Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture


Microfarming at High Latitudes

A Resource for Small-scale, Cold-climate, Food security

Michael Kircher

641 3rd. Street
Palmer, Alaska
U.S.A. 99645-6007

To purchase the book send:
$26.00 U.S. (which will cover the book, packing and shipping costs)
to 641 3rd. Street, Palmer, Alaska U.S.A 99645

A reply to our on-line Urban Agriculture survey came in from Michael Kircher in Palmer, Alaska, a town with a population of 4500.

"We developed a "microfarm" on a city lot of 1/5 of an acre with a small greenhouse (8 x 16 feet), attached to a shed which has a renewable energy system on top with a small wind generator and photovoltaic arrays which provide power to our growing system, even though we are connected to the grid. We have the usual composting bins and supplement the nitrogen with manure from two chickens which produce eggs and eat bugs in the garden. Everything in our system does double or triple duty. It's a very efficient setup, described in an article in the Anchorage Daily News on April 19,2001, and in my book, "Microfarming at High Latitudes: A Resource for Small-scale, Cold-climate, Food security"

"We wanted to produce some of our own food so that we knew what went into it. We also have been growing food all our lives and find it is beneficial for our psychological and spiritual well being.

My personal interest is in helping people to become more self-sufficient and to promote local agriculture to reduce the use of fossil fuel for transport of foods from remote locations."

Microfarming at High Latitudes:
A Resource for Small-scale, Cold-climate, Food security

by Michael Kircher
2000, 133 pages
Included chapters on local zoning ordinances, electric power, small livestock, season extenders, food preservation, food storage, waste recycling, and sustainable gardening.

Extract from book:

Suburban agriculture

In this book I deal with another form of agriculture. My concern is primaily with peri-urban, or suburban agriculture. This is a little different from urban agriculture because I am emphasizing techniques used in small scale agriculture, or microfarming, in areas of lower population concentrations, either within cities or within the sphere of urban influence. However, the information and techniques I've included can obviously be used anywhere. Many people have microfarms out in the country, or in the 'bush' as we call it here.

Although the approach, problems and solutions differ from those encountered in densely packed cities such as those in Africa or Latin America, the goals are the same. I am trying to provide some useful information to help people establish a more reliable and secure food source, reduce their food costs, and improve the quality of their environment.

There is a growing psychological and spiritual need for people to know where their food originates. In addition, the use of microfarms reduces impact on the environment over that of corporate megafarms, providing for a sustainable, biodynamic growing environment.

Typically, the size of microfarms, as I define them, ranges from city lots of a fifth of an acre (such as the one on which I live) to around five acres in size. Most of the concepts in this book will be useful to microfarms of any size, but I emphasize methods and procedures designed to help people who are operating on a small scale on a city or peri-urban lot.

I'm also concerned mainly with special conditions encountered in cold weather climates at high latitudes, that is, above 40 degrees north latitude. I am located at 61 degrees 36 minutes north. Most of the garden books I've read dealing with northern climates, define the far north as the upper peninsula of Michigan. Most never venture into Canada, and very few even mention Alaska. Few books provide useful information about growing things in Alaska. Those I've encountered are:

-The Alaska Gardener's Handbook by Lenore Hedla. 1994.

-Gardens for Alaskans by Lenore Hedla 1981.

-Alaska's Farms and Gardens by the Alaska Geographic Society, 1984.

-Alaska Gardener's Mannal, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

Of course, there are many superb garden manuals, some dealing with special topics such as Vemicomposting or Solar Gardening techniques. Others are more generic, covering many facets of gardening in one text. I've referenced some in this book at the end of each chapter. I've also included a comprehensive bibliography at the end of the book.

There are thousands of microfarmers who have demonstrated conclusively that life not only exists at high latitudes, but thrives. As humans continue to alter the earth's climate in unpredictable ways, we will adapt.

Extract from newspaper article:

Purchase full article here (see archive search)

Model of Efficiency - Palmer man tries to sustain his family by tapping nature

Anchorage Daily News
April 19, 2001

PALMER, Alaska: Michael Kircher packs a lot onto his half-acre property. He has solar panels and a wind generator for power, a sauna that doubles as a drying rack for herbs, and a microfarm where he grows lettuce and potatoes as well as award-winning apples, cherries and grapes.

He's in the midst of finishing off a root cellar where he plans to overwinter flower bulbs and carrots. And, if you ask, he has a thousand other ideas, including how to grow food for astronauts on a mission to Mars.

Kircher is trying to prove a point, or at least experiment with one: How far can he go-with a small piece of land on a city street-to sustain himself and his family without turning to outside commercial sources?


At first glance, Kircher's house looks much like the dozen or so other homes on Third Street on the northside of Palmer. It's squeezed between two other homes and has cedar panels, with a small, tidy frontyard.

But the home is a study in efficiency and tapping natural energy sources.

The front yard is dotted with a row of currant bushes and rhubarb plants. In the back, raspberry bushes run along one side of a fence while across the yard the remains of sweat pea plants climb another.

In between are raised beds where he grows lettuce and up to seven different kind of potatoes.

A solar-powered pump runs a cascading fountain made out of old whiskey barrels while the same power system runs fans that cool an adjacent greenhouse.

Many of the items have a dual purpose. An apple tree next to his house produces sweet fruit. Its limbs and leaves also serve as a windbreak for the back deck where Kircher and his wife, Phyllis, like to enjoy sunny afternoons.

The workers of the farm live in the nearby greenhouse. Agnes and Erica, two chickens, provide eggs and happily do the grunt work of rooting out grubs and insects in the garden. Their eggshells and manure along with other wastes are composted to produce a rich soil.

ln exchange, the birds get scraps from the garden they help support.

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Revised August 16, 2003

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture