A Big-City Ag High School Blossoms

It’s just after lunch at Milwaukee Vincent, and students are settling into their two-hour Advanced Animal Science class. Using their fingers to write on an electronic whiteboard, they quickly assign themselves animal care tasks. There is much to keep them busy.

While some kids clean the rabbit and chinchilla cages, others try to hold the hedgehog without getting pricked or feed the 1,000 crickets purchased for conducting breeding experiments. (They eat fresh vegetables.) The classroom is abuzz—not with the beehives located a few hundred yards away outside—but with talk about the newest member of the menagerie, a goat named Susan. A half dozen students head out to the pole shed that now accommodates Susan’s pen. Water sloshes out of the five-gallon buckets students pull in a wagon toward the goat, the 26 chickens and the two ducks. The refrigerator is already full of eggs, but kids find seven more under one broody bird.

Forty-two buses bring students to the 70-acre North Side campus from all parts of Milwaukee. While the school was built in the late ’70s to focus on international studies, agribusiness and natural resources, it has strayed from that specialization over the past few decades.

But new life is being breathed into the school’s original mission, in part due to the infusion of funding through a USDA grant obtained by the University of Wisconsin–Madison to develop an agricultural curriculum at the high school. This, plus four new ag teachers and a principal who is dedicated to the school’s agricultural roots, are starting to turn things around.

“Agriculture may sound like an unusual choice for a big-city high school, but our expansive campus and, more importantly, significant career opportunities in the field, make for a strong match,” says principal Daryl Burns. “All the agricultural pathways help students build the skills needed for in-demand STEM careers and the skills needed for success in almost any career, as well as in college and in life.”

Each freshman is required to take a yearlong Introduction to Agricultural Sciences class. Students can then pursue four different pathways: Animal Science, Horticulture Science, Food Science and Environmental Science. A three-room greenhouse is back in use, and an enormous vegetable garden, chicken coop, animal room, apiary and aquaponics facility in which fish and plants are grown together have been added.

And the school has been renamed Vincent Agricultural High School. Gail Kraus, an agricultural outreach specialist, is helping the Milwaukee Public Schools initiative to see Vincent grow into its new name. Now in her fourth year there, she is funded through the CALS-based Dairy Coordinated Agricultural Project grant.

“This transformation will provide Vincent students the opportunity to engage in hands-on learning that builds the necessary knowledge and skills for one of Wisconsin’s largest industries,” says Kraus.

Much of the inspiration for bringing the school back to its roots comes from CALS agronomy professor Molly Jahn, who had visited and was impressed by the Chicago High School for Agricultural Science (CHSAS). There, students clamor for enrollment space because of its curriculum and reputation as a safe school that promotes academic excellence.

“We want Vincent to be as desirable to attend as CHSAS,” says Jahn. “Through the new ag curriculum, students may be prepared for jobs right out of high school or go on to college to study things they would not otherwise have been exposed to. I envision the day when the ag curriculum at Vincent will be used as a model for other urban high schools in Wisconsin and elsewhere.”

Some Vincent students have completed the college application process. Jeremy Shelly, a senior who is a member of the National Honor Society, wants to become a veterinarian. Dawson Yang is aiming for UW–Green Bay.

“I took the Intro to Environmental Sciences class here and loved it,” says Yang, who also likes to hunt, fish and camp. “I want to study environmental sciences and maybe one day work for the Department of Natural Resources.”

Daughters of Demeter Celebrate 100

In Greek mythology, Demeter is the goddess of the harvest and agriculture, presiding over the fertility of the earth. And in that spirit, members of a century-old nonprofit called Daughters of Demeter perform community service and award scholarships and grants to CALS students to ensure that agriculture and the college remain strong.

Daughters of Demeter was formed in 1917 by a group of women whose spouses were on CALS faculty. Since then, the organization has expanded membership to welcome all faculty, staff and friends of the college and recently invited its first male member. The group now has some 120 members and hopes to increase membership during its centennial year.

A Daughters of Demeter loan fund was established in 1944 with a $25 gift; soon after, the group established a scholarship fund. Student scholarship support has grown over the years, and, in the last decade, the organization has awarded more than $300,000 in scholarships and grants to CALS students and student organizations.

“The Daughters of Demeter are consistently one of the most generous annual donors to CALS scholarship funds, and a subgroup has sewn thousands of hats and scarves annually donated to University of Wisconsin cancer patients,” notes Daughters of Demeter president Liz Henry BS’83, an emeritus CALS academic staff member.

But there’s no pressure for members to participate in all activities, notes Henry: “Members can join and be as involved as they choose and are not held to any more or less involvement than they are comfortable with.”

Janice Martin has been a member since 1983, became president in 1988 and has since chaired numerous committees, including the Annual Corn Roast Committee. She currently chairs a bulb-planting committee that plants more than 1,500 bulbs at Allen Centennial Garden each fall.

“I find the friendship and camaraderie in this organization, from working on committees to sewing cancer scarves once a month, to be a very important part of my life while serving UW–Madison,” says Martin, whose husband, A. Jeff Martin, is an emeritus professor of forest and wildlife ecology. “These members are a dedicated group, very generous in giving to our scholarships and grants, very dependable and willing to help when needed to provide the students in CALS with funds to continue their education. We also have a good time!”

Centennial events this spring include the Annual Meeting and Spring Luncheon on Wednesday, April 12 at Blackhawk Country Club (featuring CALS emeritus biochemistry professor David Nelson speaking on CALS history) and a Centennial Gala on Thursday, May 18 at Allen Centennial Garden. You can find more information about upcoming events on the group’s Facebook page.

To donate to Daughters of Demeter, visit http://supportuw.org/giveto/demeter

Five things everyone should know about … The Future of Agriculture

1 l Apps are critical to ag. Farmers use mobile technology for many things, including turning irrigation and other equipment on or off, maintaining pest counts from field scouting, identifying bugs, checking field records, reviewing soil types, ensuring site-specific planting or production and keeping track of pest control operations. These apps often link directly to computers, allowing farmers to maintain a complete record of everything that happens on the farm and make critical long-term comparisons.

2 l Big data is helping agriculture. Data is being collected on all aspects of production, and big data analysis can improve our decisionmaking and increase productivity. Ultimately, this big data approach can bring regional and even global improvements to food production, resource conservation and environmental stewardship.

3 l Drones and satellites will help manage farmland as we move forward. Much of the commercial market for drones will be in agriculture. Drones are affordable and can boost productivity and cost-efficiency in agriculture as they scout fields, identify areas of concern, take photos and assist data collection. Satellite imagery and remote-sensing technologies are also on the horizon, allowing growers to identify and gather data pertaining to field-related questions and concerns long before the human eye can see the problem.

4 l Genetically modified organisms and cis-genetics will expand the abilities of plant breeders to create agricultural varieties for specific production and management needs. We have already seen the rapid expansion of genetic manipulation in developing plant varieties with new traits from other plants (GMOs), or having plants with traits that are enhanced and/or silenced to aid in some aspects of the plant’s growth and production. We are now on the threshold of a new technology—cis-genetics, where only the genetic material of the host plant is used to create desired characteristics. While many still question the role of these technologies, there is little doubt they will play a role as agriculture faces future challenges.

5 l RNAi technology will take pest management to the next level. We’re moving toward completely biologically based technology that uses RNA (ribonucleic acid) to turn off specific enzymes in target pests and silence genes that are essential to the pests’ life processes. This RNAi (ribonucleic acid interference) technology will take out only pests that are specifically targeted and will have no impact on other organisms—a truly innovative and safe approach for our next generation of pest management.


Deana Knuteson and Mimi Broeske are with the CALS-based Nutrient and Pest Management Program. Jeffrey Wyman is an emeritus professor with the Department of Entomology.

Five things everyone should know about . . . Pulses

1. You’ve eaten them without knowing it. If the word “pulse” as a food leaves you flummoxed, fear not. The word pulse comes from the Latin word “puls,” which means thick soup or potage. No doubt you’ve enjoyed dried beans, lentils and peas in a soup or stew. Pulses are the edible dried seeds of certain plants in the legume family. Soybeans, peanuts, fresh peas and fresh beans are legumes but not considered pulse crops. Some lesser-known pulses like adzuki bean and cowpea play critical roles in diets around the world. Many pulses are economically accessible and important contributors to food security.

2. They’re very nutritious. Pulses contain between 20 and 25 percent protein by weight—twice the amount you’ll find in quinoa and wheat—and next to no fat. Around the world, they are a key source of protein for people who don’t eat meat or who don’t have regular access to meat. Pulses need less water than other crops, which adds to their appeal and value in areas where water is scarce.

3. Pulse crops have other environmental benefits as well. As members of the legume family, pulses are capable of taking nitrogen from the air and putting it back in the soil in a form available to plants. This makes legumes a critical part of any crop rotation and contributes significantly to sustainable farming. Pulses are grown worldwide but are particularly well adapted to cool climates such as Canada and northern states in the U.S.

4. We’re learning a lot about pulses from a recently sequenced genome. Adzuki bean was domesticated 12,000 years ago in China and is one of the most important pulses grown in Asia. There it is known as the “weight loss bean” because of its low calorie and fat content and high levels of protein. A recent genome sequencing collaboration among scientists in India and China revealed that genes for fat were expressed in much higher levels in soybean than in adzuki bean, while genes for starch were expressed at greater levels in adzuki bean. Their findings suggest that humans selected for diversified legumes in their diet—some that would provide oil and others that would provide starch.

5. It’s their year! The 68th UN General Assembly declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses, so now is the time to eat and learn. Events taking place all around the world focus on everything from cooking pulses (sample recipes: fava bean puree, carrot and yellow split pea soup) to growing them and incorporating them into school lunches. Learn more at www.fao.org/pulses-2016/en/.

A growing appetite for food systems

As a CES major, Desire Smith discovered a love for urban ag.

As a CES major, Desire Smith discovered a love for urban ag.

Anyone looking to see exciting growth of a new field should talk with the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology. Since changing its name from Rural Sociology in 2009, the number of undergraduate majors has quadrupled. And a big reason for that rapid growth is the increased visibility of environmental issues in general—and food issues in particular.

“Perhaps as many as half of our undergraduates want to work on local food issues,” says professor and department chair Gary Green. “Some would like to start a community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm, others would like to work for a nonprofit and still others see themselves in food policy positions in the future. In addition, there is growing interest in urban agriculture programs in major cities. We believe we have the potential to make an important contribution to CALS through preparing students to work in this growing field.”

The department is taking a two-pronged approach to meeting this demand. They are raising funds to support one or two graduate student fellowships specifically in the area of food systems research—and they also seek to hire an assistant professor with a focus on food systems. These new positions would serve not only to advance research and outreach in the field, but also to help meet high undergraduate demand for related classes and field opportunities.

“There is a growing interest in CALS in developing a certificate in food systems, and these positions could play a key role in supporting that effort,” notes Green. Three food systems courses now being piloted in CALS, with the participation of five departments, could serve as the core of a future food systems certificate program.

The department is not a new player in the study of local food systems. Indeed, emeritus professor Jack Kloppenburg, who retired last year, is a nationally renowned pioneer in the field. The loss of Kloppenburg and two other professors with local food systems expertise— Jess Gilbert and Jill Harrison—has left the department less able to continue leading the charge.

“It is critical to recruit new faculty to continue to provide teaching, research and outreach in this area,” notes Green. The position would also enable the department to take advantage of numerous funding opportunities for food systems research.

“We foresee no drop-off of interest in food and agriculture, but rather a longrange increased demand in this area,” Green says.

PHOTO – As a CES major, Desire Smith discovered a love for urban ag. 

 

Class Act: Erik Sanson

Entomology might seem like an unlikely research area for an undergrad whose goal is medical school. But biology major Erik Sanson has clocked in many hours of lab time studying deer ticks—more specifically, Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacterium transported by deer ticks—because of its role in causing Lyme disease.

“Entomology sparked my interest as a young undergraduate because it deals with public health issues throughout the state of Wisconsin,” says Sanson, who works in the lab of entomology professor Susan Paskewitz.

His research on genotypes of Borrelia burgdorferi is a good example, he says. “Lyme disease is prevalent in the Midwest, and analyzing possible new strains of the disease can help alert physicians in the area. This would allow them to establish better treatment plans and prevention for their patients.”

Sanson’s been conducting research in medical entomology since his freshman year under the auspices of the Undergraduate Research Scholars (URS) program, which offers research positions to freshmen and sophomores from historically underrepresented groups on campus. Sanson now serves as a URS Fellow, a position in which he mentors a group of URS underclassmen in their projects.

That’s not his only service gig. He’s president of the CALS Student Association, a CALS Student Ambassador, and a mentor with the PEOPLE Program, offering support and guidance to a dozen freshmen throughout the year. Off campus, he has provided in-home patient care as a Certified Nursing Assistant and a Certified Phlebotomy Technician, and he has volunteered at Meriter and William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans hospitals.

Sanson hopes to continue that path of service as a physician.

“I’d like to pursue a career relating to research or public health in urban areas,” he says. “For research, I’m interested in pursuing an MD–Ph.D. dual degree, where I can focus on infectious diseases relating to human illnesses. If I choose the public health route, I’d like to focus on urban areas, working to reduce health disparities and promote health equity to all communities.”

Class Act: Sarah Krier

Sarah Krier, a junior majoring in environmental studies and life sciences communication, had already spent two seasons as a camp counselor in Hudson. But this past summer she wanted to do something deeper: impart the teachings of Aldo Leopold to young people.

In particular she wanted to draw from a recent massive open online course (MOOC), “The Land Ethic Reclaimed: Aldo Leopold, Perceptive Hunting, and Conservation,” featuring wildlife ecology professor Tim Van Deelen.

“I never fully appreciated the outdoors until my dad took me hunting when I was 12. For the first time I felt that nature is a community I’m a part of,” says Krier. While hunting was not on the camp’s agenda, the course’s overarching concepts certainly could be: “I wanted every child to be able to form a personal connection with the outdoors.”

For the “Little Aldos” project, as it was called, Krier received a Wisconsin Open Education Community Fellowship, an award totaling up to $6,000 offered by the Division of Continuing Studies and the Morgridge Center for Public Service. Under the guidance of LSC professor Bret Shaw she designed programs for younger and older campers, drawing on materials from the nonprofit Aldo Leopold Foundation.

The YMCA Camp DayCroix offered a rich opportunity to work with children from diverse backgrounds, many of them from the Twin Cities. Younger children explored the camp’s different ecosystems and engaged in fun activities (wildlife observation, planting sugar maples) developed as an accompaniment to Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. They kept nature journals in which to draw and write about their experiences.

Older campers built Leopold benches and led a project implementing a compost system for the camp’s food waste. While Krier had nearly 80 kids in her programs throughout the summer, these activities extended her reach to many more of the season’s some 3,000 campers.

She feels she met her goal of helping children form a personal connection with nature.

“Every kid’s connection was a little bit different. Some kids really got into bug catching. Others dove into their journals,” Krier says. “We had kids who had never actually seen a chicken. For them to come and say ‘I eat chicken all the time, and that’s what it looks like?’ is just a really cool way for them to have that connection to nature.”

You can see Krier in action in a video produced as part of UW–Madison’s All Ways Forward campaign.

Give: Hands-On Fieldwork

Before last summer, Vera Swanson’s only exposure to plant sciences had been through classes in introductory biology. That changed big-time when Swanson, a junior majoring in environmental sciences and Russian, signed on to intern at the CALS-based Arlington Agricultural Research Station as a crop scout.

Crop scouts are used in agricultural management to diagnose stress factors in a field—such elements as potentially negative soil and climate conditions, the presence of pests, and threatened crop performance—and determine which management practices are appropriate for the goals of a specific plot. As part of her training, Swanson spent copious hours learning to identify weeds by walking through the fields and the Weed Garden, which displays dozens of invasive plants accompanied by their names.

Swanson paired her internship, which was run through the Department of Agronomy, with an independent research project involving biofuel crops being tested at Arlington. For that work Swanson drew on her growing knowledge of weeds to test the effect of three biofuel crop systems—native prairie, switchgrass and continuous corn—on the soil’s weed seed bank, or the viable seeds present in the soil and its surface. The project involved working one-on-one with research scientists in Randy Jackson’s grassland ecology lab. Jackson is running the crop trials through his affiliation with the UW’s Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, housed in the Wisconsin Energy Institute.

The intense focus on plants got Swanson thinking a lot more about soil. “It is such a finite resource, yet so much of what we depend on comes from it—our food, clothing and the materials that we build with,” says Swanson.

It also got her more interested in food systems, to the point where she chose to make horticulture a disciplinary focus within her major and a possible new career direction. “I’d love to work for an organization where I would be able to complement my interests in agriculture, development and language within a global context,” she says.

Swanson’s path exemplifies the power of “beyond classroom” experiences to dramatically shape, and in many cases transform, a student’s education and career goals. These experiences—which include internships, research projects, study abroad, honors thesis stipends, field courses and more—are the hallmark of a CALS education.

“They’re a big part of what makes CALS CALS—and they offer our students a major advantage in both their personal and professional development,” says Sarah Pfatteicher, the college’s associate dean for academic affairs. “Our goal is to ensure that each student can participate in at least four of these important opportunities.”

To help support the CALS Student Experience Fund, visit: http://go.wisc.edu/student-experience