Monday, August 24, 2009

Can you eat local for one week? Take the challenge!

Virgil Severns and his granddaughter Ashley Knowlton of Rangeview Farms regularly provide local produce to customers at the Tanana Valley Farmers' Market.
The "Eat Local Challenge" has been issued for Aug. 23-29. Alaska Grown urges citizens to accept the challenge to eat local foods, especially now when produce is readily available.

Benefits, as cited at Alaska Grown’s website, include:
  • support for local farmers and farm economy
  • Eating locally helps you put your money where your mouth is. Your food dollar goes to local growers and helps them continue to farm, providing food for our local markets, bakeries, and butchers.
  • helps you to eat healthy
  • You can get locally grown foods at the peak of freshness, nutritional value (since nutrients diminish over time) and flavor. Ripe, fresh fruits and vegetables taste better, so it’s easier to eat more of them. Compare this with produce that’s picked early and unripe for long-distance transport and longer shelf life.
  • helps the environment by cutting down on excess transportation and food miles
  • On average, food travels 2,000 miles to reach your plate in Alaska, so eating local foods that are sustainably grown helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With rising fuel costs, the price of globally sourced food is likely to increase as transportation costs are passed on to the consumer. Eating locally can also help preserve open space by retaining farms instead of pavement.
  • helps build community
  • Community is enhanced by growing your own food and sharing with family, friends, and food banks. Shopping at farmers’ markets and farm stands enables you to strike up a conversation with the person who grows your food. Participating in a community garden or edible schoolyard and teaching or learning about growing food with others.
Alaska Grown challenges Alaskans to:
  • Try eating at least one home-cooked meal this week, made of mostly local ingredients.
  • Try to incorporate at least one never-before-used local ingredient into a meal.
  • Try “brown-bagging” at least one meal this week made primarily from local ingredients.
  • Try talking to at least one food retailer and one food producer about local food options.
  • Try to choose local food products whenever possible.
  • Remember, if it says Alaska Grown, you know it’s local!
Farmers’ markets in the Fairbanks area include the Tanana Valley Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and Saturdays (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and the Ester Community Market Thursdays from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Ester Park. The Alaska Farmers Market Association has a list of markets throughout the state.

Rainforest center proposed for Alaska

SNRAS is playing a significant role in shaping the research, education, and outreach agenda for the new Alaska Coastal Rainforest Center.

The partners in the project crafted a memorandum of understanding recently and a public celebration and ceremony for the center was held Aug. 12-13 at Centennial Hall in Juneau. The ceremony was held in conjunction with the new Heen Latinee Experimental Forest established by the US Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. At the request of UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers, SNRAS Associate Dean Mike Sfraga is representing the university in this endeavor. SNRAS was selected for its expertise in forest sciences, environmental studies, the Scenarios Network for Alaska Planning, and the school’s role in the land grant mission. “They need our expertise and we need theirs,” Dr. Sfraga said. “This will be a significant area for research, education, and community outreach.”

Partners in the collaboration include UAF, UAS, US Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, US Forest Service, Alaska region, US Department of Interior, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the city and borough of Juneau. “It makes sense to bring all the experts together and create a center with a sole focus on the rainforest,” Sfraga said. The Center also reflects the cooperative relationship between UAF and UAS. “Chancellor Rogers and Chancellor Pugh have set the tone for a collaborative framework that we will build upon,” Sfraga noted. In June, the UA Board of Regents approved two new geography degrees for UAS that are fully integrated with UAF’s four existing degrees under the UA Geography Program.

Juneau’s proximity to the Tongass National Forest makes it the likely site for the center. The Tongass National Forest, managed by the US Forest Service, was created in 1907 by Teddy Roosevelt. It is America's largest national forest (17 million acres, 500 miles north to south) and the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world.

This new collaboration grew out of the Tongass Futures Roundtable, facilitated by UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers, an innovative project that brings together a diverse group of stakeholders — ranging from corporations to government officials to indigenous peoples — to discuss issues such as timber harvest, ecosystem protection, habitat restoration and the land claims of Alaska Native people in the Tongass. The group helps to resolve major litigation on the forest, increase understanding of key issues among opposing parties and catalyze local cooperative conservation projects.

“The Tongass is a rich platform for research,” Sfraga said. “It’s our responsibility as a university and as faculty to conduct research, communicate our findings to the broader scientific community, educate the public, and inform policy makers and industry.”

“There is a lot to be discovered in the Tongass.”

Further reading:

"Juneau's Alaska Coastal Rainforest Center to provide education on temperate rainforests," Juneau Empire, Aug. 16, 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Energy fair set for Saturday

The 4th annual Chena Renewable Energy Fair will feature everything from a congressional gathering to tours of the Ice Museum chiller. The event is set for Saturday, Aug. 22 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Chena Hot Springs Resort.

A public hearing to consider renewable energy production, strategies, and technologies for rural communities will be held in the main tent from 1 to 3 p.m.Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Rep. Don Young, and Mayor Jim Whitaker are slated to participate, along with representatives from the Department of Energy, American Hydrogen Association, and Southern Methodist University.

A new revolutionary mobile geothermal power plant designed to operate on the waste heat and water from existing oil and gas drill sites will be unveiled. There will be experts in the fields of renewable energy generation and sustainability, local vendors, workshops, and educational science experiments and a petting zoo for children. Chena Hot Springs is providing free hot dogs and ice cream; free bus rides are available on a first come first serve basis. For more information, call 451-8104 ext. 1920.

SNRAS Assistant Professor J. Andres Soria will give a presentation about transforming biomass into hydrocarbons at 11:30 a.m. in Tent 2. Research Professional Jeff Werner will talk about using greenhouses as a production system at 5:30 p.m. in Tent 1.

Further reading:
"Murkowski will host hearing at energy fair," Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Aug. 21, 2009, by Rena Delbridge

"Renewable energy opportunities abound in Alaska," Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Aug. 21, 2009, community perspective by Sen. Lisa Murkowski

"Chena energy fair enlightens visitors," Fairbanks Daily News Miner, Aug. 23, 2009, by Mary Beth Smetzer

Addendum, Aug. 24, 2009:
Photos from the energy fair

Chena Hot Springs Resort's new mobile power plant was unveiled at the energy fair. From left, John Fox of PureCycle Solutions, Bernie Karl of Chena Hot Springs Resort, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Rep. Don Young are pictured at the unveiling ceremony.

SNRAS graduate student Yosuke Okada answers visitors' questions in the research greenhouses at the energy fair. Okada's graduate research focuses on lighting for controlled environments. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

UA Geography Program expands

Students are now able to earn bachelor’s degrees in geography at UAS in Juneau. In cooperation with the UA Geography Program the new degrees add to the four baccalaureate geography degrees that are offered at UAF.

“We want to build beyond UAF,” UAGP Director Mike Sfraga said. “This allows students more options; it allows them to shop the UA Geography Program. These six degrees are unified by a common foundation.” Students take five core geography classes at either UAF or UAS, then choose the specific degree. Options at UAF include a bachelor of arts with emphasis in the Circumpolar North and Pacific Rim, or a B.S. with options in environmental studies, landscape analysis and climate change studies, or geographic information science and technology. UAS now offers a B.S. in geography and environmental resources and a B.A. in geography with emphasis on environmental studies.

Geography provides a holistic view of the Earth, its distinct and varied regions, and interactions between human activities and the physical world. It is the two-way bridge between the physical and social sciences, exploring the interrelationships between the Earth’s physical and biological systems and how these environmental systems provide a natural resource base for human societies. The discipline-based foundation classes at both campuses educate students in the core tenets of geography and include an introduction to geography; earth systems (physical geography); people, places, and environment; GIS, and geography seminar. The university’s geography coursework also provides the capacity for the integration of new and emerging technologies such as GIS and remote sensing.

The UA Board of Regents approved the new UAS degrees in June and discussed the “regents’option,” which will eventually allow UAF students to study at UAS and vice versa. “It’s rich,” Sfraga said. “It expands the options and takes advantage of faculty expertise at both campuses and the unique landscapes found at these very different locations.”

Monday, August 17, 2009

Comments needed on the Conservation Stewardship Program

In a recent press release, the Natural Resources Conservation Service announced that they are soliciting public comment on a new program "designed to encourage agricultural and forestry producers to maintain existing conservation practices and adopt additional ones in their operations." The deadline to submit comments is on or before Sept. 28, 2009. For full details about the new Conservation Stewardship Program, please visit
The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (2008 Farm Bill) authorized the Conservation Stewardship Program. Congress renamed and revamped the former Conservation Security Program to improve its availability and appeal to agricultural and forestry producers. The Conservation Stewardship Program will be offered in all 50 states, District of Columbia, and the Pacific and Caribbean areas through continuous sign-ups with announced cut-off application dates for ranking periods. Congress capped the annual acreage enrollment at 12,769,000 acres nationwide.

Comments on the Conservation Stewardship Program interim final rule can be submitted online, or through regular mail, e-mail, fax or in person. Information on how to submit comments is available at the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service's Web site at and at the Federal Register at

The Conservation Stewardship Program is
a voluntary conservation program designed to encourage agricultural and forestry producers to adopt additional conservation activities and improve, maintain, and manage existing ones. Individual landowners, legal entities, and Indian tribes may be eligible to apply for Conservation Stewardship Program assistance. Eligible lands include cropland, grassland, prairie, improved pastureland, rangeland, non-industrial private forestland-a new land use for the program-and agricultural land under the jurisdiction of an Indian tribe.

Reindeer make history at fair

Kelly Schmitz shows her reindeer at the Tanana Valley State Fair

Among the chickens, rabbits, and steers being auctioned at the Tanana Valley State Fair in Fairbanks on Aug. 14 were three reindeer. This is believed to be the first time reindeer have been featured during a livestock auction at a fair in the US.

Excitement built as the 4-Hers who raised the reindeer entered the arena. A packed house cheered for the young farmers as SNRAS Dean and AFES Director Carol Lewis presented the teens with certificates for completing the pilot project. “We’re very proud of you,” she said.

“They don’t fly,” auctioneer Jerry Marlow quipped. He noted the importance of the occasion, saying, “Tonight is history. Some kids might remember this fifty years down the road.”

The bidding was competitive, with local business people vying to buy the animals for meat. Laura Frame, with the grand champion at 204 pounds, brought in $5.75 per pound from Delta Meat and Sausage. Roscoe Beadle’s reindeer sold for $5.75 per pound to John Ringstad, and Kelly Schmitz’s animal was bought by Dr. Craig O’Donoghue for $7 per pound.

The project kicked off nearly a year ago when the UAF Reindeer Research Program donated reindeer to 4-Hers. Cooperating with RRP on this pilot project are the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Kawerak Reindeer Herders Association. RRP leases its herd from the BIA through Kawerak.

The 4-Hers attended classes and learned how to care for their animals throughout the year. Reindeer have already been distributed to several 4-Hers for next year’s auction.

Since its establishment in 1981, the Reindeer Research Program has taken an active role in the development and promotion of the Alaska reindeer industry. Research projects include herd management, animal health, nutrition, and meat quality. All projects have direct applicability to reindeer herders and producers.

Further reading:
"4-H reindeer auction makes history at the Tanana Valley State Fair", Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Aug. 14, 2009, by Mary Beth Smetzer
"Innovative program puts reindeer in hands of 4-H students," Fairbanks Daily News Miner, June 15, 2008, by Christi Hang
"Tanana Valley State Fair auction will include reindeer", SNRAS Science & News, August 3, 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

UAF announces Palmer Center for Sustainable Living

Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell, center, was a featured speaker at the Aug. 6 showcase. At left is Campbell's chief of staff John Cramer, and at right is former Sen. Jay Kerttula, for whom Kerttula Hall was named.

A showcase and celebration at the Matanuska Experiment Farm in Palmer Aug. 6 highlighted SNRAS/AFES’s bold plan for the future. The announcement included the naming of the Palmer Center for Sustainable Living, which encompasses the farm, Kerttula Hall, the Alaska Environmental Studies & Learning Park, and the Matanuska Colony History Center.

SNRAS Associate Dean Mike Sfraga relayed a message from UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers, who was unable to attend the event after forest fire smoke closed the Fairbanks airport. Sfraga said, “The chancellor reiterated UAF’s commitment to the land grant mission and this kickoff to the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Matanuska colonists.”

Sfraga added that SNRAS strives to be on the cutting edge of research to serve the state. “We face an aggressive yet appropriate future.”

Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell said he looks forward to celebrating the state’s agricultural history next year (during the Matanuska Colony’s seventh-fifth anniversary). “Opportunities rest right here in this valley,” he said.

Matanuska-Susitna Borough Mayor Talis Colberg enthralled the audience with tales of Milton Snodgrass, who selected the site for the Matanuska Experiment Farm. Colberg, who wrote his dissertation on Snodgrass, said Snodgrass was sent by C.C. Georgeson to Kenai, Kodiak, then the Mat-Su Valley in 1915, where he found 240 acres for the research farm. A couple of years later 640 more acres were added to the parcel. Part of Snodgrass’s vision in selecting the land was that he predicted it would be not only a good place for farming, but some day would be an excellent site for a college, Colberg said.

Snodgrass served on the UA Board of Regents and the Territorial Senate. In 1923 he was placed in charge of the Matanuska Experiment Farm and promptly recruited fifty-four railroad colonists to farm the area. “We have had a century of agricultural connection,” Colberg stated.

SNRAS Dean and AFES Director Carol Lewis called the farm a treasure in the valley. She recalled that in the past when the university had expressed interest in selling the farmland, the surrounding community rallied around the farm. “Agriculture, natural resources, and forestry are important to you,” Dean Lewis said. “We express our sincere gratitude to our supporters. The Palmer Center for Sustainable Living is here for you. We hope you enjoy it.”

She noted that the Alaska State Grange passed a resolution at its state meeting in May supporting the construction of a conference center at the farm. Sig Restad of the grange’s executive committee said that the entire grange voted in favor of the resolution.

Hayrides were popular with visitors at the showcase and celebration Aug. 6.

Associate Professor Norm Harris, administrator at the farm, said the new long-term farm plan shows the vision that will direct the future. He said after 100 years important research continues at the farm. “We acknowledge our past and pay it honor,” he said. He predicted that Kerttula Hall will become a center for education and that the farm’s proximity to Matanuska Lake makes it the ideal location for the environmental studies and learning park. Starting a history center will help keep the farm buildings in the hearts of Alaskans. “It would be a shame to sell this off for development,” he said.

Following the luncheon and speeches, tours of the property were given, with Assistant Professor Andy Soria’s Biomass, Energy Research, and Development Lab being a big draw for the crowds. “My work is looking at the future,” Soria said. He focuses on the production of renewable hydrocarbons from biomass using thermo-chemical processing. The work complements the agricultural research developing oilseed crops and maximizes the use of fish byproducts and algae biomass to offset heating and transportation fuel needs.

Further reading:

"1,000 acres of innovation," The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, by Greg Johnson, Aug. 6, 2009

"Mayor's Minute," Aug. 6, 2009. Hear Mayor Talis Colberg's speech.

Alaska's farm family of the year

The Oberg-Kenley family of Palmer has been selected the 2009 Farm Family of the Year by the Alaska agriculture community. The family will be honored at the fair board of directors’ reception on opening day of the Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Aug. 27.

June and Clyde Oberg began selling milk to Matanuska Maid from their Fishhook Dairy farm in 1954. On 160 acres they raised their own hay and wet silage, milking an average of thirty-five cows a day until 1973. Daughter Carol (Oberg) Kenley and her five brothers and sisters all grew up with an appreciation for farm work, home gardening, and family values. They all helped to make the farm successful, from milking cows and driving tractors to weeding the garden.

Carol and her seven children rejuvenated farming on the Oberg-Kenley acreage in the mid 1980s. When Carol’s daughter Amy was thirteen she began selling vegetable baskets to nine customers with a weekly delivery route – similar to the community supported agriculture operations of today. Amy carried on this tradition for six years and then younger sister Rachel took over until 2008. Over the years the Kenley vegetable baskets were serving up to thirty families with fresh, delicious produce from the family greenhouse and garden.

In 2008 Carol and Rachel transitioned to farmers market sales, attending the South Anchorage Farmers' Market on Wednesdays and the Palmer Friday Fling. They are known for their wide variety of unique vegetables and their beautiful basket displays.

The family has demonstrated their commitment and passion to agriculture for generations. June and Clyde have had five grandchildren selected as Alaska State FFA president. Carol launched the Winners Circle livestock 4-H Club in 1983. For years Clyde held popular tractor demonstrations at the fair; his cream separating and ice cream making demonstrations were also a big hit.

Carol points out that they have never considered themselves farmers in the traditional sense. “We just have a garden that is out of control,” she states. Carol plans to continue with their farmers' market presence; she is expanding her greenhouse production even though youngest daughter Rachel is off to Utah State to study agriculture communications this fall.

The Farm Family of the Year award, sponsored by the Matanuska Valley Federal Credit Union, was established by the fair in 2000 to honor an Alaska farming family and show appreciation for all the hard-working Alaskans committed to agriculture.

Nominations are accepted annually, and a committee chaired by the Division of Agriculture selects the winning family based on production of quality Alaska Grown products, community and agricultural organization involvement, and overall image. SNRAS Dean Carol Lewis serves on the committee.

“The Oberg-Kenley Family continues their fifty-five-year tradition and remains actively involved in the promotion, education, and outreach of agriculture in Alaska. Whether it be the humorous recount of days gone by, the trials and tribulations of the early years, or just a casual gardening conversation, the passion and commitment of this family is undeniable,” said Franci Havemeister, director of the Division of Agriculture.

Previous Farm Family winners include the Huppert Family (2000), the VanderWeele Family (2001), Havemeister Farms (2002), Rempel Family Farm (2003), P & M Gardens (2004), Calypso Farm & Ecology Center (2005), Wrigley Farms (2006), Insanity Acres (2007), and the Brad Lewis Family (2008).

Monday, August 3, 2009

Tanana Valley State Fair auction will include reindeer

4-Her Laura Frame with Winston
A first-ever event of its kind in the nation will occur at the Tanana Valley State Fair Aug. 14 when 4-Hers show and sell reindeer at the livestock auction.

For nearly a year the 4-H participants have worked under the guidance of Reindeer Research Program research coordinator George Aguiar. “They’ve come a long way,” he said. “They have dealt with broken antlers and facilities challenges. They have been ingenious.”

Aguiar was especially impressed when one youngster slept in the barn with his reindeer for a week to get the animal accustomed to his presence. He is thrilled at the prospect of the reindeer being housed, shown, judged, and auctioned in a similar manner to other livestock, and not viewed as exotic animals. “This is uncharted territory,” Aguiar said. Requirements of the fair and program are that the animals will be slaughtered for meat after purchase. Reindeer meat is high in protein, low in fat and is known for its tender qualities.

The RRP/4-H/FFA pilot project kicked off nearly a year ago when the UAF research program donated reindeer to 4-Hers who had been approved by a committee. Assisting RRP with the pilot project are the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Kawerak Reindeer Herders Association. Since its inception Aguiar has offered classes, on-site visits, and valuable instruction to the young farmers. Serving on the committee have been 4-H leader Marla Lowder, research professional Jeff Werner, and risk manager Annette Chism. RRP Manager Greg Finstad offers his expertise to the project, drawing on his twenty-five years of researching and teaching reindeer husbandry and management.

In preparation for the fair and the public attention the reindeer are likely to garner, the 4-Hers even purchased new matching halters for their animals. Three 4-H participants, ages 13 to 17, will be showing deer at the fair.

While the program is beneficial to the youths, it is also good for UAF researchers. “We are able to see how reindeer do in other environments, how they react to other animals including ducks goats horses, sheep and we learn more about the dynamics,” he said. He noted at how diligently the 4-Hers looked after their animals, gathering fireweed and willows to supplement their diets.

With the pilot project just wrapping up its first cycle, Aguiar is looking forward to another year, and Dr. Finstad, project manager, has already approved for distribution four reindeer to the next crop of 4-Hers. “The kids are learning reindeer husbandry and gaining experiences to be successful in any livestock production operation,” Aguiar said. “It’s been a long process and the end result will be the auction when we find out how high the demand for reindeer meat is and what it is worth to the buyers.”

The auction is Friday, Aug. 14 at 6 p.m. at the fairgrounds.

Addendum, Aug. 14, 2009
Further reading:
"4-H reindeer auction makes history at the Tanana Valley State Fair", Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Aug. 14, 2009, by Mary Beth Smetzer

Mission of Palmer research center expands

SNRAS will reveal a new direction for its research facility in Palmer (pictured at left) at an Aug. 6 showcase and celebration.

Since 1915, the Matanuska Experiment Farm has been the center for agricultural research in the Matanuska Valley, and will now be the setting for the Palmer Center for Sustainable Living. “We are embarking on an exciting program that has great potential,” UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences Dean Carol Lewis said. “The focus on research, education and outreach will apply to modern Alaska, both rural and urban, and will meet the needs of southcentral Alaska and its growing population.

UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers and Matanuska-Susitna Borough Mayor Talis Colberg will speak at the Aug. 6 event. Guests of honor include Jay Kerttula and family. The research lab at the farm was named in honor of Kerttula, a former state senator who supported agriculture, a year ago and a plaque in his honor will be presented and placed at the event.

Tours of the biomass energy research and development lab, Kerttula Hall and the distance delivery center will be offered that afternoon, as well as hayrides to Matanuska Lake. The 1,000-acre center features field horticulture, hay production, organic fields, animal pastures, turfgrass demonstration plots, controlled environments and wildlife nutrition research. It encompasses the Matanuska Experiment Farm, Kerttula Hall, the Matanuska Colony History Center and the Alaska Environmental Studies and Learning Park.

While the Aug. 6 event is for invited guests, there will be future opportunities for public tours of the facility, which is used for community classes and events. The trail system is the setting for running and bicycling races throughout the summer.

Dean Lewis said, “The Palmer Center for Sustainable Living was created to help generate new ideas and new directions by embodying research, instruction and outreach in a stimulating environment that showcases the history of and new innovations in agriculture in the Matanuska Valley and at the Matanuska Experiment Farm.

“The center invites Alaskans and visitors to take advantage of lifelong learning activities and the recreational opportunities in a setting that shows how multiple land and resource uses can be compatible and sustainable. It provides people with stimulating opportunities for engagement with cutting edge research and experiences in Alaska.”