Summer 2019

On Henry Mall

Stephanie Hoff, a life sciences communication major, is pictured here with "The Lands We Share" exhibit at the village hall in Johnson Creek, Wis., in January 2019. Photo by Michael P. King

Stephanie Hoff BSx’19 grew up in small towns near Thorp, Wisconsin, as part of a rural community where people have a pretty good understanding of how agriculture works. When she moved to Madison to go to college, that was no longer the case.

“In a place like Madison, there’s a huge disconnect,” says Hoff, who is majoring in life sciences communication with certificates in folklore and entrepreneurship. “People say weird things, like brown eggs are healthier for you than white eggs. And I’m just like, ‘What? That’s not true.’ Egg color is only related to the breed of the hen, not nutrition.’”

Hoff had been an active FFA member growing up, and she internalized the organization’s mission to help educate people about agriculture. The misunderstandings she has witnessed in urban Madison have deepened her commitment.

So it felt like she’d landed the perfect student job when she joined the Wisconsin Farms Oral History Project during her freshman year and had the opportunity to help with the project’s exhibit called “The Lands We Share.” The exhibit tells the story of five distinct types of farms (and farmers) from across the state — including a traditional German-heritage dairy, a Hmong-owned organic produce operation, and an urban farm in Milwaukee — through audio interviews, photos, and articles.

The exhibit toured the state from fall 2018 through spring 2019, with each site hosting a dinner and guided discussion for the local community. These gatherings were Hoff’s favorite part of the project, and she attended all of them.

“We asked very open-ended questions [at the gatherings], like what is sustainability to you? Or what is a family farm? And then people discussed it,” says Hoff. “It was really cool to see the community members interact and talk with each other. They were from different backgrounds — people who live on farms, people from the town or the city — and it was fascinating to get to listen to the conversations.”

Hoff was the project’s social media coordinator, so her main role was to help promote the exhibit through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. She took photos and recorded video at the community gatherings and livestreamed parts of the events via Facebook Live. In the office, she also helped with newsletters, emails, press releases, and reaching out to reporters. All of these tasks took significant coordination because the project was a collaboration of four UW System schools: Madison, Milwaukee, Oshkosh, and Whitewater.

“Stephanie was a natural to work on the [project],” says Troy Reeves, head of the oral history program at UW–Madison Archives. “Over the last two and a half years, her contributions have been invaluable. She has done everything we have asked of her — without hesitation and always with a smile.”

The job provided an opportunity for Hoff to develop a wide variety of professional skills while devoting her time to something she deeply cares about. And although the exhibit tour concluded in May 2019, she continues to work supporting the Wisconsin Farms Oral History Project.

“I love that the exhibit involved bringing the community together to talk about issues related to food and farming,” says Hoff, who plans to graduate in December 2019. “I feel like the project was so much a part of my college career that it’s a part of me.”

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