State SARE Coordinator:
Summary of 2014 State/Protectorate PDP Activities and Results:
2014 Alaska SARE PDP funds were used to support a large statewide conference, a statewide SARE newsletter, website, and travel. Training topics of the conferences and workshops included: A hands-on workshop for participatory plant breeding, a workshop of record keeping and taxes for agricultural businesses, and talks on a variety subjects in the areas of Sustainable Practices, Emerging Markets, Starting a Farm, Meat and Fiber Production, Alaska Needs, and Plant Breeding and Variety Selection.
The Tenth Annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference was held March 11-13, in Fairbanks, Alaska at the Wedgewood Resort. There were over 180 different attendees at the preconference workshops and two-day conference. Attendees came from communities across Alaska.
The evaluations and suggestions from attendees offered a number of ideas and comments that will be taken into consideration when planning next year’s conference. The most common comment was that the talks needed to be longer than 20 minutes.
Context and Overview:
The Alaska SARE PDP is part of the Agriculture and Horticulture Program, within the Cooperative Extension Service in the School of Natural Resources and Extension of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Agriculture and Horticulture includes programs in commercial agriculture and horticulture, integrated pest management, pesticide safety education, and western plant diagnostic that interface with the objectives of the SARE program. Other state partners and audiences for SARE programs include Alaska NRCS, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and Alaska Division of Agriculture.
Alaska is a large state. Due to the long distances between communities and limited CES personnel, the SARE program relies heavily on partnerships, collaborations, and linkages with other agricultural groups. It is also integrated into other agriculture programs. We frequently do this by using SARE funds to co-sponsor existing agricultural conferences and workshops.
In addition to meeting audiences where they are gathering for preexisting, agriculture-related events, we attempt to overcome the geographical isolation of Alaska agriculture by utilizing a quarterly newsletter and website to promote sustainable agriculture in the state.
Activities and Methods:
In 2014, PDP funds were given to support Extension agents and personal to attend conferences and workshops that further expanded their knowledge of sustainable agriculture practices in order to aid their clientele with sustainable agriculture ideas and practices. Extension personnel attended the annual Western SARE Professional Development Summer Meeting held in Sacramento, CA. Travel Scholarships were also given to Extension agents from Anchorage to attend the 2014 SARE Conference in Fairbanks, Alaska to promote practices and ideas of sustainable agriculture.
PDP-funded Publications/Educational Materials and Products:
Sustainable Agriculture for Alaska Quarterly Newsletter. The publication is mailed to over 500 interested individuals and producers, as well as federal agencies (NRCS, FSA), state agencies (Division of Agriculture, Plant Material Center), and university personnel (CES, SNRAS).
The Sustainable Agriculture in Alaska Website has been online for several years. This site is maintained and updated using SARE funds. This Alaska SARE Website allows online access to contact information, newsletters, educational concepts, educational publications, funding sources, other resources, and a link to the Western Region SARE Website. It is a one-stop shop for Alaskans that is not available in any other format.
We also have a regularly used Alaska Sustainable Agriculture Listserv. The Sustainable Agriculture Listserv is designed to share information on upcoming educational events and grant proposal deadlines. It also can be used to improve communication for agriculture producers and educators across the state of Alaska.
Changes in Ag Professionals’ Knowledge, Intention, and Action:
There were 33 University of Alaska CES and SNRAS employees and students, 13 USDA and SWCD employees, one borough employee, and 14 State of Alaska employees that attended the Tenth Annual Statewide Sustainable Agriculture Conference.
Results from the 2014 evaluation forms recorded that 88% of the individuals that had attended a past conference reported making changes in their practices, i.e. fertilization, water use, crop rotations, marketing, pest management, grant writing, and infrastructure improvement as a result of attending a SARE Conference.
Specific examples of these changes in practice include:
- Experimenting with no-till techniques
- Crop rotations for weed control, top bar hive and feeders for beekeeping
- Used information for marketing improvement and variety information for planting
- Increased direct marketing and used social media
Of the attendees that reported being agricultural educators, 89 % of the conference attendees have used the information learned at the conference in educational programs.
Specific examples of some of the educational programs include:
- We have students tour our farm from the local head start program
- Newsletters, in person conversations
- Farm to school and school gardens
- Shared practices with Master Gardeners and patrons of the farmer’s market
The amount of interest from livestock operators was unexpected and our plan is to boost this part of the conference in subsequent years and to obtain more training opportunities for people working with ranchers.
Involvement of Others in State PDP Planning and Implementation:
We now have a state PDP advisory board that consists of:
Amy Pettit, AK Division of Agriculture
Ruby Hollembaek, Alaska Interior Game Ranch, Inc.
Susan Willsrud, Calypso Farm and Ecology Center
Daniel Consenstein, USDA/FSA
Robert Carter, Alaska Plant Materials Center
Pat Holloway, Georgeson Botanical Garden, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Steven Seefeldt, University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service
Darcy Etcheverry, University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service
The board met twice by teleconference to discuss broadly the educational needs for farmers and ranchers in Alaska and what the conference could do to address those needs, as well as attract new farmers and ranchers. The members of the advisory board were selected for their outspokenness and their areas of expertise. With a little prompting after the initial polite suggestions, the teleconferences proved to be extremely useful in letting us know that we needed to think about sustainable agriculture as a goal for all farms and ranches in Alaska.