Fall 2021

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John Wepking with his daughter, Lyda, at Meadowlark Organics. Photo by Jesse Perkins

The UW Organic Collaborative chose the word “collaborative” very purposefully. The group seeks to leverage the wisdom and innovation of the collective for the greatest good.

A confluence of characters working on one of the collaborative’s many fruitful partnerships includes CALS representatives (horticulture professor Julie Dawson, agronomy professor Lucia Gutierrez, and graduate student Pablo Sandro), a nonprofit organization (the Artisan Grain Collaborative, or AGC), and two organic farmers and flour millers (Halee and John Wepking of Meadowlark Organics and Meadowlark Community Mill). AGC and Meadowlark Organics are just two of the more than 50 public and private partners that affiliates of the UW Organic Collaborative have worked with over the years.

Gutierrez breeds organic cereals, such as spring and winter wheat, naked barley, and oat, at UW’s West Madison and Arlington research stations, with an eye toward producing cereals targeted for organic production in the Midwest. Gutierrez and Dawson have made great strides through their collaboration on hard red winter wheat, the most common wheat variation grown in the U.S, and they’ve been growing organic breeding lines of wheat on the Wepking’s farm for three years. They’re using that working organic farm as a real-life replicate while gathering data not only from the field but also from the farmers about their experience with the variety and its agronomic performance.

AGC executive director Alyssa Hartman is working to create a vibrant network of staple crop producers, processors, end users, and advocates all dedicated to diversifying the landscape in the Midwest. Under her leadership, AGC has also delivered Meadowlark wheat into the bakery and facilitated baking tests, most recently at AGC member Madison Sourdough. This has opened the door for culinary traits, not just yield and performance, to drive breeding decisions. All of these efforts seek to get more high-quality, organic, locally grown foods and beverages on people’s tables.

“Many of the food and beverage businesses that we work with want organic products,” Hartman says. “It’s at the top of the list as far as what the market is looking for in regional food systems.”


Back to the cover story, Organically Grown at UW.

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