Skip to main content

Teaching Rural Alaskans to Farm is her Passion

Posted by Scott Elliott, National Institute of Food and Agriculture in Initiatives
Aug 17, 2016
UAF Extension Agent Heidi Rader
UAF Extension Agent Heidi Rader is developing an innovative app to help gardeners in Alaska and across North America become citizen scientists.

The following guest blog from University of Alaska Fairbanks highlights the professionalism and dedication of educators in the Cooperative Extension System.

By Debbie Carter, University of Alaska Cooperative Extension

Heidi Rader planned to become a farmer when she graduated from college.

During high school and college, she worked a succession of jobs at greenhouses and farms that seemed to be leading to an agricultural career.  For her master’s degree, she grew snap beans and lettuce, and studied high-tunnel production at University of Alaska Fairbanks’ School of Natural Resources and Extension Fairbanks Experiment Farm.

A few months after she graduated, however, Rader learned about a job with the Alaska Cooperative Extension Service and the Tanana Chiefs Conference that sounded appealing. The job, a Tribal Extension Educator, was to help people with gardening, farming and food preservation.  She liked the idea of applying and sharing research with the public because it’s practical science.

Heidi has experimented with different delivery methods with the Alaska Growers School. An agricultural training she developed in 2011 that consists of a series of weekly webinars and teleconferences geared to Alaska Natives who want to begin farming and ranching. The school’s focus and delivery methods have shifted with various USDA funding sources, including the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which provides funding and national program leadership to the nation’s Cooperative Extension System.

Since 2007, Rader has delivered workshops in nearly 30 villages and communities in rural Alaska. She teaches whatever a community requests from a list of workshops she has developed, including making jam, cooking fresh foods from the garden, canning salmon, seed starting, extending the growing season, and even applying for grants.

Heidi is currently developing a mobile app called Grow & Tell, which will allow people in Alaska and other parts of North America to note where they are growing a particular variety of vegetable and see what varieties others are growing as well as how they have done.  Essentially, Grow & Tell is a way for citizen scientists to conduct agricultural variety trials, compiling and sharing data of use to themselves and others.  The app is currently in the beta test phase and is expected to go live later this summer.  Rader received the 2016 Invent Alaska Award from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in May for her work on the app.

Alaska Extension Director Fred Schlutt said Rader is always focused on her stakeholders and looking for better ways to help the Alaska Native community and master gardeners.  Her efforts in this area include establishing a blog for master gardeners and a publication with an accompanying YouTube video on how to grow garlic in Alaska.  She is also in the final stages of updating Alaska Cooperative Extension’s “Alaska’s Sustainable Gardening Handbook.”

NIFA invests in and advances agricultural research, education and extension and seeks to make transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges.

Category/Topic: Initiatives