Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Extension offers apple grafting workshops

Fairbanks farmer Steve Masterman will teach apple grafting workshops May 3-4 at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service district office in Fairbanks.

Apples do grow in interior Alaska (UAF Photo by Todd Paris)  
Participants will find out what rootstocks work best in different locations and will graft four apple trees to take home. Extension program assistant Darcy Etcheverry said a typical apple tree will not grow in the Fairbanks area; it needs to be grafted to roots from hardy crabapple varieties.

A beginner workshop will run from 10 a.m. to noon May 3, and an intermediate workshop for those who have had previous grafting experience will run from 1 to 3 p.m. May 4.

A $30 fee covers materials. Each workshop is limited to 30 students and preregistration is required. To register, call Ronda Boswell at 474-2450. The Extension office is located at 724 27th Ave., on the south side of the Fairbanks Community Food Bank building.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Middle schoolers moved by Earth Day demos

The Earth Day open house dubbed "Sap to Syrup: the Birch Way" attracted interested visitors; the most enthusiastic being the hosts, Tanana Middle School seventh graders.

From left, Bre-Anna Aday, Jasmine Nicholls and Emma Johnstone demonstrate how to measure concentrations of sugar in birch sap.
Science students from Carri Forbes' class were eager to share their knowledge of tapping birch trees for sap, processing the sap via reverse osmosis and making birch knitting needles. Working in conjunction with SNRE's OneTree Alaska program, Forbes and students created the public event to share the joy of harvesting one of the state's purest natural resources, birch sap.

UAF engineering students Jordan Merkes and Zach Alkire improved the OneTree reverse osmosis unit for their senior design project. "We increased the efficiency modification for birch sap reverse osmosis," Merkes explained. The machine, created by SNRE graduate student Tricia Kent, purifies birch sap and concentrates it down so it can be cooked into syrup.

A special treat occurred with OneTree Alaska Director Janice Dawe arrived from a visit to Juneau with historic pieces of mahagony from the Baranof Hotel and oak from the governor's mansion. OneTree will use them to make special knitting needles. Upon glancing at the historic wood, one of the seventh graders was so moved, he exclaimed, "I'm going to cry!"

Forbes got funding for the service learning component through a student achievement grant from Youth Service America and State Farm Insurance.

Further reading:

Graduate student invents DIY reverse osmosis system for birch sap concentration, SNRE Science & News, Jan. 15, 2014, by Nancy Tarnai

From left, Christian Rochester, Amanda Brand and Bailey Taylor make knitting needles out of birch.

OneTree Alaska Director Janice Dawe arrived with her well-wrapped historic wood from Juneau.

OneTree volunteer Birch Pavelsky opens the parcel of historic wood.

Bailey Taylor was excited about the notable wood from historic sites in Juneau.

Jordan Merkes (left) and Zach Alkire, UAF engineering students, improved the OneTree reverse osmosis unit for their senior design project.

Garden Club honors student

SNRE student Nicole Dunham was honored by the Fairbanks Garden Club at an April 16 meeting.

The members presented Dunham with a $300 scholarship and invited her to join the club.

"We applaud you for seeking to involve educators in the early years," said Amanda Ross, vice president of the garden club. "What a treat to see and develop those young minds to love and enjoy planting and seeing the seeds grow into exactly what they are supposed to grow into. A miracle it is!

Nicole Dunham
"We hope to hear more about your research and outcome of that research."

In her presentation, Dunham told the gardeners about growing up in Fairbanks after moving here from New York. She summarized her Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity-funded project called "investigating challenges and benefits of garden-based learning in early childcare settings." She is interviewing pre-school teachers about their thoughts on incorporating gardens into pre-schools.

Dunham's mentor is Andrea Bersamin of the Center for Alaska Native Health Research. "It's been an exciting project," Dunham said. She will present her findings on UAF Research Day, April 29.

Her senior thesis project dovetails with the URSA work. Mentored by Professor Meriam Karlsson, Dunham will review pre-school gardening curricula to discern what will work best for young children. "I will then apply that knowledge by looking at curricula that is out there, most of which is applicable to the lower 48 and try to find ways to make it work for Alaska in both urban and rural situations," Dunham said.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Liben regales with stories of dancing across Peru

When Sarah Liben arrived in Peru as a Peace Corps Volunteer she barely spoke Spanish and was assigned to a town that hadn't previously had a Peace Corps presence.

Talk about being outside your comfort zone!

Sarah Liben, left, gets a hug from classmate Haley McIntyre after Liben's presentation April 17.
Liben, a current SNRE graduate student, persisted and survived. Talking to the Natural Resources Management 692 students April 17, she called those three years a unique experience.

Growing up in Connecticut, Liben studied for three months in Tanzania while in high school. On the way home from Africa, she made up her mind to serve in the Peace Corps. After earning a degree in natural resources management from the University of Connecticut, Liben applied to the Peace Corps and got her assignment to Peru, an "OMG moment" in her life.

"I've been an environmental bum my entire life," she said. "I wanted to understand how developing nations address environmental issues."

Liben lived with a host family for three months while going through training and learning Spanish. Then she was assigned to Yauyos, in a rural community of 300 called Alis, at 10,000 feet altitude. Just getting there was an adventure. Traveling in a rickety bus on twisting mountain roads brought some scary life moments.

While living in Peru, Liben trained to run a marathon and took up with a sweet black dog named Goofy.

Her work focused on reforestation, solid waste management and environmental education. She and the village children planted trees around the landfill. Later when she returned and saw how tall the trees had gotten, she shed a few tears.

Cultural immersion is important for Peace Corps Volunteers, Liben said. "You've got to get with the community so I danced a lot."

In her next place, Olmos, she helped with an environmental radio program, "The Ecological Hour," and worked with schools to integrate environmental, risk management and health curriculum. One of the big issues was HIV and AIDS prevention. Liben obtained a grant allowing her and two teachers to attend a training workshop.

She hosted a recycling competition for children and presented puppet shows with environmental themes. Spending time with children enriched her Spanish skills and six months in, she was fairly fluent. Liben said it was hard for people to view her as a professional when she had second grade language skills. "Once people see that you are here to stay and your language advances you form relationships and earn respect," she said.

It also took time to adjust to the high altitude and not to get sick all the time from the food and water.

"You realize quickly this is reality," she said.

To be a good Peace Corps Volunteer it takes flexibility. "You've got to learn to be resilient," Liben said. "You are not in your comfort zone and you've got to be OK with that. You need to be adaptable, chill, have fun and be there for the right reasons."

The Peace Corps turned out to be a wonderful experience for Liben. "It was the best thing for me," she said. "I wouldn't have done anything differently. It refocuses you and your whole life is different after the fact. It does have lasting impacts whether they are visible or not.

"It was an adventure every day."

It's sap tapping time in interior Alaska!

With the pounding of a nail into birch bark, spring has sprung in interior Alaska.

And with that, SNRE Instructional Designer Zachary Meyers is traveling to schools around the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District in the coming weeks, helping students learn the right way to tap for birch sap. His tiny car is packed with sap bags, tapping equipment and white buckets.

Zachary Meyers, right, taps a birch tree for sap at Randy Smith Middle School.
Through the OneTree Alaska program, students learn the science of one of the state's purest natural resources, birch sap. They measure the concentration of sugar, volume of sap and air temperature at their trees, recording data just as scientists do.

On Thursday, Meyers visited Chris Pastro's extended learning classroom at Randy Smith Middle School. The seventh and eighth graders excitedly strapped on snowshoes and tromped through the adjacent forest to tap their first schoolyard birch. Pastro's classes have participated in OneTree activities since the beginning of the program in 2009 but they had previously tapped trees on the UAF campus, not in their own schoolyard.

"I want them to be keen observers and discover what is going on inside the tree this time of year," Pastro said. "I want them to make connections through scientific data but also through writing and art and to notice what is going on in our own backyards."

Pastro loves that OneTree projects are hands-on, not just learned from reading a book. "They will actually be measuring and analyzing," she said. Her classes have been conducting three water treatments for birch sapling dormancy since January and have gotten valuable results. Before the end of the school year, they will plant the saplings at the UAF University Park Building.

Another aspect of OneTree that Pastro raves about is the opportunity for students to work alongside scientists. "They see the possibilities and begin to think they could do that type of work too."

Meyers enjoys helping students learn the practical aspects of the science they have studied all year. "And they get a sense of responsibility when they are harvesting a natural resource," he said.

Chris Pastro, right, points out the differences in absorption of colors as Zachary Meyers holds the containers.

Merger to be addressed in April 24 lecture

The co-leaders of a new University of Alaska Fairbanks unit will discuss the merger between the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the UAF Cooperative Extension Service Thursday, April 24 from 3:40 to 5:10 p.m. in O’Neill 201.

The talk will be presented to graduate students in the Natural Resources Management 692 seminar, but guests are welcome to observe.
Fred Schlutt

Steve Sparrow
Steve Sparrow, interim dean of the school and interim director of the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, and Fred Schlutt, director of CES and vice provost for outreach, will explain how the merger will strengthen the research, teaching and outreach capabilities of the new unit, dubbed the School of Natural Resources and Extension by the University of Alaska Board of Regents in February.

For more information, contact Professor John Yarie.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Celebrate Earth Day by tapping for sap

Tanana Middle School science students will host a community event on Earth Day, April 22, to demonstrate the science of one of Alaska’s purest natural resources, birch sap. “Sap to Syrup: The Birch Way” is the theme.

Working in conjunction with the University of Alaska Fairbanks OneTree Alaska program, the students will demonstrate tapping sap from a birch tree, explain sap processing, give taste tests, manufacture knitting needles and show off the new OneTree reverse osmosis unit.

Instructional Designer Zachary Meyers taps a birch tree for sap.
Two UAF engineering students will help explain the reverse osmosis unit and Birch Pavelsky, local wood crafter, will be manufacturing the knitting needles out of birch.

OneTree Alaska has been working with Carri Forbes' science students at Tanana Middle School for several years.

The event will occur at the UAF University Park Building, 1000 University Ave., Room 102, Tuesday, April 22 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

For more information, contact Zachary Meyers. Parking is available on campus by permit; a parking kiosk is located at the building.