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Harvesting Alaska: Using technology to grow rural Alaska

By Emily Carlson 3:50 PM June 19, 2017

You love to download apps on your phone, but did you know there’s one that connects you with gardeners across the state? Oftentimes, as Alaskans, we feel like we’re disconnected from the things that happen outside our community. A staff member at University of Fairbanks is working to bring Alaskans back together.

“Gardens were really common in rural Alaska before you had airplanes coming in,” said Heidi Rader.

Rader runs the Cooperative Extension Service at UAF. For the past decade, she’s been trying to get Alaska Natives in the Tanana Chief’s Conference’s Villages back growing; but, it’s not easy. There are 37 villages, and most of them are remote. Rader can only visit once a year, not enough time to teach everything they need to know.

“Travel is very expensive and very time consuming to get to many of these communities.”

So, Rader thought if technology stunted growing, why not use it, to bring the harvest back?

On June 7, Rader ran her first virtual workshop. On a program called Zoom, people watch from all over interior Alaska. As they plant, they use Rader for troubleshooting. After her students learn the basics, Rader hopes they can be her growing guinea pigs. Rader’s other digital project is an app called Grow and Tell. She’s asking all Alaskans to tell her what they grow, and how they grow it.

“I serve a large area about the size of Texas and I find it really frustrating not to have go-to information about what will grow where people live.”

Here’s the problem: Alaska is more than 2,000 miles wide so what thrives in Arctic Village is likely drastically different than Adak, however, no one knows.

Heidi is calling on all gardeners to help her out.

“It’s so important to know what grows well in a particular community and to have that data.”

She’s hoping what they record on their smartphones makes it easier for others to get back to that ancient way of living off the land.

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