Stoking the Right Brain
Now There's Support for 'Homemade'
Class is Out(side)
The Deciding Factor
STOKING THE RIGHT BRAIN
Metacognition: Building awareness and an understanding of your creative process.
As a doctoral student, Ryan Hargrove researched methods for enhancing students' creative thinking. The key to creativity, he realized, is metacognition—building awareness of and understanding one's personal thought process.
Hargrove, now an assistant professor in the College of Agriculture's Department of Landscape Architecture, began offering a course called "Living on the Right Side of the Brain." It was so successful, it is now offered in the University's general education curriculum, which opens the course to students in all disciplines.
"The skills you learn aren't design-specific," he said. "Creativity is something we all need. Coming up with more innovative solutions, having a broader perspective—we all need that, no matter what we do."
Now There’s Support
Many small-scale producers, enthused by the burgeoning local food movement and Kentucky Proud’s success, consider producing and selling value-added products. But without the capability for product testing that large processors routinely carry out in their own labs, they might not know if Grandma’s spaghetti sauce has a chance of making it in the mass consumer market.
But now producers have help available, through the College of Agriculture’s new Food Systems Innovation Center. Building on the many capabilities that exist in the College in terms of marketing and technical product development services, the center can assess product safety, provide accurate nutritional analyses and labeling information, conduct taste tests using trained sensory panelists, and analyze shelf life. UK agricultural economists conduct consumer, demand, economic impact, and feasibility studies.
Kentucky Agricultural Development Board funds helped to get the Food Systems Innovation Center off the ground.
In Argentina, where there are no government subsidies, farming is a risky business.
To reduce their risks, producers of varying ages, expertise, backgrounds, and philosophies gather in farmer-driven peer groups known as Regional Consortiums of Agricultural Experimentation, or CREA. The eight to 12 members compare production notes, share research, and critique each member’s operation. They also hire an advisor who visits each farmer’s operation and provides personalized recommendations.
Chad Lee (left) and Lucas Borras discuss
Borras’ experiments in kernel fill on corn.
Borras is an adjunct professor of crop
production at the National University of
Rosario in Argentina.
“The biggest benefit is members share knowledge, technology, and business practices with each other,” said Chad Lee, extension grain crops specialist in the College of Agriculture. “They become much more competitive as a group, because each member knows the prices the others are getting for things like fertilizer, pesticides, and seeds.”
Lee knows this, because he spent four months in Argentina learning about the country’s agricultural industry, how farmers survive and remain competitive without subsidies, and if and how these practices could be applied to Kentucky grain operations to make them more competitive and productive.
His work was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.
Although Kentucky and Argentina producers face very different economic scenarios, Lee believes the concept of a farmer-driven peer group can work here.
Kentucky grain farmers Randy Mann of Simpson County and Sam Hancock of Fulton County, with funding from the Kentucky Soybean Board, spent a week with Lee in Argentina learning about Argentinean soybean production. Both agree that some aspects of CREA could work here.
“Making decisions based on collective input and ideas from producers in the group, rather than a producer making a decision based only on individual experience, could be an advantage in some cases,” Hancock said.
Lee plans to establish a group of Kentucky grain producers who share technical information about their operations. Each member would engage in one research project and share their results with the group.
Class is Out(side)
Program instructor Kelly Taylor (top right, bottom left) teaches students from Lexington’s Universal Academy how to collect stream data in the West Hickman watershed.
Wading in a chilly creek bed on a cool morning may not sound like science, but in this case it is. The UK College of Agriculture and the Tracy Farmer Institute for Sustainability and the Environment are giving middle and high school students the opportunity to learn outside the classroom through community-based science programs.
Brian Radcliffe, a program instructor for the Farmer Institute, said they work with Kentucky schools on water projects that focus on water quality, soil quality, invasive plants, or any topic relevant to the interest and needs of the students and teachers.
By providing field trips, professional development for teachers, and opportunities for the students to attend conferences to present their information, the institute connects students to science in a meaningful way.
Sixth-grade students from Lexington’s Universal Academy participated in the program last fall. They braved the brisk water of the West Hickman watershed to test the stream’s water quality. Radcliffe showed the students how to collect data and what to do with it.
“We talk about water sheds, rivers, and streams in Kentucky,” he said. “We test the water, use GPS to pinpoint data collection sites and then map the data using GIS. It’s a year-long project.”
The program, in which 15 Kentucky schools from 9 districts take part, is funded through a National Science Foundation Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers grant.
The ‘Deciding’ Factor
In Charles Fox’s laboratory in the Department of Entomology, researchers can turn down a female beetle’s libido just by giving her something sweet. Oh, she’ll mate the first time, but after a little sugar water, her “thoughts” turn to other beetle matters such as egg laying.
Fox’s experiments with Callosobruchus maculates, commonly known as the cowpea weevil (though it’s not a weevil), are a window into the way individuals interact with their environment. From the smallest insect to the largest mammal, species evolve behaviors that help them reproduce, obtain food, and avoid predators.
“Organisms are going to respond to changes in the environment (evolve) in ways that improve survival and reproduction,” Fox said. He recently published, with UK biology professor David Westneat, a book on the subject—Evolutionary Behavioral Ecology.
Fox is interested in the types of decisions organisms make when mating and how those decisions differ between males and females.
Adult cowpea weevils don’t eat much—a little nectar, some fungi. The female beetle gets nourishment from the male’s nuptial gift, which is a large volume of fluids transferred during mating, giving her the resources to live longer and produce more eggs. Fox asks questions such as, “Do starving females solicit mates to get resources from them?”
The cowpea weevil female will often resist mating advances from males if she’s well fed.
He discovered that, if fed, females are very resistant to mating. For good reason. Males have spines on their genitalia, which damage the female. She will always mate with the first male she encounters—she needs sperm to fertilize her eggs—but she becomes more selective in later matings, unless she is hungry.
“It has to do with sexual conflict. There’s a lot of selection for males to mate a lot but for females to mate less, leading to conflict between the sexes over how often to mate.” he said.
Which all begs the question: as the environment changes, affecting male-female interactions, how will beetle mating behavior evolve?
Fox is on the case.
College of Ag entomologist Lee Townsend says look down. Small mounds of soil that appear overnight indicate night crawlers—one of the first animals to stir as temperatures warm—are on the move. These industrious creatures decompose organic matter, aerate the soil providing conduits for water and space for roots, and fertilize with their rich castings (a gentle way of saying worm poop). And for those who worry that night crawlers might attract moles, Townsend says the worms’ value generally outweighs the risk.
UKAg has plugged into the social networking circuit
to connect with alumni and constituents. The UKAg Social Media Hub, http://www2.ca.uky.edu/social/, aggregates all the latest official College content from popular social media sites, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, LinkedIn, iTunes U, and Delicious.
Several UKAg departments cooperated in evaluating 20 varieties of green beans during a recent variety trial at the UK Horticultural Research Farm—the first in about 10 years. Pam Sigler in the School of Human Environmental Sciences was especially interested in the beans' taste, texture, and visual appeal. All things considered, panelists participating in Sigler's taste test indicated they were most likely to purchase the Tema variety, with Brio, Hickock, and Savannah varieties not far behind. UK horticulture specialist John Strang will use data from the variety trials to make recommendations for commercial growers.
Entrepreneurs working with volunteer coaches from Kentucky Entrepreneurial Coaches Institute's first two classes have created more than 240 new jobs in northeastern Kentucky and contributed $9 million to the state's economy. KECI, currently training entrepreneurial leaders, advocates, and coaches in its fourth class, is now in 41 tobacco-dependent counties in Eastern and Southern Kentucky.
Nothing adds value to milk like cheese. At the four-day Kentucky Cheesemaking School—offered twice last year by the College, Kentucky State University, and industry partners—participants learned cheese makers can expect returns of about $1 per ounce at local markets, although the initial outlay for equipment can be quite high. Specialty cheeses like goat and sheep cheeses can be especially profitable.