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.

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