Fall 2023

Natural Selections

A yard sign promoting the Institute for Rural Partnerships planted in the lawn of a campus building.
A yard sign promoting the Wisconsin Rural Partnership/Institute for Rural Partnerships is posted on the lawn between Agricultural Hall and King Hall on the UW campus. Photo by Michael P.King


Four projects, including two from CALS, that will support Wisconsin’s rural communities and tribal nations have been selected to receive funding through UW’s Wisconsin Rural Partnership initiative.

First announced in December 2022, the initiative was established with $9.3 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The big-picture goals are to advance the land-grant mission of the university, support community-based projects, and create new partnerships to better meet the needs of rural communities.

The university’s Wisconsin Rural Partnership initiative is part of a broader $28 million USDA-funded Institute for Rural Partnerships, housed at UW, Auburn University, and the University of Vermont. The institute aims to promote equitable, resilient, and prosperous food and agricultural systems and expanded opportunities for rural community development. It will also foster collaborations with community-based initiatives and local research, institutions, and subject matter experts.

“Here in Wisconsin, our rural communities face unique challenges to growing their local economies, and it’s important we provide them the tools and resources they need to thrive in a changing environment and economy,” says Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who helped secure the institute’s federal funding.

The Wisconsin Rural Partnership has already provided funding for the Wisconsin Environmental Mesonet, a statewide network of 90 environmental monitoring stations that will help the agricultural community boost harvests and protect resources (see “One Step Ahead of Wisconsin’s Weather,” Grow, Summer 2023). The partnership is also helping to fund the state climatology office, located in the UW Nelson Institute’s Center for Climatic Research.

“We are grateful for this funding and the support of Senator Baldwin,” says CALS Dean Glenda Gillaspy. “It’s inspiring to see UW experts from many disciplines throughout the university focusing on problems facing our rural communities.”

CALS and the Division of Extension sponsored a competition to solicit the best community-based research, extension, and education projects that engage local partners to solve challenges faced by rural communities and tribal nations in Wisconsin. Two CALS-affiliated projects were selected.

“The Rural Livability Project,” led by Tessa Conroy, professor and extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, looks to identify the key assets needed to sustain rural communities and to find the best ways forward in developing community economic development policies and strategies to support rural livability.

“Connecting Cultural Values and Indigenous Research Towards Food System Resilience” is co-led by Dan Cornelius, an outreach program manager in CALS and the UW Law School, and Tricia Gorby, director of Extension’s Natural Resources Institute. Erin Silva, associate professor and extension specialist in plant pathology, will also be contributing. Their project aims to engage tribal nations and a broad network of partners to co-create an understanding of high-priority, Indigenous-led research, education, and outreach projects to help Wisconsin tribes sustain and expand food sovereignty in the face of the state’s environmental challenges.

Learn more about the Wisconsin Rural Partnership and its funded projects.

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