Undergrad helps teach orphans about hydroponic farming

There are capstones, and there are capstones.

For his capstone—a discipline-spanning research project required of all students graduating from CALS—soil science student Jacob Kruse BS’16 spent a summer working with orphans in Lima, Peru, to set up and run a hydroponic growing system.

More than 60 children from the Casa Hogar Juan Pablo II orphanage—a mission of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin—participated in growing crops that included tomatoes, peppers, bok choy and lettuce. The kids learned all about hydroponics, the art of growing plants in water, sand or gravel instead of soil, adding nutrients as needed.

But the project’s overarching benefits ran deeper. Beyond producing and learning about healthy food, “The goals were to teach children about water and natural resource use and reuse, help build connections between families and friends through common interests and projects and help the children develop responsibility,” says Kruse.

Kruse spent three months helping build the system and offering hands-on instruction on the basics of hydroponics—one class for older children and another for the younger ones. The kids learned about the environmental benefits of hydroponics, how to build home hydroponics out of household items and how to care for the garden.

A manufacturer of specialty chemicals for construction and industry, Sika Peru S.A., funded the project and built the garden structures with recycled materials. Mantisee, a nonprofit organization, provided the system design and plants. Both organizations, Kruse says, are concerned with natural resource use and social development, and they see the hydroponic system as a way to teach water use and nutrient efficiency—an important point in Lima, the world’s second-driest capital city.

Sika has also set up a scholarship and internship program for children at Casa Hogar who complete the hydroponic classes. “Sika’s scholarship and internship program will truly be life-changing for our children, and this collaborative project will have a lasting impact on our orphanage and the children who call it home,” says Jordan Zoroufy, Casa Hogar’s director of development.

Kruse’s faculty advisor, soil science professor Phillip Barak, is both impressed and delighted with the project. “We like our capstone experiences to be very hands-on and to have a service component,” Barak says. “Jake’s self-designed capstone sets a very high bar—food, children and education. Helping build a hydroponic food system from the ground up and turning it over to the children in the orphanage is quite an accomplishment.”

Matthew Bayer

Matthew Bayer - Class of 2012

Matthew Bayer – Class of 2012

Class of 2012 • Matthew Bayer is the co-owner of Country Fresh Meats in Weston, Wisconsin, a familyowned and -operated meat processing plant that’s been in business since 1982 and has 45 full-time employees. Country Fresh Meats sells products to convenience stores all around Wisconsin and distributes out of state as well. Bayer is a longstanding member of the Wisconsin Association of Meat Processors and currently serves as president of the Wisconsin Beef Council. Despite his many years of experience, Bayer found there was still much to learn in the Master Meat Crafter course. “It’s helped me work on efficiency in our process, along with maintaining or increasing the quality of the product,” says Bayer. “It’s also helped in developing new products and trying different things.” Bayer thanks the Master Meat Crafter course for inspiring him to start producing Genoa salami and Sopressata, to name a few examples.

Jennifer Dierkes

Jennifer Dierkes - Class of 2014

Jennifer Dierkes – Class of 2014

Class of 2014 • Jennifer Dierkes is the general manager and one of three owners of McDonald’s Meats, a market and meat processing facility in Clear Lake, Minnesota. She began her career there in 1990 washing dishes while she was still in high school. “I have been part of helping grow this business from a very small butcher shop with a staff of five to a full-service meat market with 35 employees,” she says. Her favorite part of her job is the process of creating new products and helping staff grow and learn new things, she says—and her experience at CALS has enhanced those efforts: “The Master Meat Crafter course has helped immensely in my work. I learned much more about the science behind what we do every day. When you know that, troubleshooting the problems that arise becomes much easier.”

Vance Lautsbaugh

Vance Lautsbaugh - Class of 2016

Vance Lautsbaugh – Class of 2016

Class of 2016 • Vance Lautsbaugh is the production manager at Crescent Meats in Cadott, Wisconsin, where he deals with everything from scheduling day-to-day operations to HACCP/meat inspection, product formulations, employee training and troubleshooting when problems arise. “I enjoy being the manager and that everyone respects my judgment, but my favorite part of my job is making new products and formulations,” he says. “Making the best quality products that I can and hearing compliments from the customers when they try them is what drives me.”

Lautsbaugh finds that the Master Meat Crafter course helped deepen the knowledge and interests he’d developed as a food science student at UW–River Falls: “This class has helped me in so many ways, but most importantly it has given me more confidence when talking to customers and employees. Because I understand what is happening to the meat at all stages of production, I can explain it and teach others what I know.”

Louis E. Muench

Louis Muench - Class of 2012

Louis Muench – Class of 2012

Class of 2012 • As the president of Louie’s Finer Meats in Cumberland, Wisconsin, Louie Muench has a lot on his plate. Besides being the head sausage maker, Muench oversees and manages all aspects of the business. His favorite area is product development as he has more than 100 kinds of brats. The Master Meat Crafter program increased Muench’s networking capability with both suppliers and alumni, which gives him more exposure and support when trying new methods and learning how to expand his business. When he isn’t working, Muench enjoys crosscountry skiing, hunting and fishing in the north woods.

Richard Reams

Richard Reams - Class of 2012

Richard Reams – Class of 2012

Class of 2012 • Rick “RJ” Reams owns and operates RJ’s Meats & Groceries in Hudson, Wisconsin, working alongside his wife, Anne, and sons Anthony, Aaron and Joe. RJ’s is a fullservice retail meat market and producer of many varieties of sausage, ham, bacon and salami. While he originally started with fresh meats, Reams now really loves making sausage. The Master Meat Crafter program helped Reams immensely in two ways: it helped educate his staff in food safety and why things are done certain ways, and it got him making Italian salami with wine, a product that is now shipped all over the United States. In his free time, Reams enjoys fishing and learning more about the meat industry.

Jake Sailer

Jake Sailer - Class of 2012

Jake Sailer – Class of 2012

Class of 2012 • Jake Sailer co-owns Sailer’s Food Market and Meat Processing Inc., in Elmwood, Wisconsin, along with his father and mother and his wife, Leslie. As a fifth-generation meat cutter, Sailer has great expertise in the cured and smoked meats that he produces. He’s won numerous awards at state, national and international levels with such products as bacon, hams and smoked beef. The Master Meat Crafter program has given him a better understanding of the science behind meat processing and has allowed him to grow relationships and friendships with others in the industry. When he’s not working, Sailer enjoys spending time at a cabin with family and friends, flying an airplane and cutting wood.

Ashley Sutterfield

Class of 2016 • Ashley Sutterfield is an associate manager of sales development at Tyson Foods, Inc. in Bentonville, Arkansas. In this role, she manages projects as a liaison between the customer, the Tyson sales team and their internal business units. Sutterfield’s favorite moments are when she can translate her scientific knowledge into lay terms for the people she works with. Some of that knowledge came from the Master Meat Crafter program, which Sutterfield says was “invaluable to my career as I developed as a meat scientist and made connections within the industry.” In her free time, Sutterfield enjoys traveling, advocating for the tiny house movement and training for Ironman Wisconsin 2016.

Josh Swart

Josh Swart - Class of 2016

Josh Swart – Class of 2016

Class of 2016 • As a supervisor in the sausage production kitchen at Usinger’s Famous Sausage in Milwaukee, Swart is responsible for setting up the product flow and making sure all production is finished for the day. He started working for a smaller sausage company during summer breaks from school and collected experience and knowledge there before moving to Usinger’s. Swart enjoys being able to share the reasons why they do things in a particular way—information he learned by taking the Master Meat Crafters program. In his free time, Swart likes to play bass and listen to music.

Kelly Gall Washa

Kelly Gall Washa - Class of 2016

Kelly Gall Washa – Class of 2016

Class of 2016 • Kelly Gall Washa is the owner and operator of Grand Champion Meats in Foley, Minnesota, which processes beef, pork, buffalo, alpaca, deer, elk and other wild game. She is a second-generation meat cutter who is accomplished in both cured and smoked meats, including snack sticks, jerky, summer sausage and Braunschweiger. She is a past president of the Minnesota Association of Meat Processors and enjoys making and maintaining industry connections. When she’s not working, Washa loves spending time with her two children and looks forward to training a third generation of meat cutters.

The Greenhouse as a Public Classroom

Just as some seeds yield tomatoes, carrots and lettuce, others grow community and partnership.

In a greenhouse in the northern Wisconsin town of Park Falls, all of those seeds are taking root with the help of CALS horticulture graduate student Michael Geiger, horticulture professor Sara Patterson and a team of dedicated local leaders.

“The greenhouse has opened doors to making healthier food choices, to education about gardening in local schools—and it’s given the university a presence in Park Falls,” says Geiger, who grew up in Arbor Vitae, some 50 miles away.

Geiger’s involvement with the Flambeau River Community Growing Center started four years ago when a friend in the area approached him for advice. Her group was seeking funding for a greenhouse project, and Geiger teamed with Patterson to identify possible revenue sources. They developed a proposal for the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment at UW–Madison.

By fall 2013, construction had begun on a 25-by- 50-foot vail-style greenhouse, built by community volunteers on a vacant lot donated by Flambeau River Papers just north of the mill. Plans call for the facility to eventually be heated with waste steam from the mill.

The Flambeau River Community Growing Center has gained popularity with community members and school groups interested in learning about plants and gardening. “It’s a greenhouse, but it’s also a classroom,” says Geiger.

Learners include children from the Chequamegon School District, who start seeds in the greenhouse and nurture seedlings until they can be transplanted to their own school gardens. Area 4–H groups grow plants and tend them in raised beds just outside the greenhouse. Master Gardener classes are held at the facility, and community workshops have included such topics as square-foot and container gardening as well as hydroponics. Kids have been delighted with sessions on soil testing and painting their own flowerpots.

“It’s clearly a benefit to build a connection between UW–Madison and the community, for the community itself—people from ages 3 to 90—and for the local schools,” Patterson says.

Community leaders and institutions have joined to fuel the center’s success. Its chief executive officer, Tony Thier, recently retired from Flambeau River Papers; UW–Extension has provided valuable educational and technical support; and volunteer opportunities draw professionals from various companies in the area. Park Falls attorney Janet Marvin helped the center gain nonprofit status last fall.

Thier says the center provides needed education for area residents. “It’s been very beneficial,” he says. “When I got involved, it really became a passion. I wanted to learn more about gardening and increase my skill. We try to involve the whole community.”

Geiger says the project has helped him in his academic career as he learned about project planning, gave presentations about the center at two national academic conferences and writes scholarly articles about his work there.

“I’ve been able to see this process through from an idea to reality,” says Geiger. “It’s been really rewarding.”

PHOTO – Michael Geiger (right) in the greenhouse at a hydroponic salad table workshop. The greenhouse features in-floor radiant heating and custom growing tables made of locally purchased white cedar and built by volunteers.

Photo credit – Michael Geiger

The Road from Farm to Market

Consumer demand for regionally produced food is on the rise. But transportation and distribution logistics for mid-size shippers, distributors and farmers can be tricky. These supply chain partners are looking for ways to more efficiently move products from Wisconsin’s farms to markets, while upholding many of their customers’ sustainability values.

That’s where the CALS-based Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) comes in. CIAS is working with university and private-sector partners to bring regionally grown food to urban markets while growing rural economies and addressing the environmental impacts of food freight.

“When people think of local food, they think of farmers markets and community-supported agriculture,” says Michelle Miller BS’83, associate director of programs for CIAS. “While these direct markets are the gold standard for connecting us with the people who grow our food, they don’t address the need to get more high-quality regional products into grocery stores, restaurants and schools.”

Consumers tend to believe that food is more sustainable if it travels a short distance from farm to table. However, a USDA study found that compared to direct markets, the large truckloads and logistical efficiencies found in the conventional food system sometimes use less fuel per food item transported.

Helping mid-size farmers move full truckloads of their products into wholesale markets is one way to build a more resilient regional economy. However, farmers face numerous challenges when shifting from direct to wholesale marketing. Product aggregation is one major hurdle, as wholesale public markets for assembling farmers’ wares have largely disappeared from the landscape.

The Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative (WFHC), founded in 2012, helps fill that gap by providing sales, marketing and logistical support for its 37 farmer-owners, with sales of $1.7 million in 2015 and anticipated sales of $2.5 million in 2016.

CIAS helped WFHC implement retail product quality specifications and food safety requirements. Access to CALS expertise in those areas has made a big difference for their business, according to WFHC development director Sarah Lloyd.

“Most retail outlets require growers to obtain voluntary food safety certifications,” says Lloyd. “The help we’ve received in working through this maze of regulations has been critical.”

According to Miller, much more work is needed to help Wisconsin growers move their products into regional metro markets. CIAS is investigating fair trade strategies to provide equitable compensation for farmers. The center is working closely with city, county and regional partners to increase food processing and related food systems economic development in southern Wisconsin. CIAS is also researching more sustainable truck fleets using alternative fuels, hybrid electric engines and day cabs.

“We can gain efficiencies across the food system, at the farm level and in the way we move food to markets,” says Miller. “Ultimately we want to make it easier for consumers to support Wisconsin farmers.”

Tara Roberts-Turner, a founding farmer and business manager of the Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative, loads fresh produce onto a truck bound for Chicago.

Photo credit – Tara Roberts-Turner