Educating Alaska Agriculture Professionals on Sustainable High Latitude Horticulture Production Practices

Final Report for EW10-024

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2010: $50,002.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Western
State: Alaska
Principal Investigator:
Jeff Smeenk
University of Alaska Fairbanks
Co-Investigators:
Dr. Milan Shipka
University of Alaska Fairbanks
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Project Information

Abstract:

Initially this WSARE project was designed to include a workshop for Alaska agricultural professionals focusing on season extension techniques and optimizing horticultural production in cold soils. The individual that was PI on that project left UAF and, through communication with WSARE leadership, the project PI and project scope were changed during 2013. The new scope of the project included educating Alaska agricultural professionals about the opportunities for local food production in Alaska and creating synergism between individuals and agencies that address local food production opportunities in the state of Alaska. Major outputs of this project have been 1) two meetings oriented toward helping Alaska agricultural professional work more closely together and collaborate in reference to the local food movement and 2) the production of five You Tube videos that address pertinent issues related to Alaska agriculture.

Project Objectives:

The objectives of this project were two-fold; First, this project aimed to improve information and activity output directed at clientele across the state by increasing collaboration and cooperative efforts between the UAF Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and the UAF Cooperative Extension Service in programming concerning local food issues – food production in Alaska. Second, this project aimed to provide user friendly information on agriculturally important topics through production and development of You Tube videos suitable for end user consumption in Alaska.

Introduction:

Almost 95% of food consumed in Alaska is imported and food prices are higher than any of the contiguous United States. Today the majority of Alaska communities, rural and urban, rely on the import of foods by land and sea to meet the bulk of their dietary needs. In general, production and procurement options for alternative, healthful foods are limited by the costs and challenges of transport from southern supply centers, and by lack of in-state agricultural and manufacturing infrastructure. Food destined for Alaska travels an estimated 1600-3000 miles from producer to the central distribution hubs of Anchorage and Fairbanks. From those hub points, the food may travel several hundred miles more to reach the remote communities throughout the State. The long food chain imposes an intimate link between the price of food and the price of fuel. As such, small village stores, mostly in Native communities, are stocked with foods that need a long shelf life and, hence, are generally of lesser nutritional quality.

Food security is a major concern for all Alaskans. At this outer limit of the food chain, extreme remoteness amplifies not just the costs, but also the vagaries and vulnerabilities of production. Potential disruption of the distribution systems are more exaggerated than the standard “food miles” concept implies. For the roughly 20 Alaska communities monitored by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service, food costs for a family of four can be as high as 250% that found in Portland, Oregon. By way of example, it is not unheard of to see a gallon of milk cost $15 in a village store.

A “perfect food system storm” occurred in many Yukon River communities in 2009. This was driven by the closure of the salmon fisheries followed by fuel prices that made it almost impossible for many to harvest local foods such as moose meat and drove food prices in community stores to unprecedented levels. It is essential to underscore the fact that the high price of food does not reflect quality.

More than 65% of Alaskans live in urban or suburban settings where they generally have access to the same stores and same items that are available to people living in the lower 48 states of the USA. Even these urban Alaska populations are subject to problems related to food security. During the summer 2013, a landslide destroyed a section of the Alaska Highway and resulted in the road being closed for six days. People in the urban centers experience empty shelves in the national chain grocery stores located in Alaska cities, after only six days of road closure.

Even before the occurrence of the naturally caused events described above, many people in Alaska where working to stimulate local food production and to stimulate interest by Alaskans to consuming locally grown and gathered foods. Many organizations and agencies have worked or are working on similar goals associated with food security and related to the local food movement. The Department of Agriculture and Horticulture in the School of Natural Resources and Extension (SNRE) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) has been a leader is this effort. The emphasis of this grant funded project has been to educate Alaska agricultural professionals about the opportunities for local food production in Alaska and to create synergism between individuals and agencies that address local food production opportunities in the state of Alaska.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Anne Christie
  • September Martin

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

To accomplish objective 1 described above, two face-to-face meetings were held at the UAF Matanuska Experiment Farm involving agents and associates from the Cooperative Extension Service and Scientists from the Agricultural Experiement Station. During the first meeting, Experiment Station and Extension personnel from across the state of Alaska, an area equal to 20% of the landmass of the lower 48, were able to spend a full day together inventorying what was being undertaken in various areas of the state and were able to brainstorm ideas and develop collaborative efforts to address identified needs. Participants from the Alaska Division of Agriculture, the Alaska Farm Bureau, the Alaska Diversified Livestock Association, the Alaska Fiber Producers, and the Alaska Community Garden Association were also in attendance to provide stakeholder input for the University based agricultural professionals. During the second meeting, the professionals from the Experiment Station and Extension gathered to inventory and provide updates about what efforts had been undertaken and what had resulted from collaborative activity. Project funding was used for travel from many points in Alaska, allowing some participants to meet face-to-face for the first time.

To accomplish objective 2 described above, agriculture professionals with the Experiment Station and Extension were provided the oportunity to develop scripts for use in professional video production for relase as YouTube videos directed at end user groups. Five scripts were accepted and resulted in the production of five You Tube videos now on the UAF Alaska Extension YouTube Video website (https://www.youtube.com/user/UAFExtension). Project funding helped provide the ability to use professional videography. Subject matter of the videos included holistic grazing management and low stress animal handling, plant beeding for Alaska conditions, body condition scoring livestock, and veterinary care of food animals.

Outreach and Publications

Shipka, MP and JE Rowell. 2013. Holistic range management and low stress animal handling with Dr. Ben Bartlett. Jeff Fay videographer/editor. UAF Cooperative Extension Service and USDA WSARE. Available online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0lKGfrRe7I

Seefeldt, SS and MP Shipka. 2014. Plant breeding for Alaska with Jim Myers. Jeff Fay videographer/editor. UAF Cooperative Extension Service and USDA WSARE. Available online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvKXfVHyW_o

Lunn, LM and MP Shipka. 2015. Livestock body condition scoring with Dr. Lisa Lunn. Jeff Fay videographer/editor. UAF Cooperative Extension Service and USDA WSARE. Available online at http://youtu.be/cah4w9g5ptE

Lunn, LM and MP Shipka. 2015. Identifying sick livestock with Dr. Lisa Lunn. Jeff Fay videographer/editor. UAF Cooperative Extension Service and USDA WSARE. Available online at http://youtu.be/hfE78N_xFBg

Lunn, LM and MP Shipka. 2015. Medicating livestock with Dr. Lisa Lunn. Jeff Fay videographer/editor. UAF Cooperative Extension Service and USDA WSARE. Available online at http://youtu.be/6tOQe1x6CWk

Outcomes and impacts:

Following is a listing of activity outcomes and impacts that resulted, at least in part, because of the new scope of the project. The redesigned project aimed to educate Alaska agricultural professionals about the opportunities for local food production in Alaska and create synergism between individuals and agencies that address local food production opportunities.

Activity outcomes and impacts:

Plant selction by Delta Junction participants for producting oats for human consumption, wheat species suitable for growing in interior Alaska, and early maturing canola with low green seed content.

Ongoing involvement in and promotion of farmers markets throughout the state of Alaska; 11 in Anchorage, 2 in Fairbanks, 2 in Palmer, 1 in Delta Junction, 1 in Kenai, 1 in Homer, 1 in Talkeetna, 1 in Kinney Lake, 1 in Valdez.

Collaboration with the Alaska IPM program to develop a web tool for submitting photographic samples of pests for identification by expert personnel.

Community garden fertilization using composted fish waste in Kake, Alaska.

Training for farmers in how to utilize grazing management practices and how to develop a farm plan for pastures. Training occurred via video introduction with follow-up half day on-farm application for interested farmers. Eight area farmers developed their own grazing plans for their farm.

Training for farmers in low stress animal management.

Professionally produced videos – currently have had over 800 views.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

This WSARE project has enhanced cohesion among professions that are working to address local food production and consumption in Alaska.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

A major potential contribution of this project has been (and hopefully will continue to be) better and more coordinated efforts among the agricutlural professionals in the state of Alaska as we all work to serve a clientele interested in local food production and consumption.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.