Thursday, June 25, 2009

Delta hosts farm tour

The Delta Farm Bureau will host its annual farm tour Tuesday, July 14. Participants will visit a variety of farms and their families and learn first-hand about farming while enjoying the beauty of Delta’s farms.

The first stop will be at the historic Mead Farm on Clearwater Road. Local historians Irene Mead and Judy Ferguson will talk about the farm’s early years as well as the rodeos once held there. The book, Blue Hills, Alaska’s Promised Land, will be available for sale during lunch. The Mead Farm is currently owned by Doug and Cathie McCollum.

The next stop will be at Dennis and Cleo Green’s to learn about reindeer. The Greens own several farms and have a diverse and interesting variety of farming enterprises .

Lunch will be at the Clearwater Lodge on the bank of the Clearwater River. Yak burgers will be the featured menu item. The yaks are grown locally on Dick Karr’s farm and processed at Delta Meat & Sausage, a USDA inspected facility. Along with yak burgers, the lodge will serve potato salad, baked beans, and a sundae bar featuring Northern Lights ice cream. Lunch is included in the tour price.

After lunch, the tour continues with a visit to the Northern Lights dairy farm, owned by Don and Lois Lintleman, to see the milk processing plant and dairy barn.

The tour ends with a visit to Windy Valley Hay Producers on Hanson Road. The farm was originally built in the 1970s by Austin and Edith Walker and is now operated by their son, Robert, the Delta-Salcha Soil and Water Conservation Service’s “Outstanding Co-operator of the Year” in 2008 for his environmentally sound farming practices.

The registration fee is $40. The bus leaves promptly at 9 a.m. at the Jarvis Office Building at Mile 1420.5 Alaska Highway. Plan to arrive at least fifteen minutes early. The tour will end at 4:30 p.m. and return to the Jarvis Office Building. All day parking is available there. Tour participants must pre-pay before July 10. Payment may be made using PayPal at the Alaska Farm Bureau website. On the left side is the link “FB Payments”. If you are not signed up with PayPal, it will take you through the signup process. Or, you may send a check with the names of those attending to the Delta Farm Bureau, P.O. Box 760, Delta Junction, AK 99737. Call 895-4752 if you have any questions.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Future of Complexity: the Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment

UA Geography Professor Lawson Brigham (pictured at right) covered everything from retreating sea ice to tourism in a June 24 lecture at UAF. Presenting the results of the Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment, Brigham explained the major focus of the study was arctic marine safety and environmental protection. Among the other considerations were marine geography, climate change, whaling, and governance.

The AMSA, a major project of the Arctic Council under the Protection of Marine Environment working group, was commissioned in 2004 and concluded this spring.

“It’s not a question of whether maritime industry is coming to the Arctic,” he said. “The global maritime industry has already come.” Adding that this subject is “all about geography,” Brigham went on to cover mining, oil and gas exploration, fishing, and even tourism as they relate to the Arctic. ”There were 200 cruise ships on the west coast of Greenland in one year,” he said.

Natural resource development is the primary driver of ship traffic in the Arctic, Brigham said, yet the global tourism industry via summer cruise ships also deserves attention. Natural resources include zinc, copper, nickel, tin, and fresh water. Climate change as revealed in sea ice retreat is another factor worthy of consideration. According to the AMSA report release of oil into the arctic marine environment is the most significant threat from arctic shipping.

The 200-page, multifaceted, interdisciplinary report was approved by the eight arctic states. The committee reached out to many of the stakeholders involved that are based outside of the arctic region.

The report includes scenarios as far into the future as 2050. “The word that applies is complexity,” Brigham said. The seventeen recommendations highlight marine safety, protecting people and the environment, and infrastructure. The entire report is available at the Alaska Center of Climate Assessment and Policy website.

Brigham, former associate director of the Alaska Office of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, is a widely recognized expert in arctic maritime shipping and related policy. He recently joined the University of Alaska Geography Program as a visiting distinguished professor. Brigham will work closely with UA Geography Program Director Mike Sfraga on arctic policy initiatives, including the further development of the UArctic Center for Circumpolar Arctic Policy. Dr. Brigham will conduct research on the impact of a changing arctic ice pack on arctic marine shipping, transportation, resources development, and policy. He will work with researchers in the Scenarios Network for Alaska Planning, Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, and the International Arctic Research Center.

The ACCAP-hosted teleconference is part of an ongoing series. The next one, scheduled for Aug. 11 at 10 a.m., will be presented by SNAP coordinator Nancy Fresco and UA Geography Education and Outreach Coordinator Katie Kennedy. To join the teleconference, contact Brook Gamble in advance.

Addendum June 29, 2009
Further reading:
"The Environmental Risks of Arctic Shipping," June 29, 2009, Green Inc. (a New York Times blog), by Stefan Milkowski
"Former icebreaker captain calls for better Arctic regulations," June 29, 2009, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, by Christopher Eshleman

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Geography professor speaks on marine policy

The Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy will host a statewide webinar on the 2009 final report of the Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment Wednesday, June 24 at 10 a.m. During the webinar, UAF geography professor Lawson Brigham will present an overview of the report and be available to answer questions. Brigham was chairman of the assessment, which was prepared through the Arctic Council. For more information, call 907-474-7812. For registration and dial-in instructions, visit ACCAP's website.

In response to unprecedented changes occurring in the circumpolar arctic, in 2004 the Arctic Council called for the Council’s Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment working group to conduct a comprehensive assessment of arctic marine shipping. The Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment 2009 Final Report represents the results of this four-year study. Findings and recommendations were negotiated and approved by the Ministers of the Arctic States on April 29, 2009 and take into consideration arctic marine geography, changes in sea ice and climate, history of marine transport, governance of Arctic marine shipping, current marine use in the Arctic, Arctic marine infrastructure, human and environmental considerations and impacts, and Arctic marine shipping futures scenarios to 2020.

Further viewing:
"Outcomes of the Arctic Council's Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment," (PDF) Dr. Lawson Brigham, June 24, 2009

OneTree project begins in Fairbanks

OneTree Coordinator Jan Dawe examines a birch tree in a Fairbanks area forest

A new community outreach and research project, OneTree, will launch in July. The UAF Forest Products Program is coordinating this collaborative project that explores art and science through a connection to a single birch tree.

OneTree is based on a project by the same name which got its start in 1998, when a single large oak was felled in the National Trust estate of Tatton Park in Cheshire, England. The OneTree project aims to show the unique value of woodlands by demonstrating the volume and quality of work that can be made from one tree. By focusing on a common goal—full utilization of a single tree—OneTree will unleash the breadth of creativity in its participants.

OneTree will travel each year to a different community in Alaska. This summer’s prototype is being developed in Fairbanks in cooperation with Week in the Woods, a family camp offered July 6-10 in the Tanana Valley State Forest.

Elders, students, wood turners, birch bark artists, biologists, loggers, millers, and community members interested in working in new ways with trees and each other are all invited to participate. Possibilities include making tar, weaving a birch bark basket, riving green wood, or documenting a tree for different types of studies. The activities will be happening this summer, all from one tree.

On July 6, OneTree and Week in the Woods participants will choose and harvest a birch tree near the campsite. After harvest, the tree will be divided into portions for three different groups, including Week in the Woods campers, OneTree artisans, and teachers who would like to pick up and store material for later use in the classroom.

“The sky’s the limit on what happens and it depends on who steps forward to participate,” said OneTree coordinator Jan Dawe, an adjunct forestry professor at UAF’s School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences. “Whether you’re intrigued by the biology of birch trees or wonder how climate shift may be affecting the forest, whether you want to follow an inspiration to paint or write a poem while sitting under a tree or around the campfire, whether you make museum-quality pieces or are just getting started on woodworking or birch bark projects, OneTree wants you.”

Regardless of age or experience in the woods, everyone is invited to become part of OneTree. Teachers are especially encouraged to join. If you’d like to do so by participating in Week in the Woods, register here. If you’d like to join OneTree, but not as a registrant in Week in the Woods, please e-mail Jan Dawe or call 388-1772.

The UAF Forest Products Program is run by Assistant Professor Valerie Barber at the Palmer Research and Extension Center.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Memorial service set for Marilyn Drew

Longtime Fairbanks resident Marilyn June Drew (pictured at left), 79, passed away at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital on June 9.

Mrs. Drew was born June 1, 1930, in Eliasville, Texas. She had a career as a flight attendant for Braniff Airlines in Dallas and later for the Flying Tigers on their overseas trips. She flew until 1956 when she met and married Jim Drew. That year they moved to Lincoln, Neb., where her three children were born. In 1976, the Drew family moved to Fairbanks, where Dr. Drew became the newly appointed dean of the School of Agriculture and Land Resources Management. Soon after moving to Fairbanks, Mrs. Drew began selling real estate. Every spring Jim and Marilyn would fly to the Lower 48, visiting relatives and friends along the way.

Mrs. Drew volunteered with Meals on Wheels for the Senior Center and assisted with Helping Hoofs, a horseback riding program for people with special needs. She was a member of the Fairbanks Republican Women’s Club and the Top of the World Garden Club. Mrs. Drew was preceded in death by her husband of fifty-two years, Dr. James V. Drew, and her eldest brother, William Ray Smith. She is survived by her daughters, Lisa and Kelly, her son, Michael, and her granddaughter, Amy Covey, all of Fairbanks.

A memorial gathering celebrating the life of Marilyn Drew will be held from 2 to 5 p.m., Sunday, June 28, at 4725 Villanova Drive, Jim and Marilyn’s house on the lake. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Drew Amphitheater, c/o the Georgeson Botanical Garden. Please mail donations to the Drew Amphitheater, 4820 Villanova Drive, Fairbanks, AK 99709.

“Marilyn and Jim Drew were tremendous supporters of the botanical garden,” SNRAS Dean Carol Lewis said. “We always appreciated Marilyn’s support of the school and the experiment station. The Drew Amphitheater at the Georgeson Botanical Garden will be a lasting tribute to Marilyn and Jim.”

Friday, June 19, 2009

Lettuce gets a close look in Alaska and Washington

Haly Ingle, WSU graduate student, plants Cracoviensis leaf lettuce in research plots at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm

A parallel study of nitrate levels is simultaneously being conducted in Fairbanks and Pullman, Wash., this summer. Washington State University graduate student Haly Ingle is at UAF for seven weeks closely examining the effects of the midnight sun and other factors on lettuce and spinach.

Ingle is working with UAF Professor Meriam Karlsson, studying how light intensity and duration affect nitrate levels in leaf tissue of different lettuce varieties. The high latitude Fairbanks site complements a sister site in Pullman where the same varieties are being grown. During several twenty-four hour periods, Ingle will measure nitrate every two hours.

Ingle grew up in Waitsburg, Wash., and earned bachelor of science degrees in agricultural communications and organic agriculture from WSU in 2008. She is studying toward a master’s degree in soil science, and will use the research she is doing in Alaska for her thesis.

Ingle is particularly interested in the comparisons between Fairbanks’ twenty-four hour daylight growing days and Pullman’s diurnal rhythms. “The nitrate content of the plants should fluctuate more in Pullman,” she predicted. In Fairbanks, there should be no fluctuations. Most prior research in this arena has been conducted in greenhouses, and Ingle is intrigued by the “unique growing conditions in Alaska.”

During the times that she takes measurement every two hours she will take her samples to the lab and grind them, then send them to Pullman to be processed. Nitrate research is important because nitrogen is the more critical element for plant growth. And nitrates can play either good and bad roles in human health. The European Commission has limited nitrate content for growers, just as the EPA has limits on the amount of nitrates in drinking water. “It’s not like it’s going to kill you but it’s something to keep an eye on,” Ingle said.

She prepared the soil in her plots at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm by adding fish meal. Ingle has been impressed with her temporary home. “It’s beautiful here,” she said. “It’s a little more remote than I’m used to and the daylight takes some getting used to.”

Though she did not grow up on a farm, Ingle has long been attracted to growing things, perhaps because her father was raised on a farm and his stories got her interested. “I’ve always had a passion for agriculture,” she said. “It’s something that fits with me.” Camping, horseback riding, and boating are her hobbies. Her long-term goals are to pursue a PhD and work with the Cooperative Extension Service.

Dr. Karlsson is pleased to have Ingle here and looks forward to a SNRAS student doing research in Washington. This project is made possible by the Franklin Distinguished Graduate Fellow, an endowment established by Glen Franklin. Franklin grew up in Washington and worked for the Alaska Division of Agriculture. He donates funds to WSU for agronomic research that solves problems common to Washington and Alaska.

Ingle’s advisor, Rich Koenig, WSU Department of Crop and Soil Sciences chair and SNRAS graduate, will visit Fairbanks in July. His research and extension program have focused on applied soil fertility issues in cereal-based cropping systems in eastern Washington. Koenig started the nitrate research with a previous graduate student who wrote four peer-reviewed research articles before completing her degree. Dr. Koenig said he is looking forward to a continued collaboration with Dr. Karlsson, examining agricultural issues common to both states.

Where in the world are SNRAS students this summer?

Chanda Meek in the field summer 2008

Here’s a quick update on what SNRAS students and recent graduates are doing this summer. Students who would like to let others know about their summer activities are welcome to comment below.

Chanda Meek, SNRAS’s first doctoral candidate for the new PhD in Natural Resources and Sustainability, has focused on her doctoral defense this summer. On Monday, June 22 at 1 p.m. in the Butrovich Building, Room 109, she will present “Comparing Co-management Regimes for Marine Mammals in Alaska: Three Aspects of Institutional Performance.”

Recent master’s graduate Lorene Lynn is working as a soil scientist for HDR Alaska, an architecture, engineering, and environmental services consulting firm in Anchorage and Palmer. Lynn learned how to write a “request for proposal” for a DOT project and designed a research project investigating hydric soil indicators in volcanic ash soils. She has also written the specifications for a landfill cap and closure. “The learning curve has been high and the work stimulating,” Lynn said. “I have been able to put my soils education to good use.”

NRM major Hannah Harrison is employed with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Sand Point and Port Moller on the Alaska Peninsula. She is a Tech III working for the Western Alaska Salmon Survey Inventory Project taking DNA samples and scale samples from sockeye and chum.

Geography major Matthew Balazs is working for the Institute of Arctic Biology as a GIS technician. He is involved with a project that is examining the changes in lake areas throughout ten of the national wildlife refuges in Alaska. His job is to process and interpret data from aerial photos and satellite images using GIS software to find changes in the lakes’ area. He is planning to go to Svalbard, an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean north of mainland Europe, about midway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, later in the summer for a class in arctic terrestrial quaternary stratigraphy.

Recent graduate Larsen Hess is working for the Alaska Division of Forestry this summer and then will move to Japan where he will teach English.

Senior Ellen Hatch is working at the Georgeson Botanical Garden and delving into her senior thesis, a project studying and mapping growing degree days in the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

Graduate student Yosuke Okada works with Professor Meriam Karlsson in her controlled environment agriculture laboratory (CEAL). Okada’s area of focus is tomatoes. In early June Okada was a participant in the Hot Springs 100-kilometer wilderness race from Chena Hot Springs to Circle Hot Springs.

High Latitude Agriculture student James Ward is in his second summer working for Dr. Karlsson in her fields, high tunnels, and CEAL. He assists with plant experiments, plant propagation, germination, transplanting, and data collection. “I have gained a good understanding of experimentation methods,” he said.

NRM student Jace Bures is managing the greenhouse at Pike’s Waterfront Lodge. He is in charge of all the plant care and landscaping at the hotel and adjacent restaurant. He has six FFA students working for him in the collaborative project.

Addendum (June 23, 2009):
2009 geography graduate Alice Orlich (pictured at right) is continuing with her position as student research assistant with sea ice physicist Dr. Jennifer Hutchings at the International Arctic Research Center. Her summer months will be occupied with analyzing field data, assisting with website coordination for arctic sea ice research, and preparing for another science cruise into the arctic. The annual ship trip into the Beaufort Sea has been scheduled later in the year to catch the freeze-up that occurs in early fall. The benefits are two-fold, as researchers will be able to observe conditions of the ice pack after a full melt season, the time of lowest extent, and Orlich will enjoy her first full summer in Fairbanks in fifteen years.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

SNRAS scientist helps forge fire prescription

The Nenana Ridge prescribed burn takes off on June 17

Associate Professor Scott Rupp is project manager on a first-of-its-kind in Alaska prescribed burn held in the Tanana Valley State Forest June 17-18 at Nenana Ridge, about thirty miles south of Fairbanks.

The fire, a remarkably well coordinated effort involving UAF and many state and federal agencies, should provide a formula for future research burns. “We’ll show how difficult it is to do this,” Dr. Rupp said just before the fire was set on June 17. And he should know; he has worked on the project for three years, with everything and everyone set to go in the summer of 2008 just when heavy rains set in, delaying the burn for a year.

“It’s about finding the funding and working with agencies, researchers, and the resources available when the weather is right,” Rupp explained. “It’s complicated.”

Throughout the process he has learned what it takes in manpower and budget to do the preparation work and the practical, economic issues of concern to agencies, he said.

(At left, Scott Rupp demonstrates moss moisture content)

Studying black spruce fires is important in Alaska, where thousands of lightning strikes occur daily in the summer, making forests susceptible to fire. The premise of this research was to prepare plots in advance and see how they fared during an actual fire. Several five-acre treatment blocks were either thinned or shear-bladed. The thinned sections appeared nearly park like, with generous spacing between the trees. The shear-bladed plots were open fields with lines of wind rows, created from tree debris and stumps, strategically placed. The idea is not to study fire prevention but fire behavior, as the researchers recognize that forest fires are an integral element in the boreal forest ecosystem, clearing the way for new growth and hence a variety of wildlife to live there. Yet understanding fire can help communities better protect citizens’ property.

Fire behavior is a primary concern to fire scientists. The researchers will quantify many elements of the fire with high-tech equipment that measures consumption of the understory, what vegetation is in the ground, how many dead and downed twigs are there, moisture measurements, wind speed, temperature of the forest floor, and much more. A dozen sensors and cameras were placed in burn-proof boxes to collect data throughout the fire. Rupp and a team of researchers will be evaluating the post-fire effects for months to come, and Rupp expects to publish a paper about the project as early as this fall.

The burn attracted the attention of the National Geographic Society, which sent a writer and photographer to cover the event for its magazine and television station. Researchers from the Missoula (Montana) Fire Sciences Laboratory, the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station in Seattle, and the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Moscow, Idaho, were on hand.

Agencies involved included the Joint Fire Science Program, UAF, Alaska Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Bureau of Land Management, Alaska Fire Service, USDA Forest Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Ruffed Grouse Society.

Nearly eighty firefighters from the BLM Alaska Fire Service and the Alaska Division of Forestry, including the Midnight Sun Hotshots, assisted with the operation.

“I’m so glad this fire is finally in prescription,” said Chris Maisch, director of the Division of Forestry, “This research is really needed to help guide the fuels management program. We’ll learn the best treatments; we have a lot of anecdotal evidence but this puts hard science behind it.”

Photos and story by Nancy Tarnai, SNRAS public information officer

Also see:
"Researchers study the science of fire," Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, June 18, 2009, by Chris Eshleman

Alaska Interagency Coordination Center fire updates

GBG celebrates statehood with a nice cup of tea

Early summer is a fine time to visit the botanical garden

The Georgeson Botanical Garden is the setting for a 50th anniversary celebration of Alaska statehood. A tea party, planned for Sunday, June 28 from 1 to 4 p.m., will feature Alaska teas and desserts, music, artists at work, games, and arts and crafts. The event is hosted by the GBG Society, which was formed in 2007 to support the research facility of SNRAS by uniting volunteers and friends through fun, educational, and fundraising activities.

The tea party brings out the beauty in the garden, in more ways than one.
Period dress from any era of Alaska’s history is encouraged but not required. Tickets are $35 per person, and the fee includes a commemorative teacup. Purchase tickets at the GBG gift shop, New Horizons Gallery, or the Artworks. The tea party is a fund raiser for the botanical garden.

If you are interested in volunteering to help at the tea party, please contact Robyn Russell. People are needed to set up before the event and clean up afterwards, as well as work during the hours of the event, taking tickets, serving tea, or resupplying the food trays. Others are needed to bake cookies or cakes and provide entertainment.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Matanuska Experiment Farm hosts bike races

Participants in the Mooseberry Stampede Mountain Bike Race traverse the trails on the Matanuska Experiment Farm (photo by Connie Harris)

When the Arctic Bicycle Club hosts its 24-hour race June 27-28 the event will take place on some of the most beautiful trails in Alaska—right through the Matanuska Experiment Farm in Palmer.

Race Director Greg Matyas said his club members discussed the new route over the winter. Last year’s race was disrupted in Anchorage's Far North Bicentennial Park when a bear attacked one of the riders. “We thought we’d give it a rest there,” Matyas said. “And we thought how nice to have the race on 11 of the best miles of racing in the state. It’s a really, really nice area to ride.”

The upcoming race is unique in that the mountain bike riders cycle for 24 hours, traversing the trail as many laps as they want. There is also a 12-hour version, Matyas said.

The Valley Mountain Bikers and Hikers held their Mooseberry Stampede Mountain Bike Race on the same trails June 13. The event was described as a celebration of trails, colony history, and agriculture.

The 24-hour race is expected to draw 80 to 100 participants. Matyas said he hopes this is the beginning of a long-term partnership with the experiment farm. The bicycle club is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting bicycling safety, education, and sporting activities.

The farm, a research facility of UAF’s School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, is used for community events and seminars. The International Mountain Bike Association conducted a trail-building workshop there and the local high school cross country running teams frequent the trails often. Groups interested in touring or using the facility should contact Associate Professor Norman Harris at 907-746-9467.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Google Earth institute off to good start

From left Chancellor Brian Rogers, Google senior technical writer Tina Ornduff, UA Geography Program Director Mike Sfraga

As he welcomed teachers from across the state, UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers said the UA Geography Program’s summer institute fits right in with one of the university’s top budget priorities–kindergarten through twelfth grade education. “We want to connect with students in K-12,” Chancellor Rogers said. The university does so in many ways, including the Alaska Summer Research Academy, the Rural Alaska Honors Institute, Upward Bound, music camps, and art camps. UA Geography is another prime example, as it reaches out to students and teachers in various locations around the state.

Chancellor Rogers and his wife Sherry Modrow hosted the seminar participants June 15 at a picnic on the lawn of their campus home. Surrounded by wild roses and irises, the setting was a pleasant place to kick off the first day of the seminar, with the casual atmosphere encouraging conversations between the Fairbanks, Wasilla, Nome, and Anchorage educators. They excitedly looked forward to using global positioning system units around the campus in the afternoon, and then taking what they collected back to their computers.

“By bringing professionals here it makes a way to connect to Alaska’s best and brightest,” Rogers said. He was particularly excited about the geospatial technology that is being taught in the workshop. “We need students to come to UAF with geospatial technology,” he said. “You can help students understand there are tools to solve questions and help them understand what is going on in our landscape.”

Rogers thanked the teachers for attending the institute. “This will reach a lot of students since many of you reach several schools,” he said. “I appreciate your critical role in educating young Alaskans.”

UA Geography Program Director Mike Sfraga praised the collaboration between his program, Google, and National Geographic. “This is a nice friendship and collaboration,” he said. The institute will help spread the geography program’s work to schools around the state, he said, which will enrich the K-12 curriculum.

UA Geography hosts Google Earth institute

The Alaska Geographic Alliance / Google Earth Summer Institute takes place on the UAF campus June 15-19. This professional development opportunity brings together K-12 educators from Nome, Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Wasilla to gain the knowledge and skills to navigate Google Earth, to learn how to integrate Google Earth into a range of subjects and grades using existing KML files and lesson plans, to assist teachers in creating their own dynamic Google Earth projects and to begin to create a storehouse of Google Earth K-12 lesson plans that the UA Geography Program will make available on the web.

The course will focus on Alaska-specific content, which will be used at future school in-services and teacher education courses throughout the state. “Google and the UAGP are committed to hosting and growing a comprehensive source of Google Earth files and standards-based lesson plans on the web for Alaskan educators,” said Katie Kennedy, UAGP education and outreach coordinator. “This is an effective tool to keep students engaged and involved,” Kennedy said. “It has the capacity to enliven the classroom and enrich the curriculum.”

Instructors are Tina Ornduff, Google senior technical writer and head of Google’s Geo Education team, John Bailey, adjunct instructor UAGP and Arctic Region Supercomputing Center, and Kennedy.

Participants are school district instructional technology professionals and teachers. “We targeted these educators not only because their prior knowledge will allow us to cover more ground, but also because we hope to reach as many students as possible through this effort and these participants touch countless students in several schools during the course of each school year,” Kennedy said.

The institute is funded by the National Geographic Society as part of the UAGP’s ongoing Alaska Geographic Alliance K-12 Education Network. This event is a continuation of the UAGP’s collaboration with Google’s Geo Education team which began in 2008. The collaboration began with seven Google Geo Education team members working with UAGP faculty and staff to develop Alaska-specific K-12 content and programs. The joint program toured schools in the fall of 2008 in Barrow, Nome, and Kotzebue.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fair garden showcases SNRAS research

Professor Meriam Karlsson and graduate student Yosuke Okada plant "Bodacious" sweet corn at the fairgrounds garden

In a new endeavor, UAF horticulturists are lending their expertise to the Tanana Valley Fair this year. Professor Meriam Karlsson, Research Professional Jeff Werner, and graduate student Yosuke Okada planted the demonstration garden near the fair’s agricultural museum in early June.

“We wanted the garden to demonstrate the most commonly grown crops in Alaska,” Dr. Karlsson said. A small patch planted by Research Assistant Bob Van Veldhuizen showcases the most popular grains grown in Alaska, including barley, wheat, oats, and rye. Van Veldhuizen also planted a row of a new variety of flower he helped develop, the Midnight Sun-flower. “So many kids don’t know what grains look like; this way they will get to see them,” Karlsson said.

The rest of the 24 x 32 foot garden has potatoes, broccoli, kale, cabbage, collards, corn, carrots, beans, squash, cauliflower, onions, celery, and herbs. The plants got their start in Karlsson’s greenhouse and controlled environment research lab on campus. By the time the fair opens Aug. 7 the crops should be nearing their peak. Thousands of fairgoers will learn more about SNRAS research from the garden and its accompanying informational placards.

Fair Manager Randi Carnahan said, “I'm so excited to work with such experts in the agricultural community. This year's fairgoers will find the variety of items that can be planted and grown here to be very interesting." This is a Tanana Valley State Fair Alaska Grown Cooperative Marketing Project supported by the Alaska Division of Agriculture in partnership with UAF Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and UAF Collegiate FFA.

Food raised in the garden will be used for special events, distributed to fair volunteers, and donated to local agencies.
Further reading:

"New sunflower is for the birds," SNRAS Science & News, Feb. 10, 2009, by Bob Van Veldhuizen.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ghanaian student adapts to Fairbanks lifestyle

Josie Sam (pictured at right), UAF graduate student from Ghana, West Africa, has found studying in Alaska to be everything she had hoped it would be. “The courses are quite insightful and interesting and the people are friendly,” she said. “I’m looking forward to learning a lot more so I can apply it back home.”

Sam was inspired to move to Alaska after getting to know Lewis Shapiro, a senior research consultant at the Geophysical Institute and retired UAF faculty member who does volunteer work in Ghana. Sam earned English and history degrees at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. When she learned of the professional master’s degree offered by SNRAS she realized it was just what she had been seeking. Arriving in Fairbanks in January 2009, she immersed herself in natural resources management studies, with emphasis on rural development, gender issues, and community water management.

When she returns home to Ghana she wants to help communities find access to clean water – crucial to improve the lives of women and children, she said, and to build mechanisms to sustain the improvements. “Organizations need to help set up management structures for the long term,” she said. “Education features strongly in that.”

She will return to Ghana briefly in August, when she will get to see how the water projects are going and of course will visit her family. It is her parents she credits with her success. “I grew up in a family that made no distinction between men and women; we were encouraged to do what we wanted to do and get an education.” While in her second year of college, Sam read a novel, Faceless, by Amma Darko, which opened her eyes about child abuse and rural/urban migration. It moved her so much that she based her undergraduate research on it, working with street children in urban areas, studying the psychological reasons for domestic violence, and delving into the dowry system which equates women’s worth as property. “It started me thinking and brought everything into focus. I wanted to be part of the effort to correct what was happening,” Sam said. So she volunteered with the Ark Foundation, a women’s and children’s rights organization in Ghana, where she met a friend who introduced her to Shapiro.

That was the beginning of an association that would culminate in the establishment of the Nyarkoa Foundation, a US based non-profit organization that raises funds to support rural water projects in Ghana. As Dr. Shapiro and Sam became friends and worked together on the water projects, he decided to help her further her education. “She’s got a lot of potential,” Dr. Shapiro said. He invited her to live with him and his wife in Fairbanks. “This is a good investment in a Third World country,” he said.

While at UAF, Sam wants to acquire knowledge and insight into development processes that involve sustainable use of the natural environment by rural people. “Much of rural development is a natural resource management problem, because rural people are the managers of much of our land resources,” she wrote in her university application. “Their use of the land affects wildlife, forest biodiversity, soil quality, water quality, and other natural values. Improving their quality of life without negatively affecting the environment will require an understanding of the people, their way of life, the natural environment and the knowledge of how these can be made to interact in a positive way. I hope to develop the analytical and policy-making skills needed for this purpose. Specifically, I wish to gain the capacity to identify the environmental issues of concern to rural people and to design and implement policies geared toward addressing these concerns. Furthermore, considering the limitations posed by gender inequality on national progress in general and rural development in particular, I hope to receive the education that will enable me to effectively engage rural people to become agents of change in their communities. Promoting social justice while working toward sustainable rural development is my utmost goal, and I hope to gain the ability to accomplish this through knowledge acquired during this program.”

Her advisor, Associate Professor Susan Todd, praised Sam’s experience in microfinance, women’s empowerment, sustainable agriculture projects, water projects, and many other areas that form the foundation of sustainable development of natural resources in low-income countries. ”Josie is sharp, quick, mature, confident, capable, and hard working; she’s very serious about her studies and has a crystal clear sense of direction,” Dr. Todd stated. “It’s an honor to have her here at UAF and I have no doubt that she is going to make a substantial contribution to the alleviation of suffering and poverty in her country.”

In her free time, Sam has been attending concerts, plays, and movies with new friends in Fairbanks. And she is passionate about reading, knowing that a good book can change lives.

Sam expressed gratitude to Judi and Lewis Shapiro for their continued support and inspiration, and also acknowledged Susan Todd for taking her under her wings.

Addendum: (Jan. 30, 2014)
Josie Sam's foundation, The Nyarkoa Foundation, now has a website. The Nyarkoa Foundation was created to develop and fund projects to provide sustainable sources of clean water for the rural population in the Ajumako Enyan Essiam District of the Central Region of Ghana. It is a non-profit 501c(3) corporation chartered in the state of Alaska. Since its inception, all donations to the foundation have been used for project expenses in Ghana; administrative and travel costs have been, and will continue to be, paid by the officers of the foundation.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Growing opportunity: UAF hydroponics and the FFA at Pike’s Waterfront Lodge

Jace Bures, UAF student, works in the greenhouse at Pike's Waterfront Lodge

An innovative partnership between UAF, a private business, and a student organization makes it possible for young Alaskans to get on-the-job training, for SNRAS to do research and outreach, and for the company to beautify its grounds and host an attraction for visitors. 

At Pike’s Waterfront Lodge greenhouse, SNRAS horticulturists and students are continuing cutting-edge horticulture research focusing on hydroponics. The project is headed by Professor Meriam Karlsson, who manages the Controlled Environment Agriculture Laboratory, and research professional Jeff Werner. 

Hundreds of visitors learn about Alaska agriculture and SNRAS research by visiting the greenhouse.This year six FFA students have paying positions at the property, where they assist with growing the plants, transplanting them, and maintaining them. They also take care of all the landscaping for the hotel, adjacent restaurant, and outdoor event park. At the same time, the students learn people skills and customer service, as they have regular contact with hotel and restaurant guests. Greenhouse manager Jace Bures, a UAF senior in natural resources management, is learning management skills, landscaping techniques, and hydroponics. SNRAS graduate student Yosuke Okada is studying tomatoes at the greenhouse.

The greenhouse project incorporates many aspects of research. At this and other sites, Dr. Karlsson and Werner are working to make locally-grown produce in remote Alaska regions a reality. In cold frames, high tunnels, or high-tech facilities, researchers are focusing on plant requirements, varieties, and treatments to maximize productivity for growers. Objectives are to develop cultural management techniques and reliable protocols to efficiently produce suitable vegetables, culinary herbs, small fruit, floral, and hanging basket crops in various environments. 

Dr. Karlsson’s work determines the best materials for high tunnels so that crop productivity is expanded. She studies specific crops, including tomatoes, lettuce, green beans, and strawberries, so that optimum conditions for best output can be shared with agricultural producers across the state. Partnerships with commercial enterprises such as Pike’s Waterfront Lodge and Chena Hot Springs Resort not only provide scientific expertise to the businesses but showcase innovative agricultural methods such as hydroponic techniques to the public in a positive light. 

Starting in mid-June, free nightly tours of the greenhouse will be given, with hotel guests and locals alike taking advantage of the demonstrations and lectures. The students will set up a farmstand where they will sell fresh produce from the greenhouse and local farms, with all proceeds benefiting FFA programs. 

“Pike’s is very supportive of us and FFA,” Karlsson said. “This is a working partnership at all levels. It’s a perfect setup.” One of the aspects she likes best is that it gives SNRAS an opportunity to showcase its research to the public. “This is an opportunity we can build on,” Karlsson said. 

“It’s a wonderful collaboration,” Pike’s owner Jay Ramras said. The idea formed a few years ago when he was talking to Steve Jones, UAF chancellor at that time. “He was interested in trying to export the university’s intellectual property and reputation off the hill and into the community of Fairbanks,” Ramras said. “I was struck by the idea. I love every aspect of this and it’s an exhibition to show what Alaska can do with vegetables.” 


Originally, growing plants with the roots immersed in a water solution of nutrients was called hydroponic culture or hydroponics. Over the years, hydroponic systems have become equivalent to soilless production techniques. In these systems, the required nutrients are dissolved in water and provided to the roots held directly in the solution or in a prepared growing medium. The growing medium can be organic or inorganic and may consist of a single or several mixed materials such as peat moss, gravel or perlite (siliceous rock). Advantages of hydroponics include the lack of soil-borne pests and diseases, opportunities for precise nutrient control and automation, efficient use of water and nutrients, rapid turn around, easier harvest and management, year round use, and faster production cycles. 

The hydroponics methods used at the greenhouse range widely: 

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)

The plants rest in an enclosed growing channel. A nutrient solution is circulated through the channel providing a constant flow or film of nutrients around the roots. The solution remaining after passing through the channels is returned to a stock tank and nutrients, pH, electrical conductivity, and water levels are adjusted before re-circulation. Electrical conductivity is a measure indicating the amount of nutrients in the solution. 

Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain)

Ebb and flow is a simple and reliable form of hydroponics requiring a low initial investment. The plants are grown in pots filled with a peat-based medium or inert material and placed in a tray. At regular intervals, a pump fills the tray with nutrient solution. After a few minutes, the solution drains back into a reservoir. The medium anchors the roots and functions as a water and nutrient reserve as the hydroponic solution is alternatively flooded and drained. 

Dutch Bato Buckets

These containers have a small siphon pipe at the bottom to regulate the nutrient solution to about a one-inch depth. The small bottom reservoir of solution keeps the growing medium moist between irrigation cycles. These containers are designed to be irrigated with a drip emitter and are plumbed to a stock tank through a common PVC pipe (2-inch diameter). 

Aeroponics (AEROFLO²® 30)

The roots are maintained in an environment saturated with a mist of nutrient solution. The method requires no substrate but some technique is needed for supporting the plants to allow continuous wetting of the roots with a fine nutrient spray. 


This is an automated application of aeroponics using water, nutrients, and and air to grow herbs, vegetables, and flowers in the home. The unit has built-in lights on timers and comes with seeds and fertilizer tablets. No prior knowledge of growing plants is needed as the system alerts you when to add water and nutrients. 

Floating Pond System

The plants are seeded in rockwool or oasis foam cubes. After germination and seedling development, the cubes are moved to holes in Styrofoam “boards” and floated on a pool of nutrient solution. Air is usually bubbled through and the solution is in constant circulation. Water and nutrients are monitored and added as the crop uses the nutrient solution for growth and development.

Vertigro (Vertical Growing)

This is a system with stackable pots to allow increased space utilization. Water with the dissolved nutrients is applied in a drip system at the top and trickles through the pots and plants. The growing medium is perlite2 or other inert material. (Perlite is a siliceous rock that, when heated to 1600°F, expands into light white crumbs suitable for horticultural applications.) The solution after draining through the tower can be collected and re-circulated. 

Drip Hydroponic System

In this system, a nutrient solution is dripping onto the surface of the medium around the plant in the top growing container. The solution drains into a second reservoir container and the solution is recycled using an aquarium pump. A larger reservoir can charge several modules or nutrient solution can be added manually to each individual unit as the solution drops. 

Deep Water Bubble System

This is a culture system with a static nutrient solution aerated with an aquarium or air pump. Fresh nutrient solution or plain water may be added daily to keep a constant solution level. As the nutrient concentration drops, the nutrient solution can be completely changed or nutrients added based on an electrical conductivity reading. 

Rockwool Blocks

Rockwool is made from basalt rock, chalk, and/or sand melted at 3000˚F. The molten rock is spun into a wool of fine intertwined fibers. The resulting product absorbs water while still providing air to the roots. A nutrient solution is applied several times during the day through drip emitters. 

Top Irrigation

In top irrigation, nutrient solution is periodically applied to the medium surface. This may be done manually or through drip emitters to containers filled with peat or other inert medium. When automated, the nutrient solution can be scheduled for delivery multiple times each day. 

Related stories: 

"Growing Plants without Soil," by Rayna Nelson, September 2008, The Ester Republic. Nelson worked as an FFA student at Pike’s Waterfront Lodge greenhouse for a summer and describes her experiences there in this article. 

"FFA hydroponics program offers education, hope for sustainability," by Erica Goff, Aug. 31, 2008, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. Goff provides an in-depth overview of FFA’s involvement and the development of the experimental horticulture education program with UAF.

Monday, June 8, 2009

FFA state officers learn leadership skills

Left to right are Crystal Mathews, Isaac Courson, Emily Henkelman, Corinne Ogle, Ben Blue, Irene Fry, Zac Chaves

Alaska’s FFA leaders gathered in Fairbanks June 3-6 for BLAST-off, an FFA program titled “Building Leaders and Strong Teams of Officers.”

Crystal Mathews, FFA facilitator from Carthage, Mo., led the intensive workshops, designed to prepare the students for the upcoming school year and all the FFA activities that will bring. This year’s officers are Isaac Courson of Palmer, reporter; Emily Henkelman of Homer, secretary; Corinne Ogle of Homer, president; Ben Blue of Homer, vice president; Irene Fry of Palmer, treasurer; Zac Chaves of Fairbanks, sentinel.

The training emphasized the core tenants of leadership, creating and using effective mission statements, making a great impression, communicating the FFA code of ethics, table manners, travel tips, appropriate use of technology, written communications, time management, building relationships, respecting diversity, conversational skills, and understanding agriculture.

Alaska has FFA chapters in Delta Junction, King Career Center, Kodiak, Palmer, Homer, Fairbanks, North Pole, and a collegiate chapter at UAF. FFA is dedicated to making a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Regents dine on UAF beef

Brittany Wintter of UAF Dining Services shows off the Angus steaks at the UA Board of Regents luncheon June 5
Associate Director of AFES Milan Shipka and Dean Carol Lewis explain the important role of agriculture to the Board of Regents
SNRAS gave the UA Board of Regents something to chew on (literally) at a June 5 meeting in Fairbanks. The regents’ luncheon included Angus beef raised by the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, as well as two varieties of potatoes grown at the Matanuska Experiment Farm.

“This is an excellent example of what local food can taste like,” Dean Carol Lewis said to the board. She said she has been wanting to coordinate an effort like this with the catering department for a while. Expressing appreciation to UAF Dining Services, Dr. Lewis said she looks forward to providing food for university events in the future. “We can’t supply all the food catering needs but we can help on special occasions.”

Milan Shipka, associate director of the AFES and professor of animal science, explained to the regents that the meat provided came from a research herd of about thirty cattle at the Matanuska Experiment Farm. The Angus beef is grass finished, meaning the animals are fed on hay and haylage their entire lives; they are not grain-fed.

“Food security is an important issue,” Shipka said. SNRAS is working to determine the amount of food imported into Alaska, but he is sure it is more than 90 percent of the food supply. “That puts us at a severe risk,” he said. He encouraged the regents to purchase Alaska Grown food products as often as they can.

“Consume more Alaska meat and produce,” he urged. In addition to beef, meats raised in Alaska include bison, yak, elk, and reindeer.

Calling himself an “Aggie to the core,” Shipka asked the regents to consider the importance of agriculture to the university and the state. “In the past ten years people have been embarrassed about agriculture,” he said. “Some schools have even changed their names but what we do is important – produce food for humans.”

Regent Kirk Wickersham said, “I am really impressed with what you have provided for us today.”

“This is the best steak I ever had,” Regent Carl Marrs said.

Dr. Shipka gave credit to Daniel J. Morgan, UAF Catering/Banquet chef, who cooked the steaks. Shipka had been worried about the meal, and was really hoping the meat would be tender and tasty for the regents. “The chef did a great job,” he said. The true test of tenderness was that the regents were able to cut the meat with plastic utensils.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Volunteers plant beauty at botanical garden

New Master Gardener Mariah Doyle-Stephenson put her skills to work for GBG
Sharon Walluk, left, and Peggy O'Neal are faithful volunteers, preparing and caring for the accessible flower beds
On a warm evening in early June, cars rolled into the UAF Georgeson Botanical Garden parking lot, one after the other. Volunteers emerged with sun hats, gardening gloves, and hand spades.

Their mission? To transform the garden in one fell swoop, planting the annual flower beds under the direction of GBG Director Pat Holloway. In preparation for the work party, Dr. Holloway and her staff had prepared maps for all the flower beds, designating where the 350 plant varieties would go. There are approximately two dozen plants of each variety.

While most trial gardens are arranged in block style with row upon row of the same type of plant growing together, Holloway prefers GBG to be more viewer friendly. “We found that people were interested in color combinations and what plants would work well together,” Holloway said. “It makes it a challenge.”

Every year the garden is different, with about one-third of the 350 plant varieties being new to GBG. Varieties are grown for three years, then new ones are brought in, so that researchers can determine the breadth of what can be grown in Alaska. The Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station publications office publishes variety trials for the garden at the end of each research season. The trend in this year’s garden is a profusion of one color in particular, Holloway noted. “There is lots of pink this year.”

With so much work to do in a short time, volunteers are essential to the garden’s success. Holloway has a small year-round staff and several student workers for the summers. She particularly expressed appreciation to the Master Gardeners for their efforts. “These people are one of the greatest groups of people,” she said. “They are knowledgeable and enthusiastic and interested in everything related to plants. They keep pushing their knowledge.”

In Fairbanks, Master Gardeners are trained by Michele Hebert, land resources agent for UAF Cooperative Extension Service. Students do forty hours of classwork, then give forty hours of volunteer time to the community. Topics covered include: botany, entomology, flower gardening, fruit and vegetable gardening, lawn care, organic gardening, pesticide use and safety, plant pathology, soils and fertilizers, tree and shrub care, and volunteerism.

The public is welcome at GBG, which is a research facility of the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences. The garden is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, with a $2 admission fee (children under age six get in free). Guided tours are given on Fridays at 2 p.m. from June to August. Please leave pets at home.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Agroborealis spring issue out!

The spring issue of Agroborealis is out, and features full color and a new design to highlight SNRAS research in geography, forest sciences, high-latitude agriculture, and natural resources, as well as a section on events, people, and places and briefs on news and publications. This is the 40th year of publication of this research magazine. Articles include:
"Counting on tradition: Math in a Cultural Context adds up" (staff report)
"Log cabin building workshop: from hangar to woods," by Valerie Barber, on a hands-on workshop using local materials in the Sitka Ranger District;
"The Midnight Sun-flower: a bloom for northern birds," by Bob Van Veldhuizen, about the development of a new variety of sunflower adapted to the Alaska Interior;
"Biomass fuels: local energy, local jobs, and community resilience," by Nancy Fresco and F. Stuart Chapin III, on the potential for sustainable harvest of woody biomass for fuel in villages across the Interior;
"How to save Old Faithful: geyser protection areas," by Kenneth A. Barrick, about the dangers posed to geysers and hot springs by geothermal energy development, and a proposal to protect this important resource;
"Two for the Peace Corps" (staff report), on the experiences of two participants in the Peace Corps Masters International program at UAF;
"The IPY at UAF" (staff report): International Polar Year research by SNRAS and other UAF personnel;
"A Sustainable PhD" (staff report)
"Kerttula Hall dedication" (staff report)
"James Drew: piloting agriculture" (obituary)
"Leslie Viereck: infectious curiosity" (obituary)
Many of the issues discussed in the magazine have been touched on in this blog, but are treated in more depth in Agroborealis. The magazine may be downloaded as a PDF or obtained in hard copy from the SNRAS/AFES Information Services Office. If you would like to subscribe to this free magazine, contact us via e-mail or write to us at PO Box 757200, Fairbanks AK 99775-7200.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Agriculture is not a dirty word

This essay, written by Dr. Allen Levine, (pictured at left) dean of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minn., is reprinted from the May 28, 2009 issue of Science Magazine online version.

Agricultural science is ripe for a Renaissance. For too many years, the agriculture sciences have been disparaged in the science and education communities, perhaps because agronomy, soil science, plant pathology, and animal science use a problem-solving approach rather than simply seeking knowledge.

When science research funds are handed out—for example, in the federal stimulus bill—agriculture often gets left off the list. I suspect this is because policy-makers and some scientists see “agriculture” as synonymous with “agribusiness,” rather than as a purely scientific discipline, and they assume private funding will take care of agriculture-related research needs. Agricultural scientists at land-grant institutions do receive some research dollars from noncompetitive sources, but not all research is funded this way.

Adding insult to injury, the major U.S. science journals don’t devote specific sections or editors to agricultural research. Some schools of agriculture have taken the word “agriculture” out of their names, presumably to attract more students in a country where only 2% of the population farms. (It hasn’t worked: Enrollment in university agricultural science majors has dropped steadily nationwide since the early 1980s.)

In short, agricultural science has an image problem. Our disciplines are not considered relevant and, more disturbing, we’re not seen as a source of solutions to many of the world’s most pressing challenges, even though many of those challenges directly relate to agricultural science. That’s unfortunate, particularly in a world where people are starving or eating unsafe food, where climate change will affect every aspect of 21st-century life, and where new kinds of sustainable fuel are needed.

The urgency of these global issues—all of them related to the agricultural sciences—amplifies the need for an applied-science approach. Agricultural scientists can do amazing things when they combine their expertise and have access to the resources they need. Recently, scientists at an international conference in Mexico announced that they have found a wheat variety that is resistant to Ug99—a strain of stem rust that could affect up to 90% of the world’s wheat. Although the scientists have not completely eliminated the threat, it’s clearly a breakthrough with enormous implications.

Other recent signs also point to a renewed interest in and respect for agriculture. When the first lady plants a vegetable garden on the White House lawn for the first time in half a century, she’s sending a strong message: Food is important. Books about eating a sustainable, healthy diet top our best-seller lists. The National Gardening Association expects a 19% jump in the number of people growing at least some of their own food this year. Clearly, a growing number of Americans are interested in where their food comes from, even on a small scale.

The 2008 Farm Bill creates the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, which will be headed by a distinguished scientist directly appointed by the president. A small thing, perhaps, but it elevates agriculture to a level of prominence along the lines of health and other sciences. The farm bill also increases funding for competitive grants in both basic and applied agricultural research, which will provide opportunities for advanced study.

Enrollment is up 16% since 2005 among college students in the professional associations that specialize in soil and crop sciences and agronomy, which suggests that today’s students are interested in learning more about agricultural and environmental issues. Job prospects also are good; the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment for agricultural and food scientists will be at least average overall and much higher than average in some specialties.

In the long run, does it really matter whether “agricultural scientists” are what we call the people who ensure a safe and plentiful food supply, clean water, and healthy soil? Maybe not, as long as this critical work is funded and accomplished. But as we move into a new era of shared accountability and responsibility, let’s keep in mind that agricultural sciences affect us all, and when agricultural science is thriving, our communities likely are thriving, too.

Contact information:
Allen S. Levine, College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108–6074, USA, and Minnesota Obesity Center, Minneapolis VA Medical Center, Minneapolis, MN 55417, USA, e-mail:

Further reading:
J. Vidal, "Stem rust fungus threatens global wheat harvest,” The Guardian, March 19, 2009, by J. Vidal