshner who farmed the area more than a century ago, but eventually, it all overgrew. This required Dart to clear the graded land all over again.

"There’s roots still in here, and they have to be carried out," he said. "You can see all the wood trash."

Dart said taking care of the farm - on land which he bought from his aging aunt, Gladys Dart, remains tiring work. The hot spring water and solar energy help to run the farm, in addition to the revenue he generates from the crops he sells.

"It’s been a lot harder than we thought," Dart said. "It’s been a slow arduous process, but I enjoy it."

With the right ingredients - Dart's obvious passion and green thumb included - the place has become a green powerhouse.

"I came here in 1969 as a young kid, and I fell in love with it," he said. "It still gets me," he says as he chokes up. "I enjoy it here. It’s part of you sinking in your roots. And, this is where I wanna die."

Dart's tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, beans and more grow abundantly under the Alaska sun and get trucked from Manley to Springs to Fairbanks to Anchorage, and everywhere in between. But even with such success, another piece of the puzzle remains to be solved.

"One of the big problems in agriculture today is that American farmers are getting old," Dart said. "Realistically, I might have 15 more years. 15 more good years. I’d like to have somebody or some organization willing to keep it going."

But if finding someone willing to make the commitment of taking care of a farm day in and day out wasn't difficult enough, Dart also wants it to be someone who loves the farm as much as he does.

"It’s hard – you gotta live a lifestyle that’s different than most people," he said. "You’re connected to the land. You’re connected to the soil. You’re connected to plants and animals.

"And in doing that, knowing that it’s a long term," he says, hoping to remind those who are considering farming as a livelihood, "it’s the journey. It’s not the destination."

Video by photojournalist Ben Gauthier.