Friday, January 20, 2012

Professor Zhang takes sabbatical

Associate Professor Mingchu Zhang (pictured at left) will be on sabbatical until April 30. His goal is to visit China to study peony-growing techniques.

“They have thousands of years of history that could benefit the growers here,” Zhang said. Interest in peony production in Alaska has blossomed in the past few years and Zhang would like to increase his knowledge so he can advise the growers about best practices. He would like to travel to Youngzhou in southern China, Heze in the north and Luoyang in central China if time allows since these three are the peony research centers in China. In Luoyang, there will be a large peony fair in April, where Zhang plans to take photos and make connections with the experts.

“We have the dream to create a similar situation in Alaska,” Zhang said.

During his sabbatical, Zhang will also work on a publication about using fish waste as organic fertilizer. This manual for organic amendments will assist farmers in methods of “building” their own fertilizer.

Also on the agenda are visits to universities in Wuhan and the Jilin Agricultural University to recruit students for the two-plus-two program, which allows students who attend their first two years of college in China to complete their undergraduate degrees at UAF.

Zhang is chair of the High Latitude Agriculture department. During his absence, Professor Meriam Karlsson will temporarily assume that position.

Zhang timed his sabbatical so he would be back in Alaska just in time for field work. “I have tons of things to do and can’t miss the summer growing season,” Zhang said.

(UAF photo by Todd Paris)

Greenhouse, peony conferences next week

Back-to-back conferences in Girdwood Jan. 25-27 will provide support for the Alaska horticulture industry.

The Alaska Greenhouse and Nursery Conference, Jan. 25–26, and the Alaska Peony Growers Conference, Jan. 26-27, will take place at Alyeska Resort. The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service will host both conferences.

Stephen Brown, agriculture and horticulture agent for the Mat-Su/Copper River District, said the 31st annual Greenhouse and Nursery Conference is geared to everything from large greenhouse and landscape operations to small mom-and-pop horticulture businesses. Presentations will cover fertilizer calibration, new technologies, Rhodiola rosea production, flowers and marketing. Guest speaker John Gaydos of Proven Winners, an international cooperative of plant breeders, will talk about growing tips and selecting the right plants to grow. Colorado Extension agent Mary Small will discuss horticultural marketing ideas.

The sixth annual Peony Growers Conference will have a business focus, said Julie Riley, Extension horticulture agent for the Anchorage District. Topics will include collaborative marketing, selling to different market segments, and business plans and models. Diane Szukovathy from Jello Mold Farm in Washington state will talk about growing perennial flowers for the cut-flower market, and a panel of soils experts will discuss what growers need to know.

Riley said peonies have generated great interest among Alaska producers because the flowers bloom in Alaska when they are not available elsewhere in the world. Alaska production is estimated to grow to more than $1 million a year by 2015, according to the Alaska Peony Growers Association winter 2012 newsletter.

Agendas and registration information for both conferences may be found here.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ethnoecology class offered for spring semester

A new class, Ethnoecology, will be offered at UAF for spring semester. Taught by Professor Craig Gerlach (pictured at right), this course surveys the basic concepts of ethnoecology, which is the subject of new epistemological and methodological directions resulting from the rise of interdisciplinary linkages between and among the social, natural and ecological sciences and by new interests in traditional or indigenous knowledge.

Ethnoecology is the scientific study of the way different groups of people in different locations understand the world around them, interact with the environment and how these interactions and relationships are spatially structured and sustained over time.

"Through the course we will cover all basic areas of the globe, review methods and techniques for collecting and analyzing ethnological data and draw examples from ethnobotany and ethnozoology," Gerlach said. "The new and emerging field of a different ethnoecology offers new insights into human-environment interactions and of the sacred and secular relationship of people to place."

The course number is CCS F612. It is a three-credit graduate-level class that will meet on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Call 474-6752 for more information.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

SNRAS professor assists with Nome icebreaker mission

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy at right approaches the Russian tanker Renda while breaking ice south of Nome, Jan. 10. (photo by U.S. Coast Guard)

During the last couple of nights when SNAP Assistant Professor Keith Cunningham has received email requesting his help in the wee hours, he doesn’t just catch more zzzz’s; he jumps to his computer and gets to work.

As the Coast Guard Cutter Healy and the Russian fuel tanker following its struggle to reach Nome through the frozen Bering Sea, Cunningham is playing an exciting role, albeit one where he is huddled over his computer dressed in his pajamas.

High-resolution photographs collected from an unmanned aerial system (remote-controlled helicopter) are sent to Cunningham, who uses the information to produce 3-D mapping images that predict possible scenarios facing the Healy as it proceeds toward Nome. “The image mosaics and 3-D models of the ice are then returned to the Poker Flat team who are working there. The imagery and data are also forwarded to the U.S. Coast Guard and also to the oil spill people at the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

“We’re on the bleeding edge,” Cunningham (pictured at left) said. “This is the first live-trail and everything we do we are learning from. It's a very different dynamic to work in, compared to a rehearsed exercise.”

Cunningham said there was a trial flight with the unmanned aerial system on Tuesday, and he and other scientists figured out how to calibrate the data collection. “Wednesday we had two very good flights and got preliminary imagery of the ice and ice pressure ridges blocking the harbor entrance,” he said. “Today (Thursday) we are doing another half-dozen fights.”

Several hundred high-resolution images collected yesterday and today will be massaged into a single, but very large and very detailed aerial image. The process is called ortho-mosaicing and Cunningham teaches this technology in his remote sensing course. The same imagery can also create (3-D) surface models and Cunningham teaches this technology at UAF.

Cunningham said he will most likely use this experience when he works with two graduate students doing independent study this spring to further research 3-D mapping. He will also be working closely with an undergraduate, David Broome, who will be creating 3-D photo-models of various buildings on campus to include in Google Earth.

While Nome is not exactly in dire straits (it has enough fuel till March) if the ship doesn’t get there soon, fuel could have to eventually be flown in. All in all, Cunningham said the reason UAF is assisting is in case of an oil spill. “Since the tanker probably won’t be able to enter the harbor, the fuel will have to be off loaded using a mile-long hose.”

Meanwhile, Cunningham is on guard for emails from the Coast Guard and is standing by to assist.

The type of image Dr. Cunningham is producing: this one is of a pressure ridge.

Further reading:

Drone Helping Mission to Ship Fuel to Alaska Town, by The Associated Press, Jan. 11, 2012

Coast Guard Cutter Healy escorts the tanker Renda, Anchorage Daily News (slide show

Renda and Healy Play Waiting Game in Journey to Nome, MSNBC, by Rhonda McBride (KTUU-TV)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sustainable ag conference set for March

The eighth annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference is scheduled for March 14-15 at the Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge. Two pre-conference workshops will kick off the event on March 13. Anyone interested in farming, eating local and cultivating mushrooms and other foods is welcome to attend.

In past years, pre-conference workshops have drawn more than 100 participants, with attendance nearing 200 at the two-day conference. Folks travel from communities all across Alaska.

This year’s morning pre-conference workshop will focus on farming as a business and how to maintain profitable management strategies. John Collins of Alaska Farmland Trust will present the business-planning workshop, designed specifically for farmers and persons interested in starting a farm.

The afternoon pre-conference workshop, presented by Glenn Coville of Wild Branch Valley Farm, Craftsbury, Vt., will focus on cultivating mushrooms. The workshop will begin with a short presentation on his commercial mushroom operation followed by a hands-on segment on cultivating mushrooms in straw. Various mushrooms and growing methods will be discussed.

Coville operates Wild Branch Valley Farm with the help of his wife and three young boys. His 240-acre certified organic family farm consists of open fields, forests and riparian areas, vegetable fields, pastures for beef cattle, high tunnels, grow rooms for mushrooms and spawn laboratories. The Covilles produce a large variety of specialty mushrooms and mushroom products, including spawn, and a line of medicinal mushroom teas, mixed vegetables, flowers and grass-fed beef. The farm is an example of a diversified and sustainable farm in a northern environment. Colville returns to his home state to share his knowledge of mushroom cultivation and farming experience.

Many farmers, community members and agencies from across the state will present on a wide variety of topics from business and marketing to farm safety and livestock. Other topics include Alaska’s only flour company, the history of plant varieties developed in Alaska, a community seed library, innovative farm contraptions, peony growing and marketing, gardening projects in Fort Yukon and more.

Local food efforts will be addressed with presentations from farmers markets, schools and universities, and a panel discussion between restaurateurs and farmers.

Following conference activities March 14, the Alaska Community Agriculture Association will host its annual meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. This group of Alaska farmers, gardeners and community members is interested in supporting and promoting sustainable local food systems. Come and hear what they are doing; the event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served.

New this year — and in the spirit “eating local” — conference planners are excited to include Alaska grown produce in meals during the three-day event. A number of local farmers and the catering staff of the Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge are working together to serve Alaska grown products.

Interested people are invited to attend this informative and exciting conference, which is sponsored by the Alaska Division of Agriculture, Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District, Equipment Source Inc., USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Western Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, UAF Office of Sustainability and UAF Cooperative Extension Service.

For more information on the conference, including agenda updates, accommodations and registration details, visit here.

Taylor Maida is the Tanana District agriculture and horticulture program assistant for the Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She can be reached at 474-2422.

(Article provided by UAF Cooperative Extension Service.)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ag leader passes away in Palmer

Leslie Joe "Buzz" Klebesadel, 83 and an agricultural leader in Alaska, died Dec. 30, 2011.

He was born Aug. 18, 1928, on a dairy farm in Wisconsin.

In 1949 when he was 20, Klebesadel first came to the Territory of Alaska after accepting an invitation from his uncle, Harlow Hodgson, to work at Palmer's USDA Agricultural Experiment Station. Having then left Alaska to enroll at the University of Wisconsin Madison, he came back for the summer of 1953, then went on to earn his doctorate from UW in 1957 with honors.

While attending UW, Leslie met his future wife, Mary Jane Kleinheinz, after being seated alphabetically next to her in a physics class. They married Jan. 22, 1955, and due to his growing love for Alaska, he convinced Mary Jane to move to Alaska with him in 1957, suggesting it was just for two years - three years tops.

They settled in the Matanuska Valley and lived there the rest of his life, raising five children at their hilltop home near Palmer. He dedicated his career to expanding the world's knowledge of adapting forage crops to northern latitudes, for both individual and global benefit.

Klebesadel served as the first director of Palmer Community College and later taught courses there after it became Matanuska-Susitna College. He authored more than 90 scientific publications and co-authored another 20 more. He retired in 1987 as University of Alaska Professor Emeritus following 30 years of research on forage crop management, adaptation to northern climates and plant physiology with the university and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

From an early age, he enjoyed illustrating. With an aspiration to become a professional cartoonist, he worked to refine his illustrating and writing abilities. He had always been intrigued by how striking the map of the state of Alaska resembled the side view of a man's face. From that, the character "Old Al Aska" was conceived; a Sourdough-styled character epitomizing and giving tribute to that group of "old timers" and pioneers of early Alaska. An "Old Al Aska" cartoon and poetic-story were published weekly in the early Frontiersman newspaper editions for several years during the 1960s. Those cartoon-stories eventually were compiled in books, "Observations on This ‘n' That by Old Al Aska" and "The Sourdough Sage and Bard of the Boondocks." In recent years, he penned two more comedic-themed books.

Klebesadel also felt that Alaska should celebrate an event exemplifying the long days and perpetual sunlight Alaskans get to enjoy. As such, he and some associates created the Mid-Summer Festival in 1971. The theme he created to celebrate the event was the story of "Grotto-Lunkers," semi-mythical creatures awakened annually on the longest day only to congregate in Palmer before returning to slumber.

Klebesadel loved Alaska, which can be best shown by borrowing a few lines from a poem in his Old Al Aska book titled "Thanksgiving:"
We're thankful now fer folks whose vision laid this land's foundations,
Whose sacrifices built it to the finest of the nations,
There's so much that we're thankful fer - if all the things were told,
By the time I finished half the list, my dinner'd sure be cold!
So, briefly, thanks fer Pilgrims long ago an' far away,
An' thanks fer this here moose roast a steaming here today,
An' thanks fer all the care Ya give, whether or not we ask Ya,
An' last of all, but best of all, thank Ya fer ALASKA!

He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Mary Jane; and all their children, their spouses and grandchildren, Lani, Dan (Janet, Amy and Shauna), Jim (Lindell, Hannah and Emma), Bill (Lucy, Jennifer and Danielle) and Tom (Dylan, Morgan and Rayanne).

Anyone desiring to contribute is encouraged to make a donation to a charity of choice. He would appreciate knowing that others "down the trail" would be able to benefit in some way by his life's impact on others.

A memorial service is at 4 p.m., Jan. 5 at United Protestant Church in Palmer, 713 S. Denali St.

SNRAS Dean and AFES Director Carol Lewis said Les Klebesadel will be missed by all who knew him at the school and farm. "His work on forage crops in Alaska helped improve livestock production through better pasture conditions and new varieties," she said.