Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Geography students see Iraq through soldier's eyes

Chief Warrant Officer Warren Frank talks to students Jackie Schmidthans (center) and Allison Lucas.
“Everyone can argue whether we should have gone to war in Iraq,” U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Warren Frank said. “But it’s a better place now; there is more infrastructure and there are more schools. The biggest sign was the elections held in Iraq.”

Speaking to students in Dave Veazey’s Geography 101 class March 30 at UAF, Frank showed pictures and told stories from his two tours in Iraq as an intelligence officer. He stressed that his tales were from his own personal perspective and do not represent the military viewpoint.

Introducing Frank, Veazey told his students, “He got to know the people and places through the eyes of the people who live there. He really engaged with the citizens of the country.”

And that is exactly what Frank told about: dining with Kurds and Arabs, seeing the smiling faces of young children in the streets and the wariness of teenage boys accepting soccer balls from soldiers, watching shepherds herd their sheep, and attending meeting after meeting to try and develop relationships and make things better for all concerned. He also had to deal with murders, rapes, theft, and corruption. “We had to filter through all this and determine if it was a terrorist act, criminal act, insurgents, or tribal and apply the right remedy to the specific type of action.”

This is a new kind of war and soldiers had to switch their way of thinking from shooting the enemy to building wells, providing transportation, and empowering the government. His duties included counter insurgency, security, development of Iraqi intelligence capability, development of working relationships between Arab and Kurdish security forces, and to provide overwatch to Iraqi security forces.

Explaining to the students the importance of geography in Iraq, Frank said the bordering countries (Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia) all have “a stick in the pot and they are stirring it.”

His “austere” accommodations at a combat outpost in Iraq were shared with an Iraqi brigade. “Every day you walked amongst Iraqis,” he said. “It was a little different but for the most part they were friendly. They are not anti-American like you’d think but they have grown a little bit tired of us over there.”

While the food provided by the Army was less than exciting, Frank found the local food delicious and took every chance he got to enjoy a meal with the locals. They were very hospitable. “They would run out to kill a chicken when you showed up,” Frank said. Staples were chicken, bread, rice, lamb, and vegetables. “Eating with them was part of the relationship building,” Frank said.

Surprisingly, not all females wear burkhas, Frank observed. Often he would see young girls wearing jewelry and western-style clothing. “It depends on their upbringing and their family. The honor rests with the women there.”

Another unexpected thing was the way Iraqis welcomed women soldiers. There were only two women in Frank’s unit but they were admired and liked by the Iraqis. “They wanted to have their pictures taken with the women,” he said.

Warren has served in the military for fifteen years, the first twelve in the Air Force and the last three in the Army. He got his start as a mechanic on fighter planes before switching to intelligence, which has taken him to exciting places around the world. His next move will be Italy, where he and his family will live for three years.

Now that he is home, Frank watches television news programs closely for word from the war zone. It’s not the same as being there but he can’t forget where he’s been.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Students tackle tomatoes, recycling, gypsy moths, food security for senior thesis research

From left, Charles Caster, Ray Sabo, Jace Bures, Curtis Knight, presented their senior thesis ideas March 26.
From tomatoes to gypsy moths this year’s lineup of senior thesis topics is varied and challenging. All SNRAS natural resources management undergraduate students complete a senior thesis as part of their graduation requirements. Most students begin the process in the latter part of their junior year and present the results prior to graduation.

The emphasis is on problem-solving with writing and analysis being important components. Each individual project is under the guidance of a faculty sponsor for this formal, comprehensive report. The semester’s first session of presenters stating their proposed work was held March 26.

Jace Bures will tackle reducing the Alaska summer day length to increase growth and yield of tomatoes. He got the idea from his summer 20009 work for Professor Meriam Karlsson at Pike’s Waterfront Lodge greenhouse. Last summer while growing tomatoes in the natural Alaska daylight he noticed blight on some plants. Stating that tomatoes are one of the most light-sensitive plants, Bures said the high economic value of the product, the demand for locally grown produce, and the long summer days are what led him to this project. “I saw a lot of leaf curl and Pike’s and I want to eliminate it,” Bures said.

He cited a 1949 study by A. Withrow and R. Withrow that said that eighteen to twenty-four hours of light each day causes a tendency for tomatoes to develop chlorotic leaves, reducing the photsynthesis and leading to damage. “It’s too much light,” Bures said. He also quoted from a 1974 study on stomatal density by Gay and Heard.

Bures's study, which will run from June 10 to July 30, will involve data collection on the Conchita variety. He will have an area with a full dark curtain, an area of fifty percent shade, and a clear curtain for control area. He will lower the curtains from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. There will be thirty plants in a row and ten plants in each treatment. The area will have automatic drip irrigation. Bures plans to weigh and count the fruit every ten days.

His expectations are that the plants allowed the full dark period will have healthy leaves with no curling or discoloration. In the fifty percent shaded area he expects medium yields compared to the other two areas, and for the control site he predicts curled and discolored leaves and lower yields.

Ray Sabo is studying whether northern municipalities can successfully recycle solid waste. Whitehorse, Yukon, his hometown, is the study site. He will examine the collection and processing methods in Whitehorse since 2007, including curbside collection and refunds for recyclables.

Sabo said recycling is a viable option because it relieves land areas of the burden of garbage, takes less material resources, provides jobs, can be efficient, decreases greenhouse emissions, and can create consumer awareness. He noted that in a pilot project in one neighborhood voluntary participation in composting went from twenty to eighty percent when the residents were provided carts to place the matter in.

Sabo plans to determine the quantity of solid waste in landfills before and after 2007, do a cost analysis of waste hauling before and after 2007, and study the environmental benefits. He will collect recycling data, speak with local officials, visit recycling centers, contact soil scientists, and compare mature compost with Yukon soils. His goal is to provide recommendations on how Whitehorse can improve its recycling program and to eventually educate the public in Fairbanks about the issue.

Charles Caster will assess food security in Fairbanks using a survey about food production. “One way to measure food security is to measure imports,” Caster said. He hopes to determine how much food Fairbanks produces by interviewing growers at the Tanana Valley Farmers Market and owners of community shared agriculture businesses. “My objective seems simple but I’m sure it will be challenging,” he said. “The longterm goal will be a statewide application.”

He quoted the World Health Organization in saying that food security is when al people at all times have access to nutritional, safe food. He predicted that any serious disruption in transportation (trucking, barges, airlines) could result in Fairbanks’ food supplies in stores running out in three days.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture ranks Alaska last in cash receipts from agriculture ($30 million agricultural products per year), Caster said.

Currently there are no reliable methods to assess imports, Caster said, and businesses may not want to share proprietary information, therefore he is focusing on food production. He plans to assess the current data, create a list of producers, interview the producers and consumers, and produce a survey to distribute to agricultural producers. The focus of his study will be vegetable production.

Curtis Knight wants to prove whether or not the gypsy moth can survive in Alaska. “Can the gypsy moth complete its life cycle and if so where?” he asked. He will study temperature thresholds, life history, established records, rates of development, host species, and degree day calculations. He will create a host range map noting high-risk locations.

“I will identify areas where the gypsy moth is most likely to survive,” Knight said. “Its establishment in Alaska could affect forestry, wildlife, the environment, and even tourism.”

Seven more senior thesis presentations will be given Friday, April 2 at 2:15 p.m. in the International Arctic Research Center, room 405. Call 474-7188 for details.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Rise of Israel: A History of a Revolutionary State

Jonathan Adelman, (pictured at left) professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver, will present a free public lecture Wednesday, March 31 at 6 p.m. on the UAF campus. The topic is "The Rise of Israel: A History of a Revolutionary State."

Adelman is in Alaska courtesy of the Alaska World Affairs Council, and will speak in Anchorage April 2. His visit to Fairbanks is sponsored by UAF Student and Enrollment Services, headed by Mike Sfraga, also director of the UA Geography Program.

Adelman has written and edited 12 books since receiving his PhD from Columbia University. His recent book from Routledge in London, The Rise of Israel: A History of a Revolutionary State, has been well received. He has taught at Hebrew University and the University of Haifa and given talks across the United States on Israel and the Middle East frequently in the last eight years. He ran the Israel Center at the University of Denver for five years.

Professor Adelman has extensive international experience. He has been an honorary professor at Peking University and People’s University in Beijing. In November he gave talks for the American Embassy in Beijing and Shanghai to think tanks of the Chinese government. He taught at the Diplomatic Academy in Moscow, Central European University in Budapest, and People’s University in Beijing.

Last September Adelman briefed the chief of Naval Operations Executive Panel on northeast Asia security issues. As Condi Rice’s doctoral dissertation adviser, he briefed the Secretary of State a number of times on international issues. The State Department has sent Professor Adelman on 17 international speaking tours to Japan, China, India, Russia, Germany, and Spain. Since December 2008 he was been in China, Turkey, Argentina, and Chile for the State Department.

The UAF lecture will be at 6 p.m. March 31 in Room 210, Reichardt Building, Yukon Drive. Parking is free on campus after 5 p.m. The event is sponsored by SNRAS, UA Geography Program, and UAF Student and Enrollment Services.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bernie Karl honored for business leadership

SNRAS supporter Bernie Karl (pictured at right with his wife Connie) was honored as business leader of the year March 19 in Fairbanks by the UAF School of Management.

This is the 34th year UAF has given the annual award. Recipients are selected for their leadership, business excellence, educational support, and community service.

"Being selected as the UAF business leader of the year is one of the most humbling experiences in my life," Karl said. "No man is a self-made man. There are lots of people that help you all through your life, starting with my parents, my family, and my wife.”

Karl has been a diesel mechanic, gold miner, hotel owner, and recycling entrepreneur; he likes to call himself an “imagineer.” His current business ventures include Chena Hot Springs Resort and K&K Recycling. Karl is known for his work using geothermal technology to make his resort more environmentally friendly. Geothermal energy powers three greenhouses at Chena Hot Springs, which grow fresh produce year-round for the resort’s restaurant.

Along with being an innovative businessman, Karl is an active community and university partner. Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Karl arranges visits for children to the resort. He provides educational programs on alternative energy for K-12 students throughout the state and internship opportunities for UAF students.

At Chena Hot Springs, Karl has provided opportunities for SNRAS researchers to do hands-on, real time research on hydroponics systems, greenhouse controls, environmental management, crop lighting, and large-scale production systems for Alaska unique to the climate. He follows researchers' leads, provides reliable data, and helps make sure resources are available to accomplish necessary tasks. "If we need something he tries to provide it; he is very accommodating," said SNRAS Research Professional Jeff Werner.

A promoter of Alaska agriculture, Karl is also a leader in the statewide self-sufficiency movement, touting the benefits of high tunnels, sustainable greenhouses, and self-reliant communities. "People can see what he is doing and realize it is possible for them to do it too, even in rural areas," Werner said.

He is a major contributor to the Alaska FFA, assisting the SNRS-sponsored youth organization with its annual state conference and Envirothon and Chena Fest, the annual fall celebration of agriculture in the Tanana Valley and an FFA fundraiser.

Photo by Nelson Photography

Further reading:

Geothermal power in Alaska holds hidden model for clean energy, Popular Mechanics, February 2008, by Jennifer Bogo

Business Leader of the Year Banquet brochure, March 19, 2010 (PDF)

Chena Hot Springs Resort owner Bernie Karl named UAF's Business Leader of the Year, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, March 28, 2010, by Jeff Richardson

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Learn cordwood construction

Examples of cordwood construction.
Fairbanksans have a chance to learn all about cordwood construction techniques from Rob Roy, owner of the Earthwood Building School and author of fifteen books on alternative building methods. Roy will be in Fairbanks to teach a three-day workshop at the Georgeson Botanical Garden in July.

The workshop is divided into equal parts classroom work (cordwood theory via lectures and slideshows) and hands-on experience. Witness master builders at work and assist Roy in the construction of a cordwood masonry garden shed in the GBG children's garden. This is a chance to learn a useful and eco-friendly skill while offering a lasting contribution to UAF.

Cordwood masonry is an old building technique with walls being constructed of log-ends laid up widthwise within a special mortar matrix. The wall derives excellent insulation and thermal mass characteristics from insulation sandwiched between the inner and outer mortar joints. Cordwood buildings are low in cost, use indigenous material, and are easy to build. They are also beautiful, combining the texture of stone masonry with the warmth of wood. Cordwood structures are natural, fire-retardant, and should last 100 years.

The workshop, which is set for July 27-29, is open to only sixteen students. Register at UAF Summer Sessions or call 907-474-7021 or 866-404-7021 for more details. The course costs $300. The course number is NRM F040.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sustainable agriculture examined in Alaska

Group discussions resulted in new ideas and new friendships.
Key players in the Alaska agricultural community gathered March 18-19 in Fairbanks to assess the sustainability of Alaska agriculture. The Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education sub-regional conference was a grassroots approach to gathering information from farmers, ranchers, scientists, and professionals in support agencies on the state of Alaska agriculture and its needs for the future, said Phil Rasmussen, coordinator of the Western SARE program. The Fairbanks visit was the last of seven outreach efforts on behalf of SARE directors and the administrative council.

“The reason SARE is different is we have the voice of the farmer and rancher at the table,” said moderator Jerry DeWitt, director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University.

The 100 attendees at the conference addressed these questions:

  • What will be needed to create stronger local and regional food systems that are less reliant on imports from elsewhere?
  • What are the local and regional consumption and production trends in your local area?
  • The SARE program was commissioned by Congress to get its research results to the farmer and rancher. How can this process be improved?
  • What type of research, education, and development projects will be necessary over the next ten years to help economically sustain farming and the environment?
  • If Western SARE received (from Congress) an additional $1 million per region, what types of projects should be targeted or emphasized?
  • How can Western SARE overcome barriers that may prevent underserved groups, including socially disadvantaged groups, from applying for and receiving SARE funding?

Fairbanks farmer Mike Emers (pictured at right) of Rosie Creek Farm was one of many producers participating. “In the past ten years interest in local agriculture markets is bursting at the seams,” he said. “People are lining up to buy local food.”

To Emers sustainability means selling locally and keeping the inputs (materials brought to the farm such as compost, seeds, fertilizer) low. “We are an organic farm but we are not sustainable,” he said. “If someone asked me if farming is sustainable in this state I would say not yet.”

His four-acre farm feeds nearly 200 families during the growing season and Emers would like to see more growers doing the same. “There is a need for a training program, a mentoring program, a support system,” he said. His comments were echoed throughout the workshop by producers from Bethel, Galena, Palmer, Haines, and points beyond.

“The private sector is the backbone of agriculture,” said Carol Lewis, SNRAS dean and AFES director (pictured at left). Agriculture is changing and it’s time to reflect on its future, she said. While the land grant university system, the US Department of Agriculture, and the Agricultural Research Service have worked hard to make agriculture what it is, the state is in a precarious food position, Lewis said. “We need to embrace agriculture rather than ignore it or chastise it.”

Alaska must improve its food security, she said, suggesting that the state needs to prepare a path involving support for farms, increased processing capabilities, and a business orientation for agriculture. Educating consumers about the advantages of purchasing local foods is another priority. “It’s not all about price; it’s about health,” Lewis said.

Following the conference, Alaska Division of Agriculture Director Franci Havemeister called the workshop really informative. “It’s interesting to get everybody’s perspective,” she said. She particularly noted the desire of villagers to become more sustainable.

The results and feedback from the conference will be available on the SARE website. Since its founding as a USDA program, SARE has funded a dozen grants in Alaska worth more than a half million dollars. Among the projects were:

  • use of domestic geese to control weeds
  • establish more efficient and biological practices for bringing forest land into agricultural use
  • propagation of indigenous lingonberries
  • no-till forage establishment to improve soil and water conservation and reduce associated production risks
  • federally regulated tribes extension education program
  • community supported gardening and food security in rural Alaska
  • fruit and berry crops for rural communities
  • propagation of Alaska native plants for restoration and landscape use
  • weed management and soil fertility on a sub-arctic farm

The Alaska professional development coordinator for SARE is Michele Hebert, agriculture and horticulture agent for the UAF Cooperative Extension Service.

Photos by Ron Daines, RJ Daines & Associates, Logan, Utah

Further reading:
Alaska agriculture conference helps direct federal funds, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, by Jeff Richardson, March 21, 2010

Denali National Park seeks volunteers

The Denali National Park Social Science program is seeking two highly motivated individuals to fill two volunteer positions for the summer 2010 season. The position would involve working with park staff and University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers on current conservation social science projects within the park. This is an excellent opportunity for recent high school graduates or current college undergraduates who are ambitious and are potentially interested in a career in social science within protected areas or in general.

Volunteers will receive a stipend of $10 per day; housing may be provided. The candidates must have excellent communication skills and be detail-oriented. They should be able to work semi-independently collecting data based upon an established set of protocols. The position is from June 1 to Sept. 1. Applications are due by April 15. Contact Andrew Ackerman at 907-683-6243 for more information.

SNRAS shares geography knowledge with seniors

Those age 50 and up may gain a greater understanding of the science behind the Fairbanks landscape in a course offered in April by the Osher Institute of Lifelong Learning. UA Geography Program Assistant Professor Patricia Heiser (pictured at right) will teach about the geologic and ecosystems processes that create the landscape patterns around Fairbanks.

On the agenda are addressing the tectonic evolution of interior Alaska and how the geomorphic processes of streams, loess, and permafrost have modified the landscape. The patchwork of vegetation types and their position on the landscape will be examined in terms of topography, succession, and disturbance such as fire. The class will also study how landscapes change under changing climate. The culmination will be a field trip highlighting what was learned in class.

Heiser’s research focuses on ice age paleogeography and landscape evolution in western and southwestern Alaska. She is the advisor of the UAF Geography Club.

The class is offered April 2, 9, 16, 23 from 1 to 2:15 p.m. at the UAF University Park building. Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is a program of Summer Sessions and Lifelong Learning of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. It is supported by membership fees and the Bernard Osher Foundation.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Post-lunch at the Sustainable Agriculture Conference

(See part one, here.)

After lunch came Tim Meyers of Bethel, whose farm has made the news several times in the last couple of years. He gave an update on his activities in the last year, and said that for the 2010 season he plans to produce 50 vegetable boxes a week for ten months. He dealt with an overabundance of greens this last season, he said, by calling local businesses and taking orders for boxed lunch salads. He tested Sunshine hulless barley, which grew well, but he'd planted it too late in the season for it to ripen fully. He described his use of liquified salmon and salmon byproducts as a fertilizer, his potato-planting tractor attachment, and the underground late-season growing room in which he was able to ripen habaƱeros in December. He showed the audience a map of high-quality soils in Alaska from an article in the September 2008 National Geographic, showing the Kuskokwim Delta and the Aleutians as areas of concentrated rich soils.

Jenifer McBeath of SNRAS gave a detailed presentation of disease control and root growth associated with the fungus Trichoderma atroviride.

Patricia O'Neil of the Alaska Division of Agricuture followed, giving a quick rundown of funding opportunities through the division.

Next came AlexAnna Salmon of Igiugig, who made her report at the conference as part of a requirement for an Alaska Agriculture Innovation Grant for farming equipment. Igiugig had access to "zero fresh produce," she said, and so the village council decided to work on food production. They have a potato festival now, and are working toward building a community kitchen. The village built a small greenhouse, engaged local elementary students to help with the planting, and had great success growing vegetables—until a freak windstorm blew it away and kept blowing for several days, shredding the vegetables with only a few beans surviving. (They plan to rebuild, but will try to make it less flight-worthy. The new greenhouse will be 24 x 38 feet.) Jeffrey Smeenk of SNRAS helped them assemble and learn to use a small Berta walk-behind tractor, with attachments for snowblowing, wood chopping (very popular), and tilling. She also described the scrap food collection program the village runs, in which scraps are fed to chickens, which produce eggs that are provided to the villagers.

Mark Fisher of Susitna Organics spoke next. Susitna Organics is a commercial manufacturer of humified compost, based in Wasilla. Fisher described the structure and life processes of soil and how his composting system works. Plants, he said, use up to 30% of their glucose production to attract and/or feed beneficial soil microbes, which in turn generate humus in the vicinity of the plant and convert soil nutrients into forms more readily absorbed by the plant. Humified compost, he explained, is compost with 3rd or 4th-generation microbial populations, which start to break the compost down into humus. Susitna Organics uses equipment and innoculants produced by a company based in Illinois, MidWest Biosystems. Their compost recipe includes wood chips, hay, cow manure, and microbial innoculants. They also make specialty or custom mixes (for example, compost with fish bone meal or other fertilizer added in).

Representatives from the Fairbanks Community Cooperative Market spoke next, describing the need for local retail outlets for locally produced food. The Co-op Market will be contracting with farmers a year ahead, concentrating on Fairbanks but working outward throughout Alaska, so that farmers can plan their next season's crops with the market in mind.

The final presentation of the day was given by Dean & Director Carol Lewis of SNRAS and AFES, who described the Food Security Survey project. Lewis began by talking about the oft-quoted 5% figure for food produced in Alaska, and the corresponding 95% that is presumed imported food: "We don't actually know [how much]," she said. Although this figure was estimated in a paper produced by SNRAS (and on which Lewis was an author), it was based on the best available data at the time—which wasn't very good and not very plentiful. This has been a consistent problem: there are some sources, such as the state's annual report, Alaska Agricultural Statistics, which provide good information, but are incomplete and not detailed enough. This project will assess how much food is produced in Alaska, where and by whom it is produced, what varieties of which crops, subsistence foods used (there are almost no statistics on gathered foods, although hunting and fishing are well documented), whether it is commercial production or for personal use, and so on. The survey project will be in cooperation with various agencies and groups such as Fish & Game, the Division of Agriculture, CES, tribal and village councils and organizations, and so on. The survey is an ambitious project, slated for completion by September 2010, with the goal to determine what kind and how much food is produced in Alaska for Alaskans, and hence our true level of food security.

After this, Craig Gerlach of the UAF Anthropology Department introduced the Food Security Panel, which included Danny Consenstein of the Farm Service Agency of Alaska, Mike Emers, Charlotte Jewell, Carol Lewis, Tim Meyers, sustainability coordinator Stephanie Scott of the Haines Borough, and executive director Ben Stevens of the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments. Gerlach asked the panel to speak to two questions: What makes Alaska unique with regard to food security, and how do we design food production systems keeping in mind our food security—including our nutritional security?
• Emers estimated that, based on his own farm's output, it would take 100-150 four-acre farms to feed Fairbanks. Alaska suffers from isolation and lack of support industries for agriculture, and the expenses involved in farming in Alaska (including a large dollar investment up front) are high because of this.
• Jewell talked about the limited arable land available in Skagway—the airport is built on what used to be a farm, for example—and the sheer expense of land. Skagway used to be one of the breadbaskets of Alaska.
• Consenstein said that the Farm Service Agency supports family farmers by offering loans and financial planning, that the policy concern from the national level was job creation. He spoke of the need to collaborate with other agencies and the rest of the food system. While there have been over the last five years many thousands of farm failures, there have also been 108,000 new small farms starting up. This is good news for job creation. Consenstein also invited the participants to the Alaska Food Policy Council (first meeting May 18 in Anchorage).
• Scott asked about the policies 50 years ago, when communities were more self-sufficient. What were the land use policies then?
• Meyers talked about the ease with which he could do farming, and discussed mentoring: if a person came out to his farm for a season, he said, he could teach them how to farm on the tundra.
• Stevens said that rural Alaska is no longer sustainable. The old survival urge that used to be there has faded away, replaced by bad food and run on diesel fuel. It is as though people and communities have lost the desire for life, he said. The changes in rural culture have led to a plague of diabetes; the old skills are being lost. Stevens said he was charged with improving the health of the people, and that this led him to working toward improving the food system.
After the panelists spoke, people in the audience asked questions or made comments, among them:
• Many food skills have been lost: cooking with fresh whole foods, butchering, raising small livestock, how to make a root cellar, eating seasonally, lack of knowledge of what is available in one's area and what those foods are for.
• The public doesn't understand the value of their food, either nutritionally or monetarily. The public is so used to ultra-cheap, processed food, that they don't value fresh local food that is priced reasonably.
• Almost all, if not all, seed farmers use is imported from Outside. Stable seed varieties are needed that are specific to Alaska conditions. Calypso Farm & Ecology Center is beginning a seed production field.

Although not on the schedule, the Alaska Community Agriculture Association gave a short presentation and invited farmers to join. They held a meeting after the conference ended.

Sustainable Agriculture Conference, March 17

The 6th Annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference & Organic Growers' School held March 17 at the Princess Hotel, featured a practical and lively lineup of speakers, and drew more than 200 participants from all over the state (for example, Victoria Briggs of Ugashik was there and gave her impressions in this post on Anonymous Bloggers).

Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins gave the opening remarks and welcome, followed by the featured guest speaker, Chris Blanchard of Rock Spring Farm. Blanchard gave some very practical business advice, drawing on his success and failures when he was beginning his own farm in Iowa. The modern farmer, he said, must be entrepeneur, executive, manager, and technician all rolled into one. He provide several operational insights into the business of running a farm. For example, he described how he tries to avoid having more than 15% of his income dependent on any single product or account, and showed what he called a Segment-Location grid, a way of viewing one's marketing distribution. Below is a chart based on his example:

This way, Blanchard explained, the farmer doesn't put all his eggs in one basket, so to speak. He also advised that the business should be set up so there are systems that drive the business, rather than people to drive the business. The latter requires far more work and time from the farmer; the former he called conducive to the "have-a-life schedule".

Next, Doug Warner of the Alaska Division of Agriculture gave a presentation on the Alaska Organic Certification Program and labeling requirements for eggs in the shell. (USDA organic certification requires an independent party's inspection; the state of Washington cooperates with Alaska to provide inspections, but any certified group may inspect a farm; for example, Oregon Tilth is an authorized organization for organic certification of farms.)

The next presentation was made by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Farm Service Agency, on EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) financial assistance.

Alberto Pantoja of the Agricultural Research Service gave an update on insects both beneficial (such as bumblebees) and malign (such as leafhoppers) associated with agricultural production in Alaska.

Charlotte Jewell of Jewell Gardens gave an overview of how she set up agricultural tours with the cruise line industry in Skagway. Jewell Gardens occupies about 5.8 acres and features cooking tours, glassblowing tours, and garden tours, and operates dining rooms, a G-scale model railroad, and a CSA that will serve 25 members in summer 2010. The cruise lines, she said, are looking for entertainment for their passengers. She advised that if a farmer wishes to market to tourists, a good resource is the local visitors' & convention bureau.

Paul Apfelbeck was the next speaker, and gave an animated talk on the agricultural challenges and developments in the village of Galena, population approximately 600. Galena has a community garden and an agricultural fair, and because it is off the road system, the people there must find alternative ways to build things from material already there (or they must pay to have it shipped in, which can render many items unaffordable: Apfelbeck gave the example of a $1,200 greenhouse kit that would have cost him better than $3,000 to ship in). He described pre-warming his garden soil by sprinkling manure on the snow in the spring (he tested ash, manure, and soil, but manure worked best), using homemade coldframes on raised beds filled with "lasagne soil"—layers of soil, fish scraps, and compost—with a nod to Heidi Rader, a graduate of SNRAS, and filling clear plastic bottles (collected for him by local kids) with water to act as a thermal mass in his home-built greenhouse.

Mike Emers of Rosie Creek Farm described experiments in 2008 and 2009 on weed supression he undertook with a SARE grant on his 4-acre certified organic farm (his CSA feeds 100 families and he estimated that, with sales to farmers' markets and local restaurants, the farm probably feeds another 25 to 50 families each summer). Emers tested bare-fallow and partial-season cover cropping methods to control chickweed, shepherd's purse, and lambsquarter infestations, determining that barley as a cover crop was more effective than field peas (or that the field peas should have been sown at twice the recommended density), but that bare-fallow tilling for the full season was more effective than cover cropping for part of the season. His main concern was for the health and fertility of the soil with the bare-fallow method, and he did discover that some soil fertility was lost. However, the full soil tests were not yet back from the lab, so this data was not yet available.

The conference took a lunch break, and then reconvened. (More in the next post.)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Reindeer program awards scholarships

Two UAF natural resources students were awarded $1,000 scholarships for spring semester by the UAF Reindeer Research Program. The Lawrence Tingook Davis memorial scholarships were granted to Nathan Heeringa, a freshman from Bellingham, Wash., and Kirsten Woodard, a senior from Palmer. For the competition, students wrote essays about Alaska's natural resources.

The award is named in honor of Lawrence Tingook Davis, who was born in Deering, Alaska. He served as president of Sitnasuak Native Corporation, as a councilman on the Nome City Council, and as an Alaska state representative. He worked on the establishment of rural Alaska community colleges and received historical recognition for the Iditarod Trail. Mr. Davis was so well recognized for his diverse contributions to education, his community, state, and country, that he was invited to the White House to meet President Ford.

Mr. Davis strongly supported agriculture, education, and the Reindeer Research Program through his commitment to education. He founded the Reindeer Herders Association and was knowledgeable about subsistence hunting, fishing, gathering, and gold mining, as well as reindeer herding.

Mr. Davis was very supportive in helping establish the reindeer research herd at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm, and even supplied the university with deer from his herd. Mr. Davis also helped establish the current and future direction of range management, meat production, and reindeer nutrition research conducted by the Reindeer Research Program. He died in 2006.

The UAF Reindeer Research Program's Lawrence T. Davis Memorial Scholarship Fund is supported by proceeds from the Fairbanks Experiment Farm research herd. Scholarships are awarded as funds allow.

Further reading:
Read Nathan Heeringa's essay, Alaska's Natural Reources (PDF).
Read Kirsten Woodard's essay, Rural Alaskan Villages and the Development of Renewable Resources (PDF).

Planning, zoning lecture set for Saturday

Randal O’Toole, an expert on urban growth, public land, and transportation issues and author of The Best-Laid Plans, will give a free public lecture Saturday evening at UAF.

O'Toole's Fairbanks schedule is:

Friday, March 12, noon, Republican luncheon, Westmark Hotel, $15 lunch fee. RSVP 374-1644. “When Does Planning Work Better Than Free Markets?”

Friday, March 12, 4 p.m. Arctic International Mining Symposium, Westmark Hotel. “Public Lands and Private Property Rights.”

Saturday, March 13, 10 a.m. to noon, North Pole Grange, North Pole Economic Development Corp. “The Costs of Smart Growth.”

Saturday, March 13, 1 to 4 p.m., New Alexandria Books, Northgate Square. Book signing.

Saturday, March 13, 6.m., UAF Schaible Auditorium, free public lecture. “The Congestion Coalition: Why Some People Want to Reduce Your Mobility.”

Related reading:
Planning, zoning expert to visit Fairbanks, SNRAS Science and News, March 3, 2010

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Conference focuses on sustainable agriculture

Home gardeners, farmers, and the public are invited to the sixth annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference and Organic Growers School March 17 at the Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge.

A variety of producers, agencies, and researchers from around the state will talk about sustainable agriculture. Sustainable agriculture is an approach to farming that is good for the environment and the community, according to conference organizer Michele Hebert, agriculture and horticulture agent for the UAF Cooperative Extension Service.

The featured speaker is Chris Blanchard of Rock Spring Farm in Iowa. Blanchard will talk about the basics of community-supported agriculture and his family-owned organic farm. Community-supported agriculture operations sell fresh, local produce directly to consumers, who subscribe to the service. The Blanchards follow strict organic guidelines to grow their produce without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides, said Hebert. They take the practice one step further by using composts, beneficial insect habitat and organic minerals to buffer the effects of pests, diseases, and weather.

Other speakers will talk about energy-efficient insulated panel greenhouses, wind machines, season extensions, funding opportunities, chicken ranching, farm soil fertility, and weed suppression. A panel will discuss food security and how to increase the available food supply in the state. SNRAS Professors Meriam Karlsson and Jenifer McBeath will speak about their research and Carol E. Lewis, SNRAS dean and Agriculture and Forestry Experiment Station director, will give a presentation on food security.

The conference fee is $55 and includes lunch and snacks. Pre-registration is requested. Two free pre-conference activities on March 16 include a commercial growers school with Blanchard from 1-4:30 p.m. and tour of the Cold Climate Housing Research Center from 2-4:30 p.m. Preregistration is required for both. Visit the CES website. Contact Michele Hebert, 474-2423 for more information.

Related reading:
Fairbanks hosts sustainable agriculture conference, SNRAS Science and News, Jan. 27, 2010

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sen. Murkowski awarded for geography education

The National Geographic Education Foundation, an affiliate of the UA Geography Program and the Alaska Geographic Alliance, awarded one of four “Geography Legislator of the Year” awards to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (pictured on a trip to Afghanistan).

The award celebrates legislative leadership in ensuring that young Americans receive an education that prepares them to succeed in an international future by understanding the geographic realities that underlie a global economy, geopolitical instability, environmental decision-making, cultural diversity, and active citizenship.

Sen. Murkowski is a co-sponsor of the Teaching Geography is Fundamental Act. TGIF would help to rectify the absence of dedicated federal funding for geography education by authorizing competitive grants to improve K-12 geography curriculum, teacher training, and instructional materials. Geography is the only core K-12 subject under No Child Left Behind not to have received designated federal funding since NCLB went into effect in 2002.

Murkowski, a co-sponsor of TGIF in both the 110th and 111th Congresses, serves on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee's Subcommittee on Children and Families. Murkowski has been an important voice in support of TGIF and the promotion of geographic literacy.

A 2006 Roper Public Affairs-National Geographic study on geographic literacy found that a significant number of Americans ages 18-24 lack basic global knowledge. Only 40 percent of the respondents polled were able to point out Iraq on a map of the Middle East, and almost half could not locate India on a map of Asia. On a map of the United States, fewer than half could identify Mississippi or New York.

The National Geographic Education Foundation was established by the National Geographic Society in 1988 and pursues a mission of "teaching people how to care for the planet, its resources, and all of its inhabitants." The foundation supports a national network of state-based teacher training programs called Geography Alliances. It awards $5 million a year in innovative geography education programs, including a public-engagement campaign called My Wonderful World to support geographic learning at home, in school and in the community.

UA Geography Program Education and Outreach Coordinator Katie Kennedy was attending the Alliance Network annual meeting at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C., when the awards were announced. Kennedy is coordinator of the Alaska Geographic Alliance, housed in the UA Geography Program.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Kukugyarpak: a new book from MCC

A new book has been published by Math in a Cultural Context: Lessons Learned from Yup’ik Eskimo Elders. The ninth storybook, produced by MCC and told by Annie Blue, is the retelling of a traditional Yup’ik legend, an epic journey titled Kukugyarpak, a tale of fantasy, adventure, and strange people.

Kukugyarpak, separated from his family and village while hunting, goes on an amazing voyage. His travels take him to places where he meets people with big mouths, scary women, mouthless people, and giants. He encounters natural hazards, monsters, and magic. He helps the very strange people he meets and in turn is helped along his journey. Kukugyarpak is curious about the world he travels through, and, although warned against certain places, goes there anyway, sometimes resulting in narrow escapes. His adventurous journey is filled with peril.

People from different areas of Alaska know bits and pieces of this story. In Annie Blue's version, the tale is complete from beginning to end and has lessons for life – helping those in need, accepting help, coping with the unexpected with grace and dignity. Kukugyarpak was guided by his experiences; he didn't give up and he made his way back home. He learned to survive and to stay away from danger despite his curiosity. This story, appropriate for children and adults, mirrors the Yup'ik way of life, and, although it is an old tale, the lessons learned from it can be used in today's world. This recounting of Kukugyarpak's adventures provides a rare glimpse into an ancient way of life uniquely adapted to the north, and offers the reader another perspective on the universal human experience.

Storyteller Annie Blue (pictured at left), 93, lives in Togiak, Alaska, and enjoys sharing her people’s tales because she wants children to learn from them. Blue received the HAIL (honoring Alaska’s indigenous literature) award in 2008 and was presented an honorary doctorate in humane letters at the UAF graduation in May 2009. The book is illustrated by Fairbanks artist Putt Clark.

The story is an accompaniment to an MCC math module and is a bilingual book, written in English and Yup’ik, with notes explaining terms, cultural traditions and mores, and other things of historic or cultural importance. The program provides nine supplemental math modules for second to seventh graders and the training for teachers to use them in their classrooms. The modules are the result of collaboration of educators, Yup’ik elders and teachers, mathematicians, and Alaska school districts.

Jerry Lipka (pictured at right), principal investigator and editor of the MCC series, has been working for two decades to gather elders’ knowledge and put it to use in the classroom. By combining math modules and traditional stories, Lipka demonstrates the math inherent in the Yup’ik activities and crafts, offering a viable alternative to traditional math lessons.

SNRAS partners with Center for Food Integrity

SNRAS has become a partner with the Center for Food Integrity to connect media professionals with credible experts on challenging food system issues. Two SNRAS professors will lend their expertise to the project: Milan Shipka on livestock production, especially pertaining to northern agriculture, and Glenn Juday on the effects of climate change on agricultural systems in the far north.

Shipka's research is concentrated on applied animal reproduction, physiology and behavioral interactions, and management of domestic and non-traditional ruminant livestock species.

Juday's research focuses on tree-ring studies, biodiversity under forest management systems, climate change assessment, climate change and forest growth, structure of old-growth forest ecosystems, old-growth forest ecology, natural controls of biodiversity, identification of elements of natural diversity, wilderness and natural area management, forest development and ecosystem life history, fire and climate change, and long-term environmental monitoring.

The goal of this new CFI project is to help ensure the public’s curiosity on food system issues is satisfied by hearing from credentialed experts who can provide commentary and fact-based information.

“Legitimate issues are being raised and this program will help create a better understanding of where our food comes from, who produces it and how it reaches our dinner tables,” said Carol E. Lewis, dean of the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and director of the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. “We are excited about the role we will play in providing information on such an important topic.”

The Center for Food Integrity, which seeks to improve consumer trust and confidence in the food system, is working with deans of agriculture at universities across the nation to recruit top food experts and will be connecting them with those reporting the news.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Planning, zoning expert to visit Fairbanks

Randal O’Toole (pictured at left), an expert on urban growth, public land, and transportation issues and author of The Best-Laid Plans, will be in Fairbanks March 12-13 for several presentations.

O’Toole, a Cato Institute senior fellow, will give a public lecture at UAF, participate in a book signing session, and speak to three organizations.

O'Toole's research on national forest management, culminating in his 1988 book, Reforming the Forest Service, has had a major influence on Forest Service policy and on-the-ground management. His analysis of urban land-use and transportation issues, brought together in his 2001 book, The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths, has influenced decisions in cities across the country. In his most recent book, The Best-Laid Plans, O'Toole calls for repealing federal, state, and local planning laws and proposes reforms that can help solve social and environmental problems without government regulations.

O'Toole is the author of numerous Cato papers. He has also written for Regulation magazine as well as opinion pieces and articles for numerous other national journals and newspapers. An Oregon native, O'Toole was educated in forestry at Oregon State University and in economics at the University of Oregon.

O'Toole's Fairbanks schedule is:

Friday, March 12, noon, Republican luncheon, Westmark Hotel, $15 lunch fee. RSVP 374-1644. “When Does Planning Work Better Than Free Markets?”

Friday, March 12, 4 p.m. Arctic International Mining Symposium, Westmark Hotel. “Public Lands and Private Property Rights.”

Saturday, March 13, 10 a.m. to noon, North Pole Grange, North Pole Economic Development Corp. “The Costs of Smart Growth.”

Saturday, March 13, 1 to 4 p.m., New Alexandria Books, Northgate Square. Book signing.

Saturday, March 13, 6.m., UAF Schaible Auditorium, free public lecture. “The Congestion Coalition: Why Some People Want to Reduce Your Mobility.”

O’Toole’s visit is sponsored by UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, UAF School of Management, UAF Students Who Enjoy Economic Thinking, the Alaska Policy Forum, and the Interior Alaska Conservative Coalition. Call 374-1644 or 590-4164 for more information.