Monday, September 27, 2010

SNRAS offers chance to demonstrate woodsmanship skills

You don't have to be Paul Bunyan to enjoy the Forest Sports Festival on Oct. 2!

If the lifestyle of true woodsmen appeals to you, mark your calendar for Oct. 2. The day’s agenda holds activities such as ax throwing, log rolling, bow saw, and crosscut sawing, fire building and more when the 13th annual Farthest North Forest Sports Festival occurs at UAF.

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 and the “Bull of the Woods” and “Belle of the Woods.”

Faculty members and students at UAF's Department of Forest Sciences developed the competition 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 fields (across from the Georgeson Botanical Garden). At 1 p.m. the games move to Ballaine Lake on Farmers Loop. 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 907-474-7084.

Georgeson Botanical Garden blesses new cordwood structure

An informal celebration held Friday at the Georgeson Botanical Garden's new cordwood structure brought together, left to right, Agricultural Lab Assistant Grant Matheke, Jenny Campbell, Dennis Hojna ( a student in the cordwood workshop), Pat Holloway, and Michelle Bartlett.

A celebration of public/private partnerships was held despite blustery wind at the Georgeson Botanical Garden Sept. 17.

With the completion of a new cordwood shed, the GBG joined forces with Summer Sessions to dedicate the structure in an informal ceremony.

“When I saw this beautiful shed I wanted to bring the class back to see it and acknowledge all the partners,” said Michelle Bartlett, director of Summer Sessions, sponsor of the workshop held July 27-29.

Bartlett originally invited Rob Roy, cordwood construction expert, to give a lecture at UAF and he asked why he would come all the way to Alaska just to give a talk when he could offer a workshop also.

She noted that Roy said he had never seen a site as well prepared as the one at GBG. That was due to the diligent efforts of Agriculture Lab Assistant Grant Matheke, who did the framework and all the other preparations. “I was pleased to do it,” Matheke said. “I liked it because there were no architectural drawings, no change orders, and no trying to fit things that didn’t fit. It all came together nicely.”

Matheke participated in the class when he had time and donated the door and windows for the structure. Bartlett said that the building should be named “Matheke House” to recognize his efforts for the project.

“It’s too nice to be a shed,” said GBG Director Pat Holloway. While the original intention was a place to keep garden tools, she might find another use for it. “You guys did a good job,” Holloway said. “It’s a nice addition and it’s a good conversation piece for this part of the garden.”

Next spring the building will get a sod roof, screens and more paint.

Bartlett recognized the project’s partners: Jenny Campbell (UAF Design and Construction project manager), Norcon Inc., and IBEW 1547. “Everybody worked hard to make this a reality,” Bartlett said.

A closeup view of a cordwood shed wall.

Further reading:

Workshop builds cordwood structure for GBG, SNRAS Science & News, July 30, 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010

How should America approach diplomacy?

Former ambassador to Egypt Nicholas Veliotes (pictured at right) spoke to a packed Wood Center ballroom Sept. 21. At the invitation of the UA Geography Program, Veliotes met with students, faculty, staff, and the public at UAF.

On his topic “living with the world,” he said, “We’ve got no alternative. The question is how do we do it.”

The U.S. has found itself in a unique leadership position among nations, Veliotes said. This came about after World War II when the U.S. was the only player left standing.

“We inherited the post-war leadership role,” he said. He credited NATO as a major diplomatic triumph. “Good things don’t just happen in foreign policy,” he said.

To him the role of diplomacy is much more than cocktail parties. “I really only know one person who enjoyed the social aspects and he was an aberration,” Veliotes said. “These days they wear flak jackets rather than tuxedos.” A fellow ambassador once told him that diplomacy is convincing people to do what they don’t want to do, but Veliotes’ favorite definition is one he discovered on a tapestry pillow in a shop window in McLean, Va.: “Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way.”

Seriously, though, Veliotes said diplomacy should be considered the first line of defense. “Soft power binds people together and it works to our advantage,” he said. “Through the Fulbright (international exchange) program we develop reserves of good will.”

With the demise of the U.S. Information Agency in the 1990s the country lost an important program, Veliotes said. The lack of training for State Department officials is another thing he finds woeful. “Training is the lifeblood of foreign service,” he said. “In the pressure to fill positions half-trained people are sent. We better have trained personnel or just forget it.

“Post 9-11 we have been making major efforts to reverse what we did,” he said. “We have a long way to go to communicate with the world on all levels.”

Military force should not be the preferred option for dealing with other countries, he said. “War kills people and that’s final. It unleashes forces you can’t control.” During his thirty-two year career in the State Department, Veliotes said he came to admire the can-do attitude of military people, as well as their dedication and willingness to sacrifice. “That is precisely why we should be very careful before we ask them to go to war,” he said.

“Negotiation is the heart of diplomacy,” he added.

The U.S. has nearly 200 embassies and consulates. “This is not airy-fairy work,” Veliotes said. “It is of great importance to our security and well being.”

There are always internal struggles to be dealt with. “Americans negotiate with no one as relentlessly and passionately as they do with themselves.” He tried to explain that to a group of new diplomats in Washington, D.C., once. His speech was titled, “Foreign policy in Washington has little to do with foreigners.”

“I tried to be honest and helpful,” Veliotes recalled. “I was never invited back.”

Stressing the importance of increased funding for diplomacy, Veliotes concluded the talk by saying, “If I have not convinced you to rush out and tell your congressman to fund every penny the State Department asks for, at least I hope I’ve informed you.”
(Photo by Nina Schwinghammer, UAF Sun-Star)

Chena Fest celebrates agricultural bounty

You might find a radish like this on your plate at Chena Fest, courtesy of Jeff Werner.

Tickets are now on sale for the sixth annual Chena Fest dinner, which is planned for Saturday, Oct. 2 at 5:30 p.m. at Chena Hot Springs Resort.

The event is a celebration recognizing agricultural production in the Tanana Valley and is a fundraiser for local Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapters, including Effie Kokrine FFA, North Pole FFA and Fairbanks FFA. The UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences coordinates statewide FFA activities.

The dinner, prepared by the chefs at Chena Hot Springs, is an all-Alaska meal. Soups and salads feature Alaska-grown ingredients, with entrees of beef and poultry. Vegetables dishes will feature locally grown potatoes, broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, squash, carrots, celery, onions, radishes, and corn. Breads and a strawberry dessert complete the menu.

Tickets are $25. Call 907-978-6455 to purchase or e-mail Jeff Werner. Door prizes include Chena Hot Springs Resort ice museum and pool passes and admission to the Tanana Valley State Fair in 2011.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Report examines climate change effects on ecosystems

People who worked on the project pause during a work session at the USFWS office in Anchorage.

A new SNRAS/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report now available to the public examines how rapid climate change could affect Alaska’s wildlife and ecosystems.

The publication is the culmination of a two-year effort to model future shifts in species and regional ecosystems by scientists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the UAF Scenarios Network for Alaska Planning, and the Ecological Wildlife Habitat Data Analysis for the Land and Seascape. It offers policymakers and the public a practical way to approach the question of climate change effects on Alaska ecosystems.

Researchers prepared models that matched regional ecosystems’ seasonal temperature and precipitation with ranges of plant and animal species. They then projected potential shifts within each ecosystem as the climate changes.

Results suggest that by 2100, climate conditions in 60 percent of Alaska may have shifted to resemble the climate conditions associated with a different regional ecosystem. The climate in almost all of western and northwestern coastal Alaska is projected to differ from current conditions. The project also examined potential effects on four species: barren-ground caribou, Alaska marmots, trumpeter swans and reed canary grass.

“Scenarios planning is not intended to produce a single definitive prediction, but rather to provide stakeholders with a range of descriptions of possible futures, in order to better inform risk-taking and decision making,” said Nancy Fresco, SNAP coordinator. “Our hope is that this document will serve as a jumping-off point for lively discussion and debate, and will help inform and inspire new research, as well as efforts to ground-truth and validate our models.”

These efforts were supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Further work is underway in Alaska and Canada, with projects that will incorporate new methodology, multiple sources of land-cover data and a wider range of model inputs to improve the analysis of the regional shifts.

SNAP is a program within the UA Geography Program.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cordwood shed to be dedicated Friday

The new cordwood structure at the Georgeson Botanical Garden is almost too beautiful to be called a shed.

A cordwood shed built at the Georgeson Botanical Garden as part of a July Summer Sessions course will be dedicated Friday, Sept. 24 during a 5:30 p.m. ceremony. The workshop, taught by Rob Roy, included hands-on masonry and cordwood work by the students.

GBG Director Pat Holloway is so pleased with how the structure turned out she may make it into something other than a storage shed. "It's so beautiful; it has generated quite a bit of interest," she said. When Summer Sessions Director Michelle Bartlett asked her if the cordwood class could be held at the garden, Holloway agreed because it would be an educational demonstration of a unique construction technique. She thought she'd have a simple shed to store tools in but since its completion, Holloway is having second thoughts. "I might use it for an activity other than a shed," she said, comparing it to a hobbit house.

Agriculture Lab Assistant Grant Matheke set aside his normal garden duties in July to get the concrete pad and framework ready before the Summer Sessions class began. He worked diligently on the shed before, during, and after the week-long course. Holloway praised Matheke for his hard work on the project.

Garden visitors have been requesting to peek inside the shed to see how the glass bottles built into the side look with daylight shining through them. "This shed is so cute," Dr. Holloway said. The structure is on the east edge of the botanical garden near the children’s area. Everyone is welcome at Friday's dedication. For details, call Summer Sessions at 474-7021.

SNRAS professor to speak on biomass energy

The Alaska Center for Energy and Power will host its next community lecture Tuesday, Sept. 21 at 6 p.m. at the Blue Loon on the Parks Highway.

The lecture will focus on opportunities for biomass harvest and cultivation in the Interior. Speakers will include Doug Hansen from the Alaska Division of Forestry and Professor Steve Sparrow from the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences.

The lecture is free and open to the public.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Butterflies need a place to rest too

Pat Holloway, left, and Laura Conner had fun populating the butterfly pavilion with plants.

Where would butterflies be without plants? Greenery and flowers provide nourishment and their leaves and stems give the butterflies places to rest from all that fluttering about.

So when the UA Museum staff decided to host a butterfly exhibit, one of their first contacts was Pat Holloway, SNRAS horticulture professor and director of the Georgeson Botanical Garden. Dr. Holloway has worked for years to attract butterflies to GBG and is writing a publication to advise local gardeners on what plants attract native butterflies.

Laura Conner, director of public programs for the museum, said it was only natural that she contact Holloway. The botanical garden is one of Conner’s favorite places in Fairbanks, and she knew that Holloway could help provide an attractive setting for the special exhibit.

On Thursday, Conner and Holloway transported plants from the West Ridge Greenhouse to the museum, where they arranged them in a brand new mesh pavilion.

“This is an experiment,” Holloway said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen.” But she said she never thought of saying no to the museum request. In addition to being a fun learning experience for all involved, the museum will be a handy place to store plants that might be temporarily displaced if the proposed Life Sciences building comes to fruition. (UAF plans to build Life Sciences on the greenhouse’s current location and to construct a new greenhouse for SNRAS adjacent to the southwest wing of Arctic Health Research Building.)

Huge elephant ears, coleus, ferns, and small flowering plants were set up in the pavilion. “We want to create an environment with lots of greenery and lots of color,” Holloway said. She had researched plants that provide nectar and found that canola does. Surprised by that discovery, she borrowed canola seed from her co-workers and got the plants started.

Lantana was highly recommended for butterflies, but Holloway wasn’t able to find any. After checking every nursery in Fairbanks and Anchorage and even some in Palm Springs, Calif., where she attended a horticulture conference, she had to let that go.

Conner will supplement the insects’ food supply by installing feeders in the pavilion. Butterflies have only a one or two-week life cycle, so she will be replacing the stock routinely. The types of butterflies are all North American species native to Florida, including monarchs, zebra longwings, queens, cloudless sulphurs, and giant swallowtails.

While the museum does an excellent job attracting tourists, Conner said this exhibit is designed for locals. “It should be very engaging,” she said.

Holloway loved the idea so much she suggested the museum make it an annual event.

The grand opening is Saturday, Sept. 18 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the exhibit will remain open through Dec. 31. Hours are Monday through Friday from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays. Admission is $2, with children under 6 and museum members getting in free. Call 474-7505 for more details.

Further reading:
"Butterfly pavilion opens at Museum of the North", Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Sept. 17, 2010, by Suzanna Caldwell

The crisis of American diplomatic capacity

SNRAS will host a free public lecture Tuesday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. in the Wood Center Ballroom. Nicholas Veliotes (pictured at left), former ambassador to Egypt, will present "The Crisis of American Diplomatic Capacity, Living with the World--the Role of Diplomacy."

Veliotes is an international consultant and a member of the Middle East Institute, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He serves on the boards of AMIDEAST, the Foundation for Middle East Peace, the American Academy of Diplomacy, and is chair of the U.S.-Egypt Friendship Society and the Hollings Center for international Dialogue, whose mission is to enhance contacts between Americans and counterparts in Muslim countries.

"To effectively promote and protect its interest in our multipolar, interconnected, and too often disordered world, the U.S. must restore and reinforce the soft power components of its national security strategy," Veliotes said. "The use of force in extremity is always available, but this should never be our first or preferred option."

Ambassador Veliotes will discuss the realities of how foreign policy is formulated and implemented in the American democracy and emphasize that intelligent, effective diplomacy is our first line of defense.

The event is sponsored by SNRAS, the UA Geography Program, UAF Division of Student Services, the American Academy of Diplomacy, and the Alaska World Affairs Council.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Workshop: Make beautiful things with birch bark

Photo of birch basket courtesy of John Zasada

SNRAS is offering a birch bark craftsmanship workshop Oct. 8-9 at the Matanuska Experiment Farm in Palmer. The sessions will be hands-on, with students constructing items woven from birch bark.

John Zasada, a recently retired silviculturist with the U.S. Forest Service, is the instructor. He has studied the biology, ecology, use, and management of birch in northern forests for many years. Since retiring, he has taken up birchbark weaving and his works are well known and admired in the Grand Rapids, Mich., area. He teaches at the North House Folk School in Minnesota.

The workshops are $50 each day. The first day will be about making birch bark ornaments such as stars, beads, birds, and fish. The second day will emphasize birch bark baskets. Students need to bring scissors, “snapper” clothespins, and a knife.

Useful references are Celebrating Birch: The Lore, Art, and Craft of an Ancient Tree by the North House Folk School, and Plaited Basketry with Birch Bark by Vladimir Yarish, Flo Hoppe, and Jim Widdess, but the books are not required.

For more information contact Valerie Barber, UAF Forest Products Program director and Cooperative Extension Service forestry assistant professor, at 907-746-9466, or Phyllis Craig at 907-746-9450.

Reindeer gets presidential namesake

Obama the reindeer avoids the spotlight, deliberately turning away from the camera.

As summer nears its end, fourteen reindeer calves are frolicking in the sun at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm, bunching together playfully, and eating lots of grain. Now that the calves are past the danger phase of early life, the animals have been allotted names to replace the numbers assigned to them at birth.

A standout in the name game is a shy little fellow named Obama, in honor of President Barack Obama. Unbeknownst to Obama, his presidential moniker is a first for the Reindeer Research Program, which gets its names from nominations submitted by people all over the world. Participants send suggestions to the Reindeer Research Program website and the staff chooses from the pool. “We’ve never had a Bush or a Carter or a Clinton,” said RRP technician Darrell Blodgett. ‘This is a first.”

Over 500 suggestions were sent to RRP this year, with the Obama entry coming from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. The same person submitted Palin for a female reindeer, but that one was put on the shelf for this year. When choosing names, the RRP staff usually try to match each reindeer’s personality to a name. For example, Samson is the biggest boy of the lot, weighing in at 174 pounds, and Moochie is the first one to hit the feed bucket.

A special name this year, Artemis, went to the world’s first known reindeer born after being artificially inseminated with previously frozen semen. His nickname, appropriately, is “Artie.”

As to why the gang selected “Obama” they just figured the time was right. Obama the reindeer doesn’t appear to be a natural born leader or particularly enjoy making executive decisions, but he seems happy enough with his new name.

Research Technician Rob Aikman works with the reindeer day in and day out and knows all the calves by name already. When weighing the animals or managing their charts he refers to them by their birth number but in general handling he uses the names.

The babies are born in April and May, but are not named until they have been weaned from their mothers. The animals begin eating grain to supplement their diets once they are a couple of days old.

Of the seventeen calves that arrived this spring, three died, which is about the normal ratio in captivity, Aikman said. The remaining have proven a healthy lot, which is very pleasing to the RRP staff.

To see the other reindeer names, visit the RRP website. School children are welcome to enter names each spring.

RRP conducts research in meat science, range management, nutrition, reproductive health, disease prevention, and radio telemetry. The program has been active at UAF since 1981.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Report details next steps in arctic shipping policies

As the climate warms and global commerce grows, the prospect of an arctic shipping route becomes more tangible. A new report by SNRAS faculty offers international policymakers guidance for navigating the political and practical ramifications of shipping in the Arctic.

The report,
“Considering a Roadmap Forward: The Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment,”
is the result of a workshop hosted by the UA Geography Program in October 2009 as part of the University of the Arcticʼs Institute for Applied Circumpolar Policy. The workshop drew nearly 70 experts from Canada, China, Denmark, Japan, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States to examine the seventeen recommendations outlined in the Arctic Councilʼs 2009 Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment.

“The workshop report takes the key AMSA recommendations and provides to the arctic community a list of action items to consider as we collectively navigate a future of change,” said Mike Sfraga, head of the UA Geography Program and UAF vice chancellor for students.

Sfraga co-chairs the Institute for Applied Circumpolar Policy with Kenneth Yalowitz of Dartmouth College. Yalowitz is director of the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth. “The future of shipping in the Arctic is one of the most important issues resulting from climate change in the North,” Yalowitz said.

The three-day October 2009 workshop focused on three themes: enhancing arctic marine safety, protecting arctic people, and the environment, and building the arctic marine infrastructure. The twenty-four-page report offers dozens of proposed actions, many of which will require public or private funding. Among the highest-priority policy issues are:

• A mandatory International Maritime Organization Polar Code.
• Full tracking and monitoring of arctic commercial ships.
• An arctic search and rescue agreement (underway).
• Surveys of indigenous marine use.
• A circumpolar response capacity agreement among the arctic states.
• Implementation of an arctic observing network to support science and marine

“The working groups identified a roadmap, actions, and a set of key issues for each of AMSAʼs recommendations,” said Distinguished Professor Lawson Brigham, who led the original AMSA effort for the Arctic Council. Sfraga presented the report at an Institute for Applied Circumpolar Policy workshop in Rovaniemi, Finland, last week. UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers is sharing the report with members of the University of the Arctic, Arctic Council, and Arctic Parliamentarians in Brussels this week.

The workshop report will also be widely distributed to the global maritime and arctic communities.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Calling all inventors!

The UAF School of Management will award more than $19,000 in cash prizes through its annual Arctic Innovation Competition.

The competition, now in its second year, asks entrants to propose new, feasible, and potentially profitable ideas. The deadline to submit an entry is Sept. 30.

Last year, more than 200 ideas were submitted from around the world. Last year’s $10,000 winner was Chris Hunter, with an idea that extends lead-acid battery life tenfold. Runners up were Bruce Kraft, exploring efficient refrigeration; Frank Eagle, offering a mobile restaurant-seating concept; and 12-year-old Jared Post, with an electrical cord safety-locking cap concept.

"The Arctic Innovation Competition aims to stimulate people’s creativity and develop new business," said competition founder and UAF professor Ping Lan. “Many people have an idea when frustrated by a problem and think there must be a better way. This competition is the perfect opportunity to turn ideas into reality.”

AIC sponsors include UAF, the Fairbanks North Star Borough, Doyon Limited, and Northrim Bank.

The competition is open to the public and there is no entry fee. Individuals or groups with an innovative idea for solving real-life problems and challenges are encouraged to enter. After the initial screening process, finalists will present their ideas to judges Oct. 29 from 5-7 p.m. in the UAF Wood Center ballroom with a reception to follow. Twenty winners will be selected to receive cash prizes ranging from $100 to $10,000.

Fate of tigers in India presented at SNRAS lecture

From left, Associate Professor Susan Todd, Anish Andheria, Archana Bali.

When SNRAS doctoral student Archana Bali was a graduate student at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India, she was impressed with the passion of Anish Andheria for large predators. After Bali moved to Alaska she asked Andheria to visit UAF to talk about his work and he promised one day he would.

He was true to his word last week when he gave a public lecture and spoke to a student club on campus. Andheria, who is director of the Wildlife Conservation Trust and lives in Mumbai, said his trip to Alaska was a fantastic experience. He was excited that while visiting Denali National Park he saw wolves, grizzly bears, and twenty moose.

“No matter where you are, if you have passion for wildlife you feel at home,” Andheria said. “You will be in the arms of mother nature.”

When a member of the audience at his Sept. 8 lecture asked why he came so far to talk about tigers, Andheria said, “It’s not about the distance. Both places are grappling with conservation issues. When I talk to people I learn from the experience.”

He said by conversing with park rangers at Denali he learned new things. “Wherever you go the problems are the same; the magnitudes are different,” he said.

With India’s population of 1.2 billion, Andheria said it is easy to understand why conservation is difficult, yet so crucial. “The balance is very delicate,” he said. “It has been so fine-tuned for millions of years we don’t even understand it. Every organism has a role in the chain of life too complicated to fully understand.”

The country, with its very diverse habitats and ten distinct climate zones, is home to some species that are not found anywhere else in the world. India has 600 national parks and sanctuaries. In ancient times, Indians believed the forest was the mother to all rivers. “It is a magical land protected by majestic mountains,” Andheria said.

It is also home to some of the world’s most fascinating wildlife, including 1,300 species of birds, 280 of snakes, and 400 of mammals. “It’s a very happening place in terms of wildlife,” Andheria said.

Since 1972 India has banned hunting of wildlife, but poachers take the animals to sell the skins to Europe and bones to China.

“The presence of leopards, lions, or tigers indicates the forest is healthy,” Andheria said. “To save the tigers we must save the forests. The heart of the country is the forest.”

A hundred years ago India’s land consisted of 22 percent thick forests; now forests cover only 4.5 percent. “You cannot allow this habitat to shrink any further.” In 1900 India had 40,000 tigers; now there are 1,400. A fact that further complicates conservation is that the forests are home to millions of indigenous people who need resources too. The rapidly changing climate is also causing more species to face extinction.

As director of the Wildlife Conservation Trust, Andheria works with children to help educate them about the importance of India’s wildlife. “If not for us we need to do something for the next generation,” he said.

“Despite all the challenges people around the forest face they have in their hearts a respect for the forest. Indians have an umbilical cord with nature that is unique and we need to utilize that. We need to figure out our roots and rely on research.”

SNRAS students who would like to volunteer to work with Andheria are welcome to contact him, but should plan at least six months in advance of a trip to India.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Popcorn: what a way to learn!

(At left, a Kincaid student is excited about the special popcorn created at her school. Photo courtesy of Kincaid Elementary School, Anchorage, Alaska.)

The Fairbanks Experiment Farm was home to an experiment for Anchorage school children this summer. Kincaid Elementary School teacher Glenn Oliver asked SNRAS researchers to try growing a dwarf, multi-colored popcorn variety his classes have been growing in a school greenhouse.

“You can’t buy multi-colored dwarf popcorn anywhere but we have it,” Oliver said. He has about 40,000 seeds in storage and is working with the students to create a business plan to produce and sell the corn.

Oliver was curious to see how the corn would grow outside a greenhouse in the warmer Fairbanks summer so he asked SNRAS Research Professional Jeff Werner and Professor Meriam Karlsson to plant some seeds at the experiment farm. “We are seeking a more uniform plant,” Oliver said. “Eventually we want to plant fields of them.

“There’s a big hole in education related to plants in particular,” Oliver said. He has worked hard to remedy that for his extended learning students in second through sixth grade. When Kincaid School was built in 1996 the setting included lots of open space, woods, and a frog pond. Before the grounds were hydroseeded Oliver planted potatoes which the children loved digging up in the fall.

Next he and the students built forty planter boxes and a donor gave topsoil. The children planted more potatoes which Oliver said proved to be an “incredible success.” Carrots and turnips were the next crops they tried.

After receiving a grant for a greenhouse they were able to grow tomatoes and corn. “The corn would grow so tall it would bend sideways,” Oliver said. A big windstorm blew the greenhouse away in 2000, but a generous parent who understood the value of getting kids to grow things offered to pay for a new facility. Parents who were architects and contractors pitched in and soon the school had a state-of-the-art insulated, solar-powered greenhouse. “It all came together,” Oliver said.

Each summer the greenhouse is filled with popcorn, cucumbers, and tomatoes. The children grow vegetable starts and sunflowers that are sold in the spring to a nearby hardware store. “Snow can be halfway up the (outside) walls and our greenhouse is full of plants,” Oliver said.

Out on the grounds the students have an apple orchard. “In our best year we sold 7,500 apples,” Oliver said.

When Oliver received a gift of dwarf popcorn from Michigan his first thought was, “We should grow this.” They grew to about four feet tall and had nice little cobs. “The coolest thing was when we put them in the microwave,” Oliver said.

His next idea was coming up with a multi-colored corn so the students planted yellow corn on one side of the greenhouse and pink on the other. Later that summer they noticed the corn had indeed mixed. “We hadn’t done anything to make it happen,” Oliver said. “The next year it showed up in every shade of pink and red.”

As part of their studies the students pop and compare their corn with storebought brands. They measure and count the kernels. “It’s just a blast,” Oliver said. “The kids love it.”

Oliver intends to work with the children to create a business plan to package their products, design a logo, and sell the corn. He believes that by working with agriculture students learn math, science, weather, life cycles of plants, and much more. “Many of these students have never grown food that they ate. They are able to take home food and share with their families. They are learning to become responsible for themselves.”

Jeff Werner echoed that sentiment, “This is integrating science, technology, English, and math into agriculture." He has invited Sen. Lesil McGuire to visit the Kincaid classroom and work with the children on the project. "Something as simple as growing popcorn has taught these young people genetics, DNA, plant breeding, and other opportunities,” Werner said.

“Integrating agriculture into the classroom should be an everyday event to help set a better table for Alaskans.”

Professor Meriam Karlsson and Research Professional Jeff Werner show the popcorn at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm. The kernels change color as the cobs dry out.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Effie Kokrine students dig garden project

Sherilyn Williams (left) and Melissa Demit try to remove the outer leaves from a purple cabbage.

Eighth graders from Effie Kokrine Charter School converged on the garden at the Tanana Valley Fairgrounds Sept. 7, harvesting cabbages and corn and asking lots of questions.

“We wanted to get the kids here and have them see the whole process,” teacher Cassie Thacker said. “We wanted them to experience something they may not have experienced before.”

Since the students are studying subsistence, health, and wellness, she and teacher Sheryl Meierotto decided the harvesting effort with UAF Research Professional Jeff Werner was perfectly timed.

Werner, who is also the Alaska FFA advisor, thought of the idea while forming a new FFA chapter at the school. Many of the students involved in the harvesting effort will also participate in FFA activities.

Werner was thrilled to have assistance pulling in the crops and preparing the demonstration garden for next year, but he also said the students learn scientific agricultural principles such as soil composition and crop yield at the same time. Werner and SNRAS Professor Meriam Karlsson have planted the fair garden for two summers, trying to show fair attendees what crops grow well in the Fairbanks area.

The food from the garden was taken to Effie Kokrine School to be preserved and processed. The plan is to serve it to elders at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Fairbanks in October. Herbs are being dried for tea; potatoes, turnips, pumpkins, and cabbages will be stored; corn, zucchini, and kale will be frozen; and green beans will be canned. As they took the crops from the garden the students weighed, photographed, and measured them.

“We want them to know where their food is coming from,” said teacher Meierotto. “It’s very important for sustainability that you know how to grow food and what is involved in preparing food, everything from soil to planting to watering to harvesting and canning.”

Fair Manager Randi Carnahan visited the garden briefly to thank the students. “It’s great for the kids,” she said. “I’m happy that this is more of a working garden now instead of a visual one. It’s a great visual during the fair but it has a purpose. And these kids get to see the fair after it’s over in a different light.”

Werner said the new FFA chapter at the Kokrine School will focus on cultivating sustainable methods while emphasizing the traditional component of FFA – developing leadership skills in young people. FFA is dedicated to making a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education. The Kokrine chapter is the newest of nine across the state from Kodiak to Fairbanks.

The school is also offering a new natural resources class this year. With the school’s interest in agricultural and natural resources education Werner is confident the garden program may continue in the future. “This could be an ongoing partnership,” he said. “It’s a good project for the school and it gets them outside doing something for others. And there is all sorts of fun science going on here.”

Jeff Werner (left), students, and teacher Cassie Thacker dig up potatoes at the fair garden.

Further reading:
"Fall harvest teaches horticulture for a cause for Fairbanks students," Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Sept. 8, 2010, by Molly Rettig

Friday, September 3, 2010

Tigers: going, going, gone?

SNRAS will sponsor a free public lecture Wednesday, Sept. 8 on the UAF campus, with Anish Andheria (pictured at right) of the Wildlife Conservation Trust and Sanctuary Asia presenting the speech.

The topic is "Tigers: going, going, gone?"

Andheria is the director of science, natural history, and photography for the charitable trust dedicated to preserving, protecting, and conserving wildlife. He said in 1910 22 percent of India was thick forest, which in turn harbored 40,000 wild tigers. Today, the Protected Area Network constitutes only 4.5 percent of India and tiger numbers have dwindled to less than 1,400.

After SNRAS doctoral student Archana Bali took a field course with Andheria, she invited him to speak at UAF if he ever visited Alaska. Andheria, a prominent tiger expert, conservationist, and educator, said, "Despite the recent drop in tigers' numbers, India offers the best chance of conserving one of the most charismatic animals to have ever walked on Earth. Large carnivore populations have declined or are on a decline across the planet. History has shown that this decline is not a factor of human densities or economic status of the host nation. It simply boils down to political will and the insensitivity quotient of the general public toward large carnivores."

He continued: "Large carnivore conservation translates to protection of forests, which in turn results in protection of innumerable lifeforms and water sources (rivers and lakes) that act as important life-support systems for millions of human beings.

"Tiger conservation also amounts to climate change mitigation."

Andheria and Associate Professor Susan Todd invite students, faculty, staff, and the public to the event. Parking permits are available for a minimal fee in the parking lot behind the IARC building. Contact Dr. Todd for further details. The event is at 1:15 p.m. Sept. 8 in the Elvey Auditorium.