Biomass-Heated Greenhouse Handbook Helps Turn Dream into Reality

Written by Shaina Kilcoyne, Renewable Energy Alaska Project

On a warm, bluebird day in April, Southeast Island School District and the Sustainable Southeast Partnership led a 25 person tour to Coffman Cove, Thorne Bay and Kasaan on Prince of Wales Island to see their biomass and greenhouse projects in person.  Tour participants from Hoonah, Kake, Hydaburg, Klawock, Petersburg, Tenakee Springs, Ontario and the Yukon each had in hand a Biomass Heated Greenhouse Handbook. This comprehensive handbook outlines how to turn these inspiring greenhouses from dream to reality. It was unveiled a day prior at the Alaska Wood Energy Conference in Ketchikan and is a free resource available to schools and anybody who is interested in building a Biomass Heated Greenhouse locally.   The USDA Forest Service and the Alaska Energy Authority commissioned the Handbook, in part to share successes and lessons learned from the Southeast Island School District and help streamline the process for future projects. Nobody wants to re-invent the wheel, and handbooks like these provide the tools so that interested local leaders don’t need to!

“We teach retention, other schools teach compliance” –Colter Barnes

Back on the tour on Prince of Wales Island, five to seven year old students confidently walked out to the chicken coop to do their morning chores – collecting and counting eggs, feeding chickens and ducks, refilling water.  Two high schooler’s run outside to the biomass boiler shed to stoke the fire between classes.  A middle school class weighs goldfish, calculates the amount of fish food to feed them (3% of their mass), and tests the water levels in the aquaponic greenhouse. 

Of the 500 plus schools in Alaska, four on Prince of Wales Island are now displacing heating fuel and imported foods with local woody biomass and greenhouses. According to Principal Colter Barnes, the $200 earned from delivering a cord of wood can make a big difference for families in these high cost communities, and produces about the same amount of heat as $500 worth of diesel fuel.  Students fund sports travel and even requested more duties stoking the boiler and hauling and cutting wood a couple of weeks ago to save up for prom.

These greenhouses are truly inspiring. They are creating jobs and economic development, generating clean, affordable, local energy, teaching nutrition and culinary arts, applied learning, and community engagement.  This is a story of building healthy, culturally vibrant communities and a more resilient region and the newly published handbook will help take this fantastic island-wide project to the next level.

2017 Mid-year Sustainable Southeast Partnership Summit

Partners and collaborators met in Juneau for a two day bi-annual SSP workshop in March. This workshop coincided with SE Conference’s Mid-Session Summit. The success and utility of the SSP network relies heavily on the commitment of partners to meet in-person twice a year. Spending time together to share information and ideas always leads to improved collaboration across the region. We saw over 50 people participate in the two day event, and many of them noted that it was a priority to attend because they see the value it brings to be tapped into the SSP network.

We used the two days to explore specific ideas including; ideas for improving the network in 2017, reflection on how we as individuals and organizations both provide and receive benefits through the partnership, and building an SSP story bank. Southeast Alaska has a rich history rooted in the use of storytelling for sharing knowledge, skills and inspiration. The SSP prioritizes sharing compelling and progressive stories to strengthening projects and connections between our rural villages across the region. We spent one afternoon brainstorming storytelling ideas based on our projects and work and started to discuss and map out strategies for sharing those stories to inspire positive change.

For the full version of the summary with answers to the workshop questions we worked on collaboratively click here.

The 2017 Biomass Heated Greenhouse Tour

Reflections from Ian Johnson, Community Catalyst in Hoonah

The community of Hoonah is currently working to determine if a district biomass heat-loop and biomass-linked greenhouse are right for our community. We are hoping to save energy and cultivate more local produce here in rural Alaska.

Lucky for Hoonah, schools on Prince of Wales Island are already pioneering biomass-heated greenhouses. The Sustainable Southeast Partnership is great because it helps connect ideas and successes from one community, and share them with change-makers across our region. The Biomass Greenhouse Tour arranged by Shaina Kilcoyne and Lia Heifetz of the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, brought 5 community members from Hoonah and 21 other participants from Alaska and Canada to Prince of Wales to examine their biomass linked greenhouses. The experience was powerful.

We started in Coffman Cove with the gardeners of the future – the kindergarten class is tasked with feeding the chickens each morning and collecting eggs. It was delightful, heart-warming, and inspiring to see their bond with the chickens and the enjoyment of their work. From there we learned from the high schoolers and Principal, Colter Barnes how the local biomass sourcing provides money to the local economy ($175/ cord) while warming the greenhouse at a cost savings compared to diesel – a $175 cord of wood is equivalent to about $500 in diesel.

We then moved to the large greenhouse in Coffman cove and were given a tour by the middle-schoolers who run it’s aquaponics operation and harvesting. The excitement was truly electric as it became evident that the Coffman Cove model creates student involvement, provides to the local economy during the lean winter months, generates food security, and provides money to the school through produce sales. These were just SOME of the benefits of their incredible operation. We continued our learning by visiting the greenhouses at Thorne Bay and Kasaan to learn about how we can scale our greenhouses and about slightly different boiler systems. Ending the day at the the Whale House in Kasaan was just icing on the cake!

I can’t thank enough Shaina and Lia for putting together this incredible event. I know it will cause quite a stir in Hoonah and we begin to look at our greenhouse options here.

Government, business and non-profits collaborate on workforce development Second Forestry Training Academy on Prince of Wales Island is underway

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 21, 2017

(Thorne Bay, AK)— This week on Prince of Wales Island, 13 students attending the second Forestry Training Academy are proof that collaboration can be more than just a buzzword. The Forestry Training Academy is two weeks of training to prepare students for local jobs in natural resources. The U.S. Forest Service, state Division of Forestry, state Division of Economic Development, Sealaska Timber, Spruceroot Community Development Fund and Sustainable Southeast Partnership are working together to support the academy for a second year.

Why are federal, state, private and non-profit groups all invested? Each share a common objective to support sustainably-managed forests and sustainable communities with healthy economies. The academy puts local people to work in local jobs, gathering valuable data about area timber stands. Land managers across the region have forestry jobs to fill and the partners believe that keeping jobs local is good for industry, good for communities and good for Alaska.

“We are interested in a strong regional economy and working forests managed by a trained, local workforce,” said Sealaska President and CEO Anthony Mallott. “Maintaining a focus on sustainable harvests helps achieve that.”

The academy is an outgrowth of the Tongass Advisory Committee (TAC), a federal advisory committee formed while the Forest Service was amending the Tongass National Forest management plan. The TAC brought together stakeholders from the timber industry, environmental groups, Sealaska, and the State of Alaska to advise the Forest Service on how to support the transition to young-growth timber harvest and provide for a viable forest industry in Southeast Alaska. Among its final recommendations in late 2015, the TAC recommended investing in a skilled local workforce as an integral piece of developing a more sustainable timber industry.

“The workforce academy is a key element of the new Tongass Land Management Plan, put into action. It’s good for the region and it is an improvement in forest management,” said Andrew Thoms, a TAC member and executive director of the Sitka Conservation Society.

Last year, eight students graduated from the academy equipped with place-based natural resource skills and knowledge immediately transferable to local careers. The Division of Forestry immediately hired six graduates and Sealaska Timber offered a position to another. In December, two of the graduates working with the Division of Forestry on young growth inventory were offered long-term positions with the Forest Service.

Collaboration has proven essential for supporting the academy and the partners also believe that collaboration across land managers is good for sustainable and effective land management.

“This is part of the USDA’s All-lands approach to land management. The Forest Service is working together with the State of Alaska and adjacent land owners to develop a more robust and sustainable approach to forestry across our region,” said Beth Pendleton, Regional Forester for the U.S. Forest Service-Alaska Region, currently serving as the Acting Associate Chief of the agency in Washington, D.C. “The Forestry Academy also helps carry out the U.S. Forest Service Alaska Department of Natural Resources TAC’s recommendations to develop a local workforce and to support the inventory of young growth timber,” she said.

Harrison Voegili working on the Young Growth Inventory on Prince of Wales Island in 2016. Voegili was one of the graduates of the 2016 Forestry Training Academy. Photos can be credited to Kendall Rock, Sustainable Southeast Partnership. 

Alaska State Forester Chris Maisch added, “This team effort is producing impressive results in both the classroom and in the woods. No single organization has the required talent and capacity to accomplish the training and the ensuing project work on its own. The new hires have a great work ethic and pick up new skills rapidly through their work with our forestry team.” The second Forestry Training Academy started on Monday, March 20 and is underway until March 31. It will cover basic forestry skills, best practices, U.S. Forest Service safety requirements and Division of Forestry inventory protocol. The training will also offer students classroom and in-the-field instruction to practice, develop and test skills. Twenty-eight applicants competed for 13 openings this year. All 13 students are from Alaska: four from Ketchikan, one from Haines, one from Metlakatla and seven from Prince of Wales Island.

“Prince of Wales is my home and I am motivated to help sustain and safeguard what is left of the Tongass. I am ready for new challenges within the dynamic environment that the Forest Service represents,” said Christa Hambleton, an academy participant from Port Protection. Hiring local workers allows people in rural communities to stay, work, and raise families in their traditional homes. And many of the natural resource jobs are year-round and well paying. Hiring local allows more money to circulate in the economy and helps create more sustainable communities. Graduates will qualify for immediate employment opportunities with the Forest Service, Division of Forestry and others.

CONTACT: Reporters interested in interviewing academy participants, going into the field or visiting the Forest Academy between March 20-31, 2017, should contact U.S. Forest Service Public Affairs Specialist Dru Fenster at 907-209-2094 or dfenster@fs.fed.us. For photos from this year’s academy, please contact Sustainable Southeast Partnership Communications Director Bethany Goodrich at 907-747-7509 or bethany@sitkawild.org.

Prince of Wales Biomass Greenhouse Tour, April 13, 2017 – Limited Space

Following the Wood Energy Conference in Ketchikan on April 11 – 12th, 2017, a biomass heated greenhouse tour will take place on Prince of Wales Island on April 13.

Who should attend? School district personnel (leadership, teachers, or maintenance), or community organizations, or individuals interested in championing a biomass system and/or greenhouse.

Southeast Island School District is successfully operating biomass-heated greenhouses in four communities on Prince of Wales (POW) Island: Thorne Bay, Kasaan, Coffman Cove, and Naukati. These communities face many similar challenges to other rural communities of Southeast Alaska. Participants will tour the biomass and greenhouse projects in Coffman Cove, Thorne Bay, and possibly Kasaan. This field trip will facilitate the formation of peer-to-peer sharing of resources and experiences pertaining to the planning and implementing of biomass greenhouses in Alaska’s unique environments. To read about the greenhouses on Prince of Wales, check out this story from Edible Alaska magazine. 

 

This tour is limited to 18 registrants, submit your application today*!

*Travel, lodging and meal costs are the responsibility of the registrant unless otherwise noted. 

Questions should be directed to Shaina Kilcoyne, s.kilcoyne@realaska.org, 907-331-7409

 

 

Tour Estimated Expenses

The expenses estimated below do not include travel to and from Ketchikan.  

Inter Island Ferry Ketchikan to Hollis

$50

POW Island transportation 

$50

Ferry or Flight to Ketchikan

$50 – $230

Per night at Fireweed Lodge

$150

Meals

~$60/day

Total estimated Travel Budget

$360 – $540

Travel Links Here:

Register for the Wood Energy Conference (not required)
Book travel with the Inter Island Ferry
Book travel with Island Air Express
Or book travel with Taquan Air 
Reserve a room with Fireweed Lodge (rooms reserved under Kilcoyne)

 

Itinerary

Wednesday, April 12th

3:30pm MV Stikine Ferry departs for Hollis from Ketchikan, arrive 6:30pm, drive to Klawock Fireweed Lodge. Dinner at Fireweed Lodge

Thursday, April 13th

6:00am Breakfast at Fireweed Lodge

7:15am Depart for Coffman Cove, arrive at 8:30am

8:45am Tour Coffman Cove greenhouse, garden and boiler

Question and answer with principal and students of Coffman Cove School

10:15am Depart Coffman Cove for Thorne Bay, snacks provided en route

11:45 Tour Thorne Bay greenhouse and boiler

Question and answer with Laura Cooper (greenhouse manager), Jonathan

Fitzpatrick (engineer), Priscilla Goulding (finance) and students of Thorne Bay School

12:45pm Lunch at Thorne Bay Cafe (student operated café)

Discussion with students operating the Cafe

1:30pm Depart Thorne Bay for Kasaan (A vehicle will leave to get travelers on the afternoon flight to Ketchikan to the Klawock Airport, arriving at 2:15pm for Island Air flight to Ketchikan airport, Alaska Air flight 67 to Juneau)

2:30 Arrive in Kasaan, tour greenhouse, and biomass boiler

Time to explore the the Carving Shed, the Totem Trail Cafe, and Totem Trail to the restored Chief Son-i-Hat Whale House.  

4:00pm depart Kasaan for Klawock, arrive Klawock 5:30pm

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