Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Delta Farm Tour 2012

By Rachel Kenley, Division of Agriculture

Thanks to the efforts of the Delta Farm Bureau, a busload of people enjoyed a tour of farms in the Delta Junction area Thursday, July 19.

For just $50, tourists and Interior residents had the opportunity to see five different farms over the course of the day. Participants loaded onto a tour bus and were entertained during travel by tour guide and Delta Farm Bureau President Mike Paschall.

The first tour stop was Windy Valley Farms. Paschall introduced farmer Bob Walker, noting that unlike most farmers in the area, Walker makes a living on farming without having an additional job. Since the day was wet, Walker explained, his crew were busy fixing and maintaining equipment instead of harvesting hay.

Walker grows hay on 240 acres, but because of a center pivot irrigation system, he said, he’s able to produce as much hay as a farmer without an irrigation system could on 500 acres.

As tour participants weren’t able to see the hay harvested, Walker gave them a tour of the equipment used in his operation, which included a mower, a tedder, a baler and an accumulator. Walker explained that the market (which consists mostly of horse owners) demands small round bales of hay, but that larger round balers can be produced more easily and efficiently.

Taking time off to give a tour is unusual for Walker this time of year, since he’s so busy harvesting. “In July, I work until I fall over,” Walker said.

After departing Walker’s operation, the tour moved to Dennis Green & Sons. A son, Bob Green, met the tour bus and showed us his feed processing facility. Green grows hay, barley and oats on 1,200 acres and processes them into pellets for sale across Alaska. Unlike many pellet producers outside of Alaska, Green adds no binding agent to his grain, using only natural moisture.

When Green bought his mill, “It was an old piece of junk,” he said, “and it’s just a bit above that now.”

Despite having older equipment, Green is able to run the mill two to three times each week and sells everything he produces—80,000 bags per year—without doing any advertising.

The tour proceeded to the Clearwater Lodge, where participants ate a lunch that included Alaska Grown lamb and pork bratwursts. Afterward, the bus was loaded up once more and headed to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Experiment Farm.

Meghan Lene, agriculture specialist with the Salcha-Delta Soil and Water Conservation District, explained the purpose of the experiment farm. The farm is used to set recommendations for fertilizer and pesticide use in the area.

One experiment being done currently was designed to answer the question: “Are we getting the full benefit of the fertilizers we’re applying?” Lene said that agricultural lime was applied to soils in the fields to change the pH from 5 to 6.5. The reduction in acidity makes nutrients in the soil more available to crops. After three years of testing, Lene said, they now have usable data and publishable results.
A few weather hardy folks walked a half mile to the experiment plots to see the different varieties of canola, wheat, oats and barley before loading on the bus to continue the tour.

Northern Lights Dairy is run by Don and Lois Lintelman, who have been running a dairy since 1969 and have 50 milk cows.

“I was a city girl,” Lois said, “when I married a wannabe dairy farmer, and now here we are.”

The Lintelmans run one of only two creameries in the state, and produce whole and 2 percent milk and hard and soft ice cream for sale at Safeway in North Pole and Fairbanks.

The tour included the milk processing area, which included a cream separator, pasteurizer, homogenizer, and carton and gallon machines. Then the participants moved into the barn to see the milking cows and the newborn calves. When it was time to leave, everyone got a vanilla ice cream cone for the road.

Jeanine Pinkelman met the tour bus at the Delta Meat and Sausage Company. She noted that having Delta Meat as the last stop of the tour was fitting, since it’s often “the finish line for agriculture.”

The Pinkelmans have run the slaughterhouse for 19 years. They process Alaska Grown beef and pork, and also do cutting and wrapping for hunters. Pinkelman said Delta Meat tries to cut out the middleman by selling everything directly to consumers.
The facility is USDA certified, Pinkelman said, which allows for diversity and flexibility.

Pinkelman stressed that the procedures at the harvesting facility were humane. “Animal processing has to be humane, no matter what, whether you do it here or at home,” she said.

A sampling of sausages and pepperoni sticks was provided, and the Delta Farm Tour was over for another year. For information about next year’s tour, contact Mike Paschall, 907-895-5383.

Monday, July 16, 2012

STEAMers produce beautiful botanical books

 Margo Klass and Annie Caulfield work on finalizing a botanical book.

At the conclusion of the Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) Institute July 13 at West Valley High School, instructor Jan Dawe told the participants they had set a new gold standard for art and science education. "There is a lot of life to come after STEAM," Dawe said.

SNRAS Dean Carol Lewis said, "I can't wait to see this go into the classroom and have the students see how exciting science can be."

The 19 teachers attending the workshop produced botanical books highlighting 25 species of the boreal forest. They balanced time in the forest near UAF with classroom instruction and homework.

Mareca Guthrie, curator of fine arts for the UA Museum, said, "It's been so much fun. We've all had to work in areas that weren't our strengths. We found a great deal of growth and encouragement. It exceeded my expectations."

Zachary Meyers, who assisted with the workshop, said attendees was so enthusiastic and supportive. "Everyone is proud of the book," he said. "It makes teh whole week come to a nice finale."

Karen Stomberg, art educator for the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, said the workshop was rejuvenating for her. "There was so much collaboration and I learned so much in such a shot period of time. It has been the most amazing week."

Middle school teacher Chris Pastro told the "graduates" that the magic will be in what they do with what they learned during the workshop. She hopes to hear from all the teachers and see how they incorporate their new knowledge into the classroom.

Artist and instructor Margo Klass said, 'This is a concrete example of what a community of learning can do."

STEAM was a collaborative effort by SNRAS, UAF Summer Sessions, FNSB School District, OneTree and Boreal House.

Inside the botanical book.

STEAM instructors were (from left) Chris Pastro, Jan Dawe, Margo Klass, Karen Stomberg, Mareca Guthrie and Zachary Meyers.
STEAM participants show off their certificates on July 13.

Further reading:
Teachers trek to the forest to study plant life, SNRAS Science & News, July 9, 2012

Monday, July 9, 2012

New ag agent named

Steven Seefeldt (pictured at left) is the new Tanana District agriculture and horticulture agent for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service.

Seefeldt worked as a research agronomist for the U.S.D.A. Agricultural Research Service in Fairbanks for the past seven years and as a rangeland scientist for the U.S. Sheep Station in Dubois, Idaho. He earned a doctorate in agronomy from Washington State University. Areas of expertise include rangeland management, crop rotation and integrated weed management.

He will work to increase local food production. Seefeldt is gauging the interests of area gardeners and producers as he develops programs. He works out of the Tanana District Extension office at 724 27th Ave. Contact him at or 474-2423.

Further reading:
New agricultural extension agent starts work in Fairbanks, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, July 9, 2012, by Taylor Maida

Teachers trek to the forest to study plant life

Margie Beedle of Juneau came to Fairbanks to attend the STEAM Institute and learn how to make illustrated botanical books.

On a warm July afternoon the UAF north campus trail was sprinkled with teachers intent on studying the flora in front of them. The participants in the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) Institute were so focused on their work that the forest echoed with silence except for the panting of occasional passing joggers.

“This will bring the real world into the classroom,” said Karen Stomberg, Fairbanks North Star Borough School District art educator. “This ignites or continues a passion for being outdoors and responding to beauty. It helps them understand what is happening in the ecosystem.

“This is a micro to macro way to look at plants.”

The 19 teachers or retired teachers in the workshop, sponsored by SNRAS, OneTree and Boreal House, spent July 9 in the woods at UAF. Each had been assigned a particular plant to observe, study, draw, preserve and get up close and personal with. By the end of the week the result will be illustrated botanical books and a mini-species distribution map of the area's plant life.

“We are drawing from observation, not from symbols,” said instructor Mareca Guthrie, curator of fine arts at the UA Museum of the North. “Everybody gets a copy. We’re doing classroom and field work all week. It’s a fun thing to do. There is a real exciting kind of synthesis.”

Margie Beedle, a teacher from Juneau, spent Monday getting to know “her” plant, Corydalis sempervirens (rock harlequin). “It’s a new one for me,” she said. While she finds drawing a wonderful pastime, she also sees it as a useful tool with students. “It helps kids quiet down and hones their observation skills,” she said. “Integrating art in the classroom is important. It helps students notice what is around them when they are outside and gets them more interested in the natural world.”

Randy Smith Middle School teacher Chris Pastro was huddled over horsetail. “How many times have I looked at horsetail and not noticed the nodes?” she asked. In the area assigned to her she counted over 50 horsetail plants. In her research she had learned that the roots can go as deep as 40 inches. “They’re rally quite fascinating,” she said.

Pastro is helping with the workshop by showing teachers how to take what they learn this week back to their classrooms. “Our goal is to empower teachers to get kids out and feel competent and observe, to learn some of the science we are integrating,” Pastro said. Throughout the workshop she is creating podcasts about the project to demonstrate to the teachers that they can do that with students too.

For her, it will be a wonderful result when every school library features “beautiful but science-rich books” like the ones being created at STEAM.

Extended Learning teacher at Joy and Ladd Elementary Schools Sandra O’Connor is excited to share what she learns with her students. “This is going to be so neat to do with the kids in the fall,” she said. “I like for the kids to be outside the classroom and I’m fascinated with book-making. The kids will like the hands-on of being outside and sketching useful art.”

The STEAM Institute, offered through UAF Summer Sessions, gives teachers the opportunity to work with professional botanists and artists in a scientific and artistic exploration of the flora of the local boreal ecosystem. It continues through July 13.

Margo Klass, book artist, was delighted with her finds in the forest. She will lead the participants in making botanical books.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Chefs show up at farmers markets to promote local produce

Chef Chuck Lemke prepares bruschetta at the Tanana Valley Farmers Market.

On a busy June afternoon at the Tanana Valley Farmers Market, among booths selling radishes, cookies, honey and artwork, one vendor attracted extra attention without really trying. The crowds were drawn to a new interactive exhibit called “Chefs at the Market.”

Knife in hand and food processor whirring, local chef Chuck Lemke reeled in passersby as he prepared bruschetta. Not only was the appeal the chance to watch a chef at work, but there were free samples to try.

Mixing basil, pinenuts, garlic, lime juice and olive oil, Lemke spread the pesto on slices of baguette, added tomatoes and parmesan cheese and served it up with a smile.

A new program sponsored by the Alaska Division of Agriculture, Chefs at the Market was created to bring attention and additional customers to farmers markets as well as teach consumers new ways to cook and prepare Alaska Grown specialty crops, said Kristi Krueger, a Division of Agriculture’s project assistant.

Funded by a USDA Specialty Crop block grant, Chefs at the Market is paying $15,000 to chefs this summer to prepare on-site food at various markets around the state. In Fairbanks, the Tanana Valley Farmers Market is featuring local chefs Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and the Downtown Market is highlighting restaurant owners. Mondays from 5 to 7 p.m.

“We hope we see a boost in industry sales for the farmers markets that directly benefit local farmers,” Krueger said. “And of course we want to give people the opportunity to talk to chefs around the state and pick up on new techniques on how to prepare Alaska Grown produce. Connecting farmers and buyers to food that is closer, fresher, better is one of the goals for the marketing team at the Division of Agriculture.”

The Midnight Sun Chefs Association and the culinary arts club at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Community and Technical College offered to man the booths at the Tanana Valley Farmers Market, with the money they receive going to student scholarships.

Lemke, president of the chefs association, said his organization wanted to help the students and reach out to the public at the same time. As the summer goes on, the chefs will be able to incorporate more locally grown food, Lemke said. “It’s still early in the season.” He was able to use basil grown at a local farm in the pesto.

Lemke was so excited about making pesto he was fairly gushing. “It’s wonderful and versatile. You can grow basil here very well and you can freeze the pesto before you add the Parmesan. Put in ice cube trays and then pop into a sautĂ© pan or add to soups.”

Pesto makes a wonderful pizza sauce, he said, and slathered on a roast chicken it’s delightful.

As he prepared to wind down his demonstration, Lemke said, “From the time I opened there’s been a lot of interest. I’ve given away 150 bruschettas.”

“This is such a good thing,” Lemke said. “The farmers do a good job stepping forward and this solidifies our community base even more.”

Julie Emslie, project manager with the Fairbanks Economic Development Corp., has helped organize the project. “Many leaders in the Fairbanks local food movement have identified a huge disparity between what most consumers are eating and cooking at home and what is actually being grown in the community around them,” Emslie said.

“Promoting the transition from purchasing foods from outside of the state to Alaska grown produce is a difficult task and many consumers lose interest when they become aware of what products are grown locally,” Emslie said. “We believe that this has less to do with taste or variety and more to do with unfamiliarity. Many are working toward changing the cooking and eating culture in many Fairbanks homes to be more reflective of local foods and products.”

Emslie hopes that the program will help strengthen relationships between local farmers and the chefs, culinary students and restaurant owners who can help promote the use of locally grown food.

At the Monday evening Downtown Market, Amy Nordrum, communications coordinator for the Downtown Association of Fairbanks, is thrilled to add this new element. She simply looked at the downtown association membership to find chefs. On her roster are chefs or owners from Alaska Heritage House (bed and breakfast), L’assiette de Pomegranate, Lavelle’s Bistro, Gambardella’s, Julia’s Solstice CafĂ© and more.

“It’s pretty serendipitous,” Nordrum said. “One of the missions of the market is to tie in downtown businesses and bring traffic to both the market and downtown. We had already thought of doing something like this before the grant program came along.”

“This is a good way to go,” Chuck Lemke said. “It’s healthy for the community in a lot of ways.”

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Delta Farm Tour planned for July 19; Mat-Su Farm Tour July 26

A photo from the 2010 Delta Farm Tour reveals that visiting farms makes for a fun day. Here SNRAS alum Jessica Guritz gets up close and personal with horses.

The Delta Farm Tour is Thursday, July 19. Registration is at 9 a.m. The tour begins at 9:30 and ends at 4:45 p.m. The cost is $50 per person and includes an Alaska Grown lunch featuring locally grown USDA beef burgers and lamb bratwurst at the Clearwater Lodge. If you want to ride the bus from Fairbanks to Delta Junction that morning, there is an additional $15/person fee. The bus leaves from 1000 University Avenue at 7 a.m. and will return at about 7 p.m.

The first stop is Windy Valley Farms, a large-scale hay farm complete with a center pivot irrigation system.  Dennis Green & Sons is a grain and hay operation where visitors will see how feeds are processed. After lunch the tour resumes with a visit to the research fields of the Agriculture and Forestry Experiment Station. Hear reports on the high latitude agriculture research taking place there. Northern Lights Dairy and Delta Meat & Sausage complete the day.

Tour participants must pre-pay before July 10. Please make your check payable to the Delta Farm Bureau, P.O. Box 760, Delta Junction, AK 99737. For further information, call 907-803-4752.

The Matanuska-Susitna Farm Tour is Thursday, July 26 with visits to Glacier Valley Farm, VanderWeele Farm, Havemeister Dairy Farm, Earthworks Farm and Gray Owl Farm. The fee is $55. To register contact Kristi Krueger, 907-761-3858.

Visit here for more information.