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Barley from gravel — Borough offers harvest opportunity

Courtest USDA

There’s an experiment growing in the borough’s gravel pit in Cooper Landing and it’s ready for harvest.

“There was a project about two years ago that result in an area being reclaimed. And so we had this nice, flat surface that was freshly top-soiled, and we’re looking at what to do with it in the long term. And for a temporary measure, we did some barley trials,” said Marcus Meuller, land management officer for the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

Meuller said the department has been working toward an agriculture initiative to find ways to use borough land to make agriculture more available for residents, and the barley experiment fits right in.

“We’re interested in a couple of things from this. One is to get a sense of how cereal grains do in this area, generally, we just didn’t have any experience there. And as we look at agriculture in the future, that cereal component is something that’s good to have some local information on. And the other part is that as land managers, having vegetation in our toolbox for cover crops, for instance, is really important and for us to understand what does well for soil stabilization,” Meuller said.

The Alaska Plant Materials Center recommended four types of barley. One is good for making bread, another would be good for brewing, a third is good for animal feed and all four are good for straw. Altogether, the four plots are just under an acre, but Meuller said they grew well and have a high yield, so there’s plenty to go around.

“I would think that somebody would want to have some kind of a small scythe and maybe like a sled to take and put materials in and shake them out,” he said.

Harvesting is open to anyone — you don’t have to be a Cooper Landing or even a borough resident to give it a try. Though permits and fees are required to extract gravel, the barley is free. All Mueller asks is for a little feedback.

“Send us a just quick e-mail letting us know what varieties they went after and what their intended purpose was and what their experience was. Was it a success? And what didn’t work out well? (We) just hope that folks take the opportunity to check it out and enjoy it,” he said.

Mueller said he doesn’t yet know if there’s more barely in the borough’s future, but so far the experiment looks promising.

“I think that it’s worked out really well,” he said. “We’ve kind of gone through a process of understanding a little bit more about cereal crops in Alaska and about how to do a successful seeding. Now this next step about seeing what kind of interest there is in the public to respond to the availability of grains. I’m really excited to see if folks come out and take advantage of it.”

So if you’d like borough barley to be a thing, go out and give it a try. The gravel pit is about two and a half miles down Snug Harbor Road in Cooper Landing, on the south side of the road. The e-mail to report back to the borough is

Jenny Neyman has been the general manager of KDLL since 2017. Before that she was a reporter and the Morning Edition host at KDLL.
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