Monday, October 31, 2011

Master's International student warms up to Fiji

Brooke McDavid weaves a mat for her house in Fiji.

By Brooke McDavid, SNRAS Master's International student

I write to you from a village by the sea on the Southwest point of the second largest island in Fiji, just a small dot on the world map in Viti Levu. I am three hours away from the nearest American and six hours by bus from the nearest town. Nope, I'm not on vacation -- I'm a United States Peace Corps volunteer. And while I often enjoy the idyllic landscape around me, I am here for two years to work and represent my home country. I am writing because part of this experience is to share it with others and I feel there is still a significant percentage of the U.S. population that doesn't know exactly what the Peace Corps does, or why we do it. Every volunteer's story is unique but something we have in common has brought us all together to serve.

I applied for the Peace Corps because I believe in their mission and approach to development. The Peace Corps is a capacity building organization with a huge cultural exchange component. Volunteers do not bring money or infrastructure; we bring skills and knowledge to countries that request our assistance. Volunteers live in communities in over 139 countries where we take a grassroots approach towards development. We become part of the community, not just foreigners who have come to help. We eat the local food, live at the same standards as those around us, respect local cultural norms and values, and (try to) speak the local language -- all while maintaining qualities that make us American (whatever that means!).

There is most certainly a need for foreign aid in the form of disaster relief and post-war reconstruction; however, there is also a need to build people, and not just "things." A proverb, however cliché, applies to my point: "Feed a man a fish and he's full for a day. Teach a man to fish and he's full for a lifetime." In essence, this is what the Peace Corps is all about: empowering people to invoke positive changes in their own lives and in their own communities.

So that brings me to Fiji... What could I possibly be doing as a volunteer in tropical paradise? While Fiji may be beautiful, it is indeed a developing nation with a mostly rural population depending on agriculture and subsistence harvest from the land and sea. Tourism is in very isolated parts of the country. Not many people are hungry here -- a blessing of a tropical climate -- but poverty is multi-dimensional. Poverty not only has to do with income and food security, but also access to education and health care, equal rights for all minorities and genders, and a healthy environment. Outside Fiji, there are people in more dire need of food and shelter; my heart goes out to them in earnest. But isn't there great worth in development efforts which focus on preventing the need for those other kinds of aid? If we can address environmental, health and governance issues before they take a turn for the worse, shouldn't we?

This brings me to my role as a Peace Corps volunteer. I am considered an "Environment Sector" volunteer, and while my over-arching program focuses on issues related to natural resource management, the Peace Corps remains a 24/7 job that includes everything from helping children with homework to showing adults how to set up budgets to raising awareness about health and nutrition issues. It's often these side tasks that make the experience most fulfilling because they involve developing relationships and friendships with those around me. I learn just as much (if not more) from my community as they learn from me.

Island time definitely exists and while it can be frustrating at times, it teaches me to slow down and be patient, and to reflect upon life. I smile thinking about the distance between Nitro, W.V., and the South Pacific. And about how my last winter in Fairbanks (where temperatures can reach -50°F) could not have been more opposite than this "winter" here (with average winter month temperatures of 84°F!).

The Peace Corps is a component of my graduate degree program. I am a student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks where I spent the last school year studying Natural Resources Management (NRM) with a focus on community-based NRM. I learn best by doing, so I chose a program that would enhance my classroom time by allowing me to go out into the world and challenge the things I've learned. The Master's International program operates at various universities throughout the U.S. in several program and study areas.

I believe that the reason I wound up in Fiji, of all places, is because Fiji is unique in its history in that during colonial times native peoples largely maintained land ownership. While the white man definitely has had an impact on culture, much of the traditions were able to prevail through to independence. What exists today is a land ownership system centered at the community level. Clans (family groups) communally own almost 90 percent of the land in Fiji. As a student interested in community-based NRM, my placement couldn't have been more perfect. Villages own and can do almost whatever they please with small-scale ecosystems and landscapes.

For example, my village is on the coast but most of the land extends into the mountainous interior where farming takes place on the hillsides. Fijians have a very close relationship with the land and a vast knowledge of the local environment. Since Fiji was inhabited around 3,500 years ago, people have been depending on the land and sea for food, resources and income. It's been a relatively healthy relationship, but times change and just like everywhere else in the world, development and population growth have brought not just their virtues, but also their vices. The whole world is at a tipping point, but I'm only one person and at a global scale my efforts don't have much effect. However, I hope at a community level I can have an impact in tipping that scale towards sustainability.

In order to achieve this, I'm working with my village to write a Development Plan. The process of planning and thinking about the future isn't a typical part of the culture, but it seems to be giving the community a chance to see that they have the power to work together for positive growth. They are prioritizing their needs and wants (clean water, electricity, a kindergarten, flush toilets/septic tanks, etc.). The plan goes beyond improving infrastructure to include sections on good governance and sustainable resource management. The community has an inherent incentive to be stewards of the land and sea because it in turn sustains them. (This, I believe, applies to the world around, but how easy it is to be blind to one's link to nature when surrounded by concrete!)

In the future I hope to continue to work with members in my community to address projects that include setting up a community-managed marine protected area, restoring mangroves and raising awareness about agroforestry, waste management and fishing techniques. Honestly, I don't really know what I'm doing day-to-day, but I'm letting the community guide me and I'm trying to respond to their needs rather than pretend to know what they need.

My eyes have truly been opened to the power of communities and of collective action. We might not feel like there is much we can do or that what we can do is worthwhile, but what I've learned is that we cannot be afraid to try! It is important to get out there, be uncomfortable, and get dirty! Spin the globe and learn something about the most obscure place you can find. There are people in that place just like you, and we all share this world.

It's easy to have strong opinions about international development from the comfort of an air-conditioned building, but none of us really knows what other people truly need. That's why I'm a Peace Corps volunteer -- because I think Americans cannot only set an example by leading, but by stepping back and listening and learning. I may not be able to change the world, but maybe if we each do our small part it will begin to tip us in the right direction.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps. If anyone would like more information about the Peace Corps check out or call 800-424-8580 to speak to a recruiter in your area. Or feel free to email me!

(For information about the SNRAS Master's International program, contact Professor Steve Sparrow.)

Brooke McDavid and village children walking in Fiji. (Brian Backhaus photo)

The village where McDavid lives. (Brooke McDavid photo)

The view of the village and coast. (Brooke McDavid photo)

Cooperative Extension Service nears end of search for ag agent

The two candidates for the CES Tanana District agriculture and horticulture agent position will give presentations on their extension/outreach background and their vision for the future of the position this week.

Presentations will take place at the Cooperative Extension Service building (formerly the forestry building) at Taku Drive and Tanana Loop on the UAF campus in the conference room. The public is invited and input to the search committee is welcomed and encouraged. The position became open when long-time CES Agent Michele Hebert became the director of the UAF Office of Sustainability in the summer of 2010.

Mike Emers

The first candidate is Mike Emers and his presentation will take place Thursday, Nov. 3 at 2 p.m.

Heidi Rader

The second candidate is Heidi Rader and her presentation will take place Friday, Nov. 4 at 9 a.m.

For more information contact Taylor Maida at 474-2422. For those who cannot attend in person, call 800-570-3591, pin # 8067491.

Wounded soldiers mingle with reindeer at Fairbanks Experiment Farm

Dean & Director Carol Lewis (at right) explained to the visitors about UAF being a land grant university and the work done through the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station.

Three-year-old Jayden Aragon enjoyed feeding lichen to the reindeer.

Erin Carr introduced the reindeer to the visitors.

Through a connection made in Iraq, wounded soldiers were able to visit the Fairbanks Experiment Farm Oct. 29 for a tour of the Reindeer Research Program.

Rebecca Jones, a SNRAS student, RRP intern and U.S. Army veteran, enjoys being around the reindeer so much she wanted to share them with fellow military friends. She had met Adam Aragon in Iraq and the two reconnected in Fairbanks. Aragaon, who works for Alaska's Healing Hearts, a program to assist wounded soldiers, jumped at the chance.

The program has taken soldiers hunting and fishing but Aragon wanted to try an activity that spouses and children would enjoy alongside the soldiers. "It's a great idea to do outreach programs and bring the families," Aragon said. He hopes to continue this type of event several times a year. Participants are soldiers who have been wounded on the job; many are Purple Heart recipients.

RRP Research Professional George Aguiar and animal caretaker Erin Carr shared information about the animals' nutrition and habits. They led the families into the pens where the children could feed lichen to the reindeer.

"We needed to be educated that these are reindeer not caribou," Aragon said with a big smile.

Aguiar said, "These soldiers have given up a lot for us and all we have here. This was the least that we could do. When we were first presented with the opportunity I said of course we could do that!"

After the tours and talks, a cookout was held at the farm. On the menu? Reindeer burgers.

Further reading:
Wounded warrior program offers trial run for Fairbanks, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Oct. 30, 2011, by Sam Friedman

Monday, October 24, 2011

Food Day at UAF proves tasty event

Carol Lewis displays the reindeer loin she cooked upstairs in the Wood Center kitchen. The meat, high in protein and low in fat, is raised at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm.

All smiles after winning the Iron Chef cookoff, Dean Michael Castellini, at right, accepts the award from KUAC's Jerry Evans. In the center is NANA Chef Dave Sikorski.

Judging is a hard job but someone has to do it! From left, Sarah McConnell, Shelley McCool and Tyler Skrivanek taste test the shrimp and reindeer dishes prepared during the Iron Chef cookoff.

Oct. 24 attracted a huge crowd to the UAF Wood Center for a taste of Food Day.

"It's all about healthy eating and supporting local, sustainable agriculture," said Nancy Tarnai of the event planning team. "We couldn't be more pleased with the interest and excitement."

The morning kicked off with the "Iron Chef" Surf vs. Turf Cookoff Challenge, highlighting the culinary talents of Carol Lewis, dean of the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, and Michael Castellini, dean of the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. Lewis was assisted by professional chef, Michael Roddey of the Community and Technical College culinary school, and Castellini by professional chef, Dave Sikorski of NANA Management Services.

Judges Shelley McCool, Sarah McConnell and Tyler Skrivanek had the tough job of deciding which chef would get to take home the Iron Chef birch spatula. Based on appearance, taste, presentation, timeliness and nutritional quality, the judges chose Castellini and his shrimp dish by a very narrow margin. It was a close call between the shrimp and Lewis's reindeer. Judges' comments included: "Yum. This reindeer is tender and tasty," (McConnell); "It's all fantastic," (McCool); "It's all delicious," (Skrivanek).

"It's a kaleidoscope of tastes," McConnell summed up.

Emcee Jerry Evans of KUAC did a great job hosting the cookoff. Special thanks to the farmers who donated food for the event, including the scrumptions microgreens brought in that morning by Bill Johnson of Johnson Family Farms.

Associate Professor Bret Luick, Food Jeopardy game champion, received a basket of produce from Chena Fresh.

Jeopardy contestants from left Bret Luick, Mike Emers, Jeff Johnson and Andrea Bersamin showed their knowledge of Alaska agriculture, food and nutrition.

The Food Jeopardy game was a heated competition between academics Andrea Bersamin and Bret Luick and farmers Mike Emers and Jeff Johnson. The competitors answered questions about food, nutrition and Alaska agriculture, with post-doctoral fellow Thomas Grant playing the role of game show host. In the end Luick took home a gorgeous basket of produce from ChenaFresh.

Exhibits such as this one from Chena Fresh filled the Wood Center with information and fun!

Over 20 exhibitors, from the Alaska Community Agriculture Association to Homegrown Market to UAF Cooperative Extension Service, displayed information and talked to attendees. The Anthropology Society hosted lectures and films.

Perhaps the most popular segment was the Taste of Alaska, a feast of Alaska Grown food donated by farmers and prepared by UAF Dining Services/NANA Management Services. Taking grass-fed beef from the Matanuska Experiment Farm, cold-smoked salmon from Alex Oliveira in Kodiak, honey from Charlie Knight, lettuce and tomatoes from Chena Fresh, apples and potatoes from the Fairbanks Experiment Farm, rutabagas from Grey Owl Garden, beets, cabbage, carrots, Napa cabbage from Spinach Creek Farm and cabbage, carrots, onions and beets from Wild Rose Farm, the chefs prepared appetizers, soups, stews, roasted vegetables and vegetable medleys.

Cold-smoked salmon from Alex Oliveira of Kodiak was a big hit.

There was much buzz about the food and great interest in the fact that it was all grown in Alaska.

As Food Day will be celebrated on Oct. 24 from now on, please mark your calendars for future years now!

Around the nation, Food Day reported a massive celebration in Times Square, a conference on food deserts in San Francisco, the serving of healthy breakfasts in Omaha, a food-safety wheel in Chicago, the building of raised bed gardens in Little Rock and much more.

SNRAS Administrative Assistant and Food Day team member Martha Westphal got into the spirit of Food Day with her carving knife.

Further reading:
Real Food Challenge blog highlights campus events around the country, including UAF!

Dean Michael Castellini's take on Food Day and the Iron Chef cookoff.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Food security is up to all of us

By Craig Gerlach

All Alaskans are eaters, but only a very tiny minority (maybe 2 percent) are farmers working a little over 680 Alaskan farms. Everyone seems to be jumping on the “local food is better” bandwagon, at least with their sentiments, if not always with their pocketbooks, but we have a long way to go before we will begin to attract young people into farming, before we make the policy changes that will make Alaska’s farm economies strong and profitable and the policy and social changes that will put healthy Alaska farm produce on everyone’s table.

It is time for actions to take the place of words. As a society we are complacent about our food, where it comes from and how it is grown; we want what is convenient and readily available, so if a company from Washington State offers to deliver produce from Chile right to our door, it may be easier to say yes than to investigate local options, options that build local farms and farm economies, and options that provide healthy, high quality food that has not been transported thousands of miles and “treated” in multiple industrial ways to guarantee a long shelf life.

Maybe you love fresh vegetables, but perhaps do not have the time or space to grow your own. Have you tried to find a local retailer (In Fairbanks we are very lucky to have several stores that sell local foods…), farmers’ market, school garden or community supported agriculture business? Have you tried to find your own farmer/grower where you can buy food crops, livestock, milk or cheese right at the farmgate, and direct from the person responsible for producing them?

Surprise though! They are all around you. Alaska has at least 36 CSAs, and the Interior alone has nine. Of course this time of year most everything related to local food production is shutting down for the season, but I want to address the issue now because of the celebration of Food Day Oct. 24 at UAF (and around the nation).

Foremost on my mind in all these food matters is the question: How do we get more local farms that will help to create a stronger food system for Alaska?

Answer: I don’t know, but there are a lot of people working on it now, including farmers, ranchers, community shared/supported agriculture farms and groups and researchers as well.

We may not have the best answers yet, but I am willing to work on this issue if you are. I challenge you to help find ways to build healthy food systems in Alaska. At this moment we are so dependent on “lower 48” and global supplies that within three days of a serious emergency our store shelves would probably be depleted. While the “urban myth” that a food storage facility for Alaska exists in Portland is constantly bandied about, even if this were true, it would still not help in a crisis when transportation is cut off, the airplanes don’t fly, the barges don’t land and the trucks don’t roll 24/7 as they do now.

We’ve got to stop pretending that it’s OK that at least 95 percent of our food, if not more, is not Alaska Grown. We have the potential in this state to grow a substantially higher portion of our food but we need the best and most effective integrated farm production strategies, development of infrastructure and improved storage and processing facilities to make the system sustainable, and to put Alaska food on all Alaska tables.

Craig Gerlach is a professor of cross-cultural studies at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He is also a father and a farmer very interested in food systems and the sustainability of life in Alaska.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tree measurements at Reserve West beat the arrival of snow – again

Permanent marker post at Reserve West, driven down into the ground when a large spruce snag killed by the 1983 Rosie Creek Fire fell on it.

Completion of the 2011 Reserve West white spruce measurements, Oct. 5. (left to right, Randy Peterson, Glenn Juday, David Spencer).

David Spencer arriving at Reserve West hectare reference stand, in shirtsleeve weather on Sept. 27, 2011.

Where were you in the fall of 1988? Every fall since then? SNRAS Professor of Forest Ecology Glenn Juday can answer that question for these past 24 years. He and his technicians, graduate students, postdocs, and undergraduate students have measured the growth and survival of all white spruce trees in a hectare (2.47 acre) forest plot. The annual exercise takes place at Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest (BCEF) 20 miles southwest of Fairbanks.

This long-running study involves the measurement of about 2,200 trees that have been mapped at a study site Reserve West, one of six BCEF locations with hectare-scale plots called “hectare reference stands.” An article describing the BCEF forest monitoring system and history at BCEF reference stands has been accepted for a publication on long term ecological and silvicultural sites in North America, which will be published by the Global Institute for Sustainable Forestry and the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Reserve West was burned in May 1983 during the Rosie Creek Fire (see: Juday, Glenn P. 1985. The Rosie Creek Fire. Agroborealis 17(1): 11-20.). The Alaska Legislature funded the Rosie Creek Fire Research Project from 1983 to 1986. One of the studies involved establishing hectare reference plots in the three forest types most important for wood production – white spruce dominated, aspen dominated, and Alaska birch dominated stands, both burned by the Rosie Creek Fire and not burned. All trees in the six stands were mapped and measured starting in 1988, and the Reserve West hectare (burned white spruce) has been measured each year since (See: “Watching the Trees Return” Agroborealis 36: 2, (Winter 2004/2005) Pp 8-10).

Reserve West tree measurements need to be made after the growth season is completed but before the arrival of snow. This year’s effort started in the last week of August, paused for other work, and then was completed by Oct. 5. Crew members included David Spencer (Tree Ring lab technician and former UAF NRM undergraduate), Tom Grant (post-doc, and instructor in NRM 101), Randy Peterson (M.S. 2011 under Dr. Jingjing Liang). Eric Merrill, NRM undergraduate participated several days and is using data for his senior thesis project. Previous participants include Kimberley Maher (Ph.D. candidate), Emily Sousa (Geography M.S. student), Steve Winslow (NRM B.S. and M.S.), Scott Sink (NRM M.S.), and Robert Solomon (research technician).

Weather during the measurement season was unusually mild. During most years some snow falls on the measurement crew. In 2011 no measurable snowfall occurred for the first time in the 106-year Fairbanks weather record. Nearly all days the crew worked without jackets – another first. On a couple of days a pack of wolves gave an afternoon howl a couple of miles away, and grouse drumming provided a steady accompaniment to the work.

For the first time, some of the tallest trees exceeded the height of the extendable rangepole (765 cm or 25 ft) used to measure them, so a laser height measurement device (hypsometer) with a tripod mount was used. To get repeatable tree diameter measurements it’s important to measure the exact same place on the tree from year to year. In past years the crew at Reserve West has used a crayon marker, but it was causing some damage to young trees. This year a new paint applicator was used, and it seemed to work well. Future updates may give an idea of how the paint holds up. Who knows; maybe for years to come.

Tom Grant, measuring 2011 height growth with a meter stick.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sustainable Livestock Production Conference Day 1

The Sustainable Livestock Conference was a process of participation for all attendees as evidenced by the notes taken here.

We're here in Anchorage in the midst of the first workshop session of the first Sustainable Livestock Production Conference. We'll be making regular posts to this blog as the conference progresses, so please check back regularly. This morning, after an introduction by organizing committee chair Jan Rowell, SNRAS Dean Carol E. Lewis gave the opening remarks.

Dean Lewis made a powerful statement at the beginning of her comments: "I'm frightened," she said. "Our food system is threatened."And not simply, she explained, because of the problems associated with being at the end of a long food chain or the costs to our environment of the energy-intensive means to produce, market, and distribute food in our modern global food system. These are formidible in themselves, but
this threat is not because producers and supporters of agriculture are not trying, but through either lack of understanding or neglect, those who could be involved, from government officials through the private sector, have chosen not to pay attention to what is happening...
Dr. Lewis went on to explain that the conference was meant to tackle the following questions:
  • What is the knowledge bank on livestock production in Alaska?
  • What are the challenges to creating a sustainable food system in Alaska? What are the constraints that affect what we can do?
  • What are our needs?
"This conference," she said, "is designed to be participatory." Solutions will come from it, and from the people actively involved in producing meat in Alaska. The conference is important because change is coming to us, and she warned the audience, "if we do not manage change, change will manage us. We are here to effect that change."

Dr. John Ikerd (pictured above at right), professor emeritus of agricultural and applied economics of the University of Missouri at Columbia, gave the keynote address.
I'm convinced that we're at a point in time where we're at a fundamental change, a change at least as great as the Industrial Revolution. Different thinking is what it's going to take to get us through the change that's coming.
Dr. Ikerd is the author of several books on agriculture and sustainability, but he was, as he described it, for most of his professional career a firm believer in the industrial model of agriculture.
I think the Industrial Age is coming to an end in agriculture. The benefits of this industrial paradigm have been fewer and the costs greater than probably any other sector of our economy. Because of my age I've seen most of the changes of the industrial era in agriculture. In the late 1950s agriculture in the US was still mostly the diversified family farm, but was beginning to change. The factories that made tanks for World War II started turning out tractors. Gas was cheap and plentiful.... Agriculture was about to change from a way of life to a bottom-line business.

Industrialization is a reflection of a way of thinking that is seen most clearly in specialization, standardization, mechanization, and simplification, leading to consolidation. Food security is the main purpose of government involvement in agriculture. We continued to use the language of the family farm, but the assistance from experts supports consoldiation and increased efficiency so that farmers can sell more at less cost of production, so that the consumer can buy more. But this does not support the family farm.
Ikerd described how the supports provided during the latter half of the 20th century and now were aimed at increasing efficiency and reducing risk. However, he cautioned, the reduction of risk also increased the vulnerability of the agricultural system. Increase the efficiency of production, and the price of goods fall, the margin to the farmer is reduced, so farms become larger and more efficient so they can produce more--and the small farms are gradually forced out. Farm bankruptcies became common. Farmers began leaving rural areas and changing careers, moving to urban centers. This, he said, is a natural effect of the increase in efficiency.

He explained to the audience how over the years he realized that the farmers he was trying to help succeed did not do well:
The [farmers] we were trying to help who had focused most narrowly on the bottom line were the ones that were failing. The ones who'd been following the so-called experts' advice were the ones that were doing the worst, while the "laggards" as we called them, were doing a little better.
The industrial model, focusing as it did on economic efficiency, was bad for the farmers, bad for their communities, and bad for the land and its productivity. Life is about more than making a living, Ikert said. It's about the desireability of your life, and having purpose and meaning in your life.

Then came the sustainable agriculture movement in the late 1980s. Sustainable agriculture balanced the quality of life, stewardship of the land, and created ecological and social and economic integrity. Industrial agriculture had failed every test: ecological, social, even economic. And it wasn't even meeting the needs of the consumer, which it had been designed to serve.

Farms and feedlots had turned into biological assembly lines.

Despite the promise of the increases in efficiency and production, the consolidation of small farms into large ones, "industrial agriculture was an absolute failure," that has not created food security. "There is a larger percentage of the population hungry now than in the 1960s," he said, adding that our modern food system is making us sick, causing diabetes, cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and more ills, and that not only in our diet, but in the effects of how we grow, store, process, and transport it and its temporary success based on the easy availability of cheap energy. "Abundant, cheap energy made the surge possible, but it's not true now."Ikerd said:
The economic growth of the industrial era is unsustainable, and not ever likely to be repeated. It was an aberration.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

New post doc jumps into teaching NRM 101

SNRAS’s newest post-doctoral candidate Thomas Grant (pictured above) comes to Alaska after a long stint with the Denver Botanic Garden, where he researched rare plant conservation and invasive plant management.

For the past year in Alaska he has been completing his PhD and assisting Professor Glenn Juday in his dendrochronology work, studying the changes in the boreal forest and interactions with climate.

Grant grew up outside of Chicago and earned a B.S. in environmental science at the University of Denver and a master’s in environmental science at the University of Colorado Denver. His master’s thesis focused on rare plants in western Colorado and insect predation. He earned his PhD at Colorado State University, researching how invasive plants interact with the soil and how feedback affects a plant’s invasiveness, including microorganisms, nutrients and invertebrates’ interactions with plants.

He journeyed north when his wife Corrie Knapp became a RAP student at UAF. His post-doc research will include studying the quality of caribou’s winter habitat and how habitat quality is related to forest succession and development (fire and lichens). “We’re seeking better information on the quality of habitat and what to expect from changing fire regimes and climate,” Grant said.

Grant is also an adjunct professor, teaching Natural Resources Management 101 this fall. The class draws one of the largest student pools SNRAS has. Associate Professor Susan Todd, who ordinarily teaches NRM 101, is on sabbatical this year so the class is led by Dean and Director Carol Lewis, Associate Dean Stephen Sparrow and Professor John Yarie, with Grant the instructor of record.

“I’m excited,” Grant said. “I like teaching. I enjoyed it at the botanic garden and the University of Denver and I was a guest lecturer at CSU.”

He said he will try to convey to students that if they like the outdoors, careers in natural resource management are an excellent path. “You work to manage and conserve the land properly,” he said. “It’s a great track; it’s a job with meaning in things you care about. It’s dynamic and you never know what you are going to be doing. You might be at your computer in the morning and in a helicopter by afternoon.”

In his free time, Grant enjoys mountain climbing, snowboarding, skateboarding, botanizing, traveling, bicycle touring and spending time with his wife.

Monday, October 10, 2011

It's official: The borough loves Food Day!

On Oct. 10 Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins signed a proclamation supporting Food Day. With him is Carol Lewis, dean of the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and director of the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. In the background are reindeer from the Reindeer Research Program. Oct. 24 is Food Day in Fairbanks and all across the nation. UAF will celebrate with food-related exhibits, an "Iron Chef" cookoff, a food Jeopardy game, lectures and films.

Food Day Proclamation

WHEREAS, the health and well-being of our citizens is of primary concern for the Fairbanks North Star Borough, and reducing obesity and diet-related diseases by promoting safe and healthy diets is a critical factor in improving citizens’ overall health; and

WHEREAS, supporting sustainable family farms and local agriculture benefits the local economy. Obtaining fair pay and safe conditions for food and farm workers is beneficial for both the producer and consumer so that the food we produce and consume is safe and fair for all; and

WHEREAS, expanding access to food and ending hunger is of critical importance to aid those who live in food deserts; and

WHEREAS, curbing junk-food marketing aimed at children is vitally important in order to combat rising obesity rates and raise a generation of healthy children; and

WHEREAS, protecting the environment and farm animals is necessary to sustain future generations:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Luke Hopkins, Mayor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough, Alaska, and by the authority vested in me do hereby proclaim

Monday, October 24, 2011



throughout our community, and I urge all citizens to participate in the activities planned hereforth.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this 24th day of October 2011.


Luke Hopkins, Mayor

Fairbanks North Star Borough



Mona Lisa Drexler, MMC

Municipal Borough Clerk

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Food Day to arrive Oct. 24

Deciding what to eat can have many implications. Food Day is a day set aside to think about that.

Food touches the lives of everyone and in recognition of that a new national event begins this year. Just as Earth Day is celebrated every April 22, Food Day will be held every Oct. 24.

The goals are to reduce diet-related disease by promoting safe, healthy foods; support sustainable farms and limit subsidies to big agribusiness; expand access to food and alleviate hunger; protect the environment and animals by reforming factory farms; promote health by curbing junk-food marketing to kids; support fair conditions for food and farm workers.

In Fairbanks, Food Day has already been recognized with an official proclamation signed by Mayor Luke Hopkins, and UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service and the UAF Anthropology Society are hosting an event at the Wood Center Oct. 24 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

On the agenda are a Food Jeopardy game, “Iron Chef” cookoff, demonstrations, exhibits, a Taste of Alaska booth, lectures and a film, Seeds of Deception. Exhibitors include:

UAF Student Health & Counseling Center
UAF Cooperative Extension Service
Ethnobotany program
UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences
Johnson Family Farm
Calypso Farm and Ecology Center
Ester Seed Library Program
Alaska Community Agriculture Association
Farm to School
Reindeer Research Program
UAF Sustainability
Fairbanks Soil & Water Conservation District
Chena Hot Springs Resort
Homegrown Market
Fairbanks Community Cooperative Market
Georgeson Botanical Garden
School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences
Stone Soup Cafe
Alaska Center for Natural Medicine
Alaska Youth for Environmental Action
Center for Alaska Native Health Research

The Anthropology Society is planning the lectures and films. At 1 p.m. "Fresh" will be shown upstairs in the Wood Center Room E/F and at 3 p.m. "Seeds of Deception."

In the ballroom, lectures will begin at 1 p.m., with Rich Seifert, UAF energy and housing specialist, identifying the components necessary for healthy sustainable living, such as food security, health and housing.

At 2 p.m., Rose Meier and Amy Breen will present "Ethnobotany: Traditional Uses and Knowledge of Native Plants." Breen is a post-doctoral fellow in the UA Geography Program and Rose is the head of the Ethnobotany Certificate Program through the Kuskokwim Campus.

At 3 p.m. there will be a talk by Marsha Munsell of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service. The topic is "Fermentation: A New Look at an Old Preservation Method." Munsell will describe the history and health benefits of using fermentation methods for preserving food and teach the basics of how to do it.

Food Day is free and open to everyone. Park in the Nenana or Taku lots ($3 for the day) and take the shuttle to the Wood Center. For more information contact Nancy Tarnai, or 474-5042.

In Anchorage, the Alaska Center for the Environment and St. Elias Specialty Hospital are hosting events. The Sitka Food Co-op is sponsoring a "dinner and movie night" Oct. 22 at Harrigan Centennial Hall. The film Fresh! will be shown and an organic dinner will be served by Sitka Spruce Catering.

SNRAS professor is part of publishing team for controversial fuel report

SNRAS Assistant Professor Andy Soria co-authored a National Academy of Sciences report that was released yesterday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The report, Renewable Fuel Standard: Potential Economic and Environmental Effects of U.S. Biofuel Policy,” is garnering much media and academic attention because it predicts a gloomy future for cellulosic ethanol (made from corn stalks, wood chips or other non-food items). The study advocates the right renewable fuels and specifies that the RFS2mandate of 36 billion gallons will not be met in the 2022 timeframe without major technology breakthroughs.

Authoring organizations are the Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Board on Energy and Environmental Systems, Earth and Life Studies and Engineering and Physical Sciences.

Soria said, "Our group concurred that the ethanol mandate was not the right tool to get biofuels to the market place and that ethanol is not the best choice of biofuels from an environmental and economical standpoint. That being said, the opportunity continues to be there as it takes years of research and development to develop a competitive performing fuel. New technology averages 30 years to make it into market and over 50 to stand on its own. For the record, oil and gas new products take between 15 to 20 years, so the report does highlight the need for continued support of the next generation fuels."

The report came following the U.S. Congress’s enactment of the Renewable Fuels Standard as part of the 2005 Energy Policy Act which was amended in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act. The RFS mandated that volumes of renewable fuels be used in U.S. transportation fuel from 2008 to 2022. At the request of the U.S. Congress, the National Research Council convened a committee of 16 experts to provide an independent assessment of the economic and environmental benefits and concerns associated with achieving the desired goal.

The committee solicited input from experts in federal agencies, academia, trade associations, stakeholders’ groups and nongovernmental organizations.

The committee was asked to:

  • Describe biofuels produced in 2010 and projected to be produced and consumed by 2022 using RFS-compliant feedstocks primarily from U.S. forests and farmland. The 2022 projections were to include per unit cost of production.
  • Review model projections and other estimates of the relative effects of increasing biofuels production as a result of RFS2 on the prices of land, food and feed and forest products; on the imports and exports of relevant commodities; and on federal revenue and spending.
  • Discuss the potential environmental harm and benefits of biofuels production and the barriers to achieving the mandate.

The buzz:

The Hill

Vilsack’s comment to Feedstuff

Renewable Fuels Association

Renewable Fuels Association

Minnesota Public Radio

Des Moines Register


Growth Energy

USA Today

R&D Magazine

Ethanol Producers

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Farm to School issues challenge

The Division of Agriculture will promote Alaska Grown food in the state’s schools and celebrate National Farm to School Month by launching a Farm to School Challenge.

Last year, Congress designated October as National Farm to School Month, recognizing the important role that Farm to School programs play in promoting good nutrition and strong economies. The Division of Agriculture launched a state Farm to School program last year.

What does it involve?
•Eligible applicants (see below) will propose a farm-to-school project for the competition.
•Participation can result in great prizes, such as an indoor growing kit or a guest appearance from a local food celebrity and publicity for your school.
•State-wide and national recognition.
•For a complete list of prizes and ideas for projects, go to

Who is eligible?
•Anyone who has engaged in or plans to engage in FTS activities during the 2011-2012 school year, including school principals, teachers, students, school food service staff, community advocates, culinary experts, gardeners, distributors, processors, parents and more.

Where to apply?
•Fill out the electronic or paper application.

When can I apply?
•Survey opened Oct. 3 and will end at 5 p.m. on Nov. 4. Paper applications will be accepted during the same timeframe.

Contact Johanna Herron.

Take the challenge: dine on food stamp budget for a week

The UAF Cooperative Extension Service is challenging Alaskans to live off the weekly food stamp budget Oct. 9-15.

The food stamp challenge aims to raise awareness of the difficulty of eating well on the food stamp budget. Participants limit their food purchases to the amount of the weekly food stamp benefit, which is $55 for a single Alaska adult who lives on the road system and up to $85 for residents of remote, rural communities. That works out to $8 to $12 a day.

Challenge organizer Helen Idzorek, of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service, coordinates two nutrition education programs that work with low-income Alaskans. She said other states and members of Congress have participated in the challenge.

And it is a challenge, Idzorek said, especially since food stamps are intended to be a supplemental program and bolstered by contributions from wages, food banks and other programs. “Unfortunately, for a lot of people, that’s not the case.”

As of February 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that 76,488 Alaskans received food stamps, or about one in nine residents. Participation in the program has increased substantially in recent years. According to the Division of Public Assistance, Alaska food stamp usage was up by 72 percent for the five-year period that ended July 2011.

All food purchased and eaten during the challenge week must be included in the total. Participants may not eat food from their pantry or freezer and must avoid accepting free food. Idzorek and other Extension nutrition educators are participating in the challenge. She hopes participants will send her their week’s food diary, recipes and strategies they used, as well as comments about the experience. These will be used anonymously in a display as part of an Oct. 24 celebration of National Food Day on the UAF campus.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Woodsmen gather for a day of old-time competition

While birling may get the most attention, the log rolling event is one of the toughest aspects of the Forest Fest!

You've never seen so many Carhartts since the famous Fairbanks Carhartt ball went defunct. True outdoors attire was the order of the day Saturday at the 14th annual Farthest North Forest Sports Festival, but it wasn't for show.

The folks bedecked in insulated coveralls and plaid flannel shirts were on hand to compete in the traditional woodsmen's competition, held every first Saturday in October at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm and Ballaine Lake.

The gorgeous fall weather drew nearly unprecedented crowds and not only was a good time had by nearly all, but no one chopped any fingers off the entire day!

Winners were:

  • Bull of the Woods: Thomas Robertson.
  • Belle of the Woods: Megan Perry
  • Overall Team: "Extra Tuff," Isaac Mackey, Leah Mackey, Andrew Brenner, Nina Schwinghammer
  • Double Buck Men's: Pete Buist and Jamie Hollingsworth
  • Double Buck, Women's: Suvi Autio and Erika Tobin
  • Double Buck, Jack & Jill: Nelson Crone and Kristen Shake
  • Bow Saw, Men's: Britton Kerin
  • Bow Saw, Women's: Ruby Baxter
  • Ax Throw, Men's: Nelson Crone and Joe Campbell
  • Ax Throw, Women's: Imuya Dooley
  • Log Rolling, Men's: John Hogue and Thomas Robertson
  • Log Rolling, Women's: Megan Perry and Amy Tippery
  • Log Rolling, Jack & Jill: Thomas Robertson and Megan Perry
  • Pulp Toss: "Valley Trash & Nina:" Brendon Bruns, Mike Kelley, Isaac Mackey, Allan Spangler
  • Birling, Men's: Allan Spangler
  • Birling, Women's: Emily Hemenway
  • Fire Building: "Timber:" Joe Campbell and Ethan Stephens

Thanks to everyone for attending and helping, said Professor David Valentine, this year's event coordinator. For the first 13 years, Associate Professor (now emeritus) John Fox was in charge of the Forest Fest but with Fox's retirement this past spring, the ax was handed over to Valentine.

Give a woman an ax...and watch her throw!

Birling is a good way to cool off on a crisp fall day. Wait a minute...

In preparation for the Forest Fest Eric Haberin (left) and Karl Holt shaved their beards and took on Mohawk hairdos.

Fire building is a tough sport. You get one piece of wood, an ax, five matches and a can of water. The first team to bring the water to a boil is the winner.

Further reading:

Crowd lets the sawdust fly at Fairbanks' lumberjack games, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Oct. 2, 2011, by Reba Lean

UAF limbers up for forest games, UAF Sun Star, Sept. 27, 2011, by Fernanda Chamorro