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UConn Advance

Bartok helps replant hope in Russia's forbidding Far East
By Renu Sehgal
April 11, 1997

When John Bartok visits the Russian Far East, he makes sure he has a ready supply of seeds, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar.

These items are hard to find on the coast above China, where people are so poor they are given land to grow their own vegetables. Eighty percent of the residents live in apartments or homes that Bartok describes as shacks. The growing season is very short - temperatures reach 50 below zero in the winter.

Despite the hardships, the people are generous. "They help each other out," says Bartok, the University's extension agricultural engineer.

Bartok has been helping Russians reforest these remote lands. Large fires have burned more than 5 million acres to the ground. USAID, an organization that assists foreign nations in need, is supporting the development of a reforestation industry.

The group sought technical assistance on how to grow tree seedlings from the University of Oregon, which in turn asked Bartok if he would provide his technical expertise in designing greenhouses customized for the region.

"They need to reforest because of the environment and for the lumber industry. The fires have devastated lands, and the government requires that lumber companies replant trees they take down," Bartok says. "Because of the short growing season, the greenhouse design is extremely important. They need greenhouses for the tree seedlings to grow longer and better."

Bartok visited the area last April, making recommendations for renovating existing greenhouses and building new-style greenhouses. He showed builders in Russia how to make the new greenhouses during a trip in October. He is due back in the Russian Far East this month to train workers on irrigation and to help with more greenhouse construction.

"They are very smart people," Bartok says. "They just don't have the resources and expertise to regrow the crops."

Retirement planned
Bartok is the only agricultural engineer in New England. He works on the design, layout, heating systems, energy conservation and ventilation of greenhouses. He also handles homeowner problems related to heating systems, moisture, mildew, squirrels, water wells and water quality. Bartok has been with the University since 1954, when he was a student. He joined the faculty in 1966 and will retire June 1.

But he plans to continue his research projects helping the nursery and greenhouse industries. His research has improved the efficiency of the industry's operations and equipment. He even helped growers recycle the plastic covering of overwintering greenhouses by using haybalers to compress the material and make it possible to recycle.

"Growers are very free with information," he says. "Other industries don't do that as much. It's helped the nursery andgreenhouse industries become number one."

This free flow also has helped countries such as Russia, which are in great need of the information.

The Russians, who also have received money to develop the industry from their government, are growing hemlock, pine and larch. So far, they have two locations with about eight greenhouses. Bartok says they plan to plant more tree seedlings this summer while expanding to accommodate 5 million seedlings per year per nursery site.

"There are a lot of countries and companies interested in Russian trees," Bartok says. "U.S. and Japanese companies even own some land there to harvest prime soft wood. We're exhausting our resources here, so attention will turn to Russia in the future."

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