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Enterprising Alumni

Many CALS graduates go on to launch small businesses, patent new products, and found successful companies, among other entrepreneurial endeavors. This special “In the Field” series tells their stories. Look for more profiles of innovative alumni in the next issue.

KEN MCINTYRE BS’92

Ken McIntyre’s degree in forest science and interest in business dovetailed perfectly when, in 2006, he agreed to co-own and develop Chippewa River Forest Management (CRFM) in Cornell, Wisconsin. “My passion is production,” McIntyre says. “I love the feeling of satisfaction when we’re cranking out the number of loads of wood that I know we’re capable of.” When his business partner passed away in 2009, McIntyre faced some tough decisions on his own. Because the woodchips his company was producing no longer met the specifications of the mill he was using, McIntyre sold the logging equipment to focus solely on wood chipping. But rather than continuing to rely on other companies to supply the wood he needed, in 2011, he launched Lake States Timber LLC, a logging company that supplies half of the logs that CRFM needs. “I take pride in knowing that every load of wood sold is coming from a sustainably well-managed forest.” The two companies have 20 employees and full-time contractors, including foresters, administrative assistants, equipment operators, and truck drivers. They produce around 3,000 semi loads of wood per year.

CHRISTY MCKENZIE BS’04

Christy McKenzie is a prime example of what the Wisconsin Idea is all about. In fact, the age-old UW philosophy of working for the benefit of all Wisconsin citizens inspired her to launch Pasture & Plenty. The meal pickup and delivery service — with a specialty market, deli, and demonstration kitchen — in Madison, Wisconsin, gives the community access to healthy, locally sourced meals suited for busy schedules. McKenzie brings more than 15 years of professional experience in food, advertising, and consumer research to this endeavor. She has had many roles related to food, from demonstration chef and recipe editor to marketing specialist with Allrecipes.com to launching Mad Local Food Group in southwestern Wisconsin. She is now director of account management for a major digital promotions company, but she has always focused on how people connect with food solutions. “CALS gave me a foundation in systems thinking, in communication and community engagement, which have been threads through my life and career,” says McKenzie, who earned her degree in community and environmental sociology (formerly rural sociology). “My work at the university gave me a broad perspective,” says McKenzie. “I studied food, community development, and culture and identity, never imagining I would work to develop an international online community with Allrecipes.” With Pasture & Plenty, McKenzie brings what she has learned back to work in Wisconsin, creating new paths to market for local ranchers and food producers.

BRIAN WALSH BS’83

Brian Walsh’s interest in molecular biology stems from his experience collecting critters in the woods and ponds as a child. Years later, he earned a degree in bacteriology from UW–Madison. His first job was working for a company that made starter cultures for the cheese industry, and it was, as Walsh describes it, “very Wisconsin.” Today, Walsh owns Fotodyne Incorporated, a life science equipment manufacturing business. He is also the co-founder of Waukesha County Green Team, a nonprofit organization that promotes environmental sustainability. In April 2018, Walsh returned from 15 months of service as a Peace Corps volunteer at a research center in Guadalajara, Mexico, where he delivered seminars to researchers and students about technology commercialization, served as a mentor on a business startup team, and participated in the business development process. “Interestingly, many things I have learned in volunteer activities have circled back to provide fresh ideas, approaches, and direction to my professional work,” Walsh says. “Now, I am using my entrepreneurial background in a nonprofit organization called WiSys Technology Foundation. We encourage faculty, staff, alumni, and students at UW’s four-year comprehensive campuses and two-year colleges to innovate by offering technology transfer services such as patenting and licensing.”

LAUREN BS’12 and KYLE BS’11 RUDERSDORF

Lauren and Kyle Rudersdorf met at UW–Madison, where they each arrived with a love of the outdoors, a concern for the environment, and a desire to work outside. Neither Kyle nor Lauren considered a career in farming separately, but together, it felt possible. Their goal was to create a small, diverse farm that connected people to their food, so in 2013, they rented some family land in Brodhead, Wisconsin, where Raleigh’s Hillside Farm was born. “CALS really laid the foundation for everything we’re doing and building today,” Lauren says. “It gave us the knowledge of alternative methods of agriculture and taught us about the food system and the ways it was broken or could be improved upon. If we hadn’t attended CALS, we never would have known that people could make a living growing vegetables, or have an impact doing so.” Their farm is marketed through a community-supported agriculture (CSA) model, meaning it is supported by local consumers who purchase prepaid shares of what the farm produces. “Our members are endlessly supportive,” Lauren says. “Seeing how our food transforms their lives is incredibly rewarding.” The Rudersdorfs work as a team while keeping their separate domains. “The food is absolutely my favorite part of the work,” says Lauren, a community and environmental sociology major. “I love eating it, creating amazing recipes with it, and getting other people excited about the bounty that is here in Wisconsin.” She also produces the farm’s weekly newsletter and authors a recipe blog. Kyle, a soil science major, enjoys growing, problem solving, and building something of his own. “He is really the workforce putting long hours in at our fields and making sure everything stays irrigated, weeded, and healthy,” Lauren says.

KAZUTOSHI UENO BS’86

Kazutoshi Ueno grew up in Japan, where his passion for livestock and agriculture began at an early age. His father made a living importing chickens from Iowa, and Ueno still remembers Americans visiting his father at the chicken house when he was a young child. Meeting Americans made him interested in studying abroad in the U.S., and eventually Ueno went to UW–Madison to major in agricultural and applied economics. “For Japanese people, ‘Wisconsin’ creates an image of a dairy state,” Ueno says. “When I speak with dairy farmers and let them know I went to UW, they immediately think I am a specialist.” Ueno is the founder of eAnimal Company, a Japan-based business specializing in feed products designed to increase the health and performance of cows, pigs, chickens, and even fish. Ueno consults with clients across Japan on farm management and efficiency and sells essential nutrients through colostrum-derived products. Ueno imports the colostrum from the U.S., where it is more affordable and available in abundance. The products themselves deliver immune protection to livestock; because calves and piglets are born without immune protections, the products provide long-term health benefits for the animals. “The animals have to perform for the farmers to stay in business,” Ueno says. “Ensuring that they are healthy and perform well is my role in this industry.”

DEIRDRE BIRMINGHAM PhD’96

Deirdre Birmingham’s connection to agriculture started with a love for horses and a plan to pursue equine medicine. Along the way, she discovered she was more interested in her agriculture classes and pursued a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science instead. After earning a master’s degree in agronomy, her desire to address poverty and hunger in developing countries led her to Africa, where she worked to improve the agricultural livelihoods of people living there. Later, she earned her joint Ph.D. in natural resources management and adult education at UW–Madison. Even with multiple degrees in agriculture, Birmingham never thought about having a farm. Yet, in 2002, she and her husband bought 166 acres of land that are now collectively called The Cider Farm. At the time, they didn’t have a clear vision for their business — only that it would be organic and would produce a value-added product versus a raw commodity. They decided to grow English and French apples that yield fine ciders. Because these varieties were not commercially available, they hand-grafted the trees that would become the orchard. Today, their apples are also used in the production of apple brandy. To learn more about Birmingham and The Cider Farm, see “Craft Cider’s Comeback”.

About In the Field

The CALS graduates highlighted here represent the depth and breadth of alumni accomplishments. Selections are made by Grow staff and are intended to reflect a sample of alumni stories. It is not a ranking or a comprehensive list. For more about CALS alumni, visit cals.wisc.edu/alumni.