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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Let's talk about Fertilizer

 

How Agriculture Works in Alaska

(2021©donnliston.com)

 

The theme of the long-time Spenard bar fits many, but not all, Alaska farmers.



Alaska gardeners are familiar with the work of Jeff Lowenfels, a local authority on plants and gardening, who together with Wayne Lewis wrote a book called Teaming with Microbes for those who want to grow organic food. There is a cult around this way of thinking but in reality growing food for mass consumption requires the use of fertilizers. [1]

 



 Get used to it.

 

I appreciate this fact because my own grandparents were Oklahoma sharecroppers who were blown off the land during the Dustbowl and Great Depression of the early 1930s. My father was born the week of the stock market crash in October of 1929, and was passed around among poverty-stricken relatives for care, until Ray and Opel Liston packed up everything they had and headed toward California. They only made it as far as New Mexico, where my grandfather found work as a laborer and carpenter. My dad managed to graduate high school and I was born in Albuquerque when he was 22 years old.

 

Oklahoma farmers didn’t use fertilizer. By this time settlers to the Southern Plains region of the United States had plowed up millions of acres of native grasslands to plant wheat, corn and other crops. But as the United States entered the Great Depression, wheat prices plummeted. Farmers tore up even more grassland in an attempt to harvest a bumper crop and break even, according to History.com.

 

My own grandparents could have played the movie roles of the Joad family from John Steinbeck’s book The Grapes of Wrath. Crops had begun to fail with the onset of drought in 1931, exposing the bare, over-plowed farmland. Without deep-rooted prairie grasses to hold the soil in place (or irrigation) the topsoil blew away.[2]

 

This circumstance impacted my father in ways I have never understood. His own westward journey ended in Alaska, where a lot of psychologically damaged people end up.

 

The Science of Fertilizer Management

 



 

These fertilizers helped us explode the amount of food we could grow. Now we have become adverse to the chemicals found in fertilizers because we have discovered some of the negative effects they can have, explained Dr. Stephen Brown, a teacher and researcher based in the Mat-Su Valley, with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Extension Service. Brown specializes in Precision Agriculture which he explained further:  With chemical fertilizers we are not at the point where traditional agriculture can move beyond their use because organic fertilizers are difficult to apply. The majority of agriculture is using fertilizers. We are trying to figure out how to transition away from that to a more natural agriculture model, but we have a long way to go.

 

Prof. Brown came to Alaska some 15 years ago to help bring our agriculture practices into the modern age. It has been a challenge, but rewarding, too.

 

He explained: My research field, Precision Agriculture, tries to help farmers distribute the least amount of fertilizer necessary to achieve optimum results. Let’s say this table is a field. Using technology we can map foot-by-foot the nutrient levels across this whole field. So, once I have a precision map of existing nutrient levels, we use technology that is present in Alaska that allows me to write a prescription for individual farmers, who can input that into their tractor’s computer to allow application of fertilizer on a precision foot-by-foot basis. It is very common now in the rest of the country but it is relatively new to Alaska.

 

It was my ticket to Alaska, added Brown.

 

Traditionally farmers would take soil samples from various spots around the field, merge them all together, and turn the sample in for an average picture, Brown continued. Then we (at the UAF Extension Service) would make a fertilizer recommendation based on the average. Now, with Precision Agriculture we can say “you are low in nitrogen here, you are high in nitrogen over here, so let’s adjust the application rate across this entire area to meet the needs more accurately. The result is 1) it saves farmers money, and 2) it decreases over-application according to needs of the crops.

 

 https://www.uaf.edu/ianre/about/impacts/impactfiles/mat-su%20social%20media.pdf

 


Let’s call it Common Sense Farming with Technology

 

The big thing about chemical fertilizer is that it is so concentrated that it kills the natural flora and fauna of the soil, continued Brown, but it works! The bacteria and fungi that are normally present in the soil help plants uptake nutrients in a low nutrient environment. But when you add concentrated chemical fertilizer, it kills those bacteria and fungi.

 

The issue is concentration levels.

 

For instance, 832-16 fertilizer is very high in nitrogen, which kills a fungi called Mycorrhizal.

 

That was one of my primary areas of research, said Brown. Mycorrizal normally form a symbiosis with about 80 percent of the world’s plants. They help plants in low-nutrient soil to survive. High levels of concentrated chemicals kill the fungi, but the plants still do well because of the high concentrate of chemicals: The example I use in my classes is I used to have a great aunt who was addicted to laxatives. Taking those laxatives wasn’t good for her but it worked.

 

But is this practical in Alaska’s majority of small subsistence farms? How many have tractors with computerized fertilizer distribution systems?

 

We have to start somewhere: Previously I had never had anybody come into my office and say “I want to become a farmer,” explained Brown. Everyplace I have ever been you either grew up on a farm or you worked on a farm to gain the knowledge of how to do it. When during that first year I had a lady come in and say “I want to learn how to farm” I didn’t know where to start. So, we started Farmer’s Schools, to teach people the fundamentals of farming. We have Tractor Schools where we teach people how to drive a tractor, how to operate implements, but to me the biggest program we have is the Master Gardener Program. We teach people how to grow food. Most are not selling the food to other people; they are just using it to feed themselves..

 

Brown explained that there has been a huge explosion of interest in growing gardens since Covid started. Presently I have 50 people in my Master Gardener class. We will teach it again in the fall and I bet you there will be 100 people enrolled then, he said.

 

Misinformation about chemicals used in farming has led to some interesting situations for Brown, as well..

 



A few years back the Matsu School District wanted to build a school on a legacy farm, explained Brown. In the public hearing they said “We’re only going to take up six acres,”. Members of the community argued that with those six acres people would build houses nearby, and small businesses, next to the Vanderweele farm. I spoke as an authority on why this was a bad idea and nobody listened. But when Ben Vanderweele, owner of the adjoining farm spoke into the microphone, he said: “I use chemicals on my crops.”

 

That shut the whole thing down, said Brown.

 

But there is more to it, Brown continued: People don’t understand herbicides, they are strictly regulated in Alaska. I teach the (UAF Extension Service) Alaska Herbicide License Course. There is no reason to be afraid of herbicide use by conscientious farmers, because of the scrutiny they go through to be licensed. The license--which must be renewed every three years—is extremely intense. That is why most of the farmers in Alaska don’t apply herbicides. There is too much to keep up with.

 

This may be a good thing for the reputation of Alaskan grown products which many people view as pristine.

 

What about food security, feeding Alaskans?

 

That is a complicated problem, but I will say that when I first got here 15 years ago there were 10 Farmer’s Markets statewide, concluded Brown. There are now more than 50. The problem is at the Farmer’s Markets the food is more expensive than what you can buy at the grocery store. In fact, I know a couple of vendors who buy produce at Fred Meyers, mark it up and sell it at the Farmer’s Market!

 

Hail Alaska’s Chilkoot Charley farmers.

 

References: 

[1] Teaming with Microbes, Jeff Lowenfeld & Wayne Lewis,

https://www.amazon.com/Teaming-Microbes-Organic-Gardeners-Revised/dp/1604691131

 

Description:

When we use chemical fertilizers, we injure the microbial life that sustains plants, and then become increasingly dependent on an arsenal of toxic substances. Teaming with Microbes offers an alternative to this vicious circle, and details how to garden in a way that strengthens, rather than destroys, the soil food web. You’ll discover that healthy soil is teeming with life—not just earthworms and insects, but a staggering multitude of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms. This must-have guide is for everyone, from those devoted to organic gardening techniques to weekend gardeners who simply want to grow healthy plants without resorting to chemicals.

 

[2] The Great Depression

https://www.history.com/topics/great-depression/dust-bowl

 


Friday, May 7, 2021

EaglExit Challenges

The Important Role of Local Government

(2021©donnliston.com) 

Edgar Blatchford spoke to EaglExit recently about how local government
 can be formed or changed.
(Photo by Waneta Liston)



It’s a mean world. Big fish eat little fish and bullies often get their way. Russian traders came to Alaska to enslave the Natives and decimate bountiful fur seals and sea otters. Nobody could stop them. When Alaska was purchased by the United States in 1867, it was to realize Alaska’s resource bounty.

 

Alaska became inhabited primarily by westerners and before long they wanted statehood--to have control over the conclusion of Manifest Destiny.[1]

 

From the time Alaska became a territory in 1914 to the time it became a state in 1959 the big corporations that paid nothing to the people of Alaska exercised control, explained University of Alaska Professor Edgar Blatchford, April 13, 2021, speaking to a group of people involved with the effort to detach Assembly District 2 (AD2) from Anchorage. With statehood we said we wanted the power to tax if we needed to tax rather than development interests paying nothing for what they took.

 

In other words, standing up to special interest bullies.

 

Blatchford is an authority on Alaska local government, having served as Commissioner of the Department of Community and Regional Affairs under two governors back when he was a Republican. He was born in Nome and began his political career as Mayor of Seward.[2]

Check out the EaglExit webpage: EaglExit.com


 

From the Alaska Constitution:

 

Section 2. Source of Government

 

All political power is inherent in the people. All government originates with the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the people as a whole.

 

The whole idea of local government is to control, explained Blatchford. And the Alaska Constitution provides for “maximum local autonomy”.

 

Article X, Section 1. Purpose and Construction

 

The purpose of this article is to provide for maximum local self-government with a minimum of local government units, and to prevent duplication of tax-levying jurisdictions. A liberal construction shall be given to the powers of local government units.

 

During this freewheeling discussion last month, Blatchford cited a number of instances where communities established Borough governments or worked to opt out of local governments they no longer wanted to be part of. This change was possible through the Local Boundary Commission, which is also established in the Alaska Constitution:

 


Article X, Section 12. Boundaries

 

A local boundary commission or board shall be established by law in the executive branch of the state government. The commission or board may consider any proposed local government boundary change. It may present proposed changes to the legislature during the first ten days of any regular session. The change shall become effective forty-five days after presentation or at the end of the session, whichever is earlier, unless disapproved by a resolution concurred in by a majority of the members of  each house. The commission or board, subject to law, may establish procedure whereby boundaries may be adjusted by local action.

 

And, sometimes local government is established to protect against other governments.

 

Blatchford explained that the first mayor of the Denali Borough was Johnny Gonzales, who played the guitar and sang. He was in the Alaska Legislature and talked to the commissioner about the situation in his district. When Gonzales was a representative he realized constituents of that area didn’t want Fairbanks or Mat-Su governments to tell them what to do. The solution was to create a government. That was unpopular because these people don’t like borough government. That would likely mean they would have to pay taxes.

 

John Gonzales was a legislator who became the first mayor of the Denali Borougj.


I asked him: “What do you think will happen if Fairbanks North Star Borough or Mat-Su Borough annexes you? explained Blatchford. They will get that revenue from those hotels around Denali National Park. So, who pays to stay in those hotels?—mostly people from the lower 48, or around the world.”

 

Further, it is important to consider what kind of government a community might want; perhaps a government that protects the local people from what they don’t want?

 

The people went ahead and formed a local borough, the Denali Borough, and they are doing well, continued Blatchford. When any government wants to deal with something going on in this area they have to go the local mayor, who is elected by the people. If somebody comes from Washington DC or anyplace else, they pay their respects to the local government. That’s basically what you want.

 


There are other reasons to form a local government as well.

 

While the capital city of Juneau was founded by mining interests in a place no Alaska Native village was ever established, the community today refuses to even consider reopening the vast network of mineshafts in the city, and at Douglas Island, to further resource development using modern techniques. Efforts to do so have been tried and failed, but the City and Borough of Juneau did something a shark would do—it claimed the area where the nearby Hecla Greens Creek Mine was built solely for nutritional revenue.

 


I was commissioner when that happened, continued Blatchford. I believed local people in the villages around that mine should have formed their own borough so they would have a very healthy tax base and control over that development.


https://www.heclagreenscreek.com/


 

Blatchford saw it through an economic development lens.

 

With all due respect to my fellow Native Alaskans, these people were more interested in tribal government, continued Blatchford. The problem is tribal governments cannot tax-- they don’t have planning and zoning powers so critical to economic development. They have no bonding powers to raise revenues to build a port or transportation infrastructure.

 

For EaglExit, forming a local government for AD2 is a different challenge. Those who support it must prove this is a distinct community independent of Anchorage to the Local Boundary Commission. It has been done before in Alaska and EaglExit is actively moving ahead on multiple levels with a plan the people will ultimately decide on.

 

A map of the Historic Iditarod (Crow Pass) Trail with exaggerated curvature of the earth.[3] 

Blatchford offered this perspective: Eagle River is historic and separate from Anchorage from a time when there was no Anchorage. The Iditarod Trail comes from Seward through Girdwood and on to Eagle River over the Crow Pass Trail. I have run it myself in past marathons several times; historically, you couldn’t get around Turnagain Arm because it was all cliffs, so you had to go over the mountain pass.

 

They had to blast through a road around Turnagain Arm from Anchorage, and they are still blasting it today.

 

 

References:

 

[1] Manifest destiny was a widely held cultural belief in the 19th-century United States that American settlers were destined to expand across North America.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manifest_destiny

 

[2]Edgar Blatchford Bio

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Blatchford


[3] 50 Hikes in Alaska's Chugach State Park, Shane Shepherd & Owen Wozniak, Published by The Mountaineers Books, 1001 SW Klickitat Way, Suite 201, Seattle, WA 98134, First Printing 2001, P 178.

 


Saturday, May 1, 2021

Alaskans Have Much to Lose

 

Fighting for Alaska Election Integrity

(2021©donnliston.com)

 



 

Spring Denali climbers are arriving in Talkeetna now, to be flown to the basecamp, where they will begin their torturous assent to the highest mountain in North America. Holly Sheldon Lee is again busy managing a business that goes back to her father, pioneer Wager with the Wind pilot Don Sheldon. He established the business flying Piper Cubs with great precision and made the business successful with his renowned skill and determination.[1]

 

“That Cub has 72 patches but it still passes annuals,” laughed Sheldon Lee.




 

Fast-forward to today: The Covid-19 pandemic of the last year has been very difficult for Talkeetna Air Service, and during that time the Alaska Election of 2020 has been a source of alarm for Ms. Sheldon Lee and others, who think something fishy is going on. I was able to interview Sheldon during this busy time for this story.

 

These Matanuska Valley Alaskans don’t trust using machines to count ballots and don’t think the State of Alaska should be using anything but paper ballots. They want their Matanuska elected officials to do something about it. A previous DONN LISTON COMPANY posting explains why: https://donnliston.blogspot.com/2021/03/alaska-election-questions.html

 

To make the point, they established an Alaska Election Reform group prior to Covid, and on February 11, 2020 established some expectations for the coming elections. Primarily, the group produced an Executive Order it wanted Gov. Michael Dunleavy to implement and pushed for an elections meeting to talk to both Gov. Dunleavy and Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer about concerns regarding election machines the State of Alaska was about to purchase.[2] Mostly they wanted the option of a hand-count of ballots in addition to any machine count. During the first quarter of 2020 they asked for an audit of State voter rolls. In the second quarter they conducted Teleconferences and built camaraderie to promote election integrity.  In the fourth quarter they aspired to promote voting, carpooling to voting, watching election polls and the count, including escort of paper ballots to headquarters. This was a serious coordinated effort.

 

Ultimately the State used voting machines anyway. The election reform group doesn’t trust the results of the election because of the machines.

 

But before the election, on March 6, 2020, the 2020 Alaska Election Integrity group met with Gov. Dunleavy and Lt. Gov. Meyer. They presented information by IT professional Brian Endle on Voting Machine Corruptibility.[3] Jim Pazsint testified on personal experience in 2014 of election corruptibility.[4] Mike Alexander spoke on courage. Loy Thurman explained why a hand count was necessary in the coming election, and Ms. Sheldon Lee presented the proposed Executive Order the group wanted Gov Dunleavy to sign.

 

On August 9, 2020 Sheldon Lee sent an email to Lt. Gov. Meyer outlining “Serious Concerns” about the newly acquired voting machines after review of a KTOO training video explaining election procedures.[5]

 

On August 17, 2020, Lt. Gov. Meyer responded to concerns in a way that was not clear and convincing to Sheldon Lee, and her Mat-Su Conservative Coalition.[6]

 

On September 2, 2020 Lt. Gov. Meyer reiterated his requirement to follow state election law and referenced the need for election reform through the Alaska Legislature, to which he would be submitting legislation for consideration.

 

Following the election using the machines Mat-Su Valley activists were raised a chorus of concerns. These concerns were articulated in a November 17, 2020 memo to Lt. Gov. Meyer from Alaska Independent Party Chairman and talk radio host Robert Bird. In an email from Bird a number of circumstantial examples are listed, but “first and foremost, the shocking and dismaying revelation that Alaska is using the Dominion voting machines” is listed as a reason to question the integrity of Alaska’s 2020 election before certification.[8]

 

Of course, after some various election challenges, the 2020 election WAS certified.

 

Legislative Reform Efforts

 

Leading the effort in the legislature to assure Alaska election integrity is Sen.Mike Showers’ SB 39, An Act relating to elections… It is currently in State Affairs and must go to Judiciary next.

 

From the Sponsor Statement: Senate Bill 39, updates Alaska's decades-old election statutes, strengthening voter access and improving integrity so Alaskans may regain confidence in our election system. We sometimes disagree with election results, but rarely in our history have we refused to accept them. A troubling trend has emerged where entire segments of our nation not only disagree with election results but refuse to acknowledge them as legitimate. It happened in 2016, and again in 2020. Whether these concerns are real or perceived, we must find a way to restore all people's faith in our election system as it is a cornerstone to our Constitutional Republic.

 

The rest of the explanation can be found here: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/get_documents.asp?session=32&docid=14743

 

Description of other introduced legislation relating to the 2020 Alaska Election is documented in this previous DONN LISTON COMPANY story:

https://donnliston.blogspot.com/2021/04/what-if-alaskas-election-was-hacked.html

 

We Still Shouldn’t give a Damn how they do it Outside

 

https://www.dominionvoting.com/

 

After discovery of the Prudhoe Bay oil bonanza, the U.S. Congress was able to pass the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of December 31, 1971, and environmental extremists began to organize against construction of the proposed 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Two bumper stickers were seen frequently on cars around the state. One said “Let the Bastards Freeze in the Dark!” and the second said “We don’t give a Damn how they do it Outside!” That Alaskan sentiment seems to have been lost over the decades since as people on their Alaskan Adventures have come and gone.

 

In a defamation lawsuit filed Outside against FOX News Networks, LLC and various other individuals, following the election, attorneys for Dominion Voting describe the company and the nature of it’s complaint against FOX News. [9]

 




The bar for proving defamation is high for news agencies protected under the constitution. Any case must prove not only that defamation occurred but that it was done with intent and malice. In this suit Plaintiffs allege that circumstances established above prove Fox News knew the statements were false and did what it did for ratings.

 

As proof, the suit states: Fox also knew that these lies were being rebutted by an increasingly long list of bipartisan election officials, election security experts, judges, then-Attorney General Bill Barr, then-United States Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Chris Krebs, Election Assistance Commissioner Ben Hovland, Republican Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, and Republican former Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, to name a few--not to mention some within Fox itself.

Further, the legal brief states: Yet even after Fox was put on specific written notice of the facts, it stuck to the inherently improbable and demonstrably false preconceived narrative and continued broadcasting the lies of facially unreliable sources—which were embraced by Fox’s own on-air personalities—because the lies were good for Fox’s business.

The Dominion Company is described as follows: Dominion is a voting machine company that was founded in 2002 in John Poulos’s basement. Poulos’s objective of accurate, transparent, and accessible elections motivated mim to create Dominion. He went on to build what was, until recently, one of the fastest-growing technology companies in North America. While Dominion was known within the voting machine industry and supplied machines in 28 states, it was little known to the public at large.

Statement of the Complaint basis concludes with the following:

 


The suit establishes that Fox has been the leading news source in the US for 19 years and alleges the company did not inform its audience of the plausibility of a loss for businessman President Trump given certain political dynamics in the country with Covid-19.

 





These arguments are now in the courts and will either be settled between the parties or will go to trial. States that use Dominion machines, including Alaska will be impacted.

 

One of my favorite conservative blogs, American Thinker has posted stories alleging Dominion machine vote manipulation--and a retraction and an apology--for publishing false claims against Dominion. I read those stories and believed them at the time.

 


 

All Politics is Local

 

In his book Man of the House, former Speaker of the U.S. House of representatives Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, Jr. explains how he learned this political truism in his first campaign for public office, after he lost.

 

From the book: This was the only race I ever lost in my life, but in the process I learned two extremely valuable lessons. During the campaign, my father had left me to my own devices, but when it was over, he pointed out that I had taken my own neighborhood for granted. He was right: I had received a tremendous vote in the other sections of the city, but I hadn’t worked hard enough in my own backyard. “Let me tell you something I learned years ago,” he said. “All politics is local. [10]

 

For Alaskans our state and local politics can be downright absurd. Many Alaskans were disappointed in the 2020 Alaska election given inconsistency of voting patterns, but we know Trump won and Biden lost here. There may be some aspect of the use of voting machines that allows corruption to happen, but the Dominion lawsuit will likely determine if true corruption occurred--or promoting the election fraud narrative at the national level was just a business decision for Fox News. I hope Alaska election reform may be possible but have a low expectation for elected officials to seriously consider changing a system that elected them to go to backwater Juneau to make laws in a place closer to Seattle than to the population centers of Alaska.

 

My latest conversation with staff to Sen. Showers is hopeful that election reform might be possible. One possibility--which Democrats reject--is the security platform known as Blockchain, which was developed to guaranty security for Bitcoin exchanges.

 

In its most basic form, blockchain is a digital ledger. The technology draws its power from the peers—or nodes—on its network to verify, process, and record all transactions across the system. This ledger is never stored, but rather exists on the “chain” supported by millions of nodes simultaneously. Thanks to encryption and decentralization, blockchain’s database of transactions is incorruptible, and each record is easily verifiable. The network cannot be taken down or influenced by a single party because it doesn’t exist in one place.[10]

 

As it stands now, a person can apply on line, get a ballot emailed to wherever, and they vote absentee in Alaska. With all the hacked data, there is NO firewall to verify they are who they say they are, because the identifiers were stolen.

 

Holly Sheldon has sounded the alarm and is organizing among long-time Alaskans to address concerns about voting systems. The pandemic has opened up new ways to harvest ballots for selection of elected officials, while many businesses are struggling to stay alive. Election reform at its most basic level could be cleaning up voter rolls, using paper ballots so only valid voters cast ballots, or installing a Blockchain system. Perhaps this is possible but in the meantime state spending continues unabated and the next excuse for not changing a broken system will be costs.

 

Future generations will pay the Piper, and it won't be a Cub.

 

References:

 

[1] James Greiner, “Wager with the Wind,” Rand McNally Company, 1974 revised 1982.

 

[2] Proposed Administrative Order









[3] Voting Machines Security Statement


 


[4]

 



[5] Holly Sheldon Lee Memo to Lt. Gov Meyer RE: Serious Concerns

 



 

[6] Response to Sheldon inquiry from Lt. Gov. Meyer and reiteration of expectations from Sheldon

 





[7[ Final response from Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, September 2, 2020.





[8] Robert Bird email challenging 2020 Election before certification

 



 

[9] Dominion v. FOX News filing

https://hamiltonps.app.box.com/s/j42odhy4cxf1xjuw324o72zmx7v7oyn8/file/791748052475

 

[10] Thomas P. O’Neill, “Man of the House,” Random House Inc, New York, NY, 1987, p 25

 

[11] How Blockchain Technology can Prevent Voter Fraud

https://www.investopedia.com/news/how-blockchain-technology-can-prevent-voter-fraud/

Let's talk about Fertilizer

  How Agriculture Works in Alaska (2021 © donnliston.com)   The theme of the long-time Spenard bar fits many, but not all, Alaska farmer...