Fall 2021

High Yield

The children’s area of the display garden at the Spooner Agricultural Research Station. An anonymous $750,000 gift allowed the station to hire a student intern to manage the display garden. Photo by Michael P. King


In the far northwestern corner of Wisconsin, you’ll find UW’s Spooner Agricultural Research Station (ARS). Specializing in agronomy and horticulture, the Spooner ARS staff serve local farmers, growers, and gardeners through education and outreach. And they’ve been doing this for a long time. Established in 1909, Spooner is the university’s first agricultural research station. Now, thanks to a $750,000 anonymous donation, their long-standing efforts will be getting a big boost.

The gift, divided over five years, will help the station purchase new equipment and supplies and hire a student intern to manage the Spooner Display Garden, which showcases both perennial and annual plants that can be grown in zone 3, one of the coldest growing zones in the United States. The bulk of the gift, however, will be used to support a new staff position for the station that will focus on a specific subset of the northern agricultural community.

The new research and farmer network coordinator will educate and organize Wisconsin farmers interested in sustainable and organic production practices. Much of this work will be achieved through a series of field days consisting of research and community-based activities.

“We want to bring stakeholders together — farmers, nonprofits, industry, research and teaching institutions, and community groups — to talk about a vision for a resilient farming system in northwest Wisconsin,” says Erin Silva, an associate professor and extension specialist in plant pathology, who will supervise the coordinator.

Silva works frequently with growers to incorporate research-based best practices into their farms, as does Jane Anklam, a Douglas County agriculture educator with the UW–Madison Division of Extension. Through these interactions, Silva and Anklam have noticed common issues that farmers face. This includes how to address soil health while dealing with a changing climate, how to understand market diversity for local food systems, and the overall health and well-being of farms.

The new coordinator will bring farmers and researchers together to try to solve these issues through collaborative research. And this research isn’t confined to the station. It extends to working farms. These cooperative projects can be difficult to implement, Silva says, but with time and a station staffer to focus on them, they can be successful.

The research and farmer network coordinator begins as a part-time position, with the hope that it will become full-time for the full five years of the gift. The display garden internship and general station support will continue to be completely funded during this time frame.

“This is an exciting, timely, and forward-thinking process for our agriculture and rural communities in northern Wisconsin,” Anklam says. “We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with our agriculture specialists at CALS for practical and thoughtful research at the Spooner station and on our local farms with local farmers. This is a fine example of the Wisconsin Idea in action.”

This article was posted in Economic and Community Development, Fall 2021, Food Systems, Healthy Ecosystems, High Yield.