Author Archive

Scientists Using DNA To Track Salmon

March 19, 2010

Mar 19, 2010

Victoria is in Fairbanks this week attending sustainable gardening conferences. From her latest post you can tell she will have much to report but it will take her a little time to organize her thoughts. Bottom line – good things are happening!

While we wait to hear more about gardening in the bush, let’s roll back the clock to last year at this time.

Vic was heading off to the Northern Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Anchorage to testify about the Chinook Salmon bycatch issue. She live blogged from the meeting and we were all disappointed when the bycatch cap was set higher than the 32,500 cap we endorsed.

Before the meeting last year Vic wrote about the need for science in the salmon bycatch debate.

Given how complex not only the fishery but the science, or lack of it, that is used to manage fisheries we are working to figure out what looks to be the best solution for our villages.

Now there’s news from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Scientists are using DNA to chronicle the origin of salmon to river spawning beds up and down the Alaskan coast.

From the Tundra Drums, 3/19/2010

Scientists at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are pushing the genetics frontier with a multi-million dollar study designed to verify stock composition of sockeye and chum salmon harvested in Western Alaska, from Chignik to Kotzebue.

DNA is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in development and functioning of all known living organisms. DNA is a blueprint or code carried in the genes. By comparing samples of DNA in fish harvested in Western Alaska with DNA samples taken from fish in natal streams, geneticists will know where the harvested fish were headed to spawn.

This data could be used to identify causes for low salmon returns. As Vic explains it:

By knowing the rivers of origin, through the DNA, we can better manage the fish. Most of the fishing districts in Alaska are managed on the concept of a ‘terminal fishery’. This means that instead of fishing in the middle of a bay that can be fed by a number of different rivers, catching fish from who knows which river or even maybe fish that ‘wander’ into the bay from a whole other area, we can tighten down the fishing areas to target fish. We can bring fishermen into the mouths or even the actual river to catch only those fish destined for that river. If it is having an issue with returns of stock we can back off and fish another stronger river.

The collection of DNA data pinpointing the origin of Alaska’s salmon is a step toward compiling a dynamic scientific data resource to track the journey of salmon from their birth in the rivers of Alaska and Canada to their life in the pacific and their return to their spawning grounds.

Alaska Pi has the Tundra Drums story on her blog and welcomes your comments at Pi in the Sky.

Alaska: Sustainable Gardening Gains Momentum

March 18, 2010

Mar 18, 2010

Organic vegetables produced at Jewell Gardens, Skagway, Alaska

How do you capture all the ideas presented in just last two days? Give up and do an overview!!!

I can tell you I have started two posts so far and had to scrap them for later as there is too much information and excitement I want to pass on NOW :-)  I am going to go for a recap of the last two days and hopefully come back and do more in-depth.

First off there are more people here than last year and they had 200 then. I haven’t heard a final count but will find out. Also the presence of farmers, some with 2,000 acres or more, has been a surprise this year.

I am also trying to get more information on all the places in the state that have things happening in agriculture. There were over 27 communities present last year and I am hearing still more this year.

The national speaker, Chris Blanchard from Iowa, brought us up to date on a lot of issues from the lower 48. Things like food safety. Case in point…spinach sales have YET to recoup from the food poisoning recall of 2006 so these things make an impact EVEN if you are not involved directly in the production of the problem product.

He also did a great presentation on time management for farmers that I believe can be transferred to anyone’s life. More than getting more organized it was on choosing priorities and giving yourself permission to say no to more things, at least for this time in your life. Also how to give yourself credit for all the different hats you tend to wear. (we do a lot of that kind of thing in Alaska so it hit home with LOTS of people)

Some type of federal regulation structure for fresh greens and produce will most likely be passed in the near future, with little to no exemption for smaller farmers. IF this goes the way of organic certification it will take a number of years to be fully implemented but it is coming. The FDA and federal government have food safety on the radar now and are being pushed to come up with some guidelines. It is understandable, although I am not sure how much it will really help when you look at how much is produced in the US and how relatively safe it is.

We had a number of presentations on subjects such as Insects That Threaten and Enhance Alaska Agriculture, If You Garden, Think Cabbage Moth/Potato Virus and Bees That Help. We are pretty lucky that we do not have lots of harmful pests, but would benefit from a few more positive ones.

We had a GREAT presentation on a historical garden in Skagway, Jewell Gardens. This is an old homestead from the 1840’s gold rush time that was one of the biggest vegetable producing gardens in the state.

The current owner has used the cruise industry as a way to support her gardening. She does vegetable gardening as much as flowers. One neat thing she brought up was that she planned at least one of her gardens to look like a big flower from the air as a way of bringing attention to her place. Also, each year she gets at least one complaint from the visitors that they did not get to see a HUGE vegetable, like a cabbage, on the tour in MAY!!! She is determined to do that but is not sure how it will ever happen. It does bring to mind how much of a disconnect there STILL is for people about how and where their food comes from!

Meyers Farm, Bethel, Alaska

We got a quick update from Tim Meyers of Bethel, he is the farmer in the coastal village north of us that is producing such things as squash and cucumbers in a growing zone of 4. (Photos)If you are not aware of what that means, it is where temperatures rarely get over the 40s at night, is cloudy and cool most of the time. He let us know that he continues to have great success with converting the tundra into vegetable producing lands.

He brought an article for us to review that shows the food growing regions of the world, and areas that are some of the most productive or fertile, even if they do not produce food. Some of the BEST AND MOST FERTILE LANDS are in the Alaska Peninsula (that is us in Bristol Bay) and the Bethel area!! This is in a National Geographic, September 2008 issue!! His comment, of which I have to agree, is ‘what are we waiting for?” It was brought up later that the entire organic movement was pretty much taught farmer to farmer. It sure looks like this is needed to help get food production going again in Alaska.

Unfortunately there was no presentation on goats, thus nothing on cheese and milk products, although they were discussed in another context.

Our neighbor to the north, Igiugig Village, gave a presentation on how their first small greenhouse constructions went, until a major wind blow 50+ mph hours in July. They were left with it in shambles and a few beans surviving.

They currently do a community table scrap to egg program (Editor’s note:??) that might turn into a business someday, also a community potato growing program.

They will put in a new, bigger greenhouse this coming year – not sure what all they will do as a precaution against the wind but as the tribal president said, sometimes baby steps are better when you are just learning.

We learned of a new community grocery, featuring only AK grown products, that has just opened in Fairbanks.

There were a couple of presentations of programs that provide resources so that farmers, researchers and support people can work together to exchange ideas and methods of research. Some funding is available for these projects but must undergo a pretty tough examination program.

Composting, grant writing and more food security finished up the day. Lots of subjects, presented in a quick, efficient and interesting program.

LOTS of energy and excitement that carried into the dinner featured upstairs.

Oh yes, fun things! I noticed some differences between fishermen and farmers; farmers tend to wear jeans, fishermen Carharts; lots of women are doing knitting and crocheting today, more real young kids are present,  and LOTS more food at farmer events, much more coffee for fishermen :-)  Biggest thing, everyone here also gets excited over new ‘toys’. A tractor dealer brought a ‘sample’, we all flocked around it :-)

~ Victoria Briggs

Tilling the Tundra, Ready for Spring…

March 15, 2010

Mar 15, 2010

Victoria heads to Fairbanks today for a couple of interesting workshops.

The trip begins with the 6th Annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference and Organic Growers School.  This two-day workshop from March 17-18 features a variety of presentations about sustainable agriculture from producers, agencies, and researchers around the state.

Sustainable agriculture is an approach to farming that is good for the environment and the community, according to conference organizer Michele Hebert, agriculture and horticulture agent for the UAF Cooperative Extension Service.

In Alaska, as in most of the U.S., there has been a successful initiative to eat locally. Farmers markets are springing up as organically grown produce is being embraced by city dwellers. Restaurants are snapping up Alaska Grown produce.

In rural Alaska, where the high price of fuel has driven up the cost of everything, the price of flown-in fresh produce has motivated people to develop a market for locally grown food sources, too.

Meyers Farm

Tim Meyers is leading the movement in Bethel. His organic farm is a shining example of what is possible when sustainable methods are combined with new techniques and technology to cultivate the tundra.

Welcome to Meyers Farm in Bethel Alaska. Currently we are providing the local community with affordable, fresh and organic produce during the growing season. It is our intention to provide locally grown produce year round for our community in Bethel, and as we grow throughout the rest of Alaska.

Tim will be at this year’s conference and Vic will be reporting on his progress and lots of other interesting facts about cold weather gardening in Alaska.

Gardening is different in the land of the midnight sun. Long sunny days and rich soil support a range of crops but the short growing season makes planning essential. Seeds must be started in greenhouses or on the kitchen windowsill while snow is on the ground.

We all remember Vic’s day-old chicks arriving last spring to feed the summer fishermen.

At the conclusion of the first conference, Vic remains a couple more days for a second subregional conference sponsored by Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (Western SARE) and the USDA.  This more directly focuses on agricultural sustainability throughout the western states, including Alaska.

Another way to explain these two conferences is:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Western SARE (Sustainable Agriculture & Resource Education) sub regional conference will follow the UAF/SNRAS (University of Alaska School of Natural Resources & Agricultural Sciences) sustainable gardening conference. (That’s there purely as a display of the tendency of all agencies in Alaska to offer up a warm bowl of alphabet soup – this one is organic.)

Victoria was invited to this as one of the “100 Key Agricultural Leaders in Alaska”, and we’re waiting anxiously for her report.

Spring is just around the corner.  Anonymous Bloggers will follow Vic the next few months and report on her preparations for spring gardening, for fishing season and all the other insights she brings to us about life in the bush.

Thanks for sharing your life with us, Vic!

~ Elsie & Jane

Sustainable Gardening: It Might Be “Snowtime” Outside, But …….

March 9, 2010

Mar 9, 2010

Recent drifts

Inside it is time for us gardeners and farmers to be in the thick of things for the coming spring and summer. Fishermen are too, but we skip them for now :-)

Last year a great number of you helped get me to a Sustainable Agricultural Conference and workshop in Fairbanks about this time in March.

From that came some great contacts, more information on how the state might support those of us  trying to provide more of our own food in our villages , and all sorts of other good things.

A few weeks ago I got a series of emails about the upcoming conference, what they were working on for an agenda and speakers. I took a look and was interested in a number of the subjects. (One of the things that came out the conference last year was that a few local farmers were getting together to do a CSA –Community Supported Agriculture- project that would try to reach out to the villages some)

Then came information about the Alaska Sub-Regional Western Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Conference that would be held in Alaska this year, later that same week, by invitation only. Now, this intrigued me.

They were asking six questions about how sustainable agriculture could be supported in the state. Anyone could answer, in fact the more, the merrier. Wow, don’t ask questions like that UNLESS you are ready for me to FILL each and every one with some darn lengthy and pointed comments.

Having lived a couple of times in my life in states where agriculture was one of the main industries, or was in the recent past, I have had the pleasure of seeing things that are well supported on the county, state and university levels.

Alaska is not as developed in the agricultural industry on many fronts as many states are.  Coupled with its vast size and many different climate zones, it makes it much harder to serve the industry it does have.

I got my input to the six questions submitted.

I started getting all sorts of email on the conference, and I was really wishing I could attend, but alas, it was invitation only. I gave input every place it said with the hope that at least my comments might get discussed!

Unbeknownst to me an email was buried in my spam account that was an actual invitation as one of the “100 Key Agricultural Leaders in Alaska” to the invitation only event of the Alaska Subregional Western SARA part.

Well, what do you know!!!! That whole bunch of emails I was getting on the event were for a reason :-) (They made it through the spam filter)

This whole thing took me a week or two of back and forth to figure out, not that I was a little busy during this time and thus slow on the uptake :-)

All of this came with an offer to assist in paying my travel, which I accepted. Next week I will head to Fairbanks.

Let’s pray for a tad warmer than the -50 chill factor they had last year!

To say I am excited is an understatement. I was excited to see, meet and learn new things last year.

This year it is more so as I realize the difference just this past year has made in contacts and projects getting started.

We will get an update on Tim Meyers Bethel farming projects, a new project in a small village in our borough, Igiugig, who  had a village member win a Denali Sustainable award in the past.

We should hear about goats, a personal favorite for a milk and cheese source, Galena, a community dedicated to sustainable agriculture, Agricultural tours for the cruise line industry, high tunnel updates from the USDA, berry and fruit production and still more goodies.

We have a few things getting started in our area too.

One that is of particular interest to me is  a family that is looking to increase their garden into a small produce farm in Pilot Point this coming summer. Our hope is to help enough to get them into a number of USDA projects shortly.

It looks like our next few weeks and months will busy, so keep an eye out for hopefully some great things to come!!

~ Victoria Briggs

Related threads:

Victoria’s garden journal

Cold weather gardens…HELP!

A store In Nunam Iqua?

March 4, 2010

Photo by Beth Skabar, Alaska Newspapers Inc.

Mar 4, 2010

Shopping for a store in Nunam Iqua


A Yukon River village is close to having its first grocery store in more than a year, a move that will help local residents who snowmachine over risky terrain or fly to nearby communities just to shop.

The two men behind Laav’kaq LLC, which means “store” in Yup’ik, said they brought the local tribe into the venture in hopes that profits can benefit everyone in the village of Nunam Iqua.

“I’m 37 years old and there’s no sense in making all that money,” said investor James Adams. “I think it’s more of a community opportunity here.”

The store will provide local jobs and the tribe can invest its share of earnings in new ventures or dividends to tribal members, said Adams, the tribe’s council president.

Adams came up with the store idea with George Owletuck, Adam’s step-brother and a village consultant originally from Marshall, an upriver community.

The company plans to buy groceries from Carr-Gottstein Foods at low rates, which they’ll pass on to customers, Owletuck said.

The last hurdle is inking a lease agreement for a building in the village. Options include the old store or the high school, Adams said.

Hopefully, that won’t take longer than 60 to 90 days, Oweltuck said.

Read the full story HERE .

Subsistence: The Meaning of the Word

March 4, 2010

Mar 4, 2010

As I am sure many, or even most of you, heard we were in Anchorage this past week for a ‘get together’  with most of the other AB contributors and the Anchorage blogger community. There are so many things to ‘report’ it will take us a bit to sort it all out and get to you’ all!!

To say that five women, plus a few others throughout the week, were busy with ‘discussing’ various topics might be an understatement!!

OK, any comments on women and ‘discussing’ or other things it might be called can be stifled at this time! :-)

One of the themes that I noticed we sure worked over well was HOW we are talking about issues. The language we use, the way we approach and try to bring issues forward, and generally how to facilitate more understanding of the issues we want share with all of you was an interesting discussion.

One of those, for sure, is the issue of subsistence. As was pointed out in Shannyn Moore’s Moore Up North TV showed that aired last Saturday and is also available on her blog, the actual words and definitions seem to be different between us.

One thing that came out was what appears to be pretty much a total disconnect about subsistence and how we each value it and then of course try to discuss it.

It seems, and I am leaving room for this to be a generalization which is always tough, that those of us who come from more of an urban background look up the definition of subsistence:

a) The minimum (as of food and shelter) necessary to support life b) a source or means of obtaining the necessities of life.

Now armed with the definition and some time learning how that might relate to Alaska and the rural areas we feel that we understand.

Those of us who come from the rural areas of Alaska and most likely have at least some Alaska Native heritage come to this discussion with an experience that doesn’t have a ‘definition’ for subsistence.

The activity of subsistence was a full range of things. Time spent with the family, usually a number of generations, gathering, hunting, foraging for things needed to assist the daily life of your family, and sometimes the village. It is not JUST a matter of having the ‘land’ provide for your family and is also not just the act doing things as a family.

There is NO WORD in English to define what it means in Alaska, and probably many other places, to lead a ‘subsistence life’.

We also have the issue that the actual activities are changing some due to the changing of lifestyles of all our rural people.

Maybe realizing these differences makes it easier to see WHY we are having such a difficult time with this discussion of subsistence.

Just in the little bit of time I have had traveling back to my village and being able to speak to others about this example there has been a few “Ok, I can see that” moments.

So IF we can start to help the two sides come to an understanding of this inclusive word and how it might affect the entire structure of families and a culture we are onto the right track.

Having respect for the ‘other’ side, no matter where they come from or bring to the table, when trying to discuss our many issues is a good place to start and I hope we can bring some of that beginning here on Anonymous Bloggers.

~ Victoria Briggs

Anonymous Bloggers on TV and Radio

March 2, 2010

Mar 2, 2010

Last week most of the Anonymous Bloggers team met up in Anchorage for a few days of socializing and strategizing. During the flurry of activity they managed to get a little air time for Anomymous Bloggers.

AnnS was a guest on Shannyn Moore’s television show on KYES and talked about village life in rural Alaska, last year’s food/fuel crisis and the food drive she initiated to bring food to the people of Nunam Iqua.

Shannyn also interviewed anonymous bloggers Alaska  Pi, Fawnskin Mudpuppy, Elsie and not-so-anonymous Victoria Briggs on her KUDO radio show on Saturday. (Listen here)

They talked about how the blog got started and why people from outside Alaska became interested in helping Alaska Native people. They also acknowledged the need to improve the dialog surrounding subsistence issues and strive for parity and dignity so stakeholders can come to the table with mutual respect to work on finding solutions to the plight of people living in the bush.

Take a minute to listen and see if you think they sound like you picture them.




Prototype house with traditional twist might replace rotting Quinhagak homes

February 28, 2010

Feb 28, 2010

By Alex DeMarban
The Tundra Drums
Published on February 15th, 2010

Reprinted with permission:

Houses in Quinhagak battered by decades of fierce wet winds might soon be replaced by a new model that hearkens back to traditional Native sod houses.

At a meeting last week, village leaders in the Southwest Alaska community accepted a preliminary plan for an energy-efficient home that could be a prototype for other houses in the village.

The octagonal floor plan, created by experts with the Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks, stemmed from comments by the town’s mayor, Willard Church.

He suggested the center’s designers build a circular building, perhaps even a yurt, something similar to the soft-edged, partly underground dugouts the area’s Yup’ik elders once lived in.

The cornerless shape would shed gusts that have knocked the village’s blocky houses off their foundations. It would also reduce the snow drifts that pile against walls.

So the center’s design team unveiled an octagonal design, a not-quite-circular compromise designed to allow for strong walls that hold beefy insulation while still cutting the wind, said Aaron Cooke, with the research center.

Church likes the concept.

“I think it’s a good plan because it integrates both modern building technology and traditional design.”

The need for new housing in the village of 660 leaped into the spotlight last fall, following engineering reports that a sample-test of 55 houses built in the 1970s showed that many were “unsafe for occupancy” because of such problems as rotting beams and moldy walls.

Now, village leaders hope to replace those houses, and they’re looking for a relatively inexpensive model that outlasts the Bering Sea winds from the south and Arctic gusts from the north.

They’re also hoping it’s relatively cheap to heat.

“We want to have a house that lasts 30 years and uses less electricity and heat,” said Church. “There’s not many job opportunities out here, so if we can reduce the cost of heating fuel and use less electricity, that would go a long ways in helping folks out here.”

That’s where the research center comes in.

The village housing authority acquired money for the prototype and asked the center to design it, said Cooke.

Anatuvuk Pass model

The center hopes to follow the same pattern it used last year when building an energy-efficient home in the North Slope’s Anaktuvuk Pass, using local muscle and knowledge and producing a home for much less than the usual cost, said Cooke.

In the details, the house in Quinhagak could differ markedly from the one in Anaktuvuk Pass.

“Our M.O. is to make the house fit the place, so it will reflect the area’s unique environment and culture,” Cooke said.

It won’t be surrounded by an earthen berm, because flooding from the moist soil would be a problem, he said.

It likely won’t require as much insulation.

And there’ll be no garage where people can tinker on snowmachines. Costs need to stay low because so many homes must be built, he said.

In the Quinhagak prototype, a long arctic entryway will wrap around half the house, acting as a “shield” against rot from the soggy Bering Sea weather. The entryway will sit slightly lower than the living quarters, creating a natural cold trap for a storage area, another idea taken from traditional homes, said Cooke.

The three-bedroom, one-bath home, at 950-square-feet, will consist of a simple design to minimize materials and allow for construction in three weeks, keeping labor costs low, Cooke said.

Careful planning should prevent materials from being wasted and allow for a single barge shipment, another money saver.

“Our target is under $200,000,” said Jack Hebert. The cost would be about half the price of some recently built homes in the village.

Best of all, perhaps, each house will use only a fraction of the heat that’s normally consumed, slashing monthly bills that soar into the hundreds of dollars each winter, Cooke said.

The center will help train locals on how to build the prototype.

At the community meeting, residents refined the design, making slight changes, said Cooke.

Within weeks, he and others on the center’s design team will present a final plan. If the community approves, the next step will be planning and ordering the building materials and lining up a barge shipment, he said.

“We hope to build in July,” he said.

New Tribal Voice Radio Launches Today

February 15, 2010

Feb 15, 2010

Tribal Voice Radio, a new online radio station operating with the approval and guidance of the Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, will officially launch today at 8:00 A.M. at

From the Juneau Empire:

The main goal is to capture the language, clan stories and ways of life of the Native people,” said project coordinator Simon Roberts. “We’re looking at being able to give back to the culture a new life and gather all the communities here in Southeast as well as the Tlingits and Haidas in Canada.


CCTHITA Business Economic Development Department manager Andrei Chakine hopes the station will attract non-Natives as well.

It will be really nice to bring out the Native issues to the non-Native community, so that the non-Native community understands what kind of issues people here in the Southeast are dealing with,” he said.

The station will offer a wide range of programming geared toward preserving Native language and promoting cultural understanding. It will offer everything from traditional and contemporary Native music and archived radio archives to the sharing of family lore and recipes.

The station hopes to receive FCC approval within the next nine months to occupy a space in the FM band. Right now it’s home on the Internet offers live streaming, schedules, an online store and Tribal Voices ringtones.

Fry Bread 101

February 14, 2010

Feb 14, 2010


Pour some warm water and some evap milk in a bowl…about 3 cups total.

Dump in some sugar… depending on how sweet you want it, 1/3 to 2/3 of a cup.

Throw in some margarine or Crisco, 1/4 cup.

Put in a little salt, a good sized pinch, 1/2 tsp.

Stir that up.  Sprinkle yeast over the top of it – 2 pkgs or so, until it covers all of the liquid solution in a fine layer.

water, milk, margarine, sugar, salt and yeast

Once that starts to bubble, usually 5-10 minutes,  add flour,  just  enough until the dough feels right.   Dump it out on the counter and start kneading, working in more flour until it’s not sticky.

Then throw it in a greased bowl and let it rise.

Dough before rising

After dough has risen

Heat up Crisco in a frying pan usually about an inch deep when  melted.   Take a chunk of dough, maybe 1/3 of a cup, almost a handful.  With floured hands make it into a ball.

like this

Put more flour and flatten it out with only your hands and then throw it on the side of the bowl and repeat.

Once the oil is heated, throw a  chunk of dough in to see if it’s hot enough.

Take the rounded and flattened dough from the side of the bowl, and with your  index finger tear little holes in it.  Then stretch it out a bit and put it in the oil.

Flip it over when its brown and continue frying it until both sides are golden brown, around 2 minutes.

Put the finished bread in a pan lined with paper towels to soak up any excess oil.

Eat the first piece to ensure that it tastes good!

Enjoy it plain,  or cover it with salmonberry jam or powdered sugar.  It’s wonderful with moose soup!


ere’s what you look like when you are too small to have fry bread.