Wednesday, September 30, 2009

SNRAS professors teach through lifelong learning program

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) is including a SNRAS course in its fall schedule. From Oct. 9-30, several SNRAS faculty will teach agriculture and forestry classes.

SNRAS and AFES Dean and Director Carol Lewis will give an overview of the school’s and station’s research and how it impacts Alaska on Oct. 9. Associate Professor John Fox will talk about his research at Harding Lake on Oct. 16. He will address why the water level has dropped for many years and the likely effects of diversion of a small creek on future water levels. Fox taught an OLLI course on “Trees and Forests of Boreal Alaska” in March.

Associate Professor Mingchu Zhang and Professor Stephen Sparrow will lecture about biofuels on Oct. 23, explaining their research with biofuel crops, such as fireweed, willows, and camelina. Professor Milan Shipka will talk about reindeer management Oct. 30.

The classes are from 1 to 2:15 p.m. at the UAF University Park Building. OLLI is a program of lifelong learning for people age 50 and older. A membership organization, OLLI offers classes, lectures, travel, and social events. The fall lineup includes fifty-three classes in everything from poetry to Tai Chi to philosophy. Call 474-6607 for more information.

Reindeer program names calf after local celebrity

A member of KIAK-FM’s “Morning Crew” was presented a birth certificate Sept. 30 when Reindeer Research Program Manager Greg Finstad visited the show.

A guest from the university is invited to stop by KIAK-FM studios each Wednesday morning during the school year to talk about work and research. In addition to explaining about reindeer management and nutrition, Finstad told about RRP’s calf-naming program. Each spring school children submit suggested names for reindeer calves to RRP’s website. This year, a male calf born April 19 was named “Cruiser” in honor of JB Carnahan, the traffic reporter and commentator on the country music station’s morning show. Finstad presented a birth certificate to Carnahan to commemorate his new namesake.

The nomination came from Chinook Charter School. Hundreds of calf names are sent to RRP from classrooms in Alaska and beyond, including national and international entries. Calves are born in the spring and are not named until August after they have been weaned. RRP staff choose names from the nominations and attach them to the calves, but toss out any names that are part of Santa’s reindeer team. Some of the names chosen this year include: Maive, Lucy, Daffy, Elroy, Clover, and Hobbes.

The RRP is committed to educational outreach. In addition to classroom visits, farm tours, and a youth market steer program, RRP works with teachers to offer classroom curriculum. Because reindeer have a significant role in the historical and cultural perspectives of Alaska, particularly along the western coast., they are a useful medium for tying together lessons in science, math, history, and culture. Through the years, many teachers expressed interest in locating the resources to develop their own reindeer units. In response to this, RRP hosted a series of workshops in Fairbanks and Nome for teachers who wanted to learn more about reindeer and their potential as a teaching aid.

With a grant from the College of Rural & Community Development, RRP developed a curriculum book called Reindeer Roundup. This publication is a direct outgrowth of teacher workshops and many of the participants of those sessions wrote lesson plans that were included in the book. Reindeer Roundup meets the State of Alaska standards for Alaska studies in public schools.

Resource for teachers;
Reindeer Roundup! A K-12 Educator's Guide to Reindeer in Alaska, by Carrie Bucki, Greg Finstad, Tammy A. Smith, 2004, AFEFS Publication MP 2004-07 (PDF)

Chena Fest celebrates agricultural bounty

The 5th annual Chena Fest will be a celebration recognizing agricultural production in the bountiful Tanana Valley. The event, planned for Oct. 3 at Chena Hot Springs Resort, is a fundraiser for FFA.

Director of the state Division of Agriculture Franci Havemeister will be on hand to welcome the attendees. Entertainment in the form of song and dance will be provided by FFA students, including Isaac Courson, who participated in the national FFA talent show last year.

The dinner, prepared by the chefs at the resort, is as close to an all-Alaska meal as any restaurant can likely get. Soups and salads feature Alaska-grown ingredients. The entree is a market steer raised by 4-H’er Alyssa Huffman and purchased at the Tanana Valley State Fair livestock auction by Bernie Karl, Chena Hot Springs owner. Vegetables dishes will feature locally grown potatoes, broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, squash, carrots, celery, onions, radishes, and corn. Breads and a dessert of rhubarb, berries, and honeydew melon will round out the menu.

FFA state officers plan to make a presentation and representatives from Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation Service will give a report on Alaska Agriculture Day activities.

Tickets are $25. Call 474-6916 or e-mail FFA State Advisor Jeff Werner. Door prizes include a weekend at Chena Hot Springs Resort and season passes to the Tanana Valley State Fair in 2010.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

SNRAS collaborator earns Green Star award

Kim Kovol, executive director of Green Star, presents Jay Ramras with the Green Star Award.
A Fairbanks business that collaborates with SNRAS researchers was recently honored for his "green" efforts. Jay Ramras, owner of Pike's Waterfront Lodge and Pike's Landing Restaurant, (among other enterprises) was the recipient of the Green Star award. Ramras is also a state legislator. A recent Green Star celebration at Pike's included SNRAS Dean and AFES Director Carol Lewis, SNRAS Professor Meriam Karlsson, and Research Professional Jeff Werner. Pike's Waterfront Lodge greenhouse has provided space for SNRAS hydroponics research for several years; it also employs FFA students and a natural resources student each summer. The students work in the greenhouse, help with landscaping, and run a farmstand, selling locally grown produce.

Green Star is a non-profit organization based in Anchorage that encourages businesses to practice waste reduction, energy conservation, and pollution prevention through education, technical assistance, and an award-winning voluntary "green business" certification program. Green Star certifies businesses for their green business practices with its Green Star award. The process involves implementing initiatives associated with ten green standards. In place in Alaska since 1990, the program has won national recognition as a forward-thinking business program. Green Star’s standards focus on a wide range of topic areas, including energy efficiency, waste prevention, recycling, toxics reduction, water conservation, education and outreach, air quality emissions reduction, and others. Each organization must implement a specified number of initiatives within each area, provide measurement of several initiatives, and identify future goals to continue improving. Green Star’s Standards Committee reviews applications quarterly and typically certifies an average of ten businesses each year.

Green Star Executive Director Kim Kovol said Pike’s submitted an extremely comprehensive application, describing innovative initiatives in every category. "The greenhouse is one of Pike's many green features," Kovol said. "To decrease dependency of fossil fuels, Pike’s installed solar power panels on the roof of its Copper Lodge, which should produce more than 21,000 kilowatts of power. Additionally, Pike’s has switched out lights bulbs to more energy efficient bulbs, adjusted clothes dryers to decrease drying time and increase efficiency, and purchases and routinely uses environmentally friendly cleaning products. Pike’s purchased and installed low-flow shower heads for all the guest rooms. Pike’s staff has taken steps to reduce the flow of paper in the business offices."

And last, but not least, "Pike’s sponsors a summer hydroponics program with Future Farmers of America, which produces tomatoes and other produce for use in the restaurant," Kovol explained.

Above photo courtesy of Neumuth Advertising, Fairbanks, Alaska.

Related post:
"Growing opportunity: UAF hydroponics and the FFA at Pike's Waterfront Lodge,", June 10, 2009, by Nancy Tarnai

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pogo Mine donates chemicals to SNRAS

Doctoral student Aiquin Zhao puts chemicals to use in a SNRAS laboratory.

A recent donation of chemicals from Pogo Mine will greatly assist the work of the SNRAS soils and agronomy laboratory.

Shawn Chen, senior processing control engineer at Pogo, with the assistance of Stacy Staley, was instrumental in getting the chemicals to UAF Associate Professor Mingchu Zhang. Researchers, technicians, and faculty have already begun to put the chemicals to good use, and the bounty of acids will assist in teaching and research efforts.

The chemicals will be used in the soils and agronomy lab to make extracts from soil and/or plant tissue that will then be analyzed for the amount (concentration in parts per million or percent) of important botanical nutrients such as mineral and organic forms of nitrogen and phosphorus. Or, the chemicals will be used to make the reagents and standards that are used in various procedures to analyze for various nutrients. Each nutrient usually requires a separate extraction and testing procedure, making many different tests necessary.

Researchers also analyze for the soil’s ability to hold on to and exchange (make them available for plant uptake) these nutrients during the growing season. Then plant tissues are analyzed for these nutrients to see how much of what is in the soil is actually taken up by the plant. There are also many other tests done on the soil’s physical and chemical properties that are indirectly related to these chemical extractions for nutrients.

“All of these lab procedures give us a better understanding of the nutrient cycling in soils, information we can eventually present to the public,” explained Bob VanVeldhuizen, research assistant. The results of the lab work are presented to farmers, home gardeners, land managers, and others at forums such as the Delta Farm Forum and in SNRAS/AFES publications.

“We try to help people better manage their soil fertility, either with chemically or organically based fertilizers,” VanVeldhuizen said. “Having Pogo donate these lab chemicals allows us to spend our limited resources on many of the other lab procedures to better gain that understanding of soil nutrient cycling.”

Friday, September 25, 2009

Lecture addresses Middle East conflict

Universities should not shy away from controversial topics, according to UA Geography Program Director Mike Sfraga. UAGP, along with the Alaska World Affairs Council, is bringing Alison Weir (pictured at right), founder of If Americans Knew, to Fairbanks for a free public lecture Oct. 1.

“Universities are places where issues are discussed and debated, where different points of view and perspectives are brought forward,” Sfraga said. “The Israel-Palestine conflict is something we hear about daily; to have someone talk about their observations from that part of the world is a very good thing for us to encourage.”

Weir’s nonprofit organization is dedicated to providing Americans with information on topics of importance that she believes are misreported or under-reported in the American media. Weir serves on the board of directors of the Council for the National Interest. In 2001 Weir left her position as editor of MarinScope newspaper in Sausalito, Calif., to travel independently as a freelance reporter throughout Gaza and the West Bank. Upon her return she founded If Americans Knew.

On her blog, Weir states that If Americans Knew conducted studies of American media coverage, discovering an extremely troubling distortion--that network prime time news programs covered Israeli children's deaths at rates up to fourteen times greater than they reported on Palestinian children's deaths. Weir wrote, “I feel these studies are just the tip of the iceberg on the distortion in US reporting on this issue. Because of this consistent media bias, very few Americans have any idea of the scope and depth of Palestinian suffering. Moreover, most Americans think that Israeli actions are defensive. Chronology shows the reverse.”

Weir researches the issue intensively; she recently returned from three months traveling through the West Bank, Israel, and the Golan Heights. In March 2004, Weir was inducted into honorary membership of Phi Alpha Literary Society, founded in 1845 at Illinois College. The award cited her as a "courageous journalist-lecturer on behalf of human rights, the first woman to receive an honorary membership in Phi Alpha history."

The lecture is Thursday, Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. at UAF’s Schaible Auditorium. Call 474-7494 for more information.

Further reading:
"An intimate look at Israel-Palestine relations," Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Sept. 25, 2009, by Rebecca George

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Woodsmen test their skills at forest fest

Ax throwing, log rolling, bowsaw and crosscut sawing, fire building, and more are on the agenda for the 12th annual Farthest North Forest Sports Festival Saturday, Oct. 3 at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Everyone is welcome to participate as individuals or as teams of four to six. Observers are also invited to this free event. Awards will be granted to individuals, teams, the “Bull of the Woods,” and “Belle of the Woods.”

The competition was started by faculty and students at UAF’s Department of Forest Sciences as a way to commemorate old-fashioned forest festivals. While high-technology tools are the norm for forest professionals in today’s world, the festival pays tribute to a time when traditional woods activities were the basis for work and play, survival and revival.

The morning events begin at 10 a.m. at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm field (across from the Georgeson Botanical Garden), and at 1 p.m. the games move to Ballaine Lake on Farmers Loop Road. A warming fire and hot drinks will be available at the lake. Participants are advised to dress warmly.

The festival is sponsored by the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Sciences and the Resource Management Society, a student organization.

For more information, contact John Fox at 474-7084.

Above photo from the 2008 Farthest North Forest Sports Festival by Todd Paris, UAF Marketing and Communications

Visit YouTube to view "UAF's 11th annual Forest Sports Festival" by Todd Paris, UAF Marketing and Communications

Monday, September 21, 2009

Guest lecturer Biehl tells complicated story

UA Geography Program Director Mike Sfraga welcomed Linda Biehl to Fairbanks.

How could a mother not only forgive her daughter’s killers but become friends and co-workers with them? Linda Biehl, who spoke at UAF Sept. 16, said such actions are possible when people look for humanity in each other.

Biehl, founder of the Amy Biehl Foundation, was sponsored by the UA Geography Program and the Alaska World Affairs Council to speak in Fairbanks on the topic of restorative justice. Her daughter Amy Biehl was studying the role of women and gender rights during South Africa’s transition from its apartheid regime to a free multiracial democracy. Amy was killed in an act of political violence in South Africa in 1993. She had been enthralled with everything about South Africa for years and when she graduated from college her mortarboard declared “free Nelson Mandela.”

When Amy received a Fullbright scholarship to study in South Africa for ten months her mother was worried, “but you can’t think only of security and safety in everything you do. Things could happen anywhere...”

“This brings to us something we might hear about on CNN or read about in the Wall Street Journal, something that happens somewhere else to somebody else,” said UA Geography Program Director Mike Sfraga. He recalled the global impact of Amy’s death and said having Biehl come to UAF was an opportunity to examine oppression vs. freedom, and justice vs. injustice.

In the years since her daughter’s death Biehl has spent over half her time in South Africa. “I consider Capetown a home,” she said. “There is something about South Africa that gets in one’s heart and soul.” But she also said it is difficult to understand the complexity and struggles of another land.

South Africa has endured great trials but has also done amazing things, she said. “I hope the world can look at how they approached problem solving.” It was the South Africans who reached out to her and her husband Peter (who died in 2002). Six weeks after Amy was murdered, the couple was invited to visit Capetown. “People told us we shouldn’t go,” she said. They went. “It was horrific,” she said. “There was such graphic stuff in the newspapers.” Going was the first step in beginning to understand how something so awful could have happened. “Will we ever understand totally?” she asked. “No.” In the years since, she has learned all she could about the oppression that was so predominant in the apartheid years. “Education is the key to everything,” she said.

In her personal story four men were tried and convicted of Amy’s murder. After two of them received amnesty in 1998, they reached out to Biehl and eventually offered to work for the foundation, which offers educational programs in South Africa. Some of the work involves sports, after school care, arts, theater, music, health, leadership, and environmental causes. Biehl noted in the lecture that she and her husband did not approach the men; they were brave enough to make the first contact. “They had the courage to step out of their militant shoes.” Although personal reconciliation was not something the Biehls had expected, they experienced it after getting to know the men.

Biehl stressed that what she has gone through is not just forgiveness. “With forgiveness you can walk away,” she said. “Reconciling is knowing and working together. Our (foundation) programs are part of that reconciliation; that is the joyful part for me.”

While traveling recently, Biehl came across this quote in a Nelson DeMille novel: “To know and to understand is the first step in reconciliation.” She recalled as she got to know the young men she began to understand them and to care for them. They normally travel with her and participate in her presentations, and she said sometimes she feels lost when they aren’t with her, as they are very kind to her and look out for her.

Now that it has been sixteen years since Amy’s death, Biehl wondered aloud if her story still has meaning. “It is more relevant today than ever because there is so much polarization,” she said.

She advises that everyone read Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. “People thought Mandela would come out of prison and there would be a bloodbath. He said no. He has brought dignity back to South Africa. That is really the miracle of it.”

As she concluded, Biehl said hers and Amy’s is a complicated story. “Underneath it you find great people,” she said. “We are in this thing together.”

UAF Alumni Association honors father of agriculture

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Alumni Association will honor Roland “Rollie” Snodgrass, former state director of agriculture, at an awards luncheon Sept. 25.

The late Snodgrass will be the recipient of the Lenhart J.H. Grothe Resource Award. The Grothe posthumously honors an alumnus for contributions in the resource, mining, or agricultural fields. Known as the “father of Alaska agriculture,” Snodgrass came from a pioneer Alaska family. His father, Milton Snodgrass, came to Alaska in 1907 to help establish agricultural experiment farms.

Roland Snodgrass graduated with honors from the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines (now UAF) with a B.S. in agriculture in 1932. From that time on, until his death on Aug. 7, 1983, he proved a tireless proponent of agriculture, both in public and private life. In a letter dated Aug. 11, 1983, Sen. Jay Kerttula wrote of Snodgrass: “Rollie was exactly what was needed in the frontier, a Thomas Jefferson-archaeologist-paleontologist, still revered on St. Lawrence Island. He worked with and exceeded the contribution of the immortals of Alaska anthropology. (He was) a professor of genetics, chemistry, and agriculture, a surveyor and veterinarian, a lifetime Alaska farmer, land use planner, agricultural economist, and director of the state Department of Agriculture.”

Other awards at the luncheon include state Rep. Richard Foster of Nome, the 2009 Distinguished Alumnus Award. The Distinguished Alumnus Award was first given in 1962 and recognizes service to UAF, business or professional accomplishment, and distinguished human service.

The association will also honor nine other alumni during the awards luncheon.

The 2009 Alumni Achievement Awards for Business and Professional Excellence will go to George Gordon, '62, CEO of Utility Services of Alaska; Greg Galik, president of Aadland Flint Marketing; and Helvi Sandvik, '86, CEO of NANA Corporation.

The Alumni Achievement Award for University Support will go to Joan Braddock '77, '83, '89, dean emerita of the College of Natural Science and Mathematics, and Deanna Dieringer ’87, director of UAF’s financial aid department.

Bart LeBon, '75, executive vice president of commercial lending at Mt. McKinley Bank, and Terrence Cole, '76, '78, director of the UAF Office of Public History, will each receive an Alumni Achievement Award for Community Support.

Jack Wilbur, CEO of Design Alaska and president of the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce, is this year's winner of the William R. Cashen Service Award. The award recognizes outstanding service to the alumni association.

The awards luncheon is one of many activities scheduled as part of the 2009 alumni reunion. Other events include a book signing by alumni authors, alumni night at The Pub, and lighting of the Starvation Gulch bonfires. For a full schedule and to register, or to purchase luncheon tickets, visit the Alumni Association or call 907-474-7081. The deadline to reserve a seat at the luncheon is Tuesday, Sept. 22 at 5 p.m.

Note: Information about Roland Snodgrass was obtained from the UAF website in an article, "Hall named for father of Alaska agriculture," by Pam Rule.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Meek is first to earn new PhD

Chanda Meek was prepared for the cold while doing research in Barrow and Wainwright.

Chanda Meek, SNRAS’s first graduate with a PhD in Natural Resources and Sustainability, said the program was perfect for her. “It pulls together the types of tools students need to confront challenges like climate change or social change,” she said. Meek graduated in August and was hired as an assistant professor of political science at UAF.

Meek’s dissertation is titled, "Comparing marine mammal co-management regimes in Alaska: three aspects of institutional performance.” Her work compared the policy implementation process for managing bowhead whale and polar bear subsistence hunting in Alaska, focusing on how and why agency approaches to conservation differ. Meek learned that successful research with communities in Alaska depends on creating a social network. “Your research is only as good as the strength of those relationships,” she said. Her research often took her to Barrow and Wainwright, where she interviewed whaling captains and polar bear hunters about how they interact with regulatory systems.

Her analysis centered on three aspects of institutional performance that drive policy outcomes: historical events, organizational culture, and relationships with stakeholders. Her studies and research were funded with an IGERT Fellowship through the UAF Resilience and Adaptation Program, EPSCoR and graduate school fellowships, and a National Science Foundation dissertation improvement grant.

Associate Professor Gary Kofinas, Meek’s advisor, called her an excellent PhD student. “She worked hard on a set of very important resource management issues and did so with creativity and initiative,” he said. “Chanda developed a deep understanding of the institutional context, legal issues, and cultural issues of Inupiat communities as well as a solid understanding of marine management scientific issues. She assumed student leadership roles in the Resilience and Adaptation Program.”

Meek has a strong orientation to science, plus an understanding of policy science, Kofinas said. “As a new PhD with an interdisciplinary orientation, the world is her oyster,” he said. “UAF is fortunate to hire her; she is smart, skilled, has the potential to be a great teacher, and has a rich knowledge of Alaska that will be a great benefit to the state.”

Meek grew up in a military family, moving around the country. She earned a B.S. in Marine Biology at Huxley College of the Environment, Western Washington University, and a master’s of Environmental Studies at York University in Toronto. She worked in California as director of a conservation nonprofit related to the boreal forest and then as a coastal planner for the California Coastal Commission.

Arriving at UAF in 2003, Meek enrolled in the Resilience and Adaptation Program as an interdisciplinary PhD student. When SNRAS began offering its PhD program last year, Meek switched to the Natural Resources and Sustainability Program because she liked the idea of a degree with a title that recognizes that it is from an established program and one that is related to her research. The degree is offered in partnership by SNRAS and the School of Management.

Meek is excited about beginning her career in UAF’s Political Science Department. “Resource problems are social problems,” she said. “In my research agenda I will look at how policies can help sustain communities and the environment. I want to develop a research track that can explore policy aspects of some of the big emerging challenges in Alaska, such as climate change, marine shipping, endangered species, and fund a new generation of student leaders and researchers to work on them at UAF.”

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

NSF awards SNAP to study climate change, forest fires

The National Science Foundation awarded $1.4 million to a consortium of UAF, Middlebury College, and the University of Wyoming to study changes in seasonality within Alaska’s boreal forest. This new project focuses on how changes in summer climate could affect forest fires and tree growth over the next fifty years in interior Alaska.

UAF’s role in the new project is spearheaded through Scenarios Network for Alaska Planning (SNAP), a UA Geography program. SNAP is a network of research organizations and government agencies devoted to forecasting the future climate of Alaska and providing that information to government officials and other policy planners. Scott Rupp, director of SNAP, said, “As the climate changes and we get different trends in growing seasons, one of its first and most important effects will be on wildfires.”

Principal Investigator Daniel Mann (pictured at right), assistant professor with UAGP, said this project is timely because Alaska is at the forefront of global climate change. “We need details of how these changes are going to affect high latitude ecosystems,” he said. “In this project, we will be trying to figure out how changes in summer weather could affect the forest, as well as the animals and people who live in it.” Mann said there will be field components to the research, as well as computer modeling. “We will test the hypothesis that shifts in the seasonality of warm season precipitation could be a key driver of the boreal forest’s responses to future climate changes.”

The effect of late summer precipitation on tree growth and fire in Alaska will be quantified by analyzing interactions between climate, fire, and tree growth. A new statistical approach will be used to analyze fire-climate relationships. Mann said the results of the study should improve forecasts of annual area burned in Alaska, including the prediction of mega-fire seasons that account for huge areas of burn, cause serious economic losses and health threats, and release gases and mercury into the global atmosphere. “At the most basic level, results of this project will increase our understanding of how climate change could affect boreal forest ecosystems over the coming century,” Mann explained.

The funding will be used at UAF for research and outreach, including a K-12 component. “We will take this to the students and teachers in a format useful to them,” Mann said. Katie Kennedy, UA Geography education and outreach coordinator, is designing the outreach component of the project. Other collaborators in this project, Andi Lloyd at Middlebury College and Elise Pendall at the University of Wyoming, will provide data about how individual trees respond to seasonal climate change, as recorded in the isotopes and density of their annual rings. In summing up the significance of this project, UAGP Director Mike Sfraga said, “Seasonal changes in climate affect soils to permafrost to flowers. So this study is both ambitious and timely.”

Workshop stresses "grown in Alaska"

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Municipality of Anchorage, UAF Cooperative Extension Service, and the USDA Forest Service announce a two-day workshop focusing on producing, marketing, and planting Alaska-grown trees, shrubs, and perennials. The workshop will be held Sept. 22-23 at the Palmer Community Center, 610 South Valley Way, Palmer.

Each year, Alaska sends millions of dollars to nurseries outside of Alaska to purchase plants that could be grown in the state. Although growing conditions and market limitations make it a challenge to compete with larger nurseries in the Lower 48, the workshop will explore ways to expand the nursery industry in Alaska and help connect producers to purchasers.

This workshop is intended for nursery growers, landscape designers, contractors, garden retailers, public and private land managers, and government agencies. Register by Sept. 17 to receive the early bird rate of $30. Late registration fee is $40. SNRAS Professor Pat Holloway will speak about propagating Alaska native plants. Other topics include market demand and trends, how growers can tap into the market for locally grown plants, the twelve most wanted native plants for restoration and landscaping, ways to increase sales by meeting standards and needs of purchasers, finding and bidding on large contracts for plants, and locating local growers of plants.

For more information about the workshop call 907-269-8465 or 907-269-8466.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Lecture on restorative justice set for Sept. 16

Linda Biehl, (pictured at left) co-founder and director of the Amy Biehl Foundation, will give a free lecture at UAF Wednesday, Sept. 16.

“Restorative Justice” is the topic of the speech. Biehl will talk about her daughter Amy Biehl, who was a Fulbright Scholar studying the role of women and gender rights during South Africa’s transition from its apartheid regime to a free multiracial democracy. Amy was killed in an act of political violence in South Africa in 1993.

Linda Biehl’s message is one of peace and reconciliation, describing how she built a relationship with two of her daughter’s killers. The men are now social activists in their community working for the Amy Biehl Foundation Trust. The foundation, which embraces restorative, rather than retributive justice, works to fulfill the rights in the South African Constitution: the right to education, the right to equal employment, and the right to health.

Linda’s relationship to South Africa and the genesis of these foundations is grounded in the life and death of her daughter. Amy Biehl was a dynamic, 26-year-old Stanford graduate and an esteemed human rights activist who worked tirelessly toward ensuring all South Africans regardless of race or gender assumed their rightful place in the emerging democratic nation. Just days before she was due home, Amy was killed by a group of young black South Africans who were fighting to end apartheid and saw all whites as their oppressors.

Four young men were convicted for Amy’s death and in 1994 they were sentenced to eighteen years in prison. In 1997, the men applied for amnesty to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Linda and her late husband Peter were strongly motivated by Amy’s belief in the TRC to achieve restorative justice for those who confessed to politically motivated crimes, thus they did not oppose the men's application for amnesty. In 1997, Linda and Peter testified at the amnesty hearing of their daughter’s killers. Instead of opposing amnesty they offered their support and challenged the young men to link arms with them and together continue Amy’s work.

Justice is central to Linda Biehl’s message of peace and reconciliation. Following in the footsteps of Desmond Tutu, Linda Biehl and the Amy Biehl Foundation embrace restorative, rather than retributive justice. At a personal level Linda Biehl embraced restorative justice by building a relationship with two of the youths convicted for the death of her daughter. At a professional level Linda works in communities in South Africa as she continues to spread “Amy’s magic”.

For Linda Biehl justice is more than rights written into an official document; justice is converting those rights into reality. In 2008 Linda was awarded the highest honor given to a non-South African, the Companions of OR Tambo award.

The lecture will be presented at 7 p.m. Sept. 16 at UAF’s Wood Center ballroom. Call the UA Geography Program at 474-7494 for more information. The UA Geography Program, SNRAS, and the World Affairs Council are sponsoring the event.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

High tunnel research bears fruit

Apples grow inside a high tunnel at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm.

The Fairbanks Experiment Farm will soon host an apple harvest inside two high-tunnel greenhouses.

The crop consists of red and green apples, some small and others the size of apples sold in local grocery stores. This is the second harvest for a research project developed by Cooperative Extension Service forestry specialist Bob Wheeler, who wanted to test the effect of unheated high tunnels on the survival rate and yield of apples, berries and other fruit trees in extreme cold conditions.

Wheeler died this summer. Meriam Karlsson, a SNRAS horticulture professor, and Kendra Calhoun, an Extension research technician, will continue his research.

Calhoun will soon pick, weigh and test the sugar content of apples grown inside and outside of two large plastic-covered high tunnels in a field opposite the Georgeson Botanical Garden on the UAF campus. Altogether, researchers are testing 39 apple varieties in the high tunnels, which measure 42 feet by 96 feet.

Calhoun helped erect the tunnels in May 2007 and she and two students with the Rural Alaska Honors Institute planted more than 200 trees two months later. The apple varieties tested are those known to grow in colder climates: Arctic Red, Carroll, Ukalskoje, and Golden Uralian, and others. The varieties were grafted onto rootstock of the Ranetka crabapple, which is known for its ability to withstand cold winters.

The continuing project is evaluating trees grown inside and outside of the high tunnels. Two weather stations and 10 micro-stations record environmental conditions hourly, including the soil and air temperatures inside and outside the tunnels, as well as soil moisture, wind speed, and solar radiation.

According to Calhoun, Wheeler did not expect much fruit until three years into the project. He was surprised when the trees fruited in their second year and delighted with the growth this year, she said.

Although the data for this year is not complete, Calhoun said it’s clear that trees inside the tunnel are blossoming and fruiting more than two weeks earlier than the other trees.

“The tunnels, obviously, are helping,” she said.

The end walls of the greenhouses are erected in mid-October to help preserve the heat inside the high tunnels. During winters, temperatures inside the greenhouse averaged 10-15 degrees higher than the outside temperatures, but soil temperatures were as much as 20 degrees colder inside, the result of the snow outside insulating the ground, she said.

Despite the colder soil temperatures, 80 percent of the trees grown inside the high tunnels survived both winters. Sixty-eight percent of the outside trees survived the first winter. After January 2009 temperatures dipped to nearly 50 below zero, only 45 percent of the outside trees survived the second winter.

Apple trees that died the first year were replaced with new seedlings the following year, except for the Asian pear, plum, and cherry trees, of which none survived.

A variety of berries was planted inside and outside the tunnels, including red and black currants, nagoonberry, and honey berry. The berries outside the tunnels had a higher survival overall than those planted within, which was not too surprising, according to Calhoun.

Calhoun and Karlsson hope to continue the work for at least another year. The project is funded by a grant from the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.

(Article provided by UAF Cooperative Extension Service communications office)

Further information:
"Fruit tree and berry crop trial program for Alaska Native rural communities in interior Alaska," UAF Cooperative Extension Service

Addendum: (Sept. 14, 2009)
"UAF sees sweet success in growing apples in Fairbanks," Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, by Jeff Richardson, Sept. 13, 2009

Films on food and farming

There have been several recent movies on food, eating locally, issues concerning how food is grown, CSAs, and other food issues. Below is a selection of trailers from a few of them. Many of these films concern not only the practices of farming, but food and agriculture politics as well. Descriptions of the documentaries are from their websites; as is evident from the text, many of these movies are produced by or are about food policy activists.


"DIRT! The Movie--directed and produced by Bill Benenson and Gene Rosow--takes you inside the wonders of the soil. It tells the story of Earth's most valuable and underappreciated source of fertility--from its miraculous beginning to its crippling degradation.

The opening scenes of the film dive into the wonderment of the soil. Made from the same elements as the stars, plants and animals, and us, "dirt is very much alive." Though, in modern industrial pursuits and clamor for both profit and natural resources, our human connection to and respect for soil has been disrupted. "Drought, climate change, even war are all directly related to the way we are treating dirt."

…[This] is simply a movie about dirt. The real change lies in our notion of what dirt is. The movie teaches us: "When humans arrived 2 million years ago, everything changed for dirt. And from that moment on, the fate of dirt and humans has been intimately linked." "

Eating Alaska

"What happens to a vegetarian who moves to the last frontier?

Eating Alaska is a serious and humorous film about connecting to where you live and eating locally. It is about trying to break away from the industrial food system when that means not only buying fresh seasonal food from local farmers, but taking part in a world of hunting and gathering. Made by a former city dweller now living on an island in Alaska and married to fisherman and deer hunter, it is a journey into regional food traditions, our connection to the wilderness and to what we put into our mouths."

(see trailer on the website or at YouTube)

Fast Food Nation

"Inspired by the incendiary bestseller that exposed the hidden facts behind America's fast food industry comes a powerful drama that takes an eye-opening journey into the dark heart of the All-American meal. Richard Linklater's FAST FOOD NATION traces the birth of an everyday, ordinary burger through a chain of riveting, interlocked human stories - from a hopeful, young immigrant couple who cross the border to work in a perilous meat-packing plant, to a teen clerk who dreams of life beyond the counter; to the corporate marketing whiz who is shocked to discover that his latest burger invention - "The Big One" - is literally full of manure. As the film traverses from pristine barbeque smoke labs to the volatile U.S.-Mexican border, it unveils a provocative portrait of all the yearning, ambition, corruption and hope that lies inside what America is biting into."

(See the trailer at the official website.)

Food Fight

"When we walk into a supermarket, we assume that we have the widest possible choice of healthy foods. But in fact, over the course of the 20th century, our food system has been co-opted by corporate forces whose interests do not lie in providing the public with fresh, healthy, and sustainably-produced food.

…an alternative emerged from the counter-culture of California in the late 1960s and early 1970s, where a group of political anti-corporate protesters--led by Alice Waters--voiced their dissent by creating a food chain outside of the conventional system. The unintended result wa the birth of a vital local-sustainable-organic food movement, which has brought back taste and variety to our tables.

FOOD FIGHT is a fascinating look at how American agricultural policy and food culture developed in the 20th century, and how the California food movement has created a counter-revolution against big agribusiness."

(See the trailer at the official website.)

Food, Inc.

"In Food, Inc., filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation's food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government's regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA. Our nation's food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment. We have bigger-breasted chickens, the perfect pork chop, herbicide-resistant soybean seeds, even tomatoes that won't go bad, but we also have new strains of E. coli—the harmful bacteria that causes illness for an estimated 73,000 Americans annually. We are riddled with widespread obesity, particularly among children, and an epidemic level of diabetes among adults.

Featuring interviews with such experts as Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto) along with forward thinking social entrepreneurs like Stonyfield's Gary Hirshberg and Polyface Farms' Joel Salatin, Food, Inc. reveals surprising—and often shocking truths—about what we eat, how it's produced, who we have become as a nation and where we are going from here."

(See the trailer at the official website.)


"FRESH celebrates the farmers, thinkers and business people across America who are re-inventing our food system. Among several main characters, FRESH features urban farmer and activist, Will Allen, the recipient of MacArthur's 2008 Genius Award; sustainable farmer and entrepreneur, Joel Salatin, made famous by Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma; and supermarket owner, David Ball, challenging our Wal-Mart dominated economy."

(See trailers at the official website.)

The Future of Food

"…offers an in-depth investigation into the disturbing truth behind the unlabeled, patented, genetically engineered foods that have quietly filled U.S. grocery store shelves for the past decade.

From the prairies of Saskatchewan, Canada to the fields of Oaxaca, Mexico, this film gives a voice to farmers whose lives and livelihoods have been negatively impacted by this new technology. The health implications, government policies and push towards globalization are all part of the reason why many people are alarmed by the introduction of genetically altered crops into our food supply.

Shot on location in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, THE FUTURE OF FOOD examines the complex web of market and political forces that are changing what we eat as huge multinational corporations seek to control the world's food system. The film also explores alternatives to large-scale industrial agriculture, placing organic and sustainable agriculture as real solutions to the farm crisis today."

The Garden

"The fourteen-acre community garden at 41st and Alameda in South Central Los Angeles is the largest of its kind in the United States. Started as a form of healing after the devastating L.A. riots in 1992, the South Central Farmers have since created a miracle in one of the country’s most blighted neighborhoods. Growing their own food. Feeding their families. Creating a community.

But now, bulldozers are poised to level their 14-acre oasis.

…If everyone told you nothing more could be done, would you give up?"

The Real Dirt on Farmer John

"The epic tale of a maverick Midwestern farmer. An outcast in his community, Farmer John bravely stands amidst a failing economy, vicious rumors, and violence. By melding the traditions of family farming with the power of art and free expression, this powerful story of transformation and renewal heralds a resurrection of farming in America.

The film is a haunting odyssey, capturing what it means to be different in rural America."

(See the trailer on YouTube.)

Comments needed on the TAA for Farmers Program

From a press release from the USDA:
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that USDA is requesting comments on a proposed rule that would establish the procedures and eligibility criteria for receiving assistance under the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) for Farmers Program. "Helping American producers adjust to a changing and unpredictable economic environment is critical during these challenging times," said Vilsack. "The TAA for farmers program can provide technical assistance and cash benefits to eligible producers who have been hurt by import competition."

Reauthorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the TAA for Farmers Program applies to producers of raw agricultural commodities and fishermen who must show a greater than 15 percent decrease in the national average price, the quantity of production, value of production, or cash receipts compared to the average of the 3 preceding marketing years. The assistance includes help in developing a business adjustment plan that can serve as a guide for adjusting a producer's business operation to prevailing economic conditions. The program is administered by USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service.

…Comments should be mailed or hand delivered to Trade Adjustment Assistance for Farmers Program staff, Office of Trade Programs, Foreign Agricultural Service, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW., STOP 1021, Washington, DC 20250-1021. Comments may also be e-mailed to

The deadline for receiving written comments is Sept. 24, 2009. A copy of the current program regulations and other TAA for Farmers Program information may be obtained on the FAS Web site at
Frequently Asked Questions about the TAA for Farmers Program are also available on this page.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Farm hosts composting bin sale

The Matanuska Experiment Farm and the Anchorage Soil and Water Conservation District will host a public sale of low-cost composting bins Saturday, Sept. 19 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The Soil and Water Conservation District is making available to the public, with the help of grant funds, back yard composting systems that retail for $150 for only $50. The first event of this kind in Anchorage in May was such a tremendous success it had to be repeated in July; now it will be offered to the Valley.

“If all the bins do not sell this fall, we plan to hold another sale in the spring,” said Matnauska Experiment Farm superintendent Judson Scott. “In conjunction with the spring sale, we plan to incorporate an educational composting session by SNRAS Assistant Professor Jeff Smeenk, instructor and director of Alaska Community Horticulture Program Jodie Anderson, and Ellen Vande Visse, instructor and author known as the “compost queen.”

The compost bin sale will take place at the Matanuska Experiment Farm on Trunk Road in Palmer.