Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Google Map of Alaska CSAs gets nearly 79,000 hits

A Google Map of community supported agriculture farms shows the growth of CSAs in Alaska. Created by Deirdre Helfferich, managing editor at the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, the map introduces 32 CSAs to viewers, providing basic information and contact sources for each farm.

Helfferich started collecting CSA names in 2009 because she couldn’t find any resources containing that data. She has long been interested in local foods and served as a founding member of the Alaska Food Policy Council. She and her husband have been CSA members at Calypso Farm and Ecology Center in Ester since 2001.

“Back then there were only a couple of CSAs in the Interior,” Helfferich said. “Now every year there are more and more.”

Google Map of Alaska CSAs
The map has been visited nearly 79,000 times. She suspects researchers from the lower 48 and Canada are visiting the site, along with consumers who are searching for a CSA where they can buy locally-grown food and support local farms. “I’ve gotten really good feedback about the map,” she said. “People really like it and the farmers appreciate being listed.”

The site is fluid, with Helfferich continuing to add, delete and edit the CSAs on the map. She welcomes information on CSAs not currently listed. Contact her at dahelfferich@alaska.edu or 907-474-6923.

The satisfaction from creating the map for Helfferich is that she gets to share valuable information in a fun and free manner. She hopes that she is helping connect Alaskans to farmers in their communities. “It’s about people working together to supply each other with food. That’s the important thing.”

Deirdre Helfferich
Helfferich believes CSAs are successful because people want to be involved in food and get to know the people who farm it. “It’s a really good thing for people to see things they would never see in a supermarket,” she said. “You get to smell the flowers and engage yourself and your kids. It’s a way of creating community with the farm and farmer.”

Belonging to a CSA brings consumers to the realization that there are people behind the food, she said. “You form a connection. It isn’t just an item wrapped in plastic.”

As for the future of the map, Helfferich plans to keep tending it, and she is looking into upgrading to a newer version of Google Maps to add functionality.

She dreams of the day the placemarks on the map aren’t just clustered on the road system, but are scattered around the vast land that is Alaska. “Look, there’s nothing in Nome and there’s nothing north of the Brooks Range,” she said. “Maybe people will see where the gaps are, find a niche and open a new CSA.”

SNRAS holds first Research Day

For 15 years, all natural resources management undergraduate students were required to take senior thesis classes and write research papers. This semester, for the first time, the format was switched so that students prepared posters instead of papers.

Part of the reason for the change is based on the Undergraduate Research  and Scholarly Activity calendar. URSA offers grants for undergraduate research and hosts a research showcase in April.

Jacob Hakala presents his poster.
At the first SNRAS Research Day on Nov. 22 in the Margaret Murie building, the students presented their posters. To get things rolling, doctoral student Watcharee Ruairuen volunteered to give a talk on her "Evapotranspiration from Sub-Arctic Agricultural Ecosystem" poster. Professor Milan Shipka followed with his poster on reindeer gestation.

 Jacob Hakala talked about his poster, "Growth of Siberian Larch in Interior Alaska."


Siberian Larch (Larix sibirica) has historical use from Eastern Russia through to Finland. I am investigating the early performance of the species in Interior Alaska. I will investigate if Siberian Larch is a regeneration option compared to current commercial species, specifically White Spruce (Picea glauce) and Lodgepole Pine(Pinus contorta).
Forty-seven randomized fixed-area plots were established within three timber sales in the Tanana Valley State Forest to collect size data for comparison between species and the respective sale areas in which they were planted.
I found that Siberian Larch exhibited better early-life growth than the other species, but did not encounter nearly the abundance that the more established species displayed. Siberian Larch did not however exhibit significant difference between the sites, while Lodgepole Pine did. This suggests that while the Siberian Larch measured does not exhibit significant dependency on site selection, there could be improvements in the survivorship of the seedlings.
The higher average volume values for Siberian Larch 20 to 30 years of age are consistent with existing literature, but further monitoring on the plots is required to understand later-stage dynamics of the species.

Melissa Dick's poster was "Rapid Soil Carbon Assessment Using VNIR Spectroscopy." She presented at the Matanuska Experiment Farm in Palmer.


There is demand for large amounts of good quality, inexpensive soil data to be used for various soil assessments.  Spectroscopy can offer rapid, timely, inexpensive, non-destructive alternative to lab analysis. The main objective of this study was to develop a reliable, VNIR (visible-near infrared) method to test for carbon in crops and forest soils in southcentral Alaska.  Soil samples were collected from four crop, and four forest sites in the Mat-Su Valley, and scanned with a portable spectrometer.  There was a significant relationship found between quantitative spectral responses, and the lab test results.  The results show that VNIR spectroscopy can be used to predict soil carbon content, and to improve calibrations for future soil assessments in the field.

AnneMarie White's poster was "Lumber Grading in Alaska: Why Not?" She presented via distance technology from Craig on Prince of Wales Island.


According to the International Building Code (IBC) “Sawn lumber used for load-supporting purposes …shall be identified by the grade mark of a lumber grading or inspection agency that has been approved by an accreditation body that complies with DOC PS 20 or equivalent.” Currently, there is only one sawmill in Alaska actively grading lumber for local sale. What are the obstacles that stand in the way of making this practice more prevalent throughout Alaska? A telephone survey of Alaska sawmill owners was utilized to answer the primary question. Telephone and personal interviews with the Director of Quality Services at the West Coast Lumber Inspection Bureau (WCLIB) and the head grader at the only sawmill in Alaska currently grading lumber, were also conducted. The results pointed to an inadequate local market due to an excessive supply of imported lumber, and an inadequate volume of timber for sale by the major landowners in Alaska Education campaigns on a local level could be used to persuade local residents to utilize local graded lumber rather than imported. Sawmill owners could also campaign in favor of changing government policy in reference to allowable timber harvest on Federal and State Forest Lands. 

Other SNRAS faculty and staff exhibited posters, including Research Professional George Aguiar, Professor Meriam Karlsson and Professor Mingchu Zhang. Interim Dean and Director Stephen Sparrow said, "Our first Research Day went very well. We had a good turnout of faculty, students and staff. I'm very pleased that two of the students were able to present their posters via distance delivery. I like this new format; we plan to continue in this manner in the future."
Students, faculty and staff peruse the posters at Research Day.
Jacob Hakala explains his poster to Professor Glenn Juday.

Monday, November 25, 2013

CES forester embeds with SNRAS

Glen Holt, eastern Alaska forester for UAF Cooperative Extension Service, has moved into the O’Neill building where he will have close proximity to the forest science professors.

As CES and the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences begin the process of merging, Holt is tangible evidence of the blending, and he couldn’t be happier about it. “Talking to professors of forest sciences or geography helps me to deliver the message, to take UAF’s research to the general public who can apply it right on their land,” Holt said.

Glen Holt
Growing up in Wisconsin and Michigan, Holt dreamed of becoming a wildlife manager, but after earning a bachelor of science degree in wildlife biology, he realized there weren’t many jobs in that field. He returned to Michigan State University and got a B.S. in forest management. His father was a forester, so Holt knew the value of forests for the land and the economy.

His career has been focused on field work and management, interspersed with gigs as a hunting guide and consultant. He has experience with the Division of Forestry, Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Forest Service and more.

Holt has been with CES for two years, providing outreach throughout eastern Alaska and developing working relationships with state, federal, municipal and Native entities and private stakeholders. He writes newspaper articles and gives presentations about forest management, biomass production, fire and regeneration. How upland forest wildlife habitat management relates to an increased harvest for biomass is another topic of interest. Over the years, Holt has taken hundreds of digital photos depicting the boreal forest.

“I draw from university research and my own experience in Alaska working as a professional forester and biologist in Alaska the last 27 years,” Holt said. “I will have more opportunity to work with SNRAS research and projects due to the merger of SNRAS with CES. I look forward to the association as it complements each of our missions to UAF.”

Holt has been in Alaska since 1982. In his current job he particularly enjoys connecting with rural communities all the way to the Canadian border. He strongly believes in the value of the boreal forest and foresees the job market opening up soon for foresters as Baby Boomers retire. “Many people in the state are interested in the UAF forest sciences academic program being reconstituted and bolstered because there are going to be jobs to fill,” he said.

The boreal forest will only increase in value as the world seeks more biomass for renewable energy. “These are exciting times,” Holt said. “There are so many opportunities in applied northern forestry.”

Holt writes a blog and a quarterly newsletter that is available on the CES website. “I want to be a source of information,” Holt said. “To me, there are no dumb questions. Sometimes those turn out to be the most insightful.”

He and his wife Rose enjoy fishing, boating, hunting, birding and walking. Rose plays the banjo and Glen the mandolin and guitar. He is on the board of directors for the Friends of Creamers Field and is a hunter education instructor for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He is a member of the Society of American Foresters and the Ruffed Grouse Society.

Holt’s office is O’Neill 313 and his phone number is 907-474-5271.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fiber arts students get hands on with qiviut

Students from Effie Kokrine Charter School got to handle raw qiviut during a presentation Nov. 22
by Assistant Professor Jan Rowell.

The fiber arts students learned from Rowell what qiviut is, where it comes from and the current state of the industry. "I hope they gained some appreciation of the uniqueness of the fiber; it's a very tactile thing," Rowell said.

A student from Effie Kokrine Charter School examines raw qiviut.

She explained milling, carding and custom processing. Sources of qiviut in Alaska are limited to one private muskox farm in Palmer and the research unit at UAF's Large Animal Research Station. LARS hosted the seminar, and students could look out the classroom windows and see muskoxen.

The high school's agriculture teacher, Avril Wiers, said, "We've been looking at different fibers and creating a periodic table of fibers. It's important to understand the process of sheep, goat, rabbit, muskox to sweater process." The students are raising angora rabbits.

At Effie Kokrine, fiber arts is part of the school's FFA program.

Jan Rowell explains the qualities of qiviut.    

A student pulls guard hairs away from the qiviut.
Students enjoyed the softness of the fiber.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

SNRAS takes Geography Awareness Week to schools, communities

“What is where?”
“Why is it there?”
“Why care?”

Those are three questions Katie Kennedy, University of Alaska Fairbanks geography education and outreach coordinator, likes to ask students to get them thinking about geography.
During Geography Awareness Week, Nov. 17-23, those questions are asked in classrooms and at public events…a lot.
Fourth grader Riley French explains time zones while teacher Nicole Eiseman looks on Monday at Anne Wien Elementary School in Fairbanks. Volunteers are taking geography-themed lessons into the schools for Geography Awareness Week.

“Geography teaches critical thinking and problem solving,” Kennedy said. “It’s important to know where things are but it’s more than that. It’s important for students to know how the world works. Geography is not just memorizing place names.” She likened that tool to knowing the alphabet so you can learn to read. “It’s all about why were volcanoes there, noting geographic patterns and so much more.”

The art and science of geography teaches students to look at things spatially. “You can map almost anything,” Kennedy said. “You can take all kinds of data and put it on a map and suddenly, it’s amazing.”

As volunteers visit 28 classrooms this week in the Fairbanks area, fourth graders are getting to try first-hand Kennedy’s principles. In an activity she created, children piece together a puzzle-like map of the lower 48 states, then groups of students highlight regions, landmarks, cities, time zones and natural features on their map. At the end of the hour, the groups present their map and information about it to their classmates.

“Teachers love this program,” Kennedy said. “I get a lot of good feedback from them. I just want kids to be excited about geography.

She tells students that for the day they are going to be geographers and create thematic maps. “Maps are cool,” Kennedy declares. “You can map where fans of sports team live, climate, where the most car accidents happen.”

Patrick Foley, an education major at UAF, volunteered for classroom duty for the second year in a row. “I love it,” he said. “It’s fun. I love any opportunity to teach a lesson and geography will be something I teach once I am a teacher.”
Children work on their map during the GeoWeek activity at Anne Wien Elementary School.

He ventured to Anne Wien Elementary School Monday to lead the map activity with Nicole Eiseman’s class. “My students love looking at maps and globes, both to find and identify their place on the planet, and also to make connections with current and historical events,” Eiseman said.

“In fact, the revised FNSBSD social studies curriculum put a significant emphasis on geography. Prior curricula had fifth graders learning about both the geography and history of the U.S. Now the fourth grade focus is exclusively on U.S. physical and cultural geography, while fifth grade focuses on U.S. history and government.

“From my perspective there is an increasing awareness that geography is more than maps and globes, location and physical features, but rather that the study of geography also includes the human/ environmental interactions. I think the renewed interest in place-based education has helped students and teachers better understand that relationship, " Eiseman said.

The excitement was evident in Eiseman’s classroom. “Wouldn’t it be great if you could stand on the map and be transported to that place?” one student asked.

Event to highlight Geography Awareness Week
To celebrate Geography Awareness Week, UAF’s School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences will host the 4th annual GeoFest Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Wood Center.

This is a time for fun, educational, family-friendly, hands-on activities focused on geography. Some of the participants will be Alaska Satellite Facility, UAF’s OneTree program, Arctic Winter Games, Chinese Student Association, Eielson Air Force Base, EPSCoR, 4-H, Georgeson Botanical Garden, MapTEACH, National Park Service, UAF Scenarios for Alaska and Arctic Planning, the Northern Alaska Spatial Data User Group and much more. There will be games and prizes for all ages.

GeoFest is free and parking is free on campus during weekends. For more information, contact Katie Kennedy, cmkennedy@alaska.edu or 474-6121. Visit nationalgeographic.com/education for ideas on how to celebrate GAW.

Rachel and Madyson Covey count tree rings.
Wasilla GeoFest

For the first time, SNRAS hosted a GeoFest in Wasilla. The Nov. 16 event drew scores of geography enthusiasts to participate in activities and games and earn prizes. The event was held at Machetanz Elementary School. Booths featured everything from an outdoor GPS treasure hunt hosted by UAF Cooperative Extension Service to recycling to Alaska Grown.

Children examined their clothing labels to determine where the items were made and marked it on a world map. One especially popular booth was hosted by Valerie Barber, SNRAS assistant professor. She brought a large "slice" of a tree so children could count the rings and determine the tree's age. The young artists used Barber's small tree "slices" to make ornaments.

Ryan Kirn and his dad Bud Kirn participate in the "where your clothes were made" activity.
Ruby and Lesa Thomas participate in a map activity at the Wasilla GeoFest.

Taylor Berberich from the Division of Agriculture maps out the parts of a hamburger with William Cooper.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Maritime experts focus on opportunities in changing Arctic

The Alaska and the New Marine Arctic conference held Nov. 6-7 in Anchorage attracted maritime experts from Norway, Canada, Singapore, Korea, Russia and the U.S.

The focus was on how Alaska can link and gain opportunities in the changing maritime Arctic. Discussed were such topics as: use of Russia's Northern Sea Route; trans-shipment opportunities; future offshore development; infrastructure investment; and, marine safety/environmental protection issues.

Senior Norwegian Government and commercial participants indicated Norway's interests in linking with Alaska for trade and port development. A conference report will be produced and distributed in 2014.

Additional information about the workshop can be obtained from Professor Lawson Brigham (lwbrigham@alaska.edu).

The University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the Institute of the North organized the event, with the Norwegian Embassy and Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development sponsoring it.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Two Rivers students watch the food cycle grow all around them

When students and their families gathered at Two Rivers School for parent night this fall, potato soup and fresh carrots were on the menu. Without a doubt, the children knew where those vegetables came from.

As part of a “learning landscape” program, the entire school has been engaged in not only improving the look of their area but have also influenced the taste of what they and their neighbors eat. “We are feeding our own community one carrot at a time,” said Principal Lori Swanson.
Children enjoy harvesting crops they grow at Two Rivers School. (Photo by Todd Denick)

With a grant from the Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District, the school focused not only on agricultural projects, but horticulture and general improvements to the habitat.

Last May students and teachers built four 4x12-foot planters, filled them with mulch and soil from local vendors and carefully planted carrots, soybeans and potatoes. By fall, the children had harvested 198 pounds of potatoes, 109 pounds of carrots and a tiny amount of soybeans. “The soybeans didn’t get very big,” Swanson said.

Local families purchased the veggies for a reasonable price. The rest was sold at the Tanana Valley Farmers Market with the funds designated for a field trip to Denali National Park next spring so the students can learn more about ecology and the environment.  Enough seeds were saved to repeat the project next year.

Middle school teacher Todd Denick said, “We have a unique environment here at Two Rivers School and we believe it is important to utilize our resources for the benefits of our students.” Middle school students worked closely with the kindergartners and first graders during the harvest. Denick took advantage of the learning opportunities by having the students organize, weigh and average the produce in order to emulate a real life experience. Many of the students participated in the entire process including harvesting, storing, selling, cooking and eating.

“When we begin a project our real hope is to instill in our students a sense of responsibility,” Denick said. “Our school can offer so much to the community outside of our educational pursuits. We have the soil, we have compost, we have seeds and we have the dedicated families to help us continue this project for the coming years.”

Denick recently completed the Master Gardener course and was able to use that new knowledge to work with the children. “The students were ecstatic to get their hands dirty,” he said. “For many of the students, gardening is part of their lifestyle and being able to share the information that they have gathered over their experiences during the summer were beneficial for those who may not have had those experiences. I have never seen the students so interested in trying the produce. It was especially satisfying to watch them try soybeans, which was a new experience for many of them.”

At the school’s harvest dinner, the students were excited to see the full food cycle take place before their eyes, Denick said.

In addition to growing food crops, the students planted iris bulbs around the soccer fields, creating a rain garden.  They also planted 30 trees and shrubs along a nature trail and installed nesting boxes for birds. They even have a designated pollinator garden. Everything from the design to the hands-on work involved the students. “It took teamwork,” Principal Swanson said. “Our goal is to pick small projects we can complete so the kids can be proud of their work.” One future project in the works is to install student-created interpretive signs throughout the grounds.

“We’re out in the country and have access to different things than other schools,” Swanson said. “We can use gardening and the outdoors for science activities. We’ll plant different things next spring; it’s a work in progress.”

Joni Scharfenberg of the Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District said she works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Schoolyard Habitat program. “The motives are for restoration and to get kids outside and learning about their natural surroundings,” Scharfenberg said. “We brought lessons into the classrooms and outdoors. Getting outdoors helps kids utilize real life applications for learning and they have so much fun planting.
Two Rivers students have fun growing food. (Photo by Todd Denick)

“The kids are the future stewards of the land and we are a natural resource state, which will be in their future care, so it’s important for them to learn about natural resources,” Scharfenberg said.
Learn more about Schoolyard Habitats at http://www.fws.gov/alaska/fisheries/restoration/schoolyard_habitat.htm.

This column is provided as a service by the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. Nancy Tarnai is the school and station’s public information officer. She can be reached at ntarnai@alaska.edu.