Friday, October 17, 2014

Grad students to share Peace Corps experiences

Graduate students in the School of Natural Resources and Extension will share their Peace Corps experiences Friday, Oct. 24 at 2 p.m. in Murie 107.

Julie Cislo, SNRE's Coverdell Fellow this year, served in Panama, teaching English to elementary school children.

Julie Cislo with children in Panama.
Samantha Straus, a Master's International student, recently returned from The Gambia, where she worked with community members on agro-forestry projects.

Samantha Straus with her host mother in The Gambia.
Willie Wilkins' service was in Malawi, helping with gardening, agro-forestry, medicinal gardening and HIV/AIDS education.
Willie Wilkins

Each student will give a lecture, followed by questions from the audience.

For more information, contact Associate Professor Susan Todd.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Students: earn money and scholarships while working an "outdoorsy" internship

Jeff Chen, Student Conservation Association recruiter, will be at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in late October to inform students about expense-paid internships. He will give a presentation Monday, Oct. 27 at 6 p.m. in the Murie Auditorium. Students are encouraged to bring laptops so they can begin the application process that night.

SCA internships can take students to amazing places.
Each year, SCA places over 2,000 interns in a diverse array of businesses, public land agencies and nonprofit organizations throughout the U.S. Students serve in national parks, historic sites, earning a weekly living allowance and AmeriCorps education awards.

Selected interns receive free travel, training and housing. The opportunities are available to all areas of study and there are spring break options, leadership opportunities and summer internships in Alaska and Outside.

Contact Chen at 907 -717-8414. He will also be at the Natural Resources Career Fair Oct. 23 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Wood Center.

Farm to table takes on new meaning at Effie Kokrine Charter School

At Effie Kokrine Charter School, locally grown food did not have to travel far for a wholesome “farm to school” experience.

Local harvest takes on a whole new meaning when the food is grown in a school’s back yard, harvested by students, prepared and served on site.
From left, FFA members at Effie Kokrine Charter School serve up homegrown food at their school: Stefania Kremer, Suleymi Juarez and Catalina Kremer.
Spearheaded by the school’s FFA advisor, Avril Wiers, the project was an offshoot of the summer science program. All season, 25 high school students worked with Wiers in the school garden, growing vegetables and earning science credits. The students read “Chew on This” and Omnivore’s Dilemma” (young readers’ edition).

The Farm at Effie Kokrine also includes ducks, chickens and rabbits. A local Kiwanis Club helped the students build a barn for the animals this summer. Wiers teaches two, four-week sessions of the summer program, with students spending half their time in the classroom and half in the garden. “It’s project-based learning,” she explained. Exploration is the theme, and one student took off with landscape design and another was drawn to beekeeping.

With a grant from the Alaska Division of Agriculture’s Farm to School program, the Effie Kokrine FFA chapter was able to fund the school garden and purchase kitchen swag (hats and aprons), a French fry cutter and a chest freezer.

With the freezer, Wiers plans to preserve more of the garden’s bounty next summer. She has been managing the school garden for years, with its popularity among students growing alongside the veggies. The school even had three CSA (community supported agriculture) members this summer, with  members paying an upfront fee for a portion of the harvest. “We’re breaking into that scene a little bit,” Wiers said.

Her hope is that more vegetables can be served in the school cafeteria. “And we want to integrate cultural foods into the lunchroom,” she said. “We want the students to be more aware of where their food comes from. It’s easy to be complacent about where food comes from but when you plant the seeds, pick the veggies and serve them, that’s a great lesson for kids to learn.”

For the first few weeks of school, the cafeteria featured lettuce from the garden. On Sept. 22, Wiers and her FFA members served roasted cauliflower and Romanesco broccoli, roasted root vegetables and raw carrots at lunch time. Dressed in their FFA blue jackets and new aprons, the students handed out containers of food, while one young man recorded his classmates’ opinions about the menu.
“We tried to make it a special day,” Wiers said. “We needed to use up the veggies from the garden and thought it would be better to have a big event.

“The students have been really supportive,” she added. “We had to find common ground between what the kids will eat and what will grow in Alaska.”

Teacher James Krall said he would love to see the school garden grow. “The best thing that could happen to a school is local food and especially with kids growing the food.”

Wiers has applied for funding to purchase a hydroponic system so the students could grow lettuce year round. “We could stock the salad bar with Effie-grown lettuce,” she said.

Students at Effie Kokrine started a petition to get a salad bar in their cafeteria and they now have it, one of the few schools in the school district with that option. “They were getting the after-lunch slump,” Wiers said. “They wanted to integrate fresh, light, healthy options.

“We have opened up the dialog about what we eat and why.”

Contact info:
Avril Wiers’ email:

Yummy food grown at the school was served to students.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

NRM alum earns UAF alumni achievement award

Jeff Roach, who earned a B.S. in natural resources management in 1987 and did graduate work in NRM at UAF, was honored recently by the UAF Alumni Association with an alumni achievement award.

Jeff Roach
Roach chose natural resources management because he wanted a career in the outdoors. "NRM has been the key to the jobs I got," he said. "My land use planning studies with Susan Todd were instrumental in my getting a great job with the Department of Transportation."

What he liked best about his time with the School of Natural Resources was the camaraderie with other students and the approachability of the faculty. He said he was Professor Pat Holloway's first advisee. "It was an interesting learning experience," he said. "I had a good relationship with my professors."

The following story was prepared in 2012 by the UAA Office of University Advancement (reprinted with permission):

Jeff Roach knows how to run a small city. It’s just one of those things you pick up when you earn four academic degrees and serve 31 years in the Army National Guard. He also flies helicopters, appreciates the symphony and knows how to milk a cow. It’s no surprise that this lifelong learner has been entrusted with leadership positions and has fostered a love of learning in his three kids. But where did it all start?

Roach’s parents, in search of northern adventure, moved from their Michigan dairy farm to the foot of North America’s tallest peak in Talkeetna, when he was a teenager. Alaska has been home ever since. Growing up in a state that’s home to six of the 10 largest national parks in America influenced his decision to study outdoor recreation and natural resources.

After graduating from Susitna Valley High School, Roach joined the Alaska Army National Guard. He began taking classes at Matanuska-Susitna College, arranging his academic schedule to accommodate his Guard commitments. “There were enough classes being offered that I was able to make it work,” he says. The agriculture program awarded him a scholarship and he earned his associate degree in agriculture in three semesters at UAA’s community campus in Palmer. “I liked the small school atmosphere and the rural setting. We had a tight-knit group of students in the agriculture program where I developed wonderful friendships.”

Beyond his school and Guard commitments, he also worked part time for some of the dairy farms in the Mat-Su Valley that were just starting up through a state farm development program. Guest speakers in his agriculture classes discovered his dairy farm background and offered him work on their farms milking cows. Not the most traditional after-school job in Alaska, but one he was glad to take if it meant helping him achieve his goals.

Home nowadays is Fairbanks where Roach works as Northern Region planning manager for the State of Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. He is also a lieutenant colonel and currently serving as chief of staff for the Alaska Army National Guard.

Roach and his wife, Sherilyn, who met while studying natural resources at UAF, started their careers in Eagle, a rural town just west of the Yukon-Alaska border with seasonal access on the Taylor Highway. “She has an adventurous spirit,” he says. From New York’s Vassar College to UAF, Sherilyn had a little time to acclimate to frontier living before accepting a teaching post in Eagle alongside Jeff in his new role with the National Park Service as a park ranger. Roach’s first impression of Eagle? “I loved it!” he says. “I love small towns.” From one small town to another, the Roach family moved from Eagle to Tok, where he took a position with the Bureau of Land Management before ultimately settling back in Fairbanks.

Roach’s travel credentials extend well beyond Alaska, however. In his role as an Army National Guard officer, he’s been deployed to Haiti, Honduras, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Kosovo. His missions have varied—from peacekeeping to disaster relief as he worked his way up from helicopter mechanic to Officer Candidate School graduate and helicopter pilot. One master’s degree in management and another in strategic studies, in combination with his field experience, helped to prepare him for his 15-month deployment (2006–2007) as operations officer for the 1/207th Infantry Brigade in Kandahar, Afghanistan. “It was like running a small city,” he says of his role overseeing operations at the Kandahar airfield for 14,000 troops. “I didn’t sleep much.”

Roach volunteers with the Emergency Services Commission, KUAC Public Radio Citizens' Advisory Council, VFW, Army Aviation Association and his church. "I enjoy serving others," he said.

“I think the military breeds volunteerism,” Roach says. “When you come back from a high tempo operation, volunteering is a great way to use up all of that energy in a positive way.”

Education has always been important to Roach. "My wife has been a high school teacher for 24 years, and I’ve been involved as a student, instructor and supervisor. I feel that being a life-long learner is an important factor for a successful life,” he said. And while he may be done accumulating those academic degrees that started with an A.A.S. from Mat-Su College, he is looking forward to accepting new challenges as he progresses in his side-by-side civilian and military careers.

But it’s not all work and no play. Roach is looking forward to another winter of ice fishing and cross-country skiing.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Want to study in China?

Representatives of Jilin Agricultural University, Changchun, China, will be at UAF this week to work on developing exchange programs with the School of Natural Resources and Extension.

Jilin Agricultural University
A presentation on scholarships will be given Thursday, Oct. 9 from 3:40 to 5:10 p.m. in Arctic Health Research Building, room 183. Lifeng Zhang, vice president of Jilin; Lanpo Zhao, dean of the College of Resources and Environment; and Chun Cui, vice director of the Office of International Cooperation and Exchange; will answer questions about JAU and explain scholarships that are available from the Chinese government.

For more information contact or call 474-7083.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Forest Festival draws hardcore outdoorspeople, despite snowstorm

A full-blown autumn snowstorm did little to dampen the enthusiasm of outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen today at the 17th annual Farthest North Forest Sports Festival.

Event organizers and competitors awoke to several inches of heavy, wet snow, but the ax throwing, log rolling and other woodsmen-style competitions went on as planned.

Matthew Balazs, left, and Marc Oggier build a campfire near Ballaine Lake.
"There was some good competition," volunteer Tom Malone said. "There weren't as many people but the times were close and the competition was good."

The only reason the new Belle of the Woods Ruby Baxter competes every year is because it's fun. She said she enjoys the sawing events the best.

"There is no better way to bring on winter," said competitor Matthew Balazs. "It's the last hurrah. It's good fun and good people." His favorite events are fire building and ax throwing.

Competitor Britton Kerin said he keeps coming back for the fun. "It's a nice fall activity; it gets you out," he said.

Christin Anderson competes in the birling event.
"It's my favorite time of year," said three-time Belle of the Woods Alice Orlich. "As community events go, this is definitely my favorite. You get people who have never done it before and you get the seasoned ones who up the ante and give it the edge."

First-time competitor Christin Anderson said she competed for her sister Teri (a former Belle of the Woods) and her boyfriend, who works on the North Slope. "He does things just for the doing," Anderson said. "I'm not that kind of person and I wanted to see what it's like." She competed in the ax throw, pulp toss and birling.

Perhaps it was a bystander during the birling who said it best. Watching the competitors fall into the chilly waters of Ballaine Lake, he said, "I consider myself pretty tough but I'm not doing that."
Best dressed: Competitors Adrian Baer and Nicole McKenzie came all the way from Palmer to compete with their team, the High Fallutin Aristocrats. Baer is a 2011 UAF geography graduate.

2014 winners

Belle of the Woods: Ruby Baxter
Bull of the Woods: Jason Buist

Ax throwing men: Matthew Balazs
Ax throwing women: Brenda Burk

Double buck saw men: Pete Buist, Jason Buist
Double buck saw women: Ashley Strauch, Ruby Baxter

Single buck saw men: Jason Buist
Single buck saw women: Ruby Baxter

Birling men: John Haley
Birling women: Ruby Baxter

Team events

Best overall team: Old Growth
Second-place team: Satan's Minions

Campfire building: Old Growth
Pulp toss: High-Fallutin Aristocrats
Log roll men: Ryan Adam, Scott Leorna
Log roll women: Christina Tachick, Tamlyn Siloa
Jack and Jill log roll: Adrian Baer, Nicole McKenzie

The event is hosted by the faculty at the School of Natural Resources, Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest staff and the Resource Management Society. Generous donations that helped make the event possible were provided by Northland Wood and the Great Alaska Bowl Co.

Winners named above who did not stay to receive their prizes are asked to contact Nancy Tarnai, Certificates are also being prepared for all the winners.

Bull of the Woods Jason Buist and Belle of the Woods Ruby Baxter.

Eric Cook, left, and Jason Thies compete in a sawing event.

The winner's circle: competitors who earned prizes are pictured.

John Haley wore a cow costume for the birling event and took first place for the men's category.

Friday, October 3, 2014

USDA rep explore Alaska's ag export potential

Christian Foster, deputy administrator for the Office of Trade Programs, USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service, visited Alaska in late September to drum up business.

He met with Anchorage business people about exporting fish, craft beer, rhodiola and birch products  to countries around the world, then went to Seward to visit peony farms and finally to Fairbanks to talk to University of Alaska Fairbanks agriculture faculty and industry representatives from peony and barley flour companies. While in Anchorage, Foster met with Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and experienced a 6.2-magnitude earthquake.

From left, Christian Foster of the Foreign Agricultural Service in Washington, D.C., met with Professor Pat Holloway, Rep. David Guttenberg, peony growers Carolyn Chapin and Ron Illingworth Sept. 26. He said throughout his trip to Alaska that peonies had "risen to the top."
"We want to help you promote agricultural resources and support international food security," Foster said. "Congress mandates that we give out $250 million, but Alaska doesn't take its share. Please find a need for it."

In the U.S., 25 percent of all agricultural products are exported, Foster said. This year, the country set an all-time high of $152 billion worth of food exports, with China being the largest importer. "In agriculture, they import like mad."

Foster believes Alaska-grown food will have a special appeal in foreign markets. "Not only can you say we have American products, you can say we're Alaskan; we have the purest food in the world," he said.

Meeting with SNRE faculty members Mingchu Zhang about canola, Meriam Karlsson about greenhouses and season extension, Pat Holloway about peonies, Jenifer Huang McBeath about potatoes, Greg Finstad about reindeer, along with several forest sciences faculty, Foster extolled the merits of three programs: Emerging Markets, Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops and Quality Samples.

Foster also met Bryce Wrigley, owner of Alaska Flour Co., home to the state's only commercial flour mill. Wrigley's farm produces Sunshine barley, which the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station researched and developed.

The only food product successfully exported in Alaska has been seafood, Foster said. "We have helped Alaska Market seafood worth $50 million in the last 10 years. There is more money we could give Alaska if businesses came and said they have products to export."
Mingchu Zhang, left, and Christian Foster discussed the opportunities for Alaska to export GMO-free canola.

Mingchu Zhang told Foster, "It is great you are here. You can help us link products to markets. There is huge potential here. You opened new horizons for us."

Foster said, "You need Alaska producers and associations to step forward and start the market research about demand. And you need to help farmers think like businessmen. The potential is massive."

As a result of the sessions, Reindeer Research Program Manager Greg Finstad is writing a proposal to help St. Lawrence Island producers market reindeer meat to Pacific Rim countries. "We're developing a business plan for a processing plant," Finstad said. "The timing was perfect."