Wednesday, February 29, 2012

CES ag agent hopefuls present their stories

The top four candidates for Cooperative Extension’s Tanana District agriculture and horticulture agent will make community presentations this week and next.

The finalists and their presentation dates are: Steven Seefeldt, March 1; Toby Day, March 6; Heidi Rader, March 7; and Mike Emers, March 8. The presentations will begin at 10 a.m. at the Tanana District office at 724 27th Ave., at the rear of the Fairbanks Community Food Bank building.

The candidates will highlight their experience with community education and their vision for agriculture and horticulture Extension in the Tanana District and at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. A question-and-answer session will follow each 45-minute presentation.

Seefeldt is a research agronomist for the Agricultural Research Service in Fairbanks. Day is the Extension horticulture associate specialist and the master gardener coordinator for Montana State University Extension. Rader is the tribes Extension educator for UAF Cooperative Extension and the Tanana Chiefs Conference, and Emers is the owner of Rosie Creek Farm, a 40-acre organic farm near Fairbanks.

The public may participate at videoconference sites at the UAF campus and in Delta Junction. The first three presentations will be on videoconference at 307 O’Neill Building on UAF’s West Ridge and the final presentation will be at 245 O’Neill. The Delta Junction videoconference site is at the Delta Career Advancement Center.

Parties may also participate by audioconference by calling 800-893-8850 and entering the PIN 5711553. Audio participants are asked to call in by 9:55 a.m.

Monday, February 27, 2012

SNRAS student ready to begin Peace Corps service in The Gambia

Samantha Straus on the Na Pali coast in Kauai. (Photo by Sarah Betcher)

When SNRAS graduate student Samantha Straus leaves the Sub-Arctic for the Sub-Sahara she’ll miss Fairbanks’ snow, the Aurora Borealis and cross-country skiing. Straus, a Master’s International Program student who is combining graduate work with Peace Corps service, departs Feb. 29 for two years of Peace Corps service in the African country, The Gambia.

“Fairbanks is the first place I ever felt at home in my adult life,” Straus said. “I will miss my Fairbanks family, but I won’t miss 40 below.”

Before traveling to Africa, Straus will be in Washington, D.C., for one day for staging in prep for the Peace Corps, then she will go to Senegal for three months to train and eventually to The Gambia for her assignment. “I am looking forward to the challenges I’ll be facing and the opportunities to work internationally and multi-culturally,” Straus said.

The natural resources student is looking forward to seeing environmental issues in a different part of the world and to see how people there tackle the issues. At this point, she isn’t sure where she will be placed. “I’m keeping an open mind,” she said. “If I’m in a city that will be OK but I would be excited to live as rural as possible.”

Her role will be environmental education, but she isn’t sure exactly how it will be manifested. “I hope to work with children, planting trees and doing science experiments,” she said. “It is the kids we will be putting our future in the hands of. They can go home and teach their parents. It really starts with young kids, instilling responsible stewardship.”

Preparing for the trip has been a lesson in itself. Straus is intent on packing only what she needs but also in not purchasing things she already owns once she gets to Africa. Her emphasis at UAF has been on waste management so she wants to carry that philosophy with her. She’ll definitely be packing tropical clothes, vitamins and protein powder. Her concessions to technology include her iPod and a laptop. “I am a graduate student after all,” she said. The laptop has a solar battery charger.

From what she’s read she’ll be eating a lot of rice once she gets to The Gambia. That might be a bit worrisome but she also is nervous about political strife and whether a young American woman will be readily accepted.

“To be an effective Peace Corps volunteer you have to be willing to go with the flow and deal with whatever comes and do the best you can,” she said. “I see this as a great experience to start getting into the game of natural resources management. What better place to start? It’s a difficult place, a vibrant place with so much history and culture. It’s a great opportunity.”

While at UAF, Straus worked with the Office of Sustainability to obtain a grant for software that shuts off computers at night. The university is testing the program and tracking the energy savings, which appear to be significant. She also put together a series of sustainable movie nights, every Monday this semester at 8 p.m. at The Pub.

In two years, Straus will return to UAF to complete her graduate work. “This is going to be a life teaching experience. I think Alaska will be my home because Alaska has my heart,” Straus said.

Meanwhile she is contemplating the challenges she will face in the field. “The Peace Corps is about exchanging culture,” she said. “You just do what you can with what you have and try to build capacity.”

Follow Straus's adventures at her blog.

Previous post:
Peace Corps assigns Straus to The Gambia, SNRAS Science & News, Nov. 8, 2011

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Peace Corps grad student presents Monday

Matt Helt enjoyed working with children so much during his Peace Corps service that he said they are what he will always remember the most about his experiences in Paraguay.

SNRAS Master’s International student Matthew Helt will give a presentation Monday, Feb. 27 about his Peace Corps experiences in Paraguay.

Helt, 27, had always wanted to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer and while browsing the Master’s International Program website UAF caught his eye. He had studied government and international politics at George Mason University and wanted something more tangible, so selected natural resources management. “What better location than Alaska?” he said. “I had heard my Dad talk about wanting to visit Alaska since he was my age.”

Helt’s said his desire to serve in the Peace Corps came about because he had taken for granted what it’s like to live in a country with a functioning government, to have parents who love and care for you and to be enrolled in an education system that sets you up for success. “In America, we have many amazing material things that everyone around the world wants,” he said. “What they need are good governance, loving parents and quality education; I learned to appreciate those. I also got an extensive course in Murphy's Law.”

Helt served in Paraguay for two years as an agroforestry volunteer. He did a lot of work gardening, cooking and mentoring young people.

The Master’s International Program is for students willing to do whatever is available with limited resources, Helt said. “In the end it’s a great program with great people but the administrative side can trip you up.” Transitioning from graduate school to Peace Corps and back has been challenging too, Helt said. “In the end though I wouldn’t trade it for any other program.”

While finishing up his graduate work (research project on agroforestry adoption in communities where other agroforestry Peace Corps volunteers have served), Helt is working at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center in downtown Fairbanks, providing public lands information, trip planning assistance and resource education for locals and visitors. “I’m still learning about the many activities Alaska has to offer and I enjoy sharing my experiences with others so they may enjoy this state as much as I have.”

In the Master’s International Program, students may pursue several areas of interest within the UAF Natural Resources Management M.S. degree, including horticulture, soil science, agronomy, animal science, forest ecology, silviculture, resource economics, land planning, parks/recreation management and resource policy. The university provides a six-credit tuition waiver for Peace Corps Master’s International students, and allows them to maintain their active student status during their assignment. Contact Professor Steve Sparrow for more information.

Helt’s presentation is free and open to everyone. It will be Feb. 27 at 3:30 p.m. in the International Arctic Research Center, Room 401. Parking is available behind the building for a $3 fee.

Previous posts:

Update from SNRAS Peace Corps student, SNRAS Science & News, Jan. 8, 2010

Graduate student assigned to Paraguay, SNRAS Science & News, Dec. 12, 2008

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Peony business blooms in Alaska

By Taylor Maida, UAF Cooperative Extension Service

Who would have guessed cut flowers would be Alaska’s up and coming agricultural crop? Of all flowers to sell from Alaska’s fields, would you have guessed peonies?

Peonies have large blossoms and bold colors. Many of them have an incredible fragrance. These flowers are a favorite among brides, flower lovers and florists. Alaska’s late summer can provide peony blooms from July-September when no other place in the world can produce a peony bloom.

If you think about it from a business standpoint, in the summer many people marry, and others want to fill their homes and events with blooms of the season. This high-demand summer crop could be sold in markets Outside and be a source of income for the state’s horticulture industry. The price that can be charged for the flowers for is more than in the Lower 48 because no one has them at the same time.

The new industry is gaining interest among all sorts of people — retired graphic designers, moms, flower lovers, university researchers and farmers. Peony growers and potential growers of all backgrounds recently met at the Alaska Peony Growers Association Conference in Girdwood. Growing peonies is developing into an exciting new endeavor for Alaska.

The Alaska Peony Growers Association Inc. says, “In 2011, 10,000 stems were sold for an average of $4 per stem and there are over 50,000 peony roots in the ground on peony farms in Alaska.”

That is a substantial number because one peony plant can produce up to 10 stems depending on the variety. Not all the flowers are going to be marketable, but that is a good start for Alaska’s peony industry.

The Alaska Peony Growers Association is driving this industry. The association has become a trade group. Members of the group exchange information about growing and marketing techniques and what is working on different farms across the state.

The association seeks to meet the demand for these flowers by working as a group. Members with small growing operations can sell their highest quality cut flowers to a larger operation with a refrigerator unit and packaging capabilities to reach broader markets and help meet demand.

The group recently received the Alaska Grown Specialty Crop Competitive Grant from the Alaska Division of Agriculture to research what nutrients peonies take from the soil. This is important new research as the industry grows because little has been done on fertilizer application rates, pesticide recommendations and rates, and best handling practices for Alaska.

The Alaska Peony Growers Association, UAF Botanical Gardens and UAF Cooperative Extension Service are working together to gather more data to help this industry thrive.

The Girdwood conference, held in January, had a record-breaking attendance. There were more than 120 people registered for the conference; more than forty percent of those had never attended a peony growers conference before.

Six years ago, the first conference was held in Fairbanks and a handful of attendees were present. Many people who attended this year’s conference have never grown peonies and were interested in finding out how to get into the business and what they need to know to get peonies in the ground. Many are learning it takes money, lots of business and garden planning, dedication and hard work to grow peonies successfully.

Patience also is needed. Peony plants take about five years after you plant them to start producing flowers that can be cut for production. It’s not a get rich quick crop, but a potentially rewarding investment of Alaska’s agricultural future.

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.

Friday, February 17, 2012

UAF/Northern Marianas College partner for student success

UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers signs the agreement as Northern Marianas College President Sharon Hart looks on.

A recent agreement between UAF and Northern Marianas College will allow NMC students to complete bachelor’s degrees in natural resources management in Fairbanks and for UAF students to study in Saipan.

“This is a major step to bridging the effort we started several years ago,” said Raaj Kurapati, associate vice chancellor at UAF. The cooperation began when representatives from each school connected at Agricultural Development in the American Pacific and Pacific Land Grant Alliance meetings. “It’s the tip of the iceberg for building mutual cooperation,” Kurapati added.

“This is an opportunity for our students looking for internationalization,” UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers said. “It will expose them to other cultures and provide a richer experience. They will be better prepared for life if they have studied abroad.”

Sharon Hart, president of NMC, was in Fairbanks in January to tour the city and campus and meet with UAF leaders. “This is extremely unique considering we are a community college that will now offer a four-year program,” Hart said. Both UAF and NMC are land-grant institutions.

The agreement, signed by Chancellor Rogers and President Hart, calls for fostering cooperation in education and research, exchanging publications and academic information, exchanging faculty, research scholars and students, performing joint research and providing technical and administrative assistance.

“It’s a mixed-media approach,” said School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences Dean and Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station Director Carol Lewis. “We have slowly laid the groundwork for a firm cooperation.”

NMC currently offers an associate’s degree in natural resources management. “The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands took heavy shelling during World War II which destroyed their forests,” Lewis explained. “As the climate continues to change sea levels are rising and there is concern about the water supply. There is an escalating desire to build capacity in natural resources management.”

NMC receives funding for students from the Division of Insular Affairs in the Department of the Interior. There are 10 scholarships available for students to complete their B.S. degrees.

While the “two plus two” program will begin with the natural resources degree, it is hoped that more programs will be added in the future.

The signing party was attended by (left to right) SNRAS Dean and AFES Director Carol Lewis, Northern Marianas College President Sharon Hart, UAF Associate Vice Chancellor Raaj Kurapati, UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers and UAF Vice Chancellor for Students Mike Sfraga.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Swap seeds, anyone?

The John Trigg Ester Library’s new program, Growing Ester’s Biodiversity (GEB), is pleased to announce its first seed-sharing event, Feb. 18 at Hartung Hall in Ester. The GEB program hopes that this event will encourage local food security and inspire similar events across the state.

Come share your seeds, meet fellow gardeners, find out about seed-saving and local agriculture, and help keep heirloom and Alaska-adapted vegetables, herbs, and flowers growing strong! Gardeners are encouraged to bring heirloom, organic, or other sustainable varieties, and seeds they have saved themselves from plants you know to grow well in the Interior and that will breed true.

Set up at 3, trading begins at 3:30 p.m. Some seed packets and small containers will be provided, but bring envelopes and as much information about your seeds as possible to share with other gardeners. Information on seed-saving and other topics will be provided. Farmers, greenhouses, garden clubs, and CSAs are invited to share information and literature on their offerings for the public to take away. Parking and beverages are available at the Golden Eagle Saloon down the street. See complete guidelines for the seed swap and the GEB Facebook event page for more information.

No seeds? No problem! Come on by anyway! This is all about sharing information, seeds, and a good time! There will plenty of extras, so if you don't have any seeds yet, you will after this event. Seed swaps are a time-honored way for gardeners and farmers to share the natural bounty of their local garden plants. The last Saturday in January is National Seed Swap Day (this year it was Jan. 28), but Alaskans generally have to wait a little longer than the rest of the country to start thinking about planting!

GEB is a community seed-sharing program of the the John Trigg Ester Library (JTEL); it hosts seed-related events and a book and movie discussion group on food security and sustainable agriculture issues. The JTEL is a home-grown community library that provides a welcoming and intellectually stimulating environment where community members can meet and share ideas and information. The library strives to instill a love of reading and learning, to showcase Ester-area history and culture, and to provide resources that will enrich the whole community.

Palmer hosts produce growers conference

The Alaska Produce Growers Conference Feb. 21-22 in Palmer will feature the latest research and recommendations for growers.

Conference organizer Steve Brown, agriculture and horticulture agent for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service, said the annual conference will benefit vegetable and fruit growers with small or large operations. It will also highlight information for growers of Rhodiola rosea, a high-value medical herb that grows in cold regions of the world.

Kwesi Ampong-Nyarko, a research scientist from Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, will return for the second year to talk about Rhodiola research in Alberta. Rhodiola may be harvested for its roots after four to five years and is considered a low-maintenance crop, which makes it attractive, Brown said. Most Rhodiola is grown in Siberia and Eastern Europe, but a relative of the plant grows in Alaska, he said. “It’s basically a native plant to this area.”

Dr. Petra Illig, an Anchorage physician who organized a grower cooperative, said the herb is being cultivated in Southcentral Alaska, the Kenai Peninsula and the Interior. The first plants could be harvested this fall, she said. The roots are used in stress-relief remedies.

The other special speaker is Pam Hutchinson, a University of Idaho weed scientist who will talk about potatoes and weeds. Other topics will include pesticide labeling, herbicide control of weeds and the Alaska Farmers Market Food Stamp Pilot Project. The conference will also include a potato update from the Plant Material Center, marketing news from the Alaska Division of Agriculture and other agency updates.

The Palmer Community Center at 610 S. Valley Way will host the conference. See an agenda, register online or download a registration form. For more information, contact Extension in Palmer at 907-745-3360.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Delta plans Farm Forum for Feb. 25

The annual Delta Farm Forum on Feb. 25 will include an update on the barley biofuel project the Army is considering at Fort Greely.

Phil Kaspari, agriculture agent for the UAF Cooperative Extension Service in Delta, said the Army is studying the feasibility of using barley-fired boilers. The project is of great interest to growers as a potential new market, he said. If successful, the project could quadruple barley production in the Delta area.

“We can grow more barley but we don’t have a market,” he said.

Currently, Delta producers cultivate 5,000 acres of barley, which is used primarily as livestock feed. A small portion is used in grain-burning stoves or ground as flour. Bryce Wrigley, a Delta barley producer who operates a grain mill, will talk about the project.

Charlie Knight, a former northern region manager for the Alaska Division of Agriculture, will welcome forum participants at 9 a.m. Presentations will continue until 4 p.m. in the Delta High School small gymnasium. A panel will discuss food regulations and the potential for creating a Department of Environmental Conservation-certified commercial kitchen in Delta. Other topics will include potato late blight and agricultural agency updates. Brandy McLean of Triple McLean Farms in Delta will talk about heritage hogs and Carolyn Chapin of Polar Peonies, LLC will address the marketing of peonies.

The day will end with a Salcha-Delta Soil and Water Conservation District presentation and award ceremony. Extension and the conservation district are co-sponsoring the 35th annual forum. For more information, see a flier linked at or call Extension’s Delta office at 907-895-4215 or the conservation district at 907-895-6279.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Livestock seminar Feb. 18 and 19

The UAF Cooperative Extension Tanana 4-H District is sponsoring a two-day seminar/workshop, Raising Quality Livestock: Making the Best Better on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. The workshop features guest presenters Brett Kaysen and Mick Livingston of Colorado State University. The workshop is free and open to the public.

Saturday, February 18
Schaible Auditorium, Bunnell Building

"Selecting, Feeding, & Judging Terminology for Market (Meat) Animals"

8 am: Swine
10 am: Beef Cattle
1:30 pm: Sheep
3:30 pm: Meat Goats

Sunday, February 19
Reichardt Auditorium, Reichardt Building

"Wholesome Food Production & Quality Animal Care"

9 am: "Are you on the right side of the line?" Livestock Quality Assurance Program
1:30 pm: Livestock, Feed, & Health Management

For more information, contact Stephen Rice, Tanana 4-H District Livestock Committee President, (907) 347-3571. The workshop is aimed at young or beginning animal husbands, but all are welcome! The questions asked will determine the level of answers presented.

See also the PDF description of the event.