Academic programs develop farmers
Roger Ridenour grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania, but he is learning about farming in Alaska from the School of Natural Resources and Extension.
“I know farming in Pennsylvania but Alaska makes it twice as hard,” says Ridenour, who came to Alaska as a tuba player with the Army and stayed. He and his wife bought 63 acres to farm near North Pole.
So far he has taken classes on greenhouse management, plant science, soils, sustainable agriculture and plant propagation. He hopes to have a producing greenhouse within four years, and also raise vegetables, pigs, chickens and cows.
Horticulturist Meriam Karlsson, the department chair for the agriculture and horticulture program, said the school is definitely improving students’ awareness about food production, which is important since an estimated 90 to 95 percent of food eaten in Alaska is imported. Ridenour believes that farming in Alaska has a future. "Alaska food security is a problem that needs to be fixed,” he said. “I plan on being part of the solution."
“To be sustainable, you have to make a profit,” notes Karlsson.Karlsson team teaches a new class, Principles of Sustainable Agriculture. Students learn how to make farming sustainable from ecological, social and economic viewpoints. They read and discuss farm case studies and learn about sustainable management of soil, plants and animals. They are also grounded in the practical aspects of farming.
- An animal science class covers the science of livestock production. Students can also take that knowledge on the road. As part of another class about Alaska natural resources issues, they tour livestock operations and meet producers.
- The Calypso Farm and Ecology Center in Fairbanks offers a hands-on farmer practicum that is part of the school’s offerings. Participants live on the farm and learn about planting, weeding, harvesting, composting, farm planning, raising livestock and more.
- Agriculture was one of five fields of study offered at the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines (now University of Alaska Fairbanks) when it opened in 1922.