Friday, April 27, 2012

Former SNRAS professor receives national award

 Harry Bader is pictured at left Tuesday with Terry Chapin, distinguished professor of biology, emeritus.

After former SNRAS associate professor Harry Bader addressed UAF Research Day attendees April 24, he was presented with an award to recognize his achievements with USAID, a government agency providing U.S. economic and humanitarian assistance worldwide. Bader was recently granted the USAID medal for heroism.

Employed with UAF’s Research Office since January, Bader addressed the role of science in diplomacy. “Scientific method demands humility,” Bader said. “Scientists can never be too strongly wed with an idea. They should never be afraid to admit when they are wrong.”

He noted the increased inclusion of PhD’s in USAID. “Thirteen of the 16 diplomatic goals require science,” he said. Examples include the famine early warning system which helps anticipate destabilization and the Summit 2010 in which social scientists quashed conventional wisdom that poverty and illiteracy cause violent extremism. “Engaged scientists rejected this premise,” Bader said. “Poverty and illiteracy had nothing to do with it; many countries with poverty and illiteracy are not violent.”

Scientists have to understand the infinite complexities and natural and human systems to measure things that are important, Bader said.

While with SNRAS from 1990 to 2001, Bader taught environmental law. He served with USAID as the co-team leader on a joint military/civilian counterinsurgency cell established to deny the enemy human and financial capital derived from the illegal exploitation of natural resources.

After leaving UAF, Bader worked as the Alaska Northern Region land manager for the Department of Natural Resources, then joined USAID. He holds a law degree from Harvard University and is completing a doctorate in forestry from Yale University. His new job is to help establish a university initiative addressing issues of polar and environmental security.

Further reading:
 Force of Nature, Harvard Law Bulletin, Winter 2012

High tunnel history at Fairbanks Experiment Farm explained

 Apples growing in the summer time at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm.

High tunnels for apple research erected at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm in 2007 have succumbed over the past two winters to heavy snow load.

"Research doesn't always produce positive results," said SNRAS Dean and AFES Director Carol Lewis. "We learned this type of extremely large hoop house is not sustainable through our winters."

The caved-in facilities, which have drawn the spotlight from local media, will be cleaned up by June 1. The work must go out for bid, as per university regulations. It was nearly impossible to keep the snow removed from the structures because they were so high. "Even a cherry picker could not reach them," Lewis explained.

The tunnels were originally a project of UAF Cooperative Extension Service. The lead researcher, forestry specialist Bob Wheeler, who died in 2009, had requested space at the farm to place the tunnels. Upon Wheeler's passing, CES asked SNRAS Professor Meriam Karlsson to oversee the project, assisted by CES's Kendra Calhoun, research technician.

This excerpt from a 2009 CES news release explains the project:

The apple varieties tested are those known to grow in colder climates. Their names won’t be recognizable to most:

Arctic Red, Carroll, Ukalskoje and Golden Uralian, among others. The varieties were grafted onto rootstock of the Ranetka crabapple, which is known for its ability to withstand cold winters.

The continuing project is evaluating trees grown inside and outside of the high tunnels.
Two weather stations and 10 micro-stations record environmental conditions hourly, including the soil and air temperatures inside and outside the tunnels, as well as soil moisture, wind speed and solar radiation.

According to Calhoun, Wheeler did not expect much fruit until three years into the
project. He was surprised when the trees fruited in their second year and delighted with the growth this year, she said.

Although the data for this year is not complete, Calhoun said it’s clear that trees inside
the tunnel are blossoming and fruiting more than two weeks earlier than the other trees.
“The tunnels, obviously, are helping,” she said.

The end walls of the greenhouses are erected in mid-October to help preserve the heat
inside the high tunnels. During winters, temperatures inside the greenhouse averaged 10-15 degrees higher than the outside temperatures, but soil temperatures were as much as 20 degrees colder inside, the result of the snow outside insulating the ground, she said.
Despite the colder soil temperatures, 80 percent of the trees grown inside the high
tunnels survived both winters. Sixty-eight percent of the outside trees survived the first winter.

After January 2009 temperatures dipped to nearly 50 below zero, only 45 percent of the
outside trees survived the second winter.

Apple trees that died the first year were replaced with new seedlings the following year,
except for the Asian pear, plum and cherry trees, of which none survived.

A variety of berries were planted inside and outside the tunnels, including red and black
currants, nagoonberry and honey berry. The berries outside the tunnels had a higher survival overall than those planted within, which was not too surprising, according to Calhoun.

The project is funded by a grant from the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.

Funding for the project expired two years ago but the apple trees have continued to grow and produce fruit. The covers will be removed and the apples allowed to grow outdoors.

Further reading:
Fruit Tree and Berry Crop Trial Program for Alaskan Native Rural Communities in Interior Alaska, UAF Cooperative Extension Service

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

New geography courses added

The UA Geography Program has announced new courses for the fall and will be bringing a visiting professor to help teach some of them. Terry Slocum (pictured at right), associate professor at the University of Kansas geography department, will spend the coming year in Fairbanks.

Dr. Slocum is an expert in computer cartography, analysis of geospatial data and geovisualization. His research focuses on classroom stereoscopic displays for teaching  physical geography. other research includes virtual environments, animation and data exploration.

While at UAF he will teach Geography/NRM 393, "Methods of Analyzing Geographical Data" for the fall semester (CRN: 79323). This course introduces the benefits and limitations of using quantitative methods to analyze geographical problems. It will cover traditional descriptive (e.g., measures of central tendency) and inferential statistics (e.g., hypothesis testing) but also inherently geographical approaches such as shape and point pattern analysis, and spatial autocorrelation. The laboratory sessions will emphasize using the computer to explore and analyze geographical problems.

For spring semester 2013, Dr. Slocum will teach Geography/NRM 493, "Cartographic Data Handling and Map Symbolization," an analysis of methods for manipulating and symbolizing spatial data. Techniques studied include dot, choropleth, proportional symbol and isarithmic (contour) mapping. Topics covered include data classification, and the use of color and automated methods of interpolation (triangulation, inverse distance, and kriging). Emphasis is on developing maps that can be presented to the general public, although some consideration is given to visualization software that can be used to explore spatial data.

Other new courses for fall:

GEOG/NRM 454 Comparative Farming & Sustainable Food Systems, Fall 2012 (3 credits)
9:45-11:15am TR     O'Neill 305
CRN: 77834
Instructor: Craig Gerlach
Principles of food systems geography and food security. Cross-cultural examination of dietary traditions, poverty, hunger, equity and food access and distribution. Comparison of multiple varieties and scales of agricultural systems in the context of social, ecological and economic sustainability. Considers Alaskan and other high-latitude food systems, including country food, wild game harvest and rural to urban nutrition transition.

GEOG/NRM 656 Sustainable Livelihoods & Community Well-being, Fall 2012 (3 credits)
1 p.m.- 4 p.m. Mondays   O'Neill building
CRN: 78582
Instructor: Craig Gerlach
Review the basic principles that govern the sustainability of systems and look at the cultural practices and individual behaviors that enhance or degrade sustainable livelihoods and community well-being. Emphasis is on understanding the historical context of ideas about sustainability, on understanding the nature and magnitude of the social, economic and ecological dimensions of contemporary change and the "best practices" currently in place for communities to respond effectively to change.

If interested, contact Cary de Wit, associate professor and chair of the geography department at UAF, 474-7141.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Listening: The neglected side of communication

The UA Geography Program is helping to support a communication workshop Friday, April 27.

The keynote speaker, the Rev. Dr. Michael James Oleksa, (pictured above) has spent the last 35 years in Alaska, serving as a village priest, university professor and consultant on intercultural relations and communications. He has written several books on Alaska Native cultures and history. A 1969 graduate of Georgetown University and of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, Father Oleksa earned his doctoral degree in Presov, Slovakia, in 1988. His four-part PBS television series,
Communicating Across Cultures, has been widely acclaimed.

The recipient of numerous awards from local, state and federal agencies, as well as the Alaska Federation of Natives, Father Michael has taught on the three main campuses of the University of Alaska system and at Alaska Pacific University.

The workshop is from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Gruening 413 on the UAF campus.

Topics include:
  • 9 a.m. - 10 a.m. Communication and mis-communication. Learn how mis-communication occurs, predictably, across cultural boundaries.

  • 10:20 a.m. - 1:50 p.m. Skill-development activities.

  • 2 p.m. - 3 p.m. Styles of talking: tempo, tone and ritual. Listening well requires attention to differences in styles of talking, including cultural expectations related to tempo, toneo f voice and rituals of politeness.
RAP graduate student (and SNRAS alum) Rachel Garcia said the workshop is designed to develop skills in listening to improve research, ourtreach and professional abilities. Contact her at 452-0517.

LED lights prove to be a powerful growing tool

In late March, Meriam Karlsson (pictured above), a horticulture professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, gazed at rows and rows of cheery sunflowers with a look of puzzlement.

When doing research, things don’t always go as predicted and this was one of those times. On Jan. 9 Karlsson planted Sunny Smile dwarf sunflowers as part of a lighting experiment in the new School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences greenhouse on the west ridge of campus.

Half the plants were placed under red or blue light-emitting diode lamps at 14 days and the other half joined the first batch at 24 days. “They all flowered at the same time,” Karlsson said. “It’s not what I expected.” Another surprise was she had thought that the blue LED lights might cause delays in flowering but that was not the case.

“Everyone says it’s so critical to have the right light initially,” Karlsson said. With this experiment she learned that it might be OK to use LEDs, which are more energy efficient than high-pressure sodium lamps, to start flowers or seeds.

Basking in the 72-degree greenhouse, the perky sunflowers looked exactly the same, no matter what lighting treatment they received. “Next time we will leave them under different lights and let them stay until they flower and see if there are differences,” Karlsson said.

Her research is spurred by the increasing interest in LED lights. Overseeing a graduate student research project, Karlsson saw that plants such as lettuce and black-eyed Susans reacted differently when placed under red or blue LED lights. “They didn’t flower as fast,” she said.

Of course the best light is natural, full spectrum light, which has all the lengths and colors of light waves but since that isn’t possible in a Fairbanks winter, artificial light is required. While the standard has been high-pressure sodium lights, new research is touting the advantages of LEDs. One factor is that sodium lights don’t have a blue range, which is important for certain processes in plants. Without the blue rays, the plants look different.

The plants’ pigment reacts to light and chlorophyll is used in photosynthesis. “If you just look at plants they are very efficient,” Karlsson said. “The most effective light for photosynthesis is red and blue but there are more things going on in plants than photosynthesis. Other pigments absorb the green and orange.”

While sunflowers are a beautiful addition to any landscaping scene, Karlsson ponders some broader aspects. “I wonder about the nutritional value of food grown under certain lights,” she said. “NASA has been looking at this.

“LED is a completely different technology,” Karlsson said. “It’s monochromatic light. It may be red or blue, or even orange. There is a peak of light quality and nothing in between. What happens after the plant absorbs these wave lengths of light?” In addition to energy savings, another advantage of LEDs is they don’t give off a lot of heat, so they can be placed closer to the plants.

Karlsson’s fascination with growing things began at an early age on her family’s farm in Sweden, where barley, oats, hay and potatoes were grown. “I was always interested in plants and crop production,” she said. “But I thought those crops were kind of boring.” When choosing her career, Karlsson decided to go the horticulture route rather than agronomy. She earned a doctorate in horticulture at Michigan State University, where she first got interested in studying the effects of lights on plants.

After coming to Alaska her focus on lighting increased. “Up here light is really important,” she said. “It’s fascinating to me the long days in the summer and the short days in the winter. Nobody knows why plants grow so well in 24 hours of light; they really shouldn’t.”

In the lettuce and black eyed Susan study, lights used were red, blue, red and blue and a multi-colored light with red, blue, orange and white. “If you worked under those you would go crazy,” Karlsson said. “You would see spots and it’s hard to tell if the plants need water or not.”

Working in the just completed greenhouse attached to Arctic Health Research Building is fun, Karlsson said. “You can do so many things with the shade and lighting via computer.” While being interviewed, Karlsson took a call from a technician in California who monitors the temperature and lighting in the greenhouse via computer. “We have to figure out the light levels because it changes every day,” Karlsson said.

“Spring has challenges because it is sunny and warm but it is still cold out. We work closely with Link 4 in California.”

Karlsson is convinced greenhouse manufacturers should use Fairbanks as a testing ground. “If they can make it work here it would work anywhere in the U.S.,” she said.

And she firmly believes Alaska should step up its agricultural research. “We should do much more,” she said. “We have unique conditions in lighting and temperature variations. We can do a lot the rest of the world could learn from. We can be more productive here because we have excellent growing conditions and we don’t have to fight many pests and diseases that are devastating to crops in other areas.”

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sustainable Agriculture Conference Day 2, part 2: contraptions, beehives, potato viruses, community gardens, farmers' markets, and more

(See also part one of Day 2.)

Contraptions at Work

Tom Zimmer of Calypso Farm & Ecology Center gave this talk, describing various tools, implements, techniques, and means to extend the farmer's growing season and improve the harvest. These included both old and newfangled contraptions:
  • the toolshed as a tunnel through which one walks on the way to the field, with tools hanging on the walls so that you can pick them up en route to the field and hang them back up on the way out;
  • the broadfork: an old tool that loosens but doesn't flip the soil, made by a local blacksmith.
  • a seed-starting house with a shed roof that catches water, has glass only on the front with a 30-degree angle ideal for spring days (March; not so good for the hotter months like June), with well insulated walls. In a variation on this idea, Zimmer described Joan MacBean's greenhouse, in which the back wall was lined with jugs of water which absorbed the heat during the day and released it at night;
  • the raised box bed with tubing underneath covered by fencing, gravel, papers and soil; a guy in Homer uses tables with tubing under concrete block tops and plant buckets on top of that. Another version is the snorkel stove, which has a water jacket surrounding a woodstove. The water is pumped via sump pump through tubing under the floor which warms the soil, is simple enough that if the pump burns out you can fix it yourself, and has the added benefit of allowing the grower to water with warm water;
  • using wiggle wire to support plastic (no holes);
  • creating a sliding door on the greenhouse;
  • a power drill adapted to winding up or down the side of the greenhouse to protect from cold drafts or overheating (courtesy Mike Arnold of Kenai);
  • a kickable compost bin;
  • attaching sprinklers to structural members with cabling attached so there's no hose wear on the plants (courtesy a handy kit from a catalog);
  • using PVC tubing and roughcut lumber to create a moveable (with eight or so people) tunnel with a straight north wall (no need for curved walls on both sides);
  • the Cody Mayo caterpillar: metal tubing, plastic, and anchor at one end, and a couple of pieces of string to tie up the plastic for working;
  • fencing that can be bent over and covered with plastic to make a quickie row cover;
  • kelp dipping table: dunk several flats or buckets at a time in a solution of kelp fertilizer;
  • make stretchers to hold or carry several flats at a time to make quick work of moving them in and out during hardening off;
  • compost tea brewers: a simple bag in a bucket kept in a place where there's lots of traffic so people can reach down and give the bag a jiggle every time they walk by, or a bubbler;
  • bed rake to standardize the width and height of beds;
  • six-row seeder (available from Johnny's Selected Seeds, for example);
  • soil blockers: these are a neat way of getting rid of plastic containers, keeps the plants healthier (in a six-pack, the shape of the individual pot narrows, thus narrowing the root ball)—the surrounding air stops the roots from growing too far but prevents the plants from getting rootbound;
  • compost sifter: made with an old exercise bike, belt, and perforated drum;
  • tank heater: uses passive solar gain on an old tank covered with black plastic, which heats faster than without and prevents algae;
  • stepped bathtubs: catch house runoff and carries it to the garden;
  • wheel hoe: use an old bicycle;
  • salad mix salad washer: harvest into holey bucket #1, put bucket into larger holey bucket #2, spin with water applied: voilá! washed salad in quantity.
Top-Bar Hives

Stephen Petersen of Toklat Apiaries spoke on that smallest of livestock, the bee, and the method of beekeeping that uses a top-bar hive. This hive method's advantages are that the hive can be made cheaply from locally available materials; the only critical dimension involved is the width of the top-bar; no expensive extracting equipment is required; and the high-value comb honey harvest sells for a premium price. The disadvantages, he said, are that the comb is fragile, which makes maneuvering somewhat difficult; in Alaska special insulation and feeding arrangements for spring managment must be taken into consideration (bees arrive in April, so feeding them in that period before the flowers start blooming is important); because of the horizontal distribution of the combs, overwintering is seldom successful ("The bees starve because they don't want to run out in their socks & underwear to see if there is honey at the other end of the comb," Petersen joked.).

Petersen recommended building top-bar hives so that they are interchangeable with Langstroth hives (a 19" top-bar length). Using a hinged bottom allows for quick assessment of the colony's progress and activity, and dumps debris that accumulates on the floor of the hive. Interchangeable combs between colonies allow for splits and combinations between hives, and self-spacing frames allows the bees to travel between them. Build the hive with handles that extend past the body of the hive so that two people can carry it fore and aft. A full hive weighs about 200 pounds.

Peterson also described Warré hives, which are similar to top-bar hives but oriented vertically.

Organic Alternatives for Late Blight Management

Jeff Smeenk talked about late blight, Phytophthora infestans, which grows on potatoes extremely rapidly and likes a cool moist environment. Late blight is a water mold, and is transferred by contact through tomatoes and eggplants and other members of the Solanacea family. Updraft from burning can also spread the spores. It is killed by winter cold and hot composting, but not cold composting, and once it starts, it can't be held back. There has been some preventative success at controlling it through compost tea, hydrogen dioxide, kelp, and Biodynamic Preparation No. 508. The best method is through not getting it in the first place: prevent its arrival by making sure you use certified clean seed. Field rotation and maximizing the air flow between plants and rows (four to five feet) so that the wind and air circulation helps keep the foliage dry are good methods. Some potato varieties (Kennebec, Elba, Onaway, Rosa, Sebago) show a little resistance to late blight.

Community Supported Gardening

Darren Snyder gave a presentation on community gardening, encompassing both share gardening and community gardening in the concept. The former is well-known as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), where a gardener's or farmer's harvest is shared for payment to the grower. The CSA is built around the concept of the share: the economic share and the appreciation for local food, in which community building is equally as important as food security.

Community gardening can also be built around the concept of communal gardening and community building, or it can simply be a collection of small plots at a particular location.

The important features are:
  • the appreciation for local food: local effort, better flavor, freshness;
  • building a local food community: Slow Food (the Ark of Taste), sustainability or reslience groups, permaculture and other gardening interest or related efforts such as reskilling and transition towns, permacouture;
  • youth involvement and education: this is recruitment and training of both customers and workforce, and bridges the community and individual involvement in community supported gardening;
  • community involvement: people pulling together for a common cause they care about; 
  • individual involvement: the family, the community of interest, a matter of geography
Juneau has 120 plots, but they are 12 miles outside of Juneau. The CSG is working on developing gardening area closer in. They've been holding a harvest fair with games, music, and contests, and have strong community support. This involves a lot of organization and work: getting authorization from the municipal government, expert advice from agencies and local growers, friendly agreements and supplier demonstrations, land use contracts, liability insurance, bylaws and articles of incorporation, working out tax payment, determining garden rules, getting support by developing relationships and using a lot of creativity (the Barter, Beg, and Bargain method).

Things to think about include:
  • Who owns the land and who is using it? 
  1. If it's private, there may be limits on the participation such as the Glory Hole Food Pantry and the Gruening Park Residential Neighborhood.
  2. If it's neighborhood land, publicly owned property with maybe a few limits, those constraints may be different, and not necessarily less onerous. An example of a neighborhood-owned community garden is the Star Hill garden.
  3. If it's school-owned, then the public factor becomes important, as well as the consideration that there are children inolved. Examples inlcude Dzantikiheeni Middle School, Riverbend Elementary, Angoon Elementary. Privately held schools are another issue.
  4. Communitywide property might be privately or publicly owned land. The official community gardens of Juneau are in this vein: Douglas Community Garden; Juneau Community Garden, and the Yakutat Community Garden.
  • Garden management
  1. Will there be a single garden manager? (private lands and some schools might work best with this model) This creates a heavy work load; takes a lot of time, but you have one person to go to.
  2. Is a board of managers preferable? What should the board management duties be? It's important to be specific, and have your duties written down. For example: president, vice-president, treasurer, secretary, publicity/membership coordinator, events coordinator, database coordinator, at-large manager/alternate.
Community building starts even before the beds and plots get built: test the soil. A high lead content meant it had to be hauled away so a work party was held. Volunteers came and built up the beds. A high tunnel was made from a carport. WWOOFers (Worldwide Workers On Organic Farms) came to help, too.

Food Initiatives at UAF

Carol Lewis gave an overview of food initiatives at UAF, going over different programs, publicity events, and research projects relating to improving food security in Alaska. The initiatives included Farm to Table, a summer celebration to highlight local foods using new and established Alaska food products; 20% Real Food by 2020, a student-driven drive to improve the amount of local food purchases by UAF Dining Food Services that includes a database of purchases, purchase tracking by food miles, and workshops for producers; Food Day, sponsored by UAF Dining Services, SNRAS & AFES, School of Ocean Sciences, CES, the College of Liberal Arts, the Culinary Arts Program, the Office of Sustainability, ASUAF, and others; ethnobotany, sustainable agriculture, high latitude range management, and similar courses available through the College of Liberal Arts Anthropology and Cross-Cultural Studies Programs and the College of Rural & Community Development; and miscellaneous other events, on-campus food production, and so forth in addition to UAF's regular research and teaching programs.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Land grant colleges: Of the people for the people

When Terrence Cole, UAF director of the office of public history, gave a lecture April 16 on land grant institutions he told the audience the land grant act of 1862 was one of the greatest American innovations ever created.

“The creation of the USDA, the Homestead Act, the Pacific Railroad Act and the Morrill Act influenced our country more than anything,” Cole said. All were signed into law in 1862. This year is the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, which allocated federal lands to fund land grant colleges in all states. UAF is Alaska’s land grant institution.

“We take it for granted,” Cole said. “But it’s a revolutionary concept.” Prior to the Morrill Act, colleges in the U.S. were private schools affiliated with religious institutions for the most part, emphasizing Latin and Greek studies. “The overwhelming idea of higher education till the mid-19th century was if you mastered Latin and Greek and literature it would give you the discipline for educational training,” Cole explained.

“The land grant act funded an entirely new type of college; it provided federal funding for higher education and that never existed before.” While the idea of federally-funded colleges had been around for years it was the absence of the Southern Congressmen during the Civil War that allowed the Morrill Act to pass, Cole said.

Justin Morrill of Strafford, Vt., the son and grandson of a blacksmith, proposed the act. Ironically, his formal education ended at age 14. He served in Congress 44 years, and his innovative measure has allowed millions of Americans to study at higher education institutions.

The objective was to “promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes.” A key component, Cole said, was that land grant institutions were based on agricultural and mechanical schools. “That’s what made it possible and effective,” Cole said. “We needed agricultural research; it was the backbone of America.” To this day, land grant institutions are leaders in research, Cole said. UAF’s location was selected to be next to the experiment farm. “Agriculture was so important that we are built around the farm,” he said. In the early days of the college hay was raised right on the main campus grounds.

“We have this unbelievable heritage here,” Cole said. “We are so lucky. It started with agriculture and opened the window so far. “A school is about vision,” he said. “That’s the wonderful thing about a college. Everyone should come together and be collegial and think about their place in the universe, about science and everything. “We’d have none of this without the Morrill Act.”

Activities continue all week at UAF to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, culminating Saturday with an event at the Wood Center ballroom from noon to 4 p.m. See blog post below for full schedule.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

UAF commemorates land-grant anniversary

The University of Alaska Fairbanks will celebrate its roots April 16-21 with activities commemorating the 150th anniversary of the landmark Morrill Act.

Events will include geocaching and puzzle contests, more than a dozen free Cooperative Extension Service classes and an April 16 public lecture by UAF historian Terrence Cole about the significance of the land-grant college act.

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act on July 2, 1862, establishing the land-grant system of public colleges and universities. The act provided states and territories with land to support institutions to educate people in agriculture, military tactics and engineering so that the working classes could obtain a “liberal and practical education.”

Congress approved the land grant for an Alaska college in 1915 and territorial Gov. John Strong signed the bill on May 3, 1917 to establish Alaska’s land-grant college. The Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines opened its doors in 1922 with six students. The college became known as the University of Alaska in 1935 and eventually the University of Alaska Fairbanks, which remains Alaska’s land-grant institution.

A public celebration from noon to 4 p.m. April 21 in the Wood Center ballroom will include displays and hands-on family activities offered by the Cooperative Extension Service and the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences. UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers will speak at 3:30 p.m.

Two iPads will be given away during the event; winners will be drawn from entries in the word puzzle, trivia and geocache contests. Contest information will be in Sunday’s Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and linked from Extension’s website at Daily puzzles will be included in the paper through April 18. Entries must be received by 5 p.m. Thursday at the Tanana District office at 724 27th Ave. or the state Extension office at 308 Tanana Loop, on campus.

All of the classes, unless noted, will take place at the Extension district office in the Fairbanks Community Food Bank building. See class descriptions linked at Register online at or call 474-2420 or 474-2450. Following is a schedule of the week’s events:

Monday, April 16
10 a.m. — Class: “Worm Composting”
2 p.m. — Class: “Making Conflict Work for You”
7 p.m. — Class: “Learn How to Use Your GPS”
7 p.m. — Terrence Cole lecture: “Of the People and For the People: Alaska’s Land Grant College,” 201 Reichardt Building, Boyd Hall

Tuesday, April 17
10 a.m. — Class: “Super Vegetables”
1:15 p.m. — Class: “Healthy Treats,” 201 Reichardt Building, Boyd Hall
2 p.m. — Fruit growers roundtable
7 p.m. — Class: “Biomass Forestry and Boreal Forest Biology”

Wednesday, April 18
10 a.m. — Class: “Crockpot Cooking”
2 p.m. — Class: “Seed Starting and Garden Planning”

Thursday, April 19
9 a.m. - noon —Workshop: “How to Do Business in China”
1:15 p.m. — Class: “Seed Starting and Garden Planning,” 201 Reichardt Building, Boyd Hall
7 p.m. — Class: “Raising Chickens”

Friday, April 20
10 a.m. — Class: “Estate Planning”
2 p.m. — Class: “Septic Systems”

Saturday, April 21
9 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Workshop: “Introduction to Specialty Food Businesses,”
Workshop fee is $30. Register at
Noon – 4 p.m. — Public celebration at the Wood Center Ballroom
3:30 p.m. — Address by Chancellor Brian Rogers, Wood Center Ballroom

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Birth announcement: first calf of the year for reindeer program

 The first calf of the year, born April 5, frolics in the snow under her mother's watchful eye.

Spring arrived at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm April 5 with the birth of the first reindeer calf of the year.

The female calf weighing in at 18 pounds was a bit of a surprise to Reindeer Research Program staff, as they weren't sure about the mother's pregnancy. Her weight didn't meet the requirements for putting her in a harem for bull visitation, but apparently she had already met the requirements prior to that.

Erin Carr, RRP technician, had noticed the mother had a bit of a belly bulge so the birth wasn't a complete shock.

At least 30 more calves are expected between now and the end of May.

Children are encouraged to help name the calves. The animals will not receive names until they are weaned from their mothers later in the summer; until then they are referred to by the numbers on their ear tags.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Morrill Act brought higher education to the masses via land grant institutions

Celebrants gather for Dedication Day at the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines on Sept. 13, 1922, five days before classes began at the land-grant college. (Archives, University of Alaska Fairbanks)

A federal act passed in 1862 affected the education of the U.S. population more than anything in history, but its name is not a household word. This July around the nation, that might change just a bit when the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act is celebrated.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks is getting a jump on the party by designating April 15-21 to commemorate the Morrill Act with a bevy of events culminating in a public open house at the Wood Center on April 21 from noon to 4 p.m.

So what is the Morrill Act and why does UAF care? The act allowed land grant institutions for higher education to be established in every state, and UAF is Alaska’s land-grant university. Simply put, the act provided states with land to support institutions for the education of agriculture, military tactics and the mechanic arts.

“It’s a great thing,” said UAF history professor Terrence Cole. “It’s amazing how the land grant colleges vastly expanded higher education for citizens. It revolutionized American higher education.”

Before the Morrill Act, colleges focused on the liberal arts and classical studies of Latin and Greek. This Medieval model, as Cole called it, was all the country had until the 1860s. “At the time, people thought the summit of intellectual achievement was to learn Latin and Greek,” Cole said.

Until the Morrill Act, most colleges had a sectarian affiliation. “The act created a new branch of education that would involve the liberal arts but also agriculture and mechanical arts,” Cole said. In the 1860s the U.S. was overwhelmingly an agricultural country, hence the focus on agriculture at land grant institutions, he explained.

Cole, who will give a lecture on this topic April 16 at 7 p.m. on the UAF campus, practically jumped with excitement when he said, “This was giant! This was the first federal funding of higher education in America, and it was done through land.”

While the act was passed in 1862 it would be 1915 before an institution of higher education would be conceived of in Fairbanks. Alaska’s delegate to Congress, James Wickersham, advocated for approval of a land grant for an Alaska college and Alaska Territorial Gov. John Strong signed the bill in 1917 to establish and pay for Alaska’s land grant institution. By 1922, Fairbanks was home to the Agricultural College and School of Mines, known today as UAF.

Pointing out how Alaska is different from the other 49 states with land grant institutions, Cole calls UAF “the land grant college without much land.” Alaska never got all the land it was intended to have because back then the land hadn’t been surveyed.

The land Alaska received was initially called the Tanana Valley Land Grant and the acreage came to 9,000 instead of the intended 250,000 that had been authorized.

“Instead the state became responsible for financial support of the university in other ways,” Cole said. Would Alaska have a university if not for the land grant? “We’d probably have some sort of university but it wouldn’t have higher education at the level and quality we have,” he said. He also noted that prior to the establishment of what is now UAF, Alaska had the Alaska Methodist University, a private, liberal arts school in Anchorage (now named Alaska Pacific University).

“The university has been a fantastic institution for the people of Alaska,” Cole said. “It has helped develop the state, keep people here and enrich the cultural life of the community. All that goes back to the land grant.”

The Fairbanks Experiment Farm was established in 1906, so it made sense for the new college to be located nearby. “The college was created around the farm,” Cole said. “The university is here because of the farm.”

As for the land grant in general, Cole lamented the fact that most people don’t understand it or care about it, but he believes it made sweeping changes in this country. “People don’t realize how amazing it is,” he said. “We assume now that everyone has the opportunity to go to college if they want to.”

To find out about the schedule of events for the Morrill Act celebration, visit

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Sustainable Agriculture Conference Day 2, part 1: plants, seeds, and peonies

(See also earlier posts, on Day 1, part 1 and part 2.)

The second day of the 2012 Sustainable Agriculture Conference included talks on the history of plant variety development in Alaska, seed libraries, the Peony Growers Association, farm contraptions, top-bar hives for beekeeping, potato late blight, Community Supported Gardening, food initiatives at UAF, the Farm to School program, farmers' markets, a panel on growing local for restaurants, and more.

The first talk of the day was given by Charlie Knight, who described what the term "variety" meant, and talked about variety release, registration, and certification. The State of Alaska's only state-run plant materials center, the Northern Latitude Plant Materials Center, provides foundation seed to farmers. The Center's purpose is to maintain varieties of seeds that meet Alaska's environmental requirements and to promote commercial development of native species. On their website are numerous two-page fliers for different varieties of seed, including native plantsrevegetation training manuals and guides; cultivar release notes; potato and horticultural reports; and more.

Knight said he was familiar with grasses and grains, but had to do a bit of digging to find out about other plants developed for Alaska. He presented a timeline for different types of plants:

Fruits and Berries

before 1900: Anway strawberry, developed by Charles Anway, who used a beach strawberry crossed with Fragaria chilloensis. Another species used in strawberry development was Fragaria virginiana: a wild strawberry.

1907: Sharle strawberry, developed by John Sharle
1968 Alaska Pioneer: developed by Dinkel and Kallio
1970: Susitna, Matared
1976: Kiska raspberry
1970s: John Holmes: the Wien crabapple
1991: Kenai Carpet Nagoonberry, developed by Kathy Wright (used as a landscaping plant)


1765: Haida, Indian Tlingit fingerling potatoes, shipped north from the Peruvian Andes
1944: Alaska, Arctic Seedling
1953: Knick, a white potato
1959: Alaska 114
1961: Stately
1963: Alaska Russet
1969: Alaska Frostless
1974: Snowchip
1976: Alaska Red
1979: Denali
1980: Highlat Russet
1982: Alasclear
1989: Iditared (red skin, yellow flesh)
2010: Magic Molly (blue skin, blue flesh) Bill Campbell


1970: Alaska 6467 cabbage; Alaska 6469 cabbage
1970: Early Tanana tomato
1974: Yukon Chief sweet corn
1974: Sub Arctic 25 tomato; Polar Star tomato; Polar Baby tomato; Polar Beauty tomato
Note: The Early Tanana and Sub-Arctic 25 Tomato were developed in the Interior for Fairbanks' cool conditions; the Sub-Arctic 25, developed by John Holm, is still grown (John's son, Jim Holm, runs the family business, Holm Town Nursery, where it can still be found, but other companies also offer this variety).

1971: Nugget Kentucky bluegrass; Polar bromegrass
1978 Arctared red fescue
1980: Tundra glaucous bluegrass; Sourdough bluejoint reedgrass; Alyeska Polargrass
1985: Norcoast Bering hairgrass
1987: Kenai Polargrass
1988: Nortran Tufted hairgrass
1991: Egan American sloughgrass; Gruening alpine bluegrass
1994: Benson beach wild rye; Reeve beach wild rye; Wainwright slender wheatgrass

Note: many grains developed by the Experiment Station used an -al ending in their name, which related to the territorial ALAS postal code. Eventually this became confusing (Alabama vs. Alaska) and so the code was switched to AK. 
1920: Trapmar barley
1955: Gasser wheat
1973: Chena wheat
1977: Toral oats
1978: Ceal oats; Lidal Barley; Weal barley
1981: Thual barley; Otal barley; Datal barley; Ingal wheat; Nogal wheat; Vidal wheat; Bebral winter rye
2001: Finaska barley
2006: Wooding barley
2009: Sunshine barley

Note: willow varieties were developed as revegetation and landscaping plants.
1985: Roland, Wilson, Oliver, Long, Rhode

Deirdre Helfferich of the John Trigg Ester Library (and part-time employee at SNRAS) gave a presentation on seed libraries and the Growing Ester's Biodiversity program, a community seed-sharing program at the Ester library and the first such program in Alaska. (See more on this program in the new issue of Agroborealis [PDF].) Seed libraries are a fairly new phenomenon, most of them only a couple of years old. They differ from seed banks in that they lend to the general public, rather than researchers or institutions, and they focus on sharing seed rather than preserving germplasm. Seed libraries also tend to be small and local, providing gardening and seed-saving workshops or tips, and are usually founded out of concerns for food security, traditional culture, environmental health, food quality, community resilience, and support for the local economy.

The oldest seed library in the US is 12 years old, the Bay Area Seed Interchange Library (BASIL), founded as part of a nonprofit environmental & community organization. BASIL was the inspiration for many other seed libraries and projects in the country. In 2010, Richmond Grows was founded as a program housed at the Richmond Public Library. This seed library also aims to serve as a model for other seed libraries, and lists 42 seed libraries and institutions with seed programs in the US, a number that is rapidly increasing.

Seed libraries are hosted by a broad range of organizations, from libraries like the Richmond Public Library or the Fairfield Public Library to museums to gardening clubs, resilience, Slow Food, and environmental groups. Likewise, they operate in different ways, generally with patrons "checking out" seeds, growing the plants and saving some mature seed to "return" to the library for next season. Many seed libraries solicit donations of seeds to build their collections. Sometimes a membership fee is charged. Some seed libraries do not hold collections of seeds, but instead host seed-saving and gardening workshops, or informational lectures, seed swaps, or other events. Most have a combination of all of these.

Jan Hanscom gave an update on the Alaska Peony Growers Association and its work over the last year. The APGA is an organization dedicated to supporting the development of an Alaska peony industry, supporting its members in all aspects of growing, processing, transporting, and marketing peonies; and advocating for research and appropriate technology transfer with respect to growing peonies in the Subarctic. "It's all about the heat," said Hanscom, "Warm soils are the key." She described the high tunnel experiments and the cluster of growers on the Kenai Peninsula around Homer and Kenai. Fortunately, she said, "Moose don't eat peonies, although they may push the roots down too deep in the soil." There are a few insect pests; aphids love birch trees, and, she cautioned, if you have birches growing near your peonies the aphids will hang out on your flowers.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Andrew Hull takes Geographic Bee by storm

 Andrew Hull, Alaska State Geographic Bee winner

For the second year in a row, Andrew Hull, 11, of Anchorage took top honors at the Alaska state-level Geographic Bee held Friday in Anchorage.

Hull,  a sixth grader at Rogers Park Elementary School, prepared for the competition by studying facts he wrote on index cards. He said he loves geography because it lets you know where things are in the world. "If somebody tells you a funny fact you know where it happened," he said. Hull credited his family with helping him prepare for the bee, especially his older brother Arthur Hull who also was a top 10 finalist.

When Mayor Dan Sullivan congratulated Hull he said, "Haven't we done this before?" Sullivan said the demonstration of knowledge at the competition is a tribute to the school system and parents. In Friday's opening remarks, Anchorage School District Superintendent Carol Comeau said, "I can't think of anything more important for young people to know than geography. You can't discuss issues if you don't know where people live."

Andrew Hull shakes hands with TV news anchor Jackie Purcell and Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan.

Bee coordinator Marti Wynn said, "We are very proud to have the brightest young geographers here." She said 21 of the state's 53 school districts were represented in the competition. "There are students from 38 elementary schools, 27 middle schools, seven faith-based schools, eight home schools, two junior-senior high schools, five specialty schools, five K-12 rural schools and eight charter schools," Wynn said. "Our teachers are doing a good job teaching geography."

KTUU TV anchor Jackie Purcell, who moderated the event, said, "The geography bee gives us a chance to get to know our planet better."

Throughout the day, students answered questions about physical and cultural geography, sometimes using maps or looking at a projection of Google Earth, sometimes writing their answers on a pad and sometimes calling out the correct choice between two options. By the final round, the answers are open-ended.

The preliminary rounds were held in five separate breakout rooms.
Hull received $100, the "Complete National Geographic on DVD" and the honor of representing Alaska in the National Geographic Bee May 22-24 in Washington, D.C. Last year he made it to the top 10 round.

The 100 students in the state bee qualified by winning their school bee and passing a written examination. The bee is sponsored by National Geographic Society, Google and Plum Creek. The UA Geography Program, Alaska Geographic Alliance and numerous social studies teachers facilitated the event.

First prize in the national competition is a $25,000 college scholarship and lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society. The national winner earns a trip to the Galapagos Islands. The national bee will be televised on May 24 at 8 p.m. Eastern Time Zone.
The Giant Traveling Map of the Pacific Ocean was on display at the bee. Volunteers from NOAA took a break on the map during lunch time.

OneTree expands to Matanuska-Susitna Valley

The Valley Arts Alliance and University of Alaska Fairbanks are seeking artists to participate in the OneTree project.

OneTree aims to show the value of woodlands by demonstrating the volume and quality of work that can be made from a single tree. The UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences piloted Alaska’s first OneTree project in Fairbanks three years ago. Since then, organizers have developed a full K-12 art and science program and increased community involvement. Visit for information.

The Mat-Su project, which includes collaboration with the UAF Cooperative Extension Service, will begin in April with the harvesting and drying of one birch tree. Wood from the tree will be distributed to local artists, who will, in turn, use the wood to create items from furniture to abstract art. Teachers are also encouraged to participate and learn more about OneTree K-12 curricula.

The completed works will be displayed at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer Aug. 20 to Sept. 3. Artists keep their work after the fair. Artists wanting to participate must contact coordinators by April 30. Participation is free.

“Join us and watch as the tree is cut down, and then use the wood to create something fantastic,” said program director and UAF assistant professor Valerie Barber.

Contact Carmen Summerfield, or Susan McNeil at 907-746-9454.