Max Pfeffer is a senior associate dean and an international professor of development sociology with Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. His interest in community and environmental sociology was fueled by a personal experience. His parents were farmers in Germany, and when they immigrated to the United States after World War II, they continued farming in their adopted home amid the fluctuation of agriculture and the broader economy of the post-war period. His studies at CALS eventually allowed him to examine those changes from a scholarly perspective. His CALS experience also gave him the perspective and confidence to go into the world and make meaningful contributions through his work, he says. That work includes teaching environmental sociology and sociological theory as well as researching rural labor markets, international migration, land use and environmental planning. Pfeffer, who earned his Ph.D. in sociology at UW–Madison, has published a wide range of scholarly articles and has written or co-edited four books. In his spare time, he enjoys gardening and hiking with his wife, Pilar Parra PhD’89, who is also a CALS alum.
As a director at the Massachusetts-based NMR Group, Inc., Lisa Wilson-Wright leads studies that evaluate energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. She has extensive experience in the use of quantitative and qualitative research techniques to help inform energy efficiency, clean energy and environmental policy. Clients of NMR include electric and gas utilities, energy regulators and nonprofits. “I find it extremely fulfilling to see firsthand how clients use the results of our studies to improve programs, thereby saving energy, reducing customers’ bills and limiting greenhouse gas emissions,” she says. Working at NMR, Wilson-Wright finds the skills developed in CALS useful on a daily basis in developing surveys, analyzing data, authoring reports, presenting findings—and, ultimately, in asking difficult questions and delving deeper into the data to find answers. Wilson-Wright also serves on the board of the Farm Direct Coop, a nonprofit member organization that distributes locally grown organic food.
Kimberlee Wright was born and raised in central Illinois. Living where Abraham Lincoln first practiced law inspired her to value and strive for social justice, she says. Her love of the natural world was inspired by her grandmother, a master gardener and naturalist. Earning a bachelor’s degree in community and environmental sociology at CALS, followed by a JD from the UW–Madison School of Law, allowed her to combine those two passions—a course she has continued pursuing throughout her career. Wright serves as executive director of Midwest Environmental Advocates, a nonprofit environmental law center that strives to protect and improve the health of water, land and air throughout the state. Previously she served as the director of conservation programs for The Nature Conservancy and as the executive director for Domestic Abuse Intervention Services. “More than anything, my education at CALS connected me to the families of rural Wisconsin and their love of place,” says Wright. “It’s such a privilege to be working with people who stand up for the rights of future generations to clean water, air and land. Our conservation ethic in Wisconsin is second to none.”
David Zoerb’s path from community and environmental sociology at CALS led to a successful career in marketing. Zoerb’s interest in the intersection of cultural, social and political dynamics was nurtured via practical, hands-on opportunities at CALS, providing a framework to create and implement strategies and programs that were successful for a wide spectrum of social and marketing challenges. Zoerb relishes finding creative approaches to solving marketing problems, and he approached his career with an open mind and an eye for new opportunities. Now enjoying retirement, he volunteers in the MERLIN Network at UW Research Park, working with other volunteers to help new entrepreneurs and startups in their business efforts. He has also served on several local and regional planning and economic development committees and commissions. As a third-generation CALS alumnus whose two daughters are also UW graduates, Zoerb has UW roots that run deep. Over the years, he has been involved in leadership roles for the Wisconsin Alumni Association, Badger Action Network and UW Athletics. When it comes time for his twin granddaughters to consider college, Zoerb hopes they become the family’s fifth generation of UW students.
Kweku Brewoo was drawn to pursue CES and International Studies degrees by his desire to someday work for the United Nations. At CALS he was nurtured by inspiring professors who served as both teachers and mentors, he says, taking the time to talk about his goals and share stories of their own career paths. Upon graduating, Brewoo took part in a study abroad program in China. He then worked as a financial specialist with the UW–Madison College of Letters and Science, hoping to develop skills and understanding of financial components that could one day serve him at the United Nations. He recently accepted a position with the Department of Educational Psychology in the School of Education and plans to earn a master’s degree in public health. Brewoo wants to have a positive influence on people and communities in the same way he was inspired and mentored at CALS.
“I feel so fortunate to be able to teach about the topics I feel passionate about—and to have colleagues who really support me in pursuing research that doesn’t always fit neatly into one disciplinary category,” says Abby Kinchy of her work in the interdisciplinary Science and Technology Studies (STS) department at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. As an associate professor, Kinchy directs the graduate program in STS, teaches a variety of undergraduate courses, advises many “fascinating and brilliant students,” and does research on important public issues such as hydraulic fracturing and genetic engineering. Her research examines the unequal distribution of the negative consequences of agricultural and energy systems as well as the varying capacity of communities and social movements to participate in making decisions about technological change.
Growing up on a dairy farm in northern Wisconsin shaped Jill Lucht’s passion for sustainable agriculture. At CALS, she took advantage of opportunities to study and work with people from all around the world, traveling to Trinidad twice through UW programs. After obtaining her master’s degree from the University of Missouri, Lucht took a position there as a policy analyst on agricultural, food and rural policy, developing her ability to communicate between researchers, technical data analysts and the general public. In her current position with the University of Missouri’s Center for Health Policy, Lucht directs a project that utilizes Missouri’s Medicaid claims data to evaluate health care innovations and population health for the state and the academic research community. The data are used for everything from helping children and their families better manage asthma to evaluating the use of telemedicine in rural Missouri.
Having grown up in a small town, Tim Slack has always been interested in how often rural places are overlooked in discussions about social and political issues. That interest drew him to community and environmental sociology at CALS. Slack appreciates the opportunity he had at CALS to learn from and work with excellent faculty who are leaders in their field and who challenged him intellectually, an experience that helped him see the important role that the social sciences have to play in the land grant mission, something that remains important to him to this day. Slack is an associate professor and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Sociology at Louisiana State University, where he teaches a variety of courses ranging from introductory sociology to a specialized graduate seminar on the sociology of poverty. His research focuses on questions related to social and economic inequality, including the issues of underemployment and poverty.
Political conflict in the Middle East is a constant source of media attention, but Samer Alatout, a CALS professor of community and environmental sociology, focuses his efforts on a serious but less heralded struggle: how to best manage fresh water in a region that has so little.
Alatout, an expert on environmental policy in the Middle East, received Fulbright funding last year to advance his research on water policy—work that took him back to his hometown of Nablus, in the northern West Bank.
There he taught at An-Najah National University and established a number of research partnerships with Palestinian colleagues. He gathered valuable information about water policy in the region for these new collaborative projects, for his broader research program and for his forthcoming book, Water History and Politics in Historic Palestine: From Empire to Globalization, 1750–2009.
In one of those projects, Alatout is assessing the interplay of administrative units that have jurisdiction over water resources in the Palestinian territories—but that don’t always work together “in the most efficient or equitable way,” notes Alatout. He and his collaborator will analyze conditions on the ground and propose recommendations. “This project is about building better institutional mechanisms to solve administrative overlap among agencies,” Alatout explains.
In another project he looks at policies governing how Palestine and Israel share water resources, including the large mountain aquifer that sits beneath them. The goal is to find alternative ways for sharing the water that are more equitable—and work for all parties.
“It’s about how to negotiate productive solutions for managing trans-boundary water resources,” says Alatout. “In particular, how do you create win-win solutions, so that water access in Palestine can be increased without affecting Israeli communities in a negative way?”
Another big-picture goal arose from Alatout’s Fulbright trip: to help build the institutional relationship between UW–Madison and An-Najah National University, with the long-term objective of helping Palestinians tackle some of the tough environmental and agricultural challenges they face. These include arid climate, pollution and soil erosion.
“Any help that UW experts can provide in terms of research will make a huge difference on the ground in the daily lives of people,” says Alatout. At the same time, true to the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea and the push for internationalization, “Getting involved in an arid region like Palestine can be very productive for CALS researchers,” Alatout notes. “They will benefit greatly from facing fundamentally different issues surrounding agriculture and water policy making.”
PHOTO: Samer Alatout at a small reservoir linked to Al-Auja spring. The water is distributed to fisheries and a date farm in nearby Jericho.
In the fertile, rolling hills of the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, it’s hard to imagine a food shortage. But hunger is a serious threat there, espe- cially for children. The area also has high levels of poverty and HIV infection.
Researchers at the CALS-based Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) are teaming with local groups to try to improve those condi- tions. Together they have formed the Livelihood, Agroecology, Nutrition and Development project— LAND for short—to address the region’s complex, interrelated problems.
“Using a participatory approach, we have built strong ties with local villagers and their co-op, the Ncedisizwe Co-op, which means ‘helping the nation,’” says CIAS director Michael Bell, a professor of community and environmental sociology. The Ncedisizwe Co-op encompasses 800 small- holder farmers in 26 villages.
Other local partners include the Indwe Trust, an NGO focusing on sustainable development, and Kidlinks World, a Madison-based charity dedicated to AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children.
The group’s goals are to provide sustainable livelihoods for smallholder farmers and their com- munities; to integrate health and nutrition with sus- tainable agricultural practices; to enhance ecosystem services such as crane habitat, erosion control and carbon sequestration; and to strengthen communi- ties through participatory decision-making.
Better use of grasslands will be key in those efforts, researchers say. “The people of this region are blessed with a wealth of grassland resources, but these resources are literally being eroded before their very eyes,” says agronomy professor Randy Jackson, who accompanied the LAND team on a recent visit. “Much of this is attributable to a governance system that treats most rangelands as unregulated commons, resulting in continuous grazing that promotes unde- sirable plants and exposure of bare ground.”
Rotational grazing, the group notes—which actually originated in Africa—will potentially double the level of animal production while also building soil quality, reducing erosion and promoting wildlife habitat. LAND has conducted workshops with farmers on rota- tional grazing and helped develop a supply chain connecting local grass-based meat to national and international markets.
Other activities have included helping form a women’s cooperative for vegetable production, working with community members on improving water supplies, and helping establish perennial home gardens to increase the quality and variety of local diets.
The LAND project has matured to the point where it can serve as the basis of a new global health certificate field course, “The Agroecology of Health,” that debuted this past winter. Bell and doctoral student Valerie Stull brought 10 undergraduate and two graduate students to the Eastern Cape for a 15-day visit that encompassed learning about agroecology and hydrology systems and working with community members to establish a one-acre vegetable garden at a school in the village of Kumanzimdaka.
The students planted herbs, tomatoes, onions, peppers, cabbage and radishes and plotted locations for future fruit trees.
“The experience left me feeling a tremendous amount of respect for the people in the community who continue to live off and use the land,” says Alexa Statz, a junior in life sciences communication. “I have high hopes that the garden we built together will be something that can stay with them for generations to come.”
Bell plans to continue having undergraduates participate. Learning about themselves and their place in the world, questioning and thinking critically were all objec- tives of the trip. “But the biggest objective was to provide students with the chance to discover what it means to lead a life of consequence,” Bell says. “Now that’s a pretty grand goal—and I think it happened in South Africa. It clicked.”
When the CALS-based Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) was founded in 1989, its mission and goals were far from mainstream.
“Twenty-five years ago, you ran the risk of being seen as marginal if you advocated a sustainable and integrated approach to agriculture,” says CIAS director Michael Bell, a professor of community and environmental sociology. “Now it’s central to our college’s mission and priority themes. This is a wonderful and quite fundamental change. And it’s due in part to the work of CIAS in integrating not just agriculture but the people involved in it.”
CIAS was created and funded through an act of the Wisconsin Legislature. Since then, it has provided leadership on managed grazing, community-supported agriculture, Farm to School, organic farming, integrated pest management and other agricultural innovations that have achieved mainstream acceptance over the past 25 years. CIAS has given farmers a voice in its work and connected them to CALS research through its Citizens Advisory Council.
As CIAS looks to the future, an emerging research direction is the “perennialization” of agriculture and the landscape. Integrating perennial crops—including hazelnuts, apples, forages and cover crops—with livestock and annual crops contributes to resilient ecosystems, farms and communities.
“One way to look at the perennialization of agriculture is to ask, can we make agriculture perennial?” says Bill Tracy, professor and chair of agronomy and a CIAS faculty associate. “Our current system is not. To make agriculture perennial, we need more perennials on the landscape, including perennial grasses.”
CIAS aims to help growers successfully “perennialize” their farms by helping them better understand the production and economics of a variety of perennial crops. Continued research and outreach on forage crops for graziers is central to CIAS’s future work in this area. Likewise, CIAS plans to research perennial specialty crops that offer multiple ecological, economic and quality of life benefits for Wisconsin farmers.
Farmer training plays an important role in increasing the diversity of perennial crops on farms. CIAS’s schools for beginning dairy and livestock farmers as well as apple growers have helped hundreds of students plan successful farm businesses that incorporate perennial crops. A new CIAS program—the Midwest School for Beginning Grape Growers—launched in March.
Other emerging program areas include labor and fair trade in local and regional food systems. CIAS is also looking at ways to help farmers adapt to a changing climate through sustainable agriculture.
CIAS seeks to secure its financial future with a 25th anniversary fundraising challenge. The goal is to raise at least $50,000 this year. The challenge is off to a strong start with several significant gifts from Wisconsin businesses and individuals.
CIAS is planning several public events in honor of its 25th, including a barn dance at Schuster’s Farm near Deerfield on June 27 and fall seminars on campus. Details for events and donations are posted at www.cias.wisc.edu.
Scientists, farmers and sustainable food systems advocates recently celebrated the release of 29 new varieties of broccoli, celery, kale and other vegetables and grains that have something unusual in common: a new form of ownership agreement known as the Open Source Seed Pledge.
The pledge, developed through a nationwide effort called the Open Source Seed Initiative, is designed to keep the new seeds free for all people to grow, breed and share for perpetuity, with the goal of protecting the plants from patents and other restrictions.
CALS professors Irwin Goldman (horticulture) and Jack Kloppenburg (community and environmental sociology) have been leaders in the initiative, which arose in response to the decreasing availability of plant germplasm—seeds—for public plant breeders and farmer-breeders to work with.
Many of the seeds for our nation’s big crop plants—field corn and soybeans—are already restricted through patents and licenses. Increasingly this is happening to vegetable, fruit and small grain seeds.
Goldman, who breeds beets, carrots and onions, still plans to license many of his new varieties as usual through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), which has been supportive of his interest in open source seeds. But he’s pleased he now has an alternative for when he wants to share new varieties with fellow public plant breeders or small seed companies.
“These vegetables are part of our common cultural heritage, and our goal is to make sure these seeds remain in the public domain for people to use in the future,” he says.