Summer Research Minigrant Program

2018 - Decre, Dirks, Kazer, Le, Leslie, Lierl, Lowe, McCluskey, Serrano

Barbara Decre used her CIAS mini-grant to investigate non-economic motivations for the adoption of agroforestry practices in the Kickapoo Valley of Wisconsin.

Carrie Lierl used her CIAS mini-grant to investigate urban planning policies and environmental regulations that support landscape reclamation and urban agriculture.

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CIAS mini-grant recipient Thi Le’s research informed a medicinal plant education curriculum for D-town farm, a seven-acre, community-based organic farm that serves as a farming collective for the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN).

Erin Lowe’s mini-grant research focused on how planting flower patches on farms can increase wild bee abundance, richness and nesting success while enhancing crop yields. 

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CIAS mini-grant recipient Isaac Leslie interviewed sustainable agriculture policy advocates to understand how they frame possibilities and constraints for promoting alternative food systems. 


Kathleen McCluskey wants to better understand how Midwestern corn growers perceive and manage on-farm diversity. Her CIAS mini-grant supported interviews about on-farm diversity with corn growers in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.


Agroforestry in the Kickapoo Valley: Non-economic motivation and narratives
Student Researcher: Barbara Decre
Faculty Advisors: Mike Bell, Community and Environmental Sociology; Steve Ventura, Soil Science
This research investigates the non-economic motivations for the adoption of agroforestry practices in the Kickapoo Valley (WI) and the narratives and discourses associated with these alternative agricultural practices. This project aims at identifying the role of history, culture, community, and landscape in the development of agroforestry and ways to better communicate around those practices.

The ubiquitous unseen: Leveraging mycorrhizae for prairie agriculture
Student Researcher: Alden Dirks

Faculty Advisor: Randy Jackson, Agronomy 
Switchgrass is a perennial warm-season grass that is being bred as a biofuel feedstock crop. Switchgrass is also heavily reliant on soil-dwelling fungi called arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) for nutrient acquisition. This project aims to characterize the community composition of AMF associated with switchgrass in restored and remnant tallgrass prairies as well as agroecosystems, and to compare community composition to the functional diversity of the fungi to understand how different AMF species differentially benefit switchgrass.

Increasing access to farmland through conservation easements
Student Researcher: Alex Kazer

Faculty Advisor: Adena Rissman 
Conservation easements (CEs) are an increasingly popular tool for conservation on private land, but they are also emerging as a novel strategy to increase land access for beginning farmers. This study will examine the ways in which land trusts are using CEs to bring new farmers on to the land in Wisconsin and will analyze how the terms of the easement document affect land transfers.

The history of traditional medicinals and urban foraging for community wellness
Student Researcher: Thi Le
Faculty Advisors: Eve Emshwiller, Botany; Monica White, Community and Environmental Sociology
D-town farm is a seven-acre community-based organic farm in Detroit, MI that serves as a farming collective for the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN). One of their newer development programs is focused on educational farming and foraging of edible, medicinal, and other African-American culturally significant plants. My research will inform and create a medicinal plant education curriculum with attention to identification, history, planting, foraging, and uses of various plants found within the farm.

Sustainable food system law and policy
Student Researcher: Isaac Leslie

Faculty Advisor: Jane Collins, Community and Environmental Sociology
Alternatives to conventional agriculture have taken different forms, such as globally-traded certified organic and local agroecological. Law and policy affect the relative growth of alternatives, and the U.S. Farm Bill’s sustainable agriculture programs will expire in September 2018 if Congress fails to act. In this time of heightened debate, I will interview sustainable agriculture policy advocates to capture how they frame policy possibilities and constraints for promoting various conceptions of alternative food systems.

Rustbelt revitalization and the social context of soil contamination
Student Researcher: Caroline Lierl
Faculty Advisor: Steve Ventura, Soil Science
The ubiquity of legacy pollutants throughout the urban soils of the Rustbelt pose significant barriers for community-led urban agriculture and grassroots gardening initiatives. It is the goal of my current graduate research to analyze and assess the positive potential offered by alternative future regulatory policies and enforcement strategies, which may prove more suitable for sustaining both soil health and social health, alongside protecting human health. More specifically, this research endeavors to strengthen understanding surrounding the challenges and opportunities for adapting localized urban planning policies and environmental regulations that would best support small-scale, resident-led landscape reclamation and grassroots urban agriculture projects in Milwaukee.

Improving pollinator plantings by understanding how they interact with local landscapes
Student Researcher: Erin Lowe

Faculty Advisors: Claudio Gratton, Entomology; Russ Groves, Entomology 
Pollinator plantings are patches of floral-rich continuous living cover. Establishing these plantings on-farm is a common strategy for countering bee declines and attracting more bees to pollinate crops. However, the effectiveness of pollinator plantings has been inconsistent. My project will focus on developing strategies to improve the effectiveness of pollinator plantings in terms of increasing wild bee abundance, richness, nesting success, and enhancing crop yields.

I’m all ears: Interviewing Midwest farmers about their perceptions of on-farm diversity
Student Researcher:
Cathleen McCluskey
Faculty Advisor: Bill Tracy, Agronomy
This project will survey corn growers in the Midwest region to better understand their perceptions of on-farm diversity. There is scholarship focused on international farmers’ perceptions of on-farm diversity and their relationships with in-situ conservation. However, there is very little published research on U.S. farmers’ perceptions of on-farm diversity. Survey findings will be used to explore how Midwest corn producers perceive on-farm diversity and its impacts. This project will give insight into how farmers in the Midwest answer the question of who is monitoring on-farm genetic diversity, and provide important information about the underlying resilience of the regional food system.

Finance, landscapes and livelihoods: Oil palm crops in Magdalena Medio, Colombia
Student Researcher: Angela Serrano

Faculty Advisor: Jane Collins, Community and Environmental Sociology 
This project explores the incorporation of smallholder farmers into global supply chains. Focusing on a case study of oil palm grower associations in Magdalena Medio, Colombia, it investigates the efforts of private companies, NGOs and the national government to incorporate smallholders as suppliers of palm oil fruit. Considering the paths that farmers are able to follow after the process of incorporation, this project will provide a better understanding of how global market pressures transform social and ecological relations at the local level, and shape livelihood opportunities for smallholders.

Epiphytes and farmers’ choices: Finding keys to botanical conservation in coffee agroecosystems
Student Researcher: Jeannine Richards
Faculty Advisor: Don Waller, Botany
Modern, intensified coffee production around the world has led to the removal and simplification of the shade tree community within coffee farms. Changes in tree cover and diversity affect the capacity of farms to support biodiverse epiphytes such as orchids and bromeliads. This project supports interviews with smallholder farmers in Nicaragua and ecological research on their farms to enhance understanding of both the drivers behind farmers’ management decisions and how these decisions impact the ecological diversity of epiphytes on farms producing coffee.