Sitka UAF student Trevor Schoening earns award to study statewide food production in Alaska

Trevor Schoening (Photo courtesy of Trevor Schoening)

University of Alaska Fairbanks natural resources management student Trevor Schoening of Sitka, a junior, recently received a 2018 Spring Project Award from URSA, the Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity program.

The program awards up to $2,500 to students planning to conduct research or pursue creative projects during the spring semester. Twenty UAF students will receive awards this spring.

Schoening said he’s still developing his project and doesn’t want to build up too many expectations, especially since he’s unsure of his outcomes. But he plans to present his findings on April 10 at the UAF Research Day.

According to a UAF School of Natural Resources and Extension (SNRE) press release, Schoening said he hopes to get a better understanding of where food production is taking place around Alaska. He plans to use the directory provided on the Alaska Grown website to find farmers markets and will ask for a list of vendors to contact for production information.

“In short, my principal goal for this project is to gain a deeper spatial understanding of where food is being grown around Alaska, particularly with regard to distribution through farmers markets,” Schoening wrote in an email. “I hope to contact as many producers around the state as possible in order to obtain a sample representative of the state’s food production, and gather information on the physical location in Alaska where the food is produced, what type(s) of food the producer grows, and roughly how much food is grown by the producer annually. Ultimately the goal for the final project is to develop spatial maps (specific maps for different regions of the state) through GIS that display the geographic locations around Alaska where food is being produced for commercial sale at some scale.”

Food producers wanting to contact Schoening about how much food they grew and distributed can contact him by email at tschoening2@alaska.edu.

Seaweed expert Dolly Garza to give presentation April 27 at UAS Sitka Campus

Dolly Garza, Ph.D., will give a presentation on common edible seaweeds and intertidal beach foods at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 27, in Room 229 at the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus.

Garza, the author of Common Edible Seaweeds in the Gulf of Alaska, is a retired professor with the Alaska Sea Grant program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. A Haida-Tlingít, Garza was born in Ketchikan, where she grew up harvesting seaweed and other intertidal beach foods. She taught seaweed workshops across Alaska during her tenure with the Alaska Sea Grant program, and now lives in Skidegate, Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Canada, where she is a textile artist, basket weaver and raven’s tail weaver.

The presentation is sponsored by the UAS Sitka Campus, Sitka Sound Science Center, and National Park Service. A few samples to try will be available after the talk. For more information, email Kitty LaBounty at kllabounty@alaska.edu.

UAF Cooperative Extension Service releases new food gardening app, Grow & Tell

Heidi Rader shows her new Grow & Tell app. (Photo by Jeff Fay, for the UAF Cooperative Extension Service)

Heidi Rader describes the new Grow & Tell app and website she developed as “essentially Yelp for gardeners.”

Rader teaches gardening and farming as the tribes Extension educator for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service and the Tanana Chiefs Conference. She also reaches gardeners and farmers from around the state through distance-delivered courses.The free app, which was released Tuesday, allows gardeners in the United States to see what vegetable varieties grow best in their areas based on what other gardeners say. The app also invites gardeners to act as citizen scientists and rate the varieties that they have grown for taste, yield and reliability.

Vegetable variety trials conducted in Fairbanks show what grows well here, she said but not in other areas of the state.

“That works pretty well for me but not for people, say, in Arctic Village or Nome,” she said.

Rader hopes that lots of gardeners will rate crops, which will make the app more useful for others. “It’s citizen scientists conducting variety trials where they live,” she said.

The app is available on the App Store for iPhones, Google Play for android phones or as a website at www.growandtell.us. Development of the app was funded by a grant from the eXtension Foundation to promote innovation in the Cooperative Extension Service. To keep the app free, Rader said, Extension will seek sponsorships to pay for updates, fixes and regular maintenance. Additionally, event advertising can also be purchased and targeted to app users locally, by state or nationally.

Rader hopes to expand the app to capture ratings on other plants used in the landscape and garden, including trees, shrubs, flowers, fruits and berries.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks recognized Rader with a 2016 Invent Alaska Award for her work on the app. Cornell University contributed ratings that it had already collected as well as lessons learned from operating a similar citizen science project. A Boston-based company, Geisel Software, built the app. For more information, contact Heidi Rader at grow.andtell@alaska.edu.

• Sitka to host three-day Gathering in conjunction with two-week Introduction to Ethnobotany course

Salmonberries await picking near the entrance to Sitka National Historical Park

Salmonberries await picking near the entrance to Sitka National Historical Park

This month Sitka will host a two-week Introduction to Ethnobotany course on May 19-30, and as part of that course there will be a three-day UAF Kuskokwim Campus Ethnobotany Program All-Hands Gathering for stakeholders on May 29-31 held in conjunction with the class. As part of the Gathering, there will be a couple of events open to Sitka residents interested in ethnobotany and the uses of local plants.

The Gathering is sponsored by the Ethnobotany Certification Program of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Kuskokwim Campus (Bethel), and the Gathering will serve as a chance for stakeholders (students, instructors, elders, colleagues) to to get together to celebrate the program’s first five years, plan the next five years, and network with each other.

The schedule is still being finalized, but the first public event will be on Thursday, May 29, when the 10 ethnobotany class students will make their presentations from 3-5 and 6-8 p.m. (with a break for a bring-your-own dinner) in Room 229 of the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus.

At 9:30-10:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, May 31, keynote speaker Anore Jones (author of Plants That We Eat) will  share her passion for traditional foods of the subarctic. This event will be at the Yaw Classroom at the Sitka Fine Arts Campus.

The Gathering will conclude at 5:30-9 p.m. on Saturday, May 31, with a community potluck dinner/local foods feast and Native dancing at the Sheet’ká Kwáan Naa Kahídi. This event will feature a Native chant from our Hawaiian friends, vending tables, as well as music from the Sitka rock band Slack Tide. The Gathering will provide a main course, some desserts and beverages for this event, and people are encouraged to bring side dishes featuring local food.

For more information, contact Kuskokwim Campus Ethnobotany Program Coordinator Rose Meier, PhD, at 1-907-474-6935 (voice), 1-907-474-5952 (fax) or by email at rameier@alaska.edu.

EBOT Public Flyer final

• Sitka to host two-week Introduction to Ethnobotany course for college credit

EBOT 100 flyer 2014

Sitka will be the site of a two-week Introduction to Ethnobotany summer fieldwork course May 19-30 offered by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Kuskokwim Campus (Bethel).

The Ethnobotany Certificate Program operated by the UAF Kuskokwim Campus is the first such program in this state and only one of a handful that are currently being offered in the entire United States. Ethnobotany is integral to life in Alaska because it recognizes cultural knowledge and deepens our connection with the expansive and exceptional natural world at our doorstep.

Students enrolled in the EBOT program will learn basic plant biology and floral ecology of Alaska, economic applications of ethnobotany, basic applied chemistry of plants, research methods for local specific projects, as well as traditional and new uses of Alaska native plants. These skills will prepare Alaska Native students for employment in wildlife and cultural management agencies, education, and other rural-based jobs, as well as further college milestones such as the associate’s and bachelor’s of
science degrees.

The Sitka-based class EBOT 100, “Introduction to Ethnobotany,” will discuss the relationships between people and plants in the Sitka region as well as other parts of Alaska and the rest of the world. People relate to plants in many ways, for example, by eating them, using them as medicine, naming them and telling stories about them.

To give you an idea of the types of things we’ll discuss, we have included a few sample pages from our ethnobotany program’s upcoming book on the ethnobotany of the Yukon-Kuskokwim region, in Western Alaska. This will give you a feeling for how people of a different region relate to a few species you may also have in your area. Please read the descriptions on the EBOT program website of fireweed, Labrador tea and cloud berry. Then you can take a short quiz to see what you learned, and what you already know about plants and the study of how people use them.

The three-credit class (biology credits) costs $600 for tuition, books and materials, but there are scholarships available for Alaska-based students enrolled in the EBOT certificate program. In addition to the class, there will be a three-day program stakeholder meeting that will end on May 31 with a local foods dinner.

Registration forms for the class and the ethnobotany program are linked below. For more information, contact Kuskokwim Campus Ethnobotany Program Coordinator Rose Meier, PhD, at 1-907-474-6935 (voice), 1-907-474-5952 (fax) or by email at rameier@alaska.edu.

• Kuskokwim Campus Introduction to Ethnobotany 100 (Sitka) course application 2014

• Kuskokwim Campus Ethnobotany Program Application 2014

• UAF College of Rural and Community Development Registration Form

• Newly published Alaska Farmers Market Cookbook helps you turn your produce into a delicious meal

Are you looking for ideas on how to turn your farmers market produce into a delicious meal? Heidi Rader of Fairbanks recently published the Alaska Farmers Market Cookbook, which should provide you with lots of inspiration to cook “simply good food full of Alaska Grown ingredients.”

According to Heidi’s website, “The Alaska Farmers Market Cookbook is an unpretentious cookbook featuring Alaska Grown ingredients. It’s the only cookbook you’ll need to turn your basket of Alaska Farmers Market produce into a delicious meal. Organized by season, you’ll find recipes that make use of local, Alaskan ingredients in the spring, summer, fall, and winter. Many of the recipes were developed using produce from the Little Alaskan Garden. This full-color cookbook features many photographs taken by Heidi Rader. Recipes like Rhubarb Pie with Saffron and Mayan Zucchini Brownies will make you forget all about peach pie or banana bread.”

The book can be purchased off Heidi’s website by going to the book’s page clicking the “Buy Now” link, which takes you to a PayPal page. Heidi is charging $19.95, plus $6.99 shipping and handling ($26.94 total). Alaska farmers market groups interested in selling the book should contact Heidi to discuss possible bulk-purchase discounts. The cookbook is supported in part by the Alaska Division of Agriculture‘s Alaska Grown ProgramFairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Heidi is a lifelong Alaskan who earned a master’s degree in natural resources (with an agriculture focus) from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Colorado. In addition to her Little Alaska Garden farm, Heidi also serves as the tribes extension educator for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service and Tanana Chiefs Conference, and she provides agriculture education to remote communities around the state. To learn more about Heidi and her work, check out this recent feature from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

• New ‘Field Guide to Seaweeds of Alaska’ will help Sitka residents identify various types of seaweeds

Alaska Natives have been gathering seaweeds and other sea vegetables for centuries, with the seaweeds providing an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. There are dozens of types of seaweeds available in Alaska, and most of them are edible.

The Alaska Sea Grant program from the University of Alaska Fairbanks recently released a new book by Mandy R. Lindeberg and Sandra C. Lindstrom called “Field Guide to Seaweeds of Alaska.” This book is billed as the first and only field guide to more than 100 common seaweeds, seagrasses and marine lichens of Alaska. The book features color photos, written descriptions and it is printed on water-resistant paper.

As part of the Sitka WhaleFest Maritime Market this weekend, one of the authors (Lindeberg) will be in Sitka signing copies of the new guide at 2:45 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 6, at the Old Harbor Books booth at Harrigan Centennial Hall. Lindeberg is a self-proclaimed “nerdy” Juneau biologist who works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Marine Fisheries Service Auke Bay Laboratory.

Mandy Lindeberg

Mandy Lindeberg

Lindeberg spent nearly 15 years working on the book with the help of Lindstrom, a professor and researcher in botany and marine ecology at the University of British Columbia who was born and raised in Juneau. Lindeberg took about 80 percent of the photos in the book, hoping to come up with enough decent images so scientists and naturalists had more than the sometimes-hard-to-decipher drawings found in most previous books, while Lindstrom helped with the taxonomic work and reviewed the scientific descriptions.

Lindeberg said the new guidebook will help people be able to better identify the types of seaweeds when they are out gathering (Editor’s note, federal and state subsistence laws prohibit the gathering of seaweed in urban nonsubsistence areas such as Juneau/Douglas and Ketchikan/Saxman, but seaweed gathering is legal in rural areas of Alaska including Sitka and most other Southeast Alaska communities, including areas just outside Juneau/Douglas and Ketchikan/Saxman).

Lindeberg said her guidebook will help people identify the various types of seaweeds, but it does not discuss which seaweeds are edible and how to prepare them, so people might want to use it with another Alaska Sea Grant book, “Common Edible Seaweeds in the Gulf of Alaska,” by Dolly Garza. The new “Field Guide to Seaweeds In Alaska” costs $30 and is available at Old Harbor Books or through the Alaska Sea Grant program’s online bookstore.

• Fast Food Nation author encourages Alaskans to grow their own local food

Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser, second from left, visits with University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences associate professor Joshua Greenberg, left, student Charles Caster, third from left, and professor Milan Shipka, right, during a May 27 visit to speak at UAF. (Photo courtesy of the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences blog)

Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser, second from left, visits with University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences associate professor Joshua Greenberg, left, student Charles Caster, third from left, and professor Milan Shipka, right, during a May 27 visit to speak at UAF. (Photo courtesy of the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences blog)

Eric Schlosser, the author of “Fast Food Nation” and “Chew On This,” encouraged Alaskans to grow their own local foods during a May 27 lunch of Alaska-grown food with University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences (SNRAS) students, faculty and staff involved with food security and food production.

Schlosser, who also co-produced the films “Food, Inc.” and “There Will Be Blood,” was in Fairbanks to give a lecture that night as part of UAF’s Summer Sessions. Stories about his lecture can be found on the SNRAS blog and in the UAF Sun Star student newspaper, and a preview story was in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

During his free lecture, Schlosser discussed the recent changes to how our food is grown and prepared, and about how we are losing contact with how our food gets to our plates. He focused on many of the industrial agriculture themes highlighted in his more popular book, “Fast Food Nation,” and some of the resulting problems, such as the low wages and vulnerable workforce in fast food production and the use of hormones in feedlot cattle and issues with antibiotics given feedlot animals.

He also delved into some of the resulting health issues from eating too much fast food, a topic he discussed in his book “Chew On This,” which was written for older children. (Editor’s note: “Chew On This” has a section about the Stop The Pop movement by schools in rural Alaska to eliminate soda pop from their school vending machines.) According to the SNRAS blog, Schlosser discussed the connections between our highly processed, industrial food and diseases such as diabetes.

The people most at risk are children and the elderly. Fast food, which is high in fat, sugar, starch, and salt, compromises the health of these vulnerable citizens. “These are ideal foods to make you unhealthy,” Schlosser said. “And they sell tons of soda because it is the most profitable thing they sell.”

While people in the US used to be some of the most fit people now they are terribly unfit. The obesity rate has nearly doubled for toddlers and tripled for children ages 6 to 11. “Alaska has one of the highest obesity rates in the US,” Schlosser said. “Alaska has more in common with Alabama and Mississippi than western states when it comes to obesity.”

Diabetes is another concern, with one in three children born in 2000 destined to develop diabetes. Among poor people the number is one in two.

“What is to be done?” Schlosser asked. “That all sounds really grim but an entirely different system is possible and necessary.” He stressed organic foods, buying local food, and reconnecting people with where food comes from. He said he is encouraged by the interest in sustainability found on college campuses.

“The fast food system exploits the weak and the poor and threatens our entire democratic system,” he said. “We need an agricultural system based on social policies and access to healthy, nutritional food for every member of society.”

Schlosser also noted how dependent Alaska has become on imported food, and how that impacts food security.

“Hey, you guys in Alaska gotta grow your own. You need to remember where food comes from. Alaska is the most food insecure state; that is not good.” He said Alaska has 15 million acres suitable for agriculture, yet only 30,000 acres are cultivated. (See addendum below.) “Rhode Island has twice as many farms as you and their value of agricultural products is twice as big. Now come on, you guys need to grow food in your back yards, have school gardens, and buy food grown in this state.”

(Addendum — From SNRAS Dean and AFES Director Carol Lewis, June 1, 2010: The 15 million acres is a wonderful quote, but if you look at Roeger (1958), you’ll see the rest of the story. Only 500,000 are accessible by road or rail. There are opportunities to use non-agricultural lands if we use controlled environments and composting, however. There are more than 30,000 acres actually cleared and in Delta alone there are about 100,000 acres.)

• Local foods a topic of several Alaska news stories over the past week or so

This has been an interesting couple of weeks, with food security being discussed at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention, subsistence rights and responsibilities in the news and other stories highlighting the local foods market in Alaska.

The Alaska Public Radio Network ran a story about food security being a hot topic at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention. One element of the discussion was a report from former state Sen. Kim Elton, now is the Interior Department’s senior advisor for Alaska Affairs, who said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar plans to upgrade subsistence management for the coming decades.

The Alaska Public Radio Network also ran a story (from KRBD-FM in Ketchikan) about an invasive plant species conference in Ketchikan and how to prevent the spread of noxious and invasive plants in Alaska.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner ran an article about how food grown in gardens on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus is finding its way onto the plates of UAF students at the Lola Tilly Commons.

The Alaska Journal of Commerce had an article about how wild plant seeds from Alaska are being stored at the Kew Gardens Millennium Seed Bank (aka the Royal Botanical Gardens) southwest of London.

The Alaska Journal of Commerce also had an article about Anchorage chef Robert Kineen of Orso Ristorante and how he is incorporating more local foods into his menus.

This week’s issue of the Alaska Journal of Commerce also has several articles about various fisheries, from whitefish to salmon to crab. Included in the issue is an article about how wild-caught Alaska salmon and Pacific cod made the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s recent listing of “super green” seafoods because of their health benefits, the sustainable ways the fish are harvested and lack of contamination. Here is a link to the full list from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Consumer’s Guide to Sustainable Seafood.

Former Anchorage Daily News Outdoors Editor Craig Medred, who now writes for the Alaska Dispatch Web site, wrote this column about how some hunters have lost their connection to the culture of hunting.

The Alaska Dispatch also had an article about tough times at the Triple D Farm and Hatchery in Palmer. The turkey farm was made infamous during a KTUU-TV interview of then-Gov. Sarah Palin video last year, when she was pardoning a turkey as a worker in the background was butchering other turkeys (a link to the video is with the story).

The Anchorage Daily News also ran an obituary for Lawrence Clark, 94, aka “The Apple Man,” who was one of the leading apple tree growers in the Anchorage area and a member of the Alaska Pioneer’s Fruit Growers Association. Clark also was able to grow apricots on his land in the Rabbit Creek area south of Anchorage.

The Fairbanks Community Cooperative Market blog posted this essay about sustainable agriculture in Alaska from Mike Emers, the owner of Rosie Creek Farm in the Fairbanks bedroom community of Ester (Rosie Creek Farm is the northernmost certified organic farm in the country). Emers writes about how he wouldn’t have imagined his life’s direction 10-20 years ago, and how becoming a farmer is such a departure for someone who comes from a long line of Jewish tailors. By the way, while you’re done reading Emers’ essay, check out the rest of the Fairbanks Community Cooperative Market site. This is a project to build a market specializing in local foods for the Fairbanks area.

Finally, here is an article from the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service about whether or not there are regions in the country that have lost their ability to feed themselves. The article focuses on a county-by-county study in the northeast part of the U.S. about what local foods currently are available, but it sounds like similar studies are taking place across the country.

• First Alaskans magazine highlights healthy berries

Screenshot of First Alaskans magazine article on healthy berries

Screenshot of First Alaskans magazine article on healthy berries

The August/September 2009 issue of First Alaskans magazine — a statewide magazine of Native business, culture and lifestyle — features an article called “Health Numbers of Berries: Antitoxidant calculations show which ones are best.” This article isn’t posted on the First Alaskans magazine Web site, so a scanned black-and-white PDF version is available by clicking here. The article also includes a recipe for Blueberry Buckle.

For more information about healthy berries, the Far North Science news service, written and edited by Doug O’Harra, about news, research and natural acts from Alaska, released a 2007 story called “Alaska Blueberries: Brain Food” (click here to see the article as published in The Alaska Report). The article includes a link to a 2006 report on extremely high antitoxidant rates in a variety of Alaska berries by University of Alaska Fairbanks researcher Patricia Holloway