Books at the Clausen Cabin!!

Finally, the day has arrived that renovations are mostly done and books have been officially moved into the Clausen Cabin.  As of last weekend, a great work crew moved in two huge bookshelves and began moving books from Frank’s Place to the Clausen Cabin.

The Alaskana and children’s collections are now at the Clausen Cabin, with times and dates open to the public to be determined.  If you would like to browse and check out anything from these two collections, please contact us at 907-374-8080, with a couple of days advance notice, and we will work something out.

In the meantime, an Easter egg hunt is in the planning, and we will have a soft opening at that time.  Stay tuned for more details!

shelves with books

Alaskana and Children’s sections in the shelves

Empty shelves waiting for books

Special thanks to the following for their help and assistance in moving the shelves and books into Clausen:  Board members Gary Pohl, Marina Day, Carrie Correia, Mo Musick, Syrilyn Tong and volunteers Josh Harris and Deirdre Helfferich.

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Last Day to File for the PFD and Give to JTEL!!

Midnight is the deadline for filing and/or changing your Pick.Click.Give pledges. If you haven’t yet filed, DO IT NOW!!  If you haven’t chosen a Pick.Click.Give recipient, chose JTEL!

All monies are earmarked towards the renovation of the Clausen Cabin. We need to patch the roof, and replumb the bathroom (and make it ADA accessible) in order to make this a truly functioning library, so please consider donating to JTEL.Readers PCG

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A special thanks to Betty Swanson for her donation of a box of books, Eric Glos for his help with the baseboard trim, Ginny Gallagher for her help with painting and general clean-up, and to Mike Stredny for his donation of our new office desk! Without your help, we couldn’t do it, so thanks a million!

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Last 2 weeks to enter the PFD raffle!!

If you haven’t done so already, please consider making the minimum donation of $25 to JTEL through the Pick.Click.Give program via your Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend. By doing so, you’ll be entered into a drawing for an additional PFD (5 lucky Alaskans will be awarded this extra dividend this October!). Even if you’ve already filed, you can re-open your application and make your donation.

Not only are you helping JTEL, but if we increase the total donors by 16 additional donors, we stand a chance of receiving an additional $5000 due to an affiliate PFD program.

Don’t wait – file or re-open your application and Pick.Click.Give to JTEL!

Readers PCG

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Small grant awarded; new children’s program to begin!!

We are excited to announce that JTEL has received a $750 mini-grant from the Golden Heart Community Foundation, an affiliate of the Alaska Community Foundation, in order to start a children’s reading program, entitled: Kids Read.  Look for future updates on this site, but we anticipate this program to officially begin by this Fall.

Golden Heart CF

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2nd Seedy Saturday update

Our second 2017 Seedy Saturday was just as successful as the first, with a new library member, more catalogs, and (again) more seeds! The Cooperative Extension Service brought updated lists of recommended varieties for the Interior, a whole box full of packets of ‘Calypso’ cilantro, and some information on growing cilantro that we can add to our GEB Plant Book. Our flower seed table was overflowing with new seeds, as were our Brassica family (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kales, mustard, radish, rutabaga, turnips, and the like), Solanum family (tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers, eggplants, tobacco, nicotania, and Sunberry) and squash family tables (summer and winter squash, cucumbers, cantaloupes, and melons). Other tables were not quite so overflowing, but were still pretty full of a wide variety of garden vegetables and grains. Again, many people new to seed swaps came, bringing their old seeds and exclaiming over new finds. The prospect of spring planting was envigorating! Library members may check out seeds at any time, while the seed swaps are open to the public.

Tables overflowing with seeds at the March 4, 2017 Seedy Saturday. Photo by Monique Musick.

Tables overflowing with seeds at the March 4, 2017 Seedy Saturday. Photo by Monique Musick.

Thanks again to the experts who helped us with this Seedy Saturday, including Katie DiCristina from the Georgeson Botanical Garden and Julie Riley from CES of the University of Alaska Fairbanks for the information and seeds! Kurt Wold of Pingo Farm brought several samples of his seeds and a couple of fresh fruit grown on his farm: an example of a thick-walled yellow storage tomato (‘Kholodok’) and a softball-sized, red-fleshed, green-skinned watermelon (‘Siberian Lights’). He also, as always, provided expert advice and good humor. Carol E. Lewis gave the talk at this seed swap, an informative history of the land-grant colleges and the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station in Alaska. (To download the talk, see the PDF.) The Experiment Station, which was initially established in Sitka, worked with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service to create at least 70 cultivars of grains, turf grasses, hay, vegetables, and small fruits adapted to subarctic climes. The Station also worked with livestock: swine, cattle, yaks, and reindeer.

Thanks to the volunteers who helped with setup and take down: Marina Day, Josh Harris (not least for providing a hot lasagne to the hungry volunteers!), Carla Helfferich, Deirdre Helfferich, Hans Mölders, Monique Musick (who also introduced the library and the speakers at both events), and Syrilyn Tong (who made the colorful road signs, too). Thanks also to Aurora Animal Clinic, who provided containers, and to KUAC, who ran our public service announcement about the events and got the word out.

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Collections and inventory – February 2017

Painting Alaska, by Kesler Woodward.

Painting Alaska, by Kesler E. Woodward.

This month 80 titles were added to the library’s inventory, bringing our catalog total to 7,682 items. Most of these were oversize, how-to-draw books from the Walter T. Foster art series or books on Alaska, including many volumes from the Alaska Geographic Society (part of the Helfferich Family Collection). We did receive a smattering of other genres: a few mysteries, a cookbook, a science fiction novel (Solar Lottery by Philip K. Dick), a Boy Scout manual, historical fiction, and a couple of horror novels.

Painting Alaska, an overview of art and artists in the state by Kesler E. Woodward, himself a well-known Alaskan painter and teacher, was one of the Alaska Geographics we received and entered this month. It includes (aside from many photographs of the amazing breadth and quality of paintings and other artwork by Alaskans) biographies of and interviews with the many talented artists in the state. Woodward’s own painting of birches graces the front cover.

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Seedy Saturday notes

As noted in our previous post, the first Seedy Saturday of 2017 was definitely a success, with far more people attending than usually come to the first one each season. We received $42 in donations, almost as much as we did for the entire trio of seed swaps last year, and this time not only did we receive far more seeds (including the Community Seed Resources kit from Seed Savers Exchange), we also received a boxful of 2017 heirloom seed catalogs (available for anyone to take away), and we had an art show of beautiful photos by Monique Musick (prints still available for sale) and presented images of members of the represented plant families. The new botanical family signs she made brightened up the room and made it clear where the different types of seeds should go. Compositae


Romanesco broccoli, also known as Roman cauliflower. Portrait by Monique Musick, prints available for $120, with half of the proceeds to go to the John Trigg Ester Library.


Red onion portrait by Monique Musick.

Many new people came to the event, people who had never been to a seed swap before, and several took seed-saving information and fliers from the Cooperative Extension Service and the JTEL on growing plants in the North. This is one important function of the Growing Ester’s Biodiversity Program: to spread the knowledge of how to save seeds, and, we hope, to increase people’s interest in gardening, healthy fresh food, food justice, and the local food movement. It seems to be working—one couple even brought Blue Hubbard squash seedlings (two still left!), and suggested that later in the season we have a seedling exchange. This idea was greeted with general enthusiasm all around. Kurt Wold of Pingo Farm/Zone 1 Grown attended again this year, and, as always, his expertise was very helpful. We learned from Wold that there appears to be a shortage this year of Alaska-grown seed potatoes, and he donated many packets of cucumber, tomato, and other vegetable seeds. Thank you again, Kurt, and thank you for your good humor and willingness to answer questions, too. (Note that the JTEL has extra copies of the Pingo Farm catalog as well. Zone 1 Grown is the only commercial organic seed grower in the Tanana Valley, and perhaps the state.)

Christine and Brad St. Pierre’s talk concentrated on the business of farming, learning small business skills, understanding management. It’s not the same as gardening, they commented. They grow 27 different kinds of vegetables (Brad started to tick them off on his fingers when someone asked what types, including different kinds of turnips, carrots, beets, peas, beans, etc.) and their leased five-acre field at Goosefoot Farm is surrounded by a 12-foot-tall electrified moose fence. They emphasized that you don’t get rich farming, but that it is possible to make money (and without somebody in the family having to work a day job). It is a lifestyle choice. Another member of the audience asked what the borough and university could do that would best benefit small farmers, and they replied that it was important for local government and research institutions to understand that small farmers are usually working with very small plots, one to ten acres, and that the larger farms in Alaska (Delta Junction and Palmer areas) are still considered small elsewhere.

The St. Pierres at the Tanana Valley Farmers Market.

The St. Pierres at the Tanana Valley Farmers Market in 2016.

For young farmers to get involved in agriculture, to make it easy for them, the expenses need to be very low. The prices for recommended amounts of biochar, for example, are more than $2/lb, and a ton per acre is the recommended amount, which immediately puts it out of the small farmer’s price range. (Fortunately, Goosefoot Farm is on land that was part of the Rosie Creek Fire, and so naturally has a high amount of biochar—carbon in soil, typically resulting from forest fires or with slash-and-burn farming—not recommended to maintain or build healthy soil.) Goosefoot Farm uses organic techniques, and the St. Pierres emphasized that they view their farm as part of an ecological cycle that will ultimately lead to forested land, perhaps in 50 years, perhaps longer, but that forest is the natural state of the land. They are trying to build the soil, not treat it as an extracted resource, which means using green manures (legumes) and animal-based fertilizers (feather- and bone-based meals, for example). Unfortunately, our phosphorus-poor soils here in Alaska mean that they have to import phosphorus from Outside. (The talk included a little discussion about the impending worldwide shortage and eventual exhaustion of phosphorus. Mined phosphorus is fossilized guano.) At the end of the talk, the audience was treated to a short slide show about the farm.

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1st Seedy Saturday a HUGE success!!

One of several tables of seeds

One of several tables of seeds

With stunning close-up photography (taken by JTEL vice-president Monique Musick) representing the various plant families hanging over tables overflowing with seed packets and containers of every sort, over 25 folks came out to browse JTEL’s catalog of seeds.  Others traded seeds, while still others came by to listen to Brad and Christine St. Pierre of Goosefoot Farm speak about their trials and tribulations of starting and maintaining an organic family vegetable farm in the Interior. Even though half a foot of snow fell outside, those inside were thinking about what next to plant for the summer growing season.

If you missed the first one, you have one more opportunity to partake – next Saturday, March 4, from 1-5 at Hartung Hall in Ester will be Round II.  Bring seeds to trade if you have ’em, otherwise stop by to get some to try out in your own garden. At 3:00 PM, Dr. Carol E. Lewis, Dean & Director Emerita of the UAF School of Natural Resources and Extension and the Alaska Agricultural & Forestry Experiment Station will be giving a presentation on the history of the Experiment Station in Alaska, so please stop by.

Special thanks to Monique Musick, Deirdre Helfferich and Amanda Bent for setting up and running the exchange, and Brad and Christine St. Pierre for their excellent presentation on Goosefoot Farms.

Brad St. Pierre talks about their farm while Christine looks on

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Seedy Saturdays highlight critical seed biodiversity and sustainable gardening techniques for interior Alaska

The public is invited to join the John Trigg Ester Library for Seedy Saturdays – public seed exchanges and garden lectures – on February 25 and March 4, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Hartung Hall in Ester. Lectures will begin at 3 p.m. each Saturday.

Now in its fifth year, the Seedy Saturday programs have been expanded to include guest speakers and an added artistic touch. On Feb. 24, family farm operators Brad and Christine St. Pierre will discuss Goosefoot Farm, a local vegetable farm that uses ecologically sustainable methods of soil cultivation and organic farming. On March 4, Dr. Carol E. Lewis, Dean & Director Emerita of the UAF School of Natural Resources and Extension and the Alaska Agricultural & Forestry Experiment Station will be giving a presentation on the history of the Experiment Station in Alaska. In addition, photographer Monique Musick is hanging a show representing the plant families that comprise the seed collection of the John Trigg Ester Library.

“We wanted to grow from the success of past seed exchanges and incorporate more educational opportunities through guest speakers and additional teaching materials,” said Musick. “We recently received a Community Seed Resource Program packet from the Seed Savers Exchange and are excited to share these new resources with other interested members of the public.”

The Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of heirloom seeds. In 2015, the exchange featured over 23,000 heirloom seed listings. The mission is critical. In the last century or so, the world has lost 75 percent of its edible plant varieties. Since a network of growers is so important to conservation, they work to get seeds into the hands of as many gardeners as possible. The Ester Library’s Growing Ester’s Biodiversity program has recently begun a collaboration with the network – including a gift of seeds and seed saving supplies.

A seed library, or community seed bank, is a way that the public can promote agricultural biodiversity specific to their local region, preserving heirloom garden varieties and learning about seed saving and starting. Members “check out” seeds from the library to grow in their gardens, and at the end of the growing season, or at seed exchanges the following spring, seed suppliers “return” seeds to the library for use the next year. For this public event, all seed savers are welcome to bring varieties to trade and interested gardeners can “check out” seeds to try. We encourage heirloom varieties and any seeds that have been saved locally and are known to grow well in the area.

No seeds – no problem, everyone is welcome to come learn about seed saving and enjoy the free public lectures and photo show. The idea is to grow more seed savers in the area. In addition to the seeds there will be a variety of publications on gardening, seed saving, the Growing Ester’s Biodiversity program and the community gardens and grounds that are part of the John Trigg Ester Library campus.

Growing Ester’s Biodiversity is a community seed-sharing and educational program dedicated to improving the agricultural self-reliance of the Ester area through seeds and educational materials and events on food security and sustainability issues.

More information on seed swaps HERE.

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