Summer Research Minigrant Program

2022 - Baker, Bird, Henegan, Melone, Ncwadi, Schauer, Harnsberger, Wilson

Colleen Henegan is investigating how climate change affects small holder farmers in Southern Zambia.

Skye Harnsberger held a pasture walk for graziers on improving pastures as insect habitat.

Lexie Wilson (left), Jonathan Correa (middle) and Dr. Bill Tracy (right). The Variety Showcase, August 2022,  was organized by the Seed to Kitchen Collaborative, the Culinary Breeding Network, and the Artisan Grain Collaborative.

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Gigi Melone used computer vision systems and autonomous temperature tracking to understand how pollinator visits vary by microclimate in apple orchards.

Mpumelelo Ncwadi explores grassfed beef opportunities with the HoChunk Nation.

Monica Schauer researched winter rye as a cover crop, and measured biomass decomposition, soil microbial activity, and root biomass.

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Elena Bird worked with small farmers on Washington’s North Olympic Peninsula to understand how they thrive despite systemic economic challenges.

Meg Baker investigated knowledge transfer in communities in relation to medicinal plants and agroecological practices. 


The preservation of traditional Ch’orti’ agroecological practices through multimedia resources in Chiquimula, Guatemala 
Student Researcher: Meg Baker, Agroecology
Faculty Advisor: Julie Dawson, Horticulture

Meg Baker collaborated with Mancomunidad Copanch’orti’, a local organization in Jocotán, Chiquimula, Guatemala, to work with four surrounding communities: Oregáno, Limón, Tasharja, and La Arrinconada. The overall goal of the project was to understand knowledge transfer in communities in relation to medicinal plants and agroecological practices. Through a series of interviews within each community, they identified main interests and how people like to learn. The team then facilitated trainings based on conversations they had with community members. She worked with a Guatemalan videographer to film content for two videos, one on soil conservation practices and the other on medicinal plants. In collaboration with the Academia de Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala, she recorded names of medicinal plants in Ch’orti’ to aid in their goal of preserving the Ch’orti’ language within the region.


Clallam Growers Collective: A case study of solidarity economies in agroecological movements 
Student Researcher: Elena Bird, Agroecology
Faculty Advisor: Nan Enstad, Community and Environmental Sociology

Engaging with Participatory Research Methods and community research models, this project used the Clallam Grower’s Collective (CGC), a dynamic coalition of farmers on the North Olympic Peninsula of Washington, to understand and articulate how collectivized and hidden economies allow small scale farmers in the region to sustain themselves in amidst increasing land prices and ongoing consolidation of agriculture. Through a series of interviews, site visits, a “World Café” workshop, and notes from the CGC Round Table conference in January of 2022, Elena began to frame the needs of the community and how those were or were not reflected in the current operations of the CGC.


Adapting to Climate Change: Community-Based Perspectives from Smallholder Farmers in Southern Zambia 
Student Researcher: Colleen Henegan, Nelson Institute
Faculty Advisor: Chris Kucharik, Agronomy


Understanding the Effect of Thermal Heterogeneity on Pollinator Visitation in Agroforestry Systems 
Student Researcher: Grace Melone, Entomology
Faculty Advisor: James Crall, Entomology

Melone investigated the thermal microclimate within apple trees, in order to evaluate pollinator community trends in relation to temperature. Growers have been struggling with low yields due to high climate variability. Perhaps variability was putting a strain on plant-pollinator interactions, and subsequently reducing fruit set. She found little to no difference in temperature in between-tree microclimates. Temperature probes were used on Cortland apple trees, which are tip-bearing. This natural factor may explain why there was no difference in temperature within trees. If the flowers had been closer to the tree, shade from branches could have led to patchier temperature distributions. She also recorded pollinator visitation using autonomous camera systems and is analyzing pollinator visitation in order to create a temperature-activity curve.

Wisconsin’s “Biological Ferrari”: Marbled Grassfed Wagyu Beef 
Student Researcher: Mpumelelo Ncwadi, School of Human Ecology
Faculty Advisor: Randy Jackson, Agronomy

Mpume Ncwadi conducted site visits and interviews with Angus cattle breeders and dairy farmers in Wisconsin, Wagyu cattle breeders in Kansas and Minnesota, a retailer in Portland, a New Zealand Wagyu beef importer in Seattle, and ten “lifestyle of health and sustainability home cooks” to produce a differentiated kind of Wisconsin Wagyu beef with marble scores between three and five. Key to this proposition is the use of Wagyu sires with good-marbling genetics for the yearly mating of surplus breeding heifers and cows, and development of rearing and grazing systems that support year-round growth of these cattle. In partnership with the HoChunk Nation and the Taliesin Preservation Committee, the project identified problems and opportunities. Supply chain participants and inputs were summarized in an outcome logic of the possible pathway to a Wisconsin Marbled Grass-Fed Beef. Preliminary results suggest that a program to produce premium marbled grass-fed beef from Wisconsin could utilize surplus calves from black Angus breeders and the dairy industry.

Influence of rye cover crop on microbial activity 
Student Researcher: Monica Schauer, Agroecology
Faculty Advisor: Matt Ruark, Soil Science

Winter rye is a commonly used cover crop in Wisconsin due to its effectiveness in reducing soil erosion, scavenging nitrogen, and improving soil health. Schauer looked further into the complexity of these processes by measuring rye biomass decomposition, soil microbial activity, and root biomass through a field study at Arlington Research Station. Results of this project were shared through presentations and conversations with Wisconsin farmers and agriculture professionals.

The effects of grazing management and intensity on grassland butterfly abundance and diversity 
Student Researcher: Skye Harnsberger, Entomology
Faculty Advisor: Claudio Gratton, Entomology

With 80% of Wisconsin’s grasslands under grazing management, understanding the relationships between grazing and invertebrate ecology presents us with an opportunity to have a widespread positive impact on insect conservation. Skye worked with 30 graziers in southern Wisconsin to survey working grazed lands to better understand how grazing management affects butterfly populations on pastures. If graziers can improve pastures for insects while retaining pasture forage quality, that is a win-win for agriculture and ecology. To encourage conversation around this topic, she also held a pasture walk for other graziers and members of the public interested in improving pastures as insect habitat.

Culinary Evaluation of Experimental Corn 
Student Researcher: Alexa Wilson, Agronomy
Faculty Advisor: Bill Tracy, Agronomy

This research explored culinary attributes of nine experimental grain corn populations via collaboration with local tortilla maker and chef, Jonathan Correa, owner/operator of La Cosecha Tortilla Company in Madison, WI. Wilson partnered with Corea during two outreach events to raise awareness about breeding work in general and to showcase experimental varieties that are a part of this trial: the Farm to Flavor event on August 21, 2022 in Madison, WI, organized by the Seed to Kitchen Collaborative, the Culinary Breeding Network, and the Artisan Grain Collaborative; and the Sagra del Radicchio in Portland, OR held on October 28, 2022, organized by the Culinary Breeding Network.

Nine populations were chosen from a trial of thirty-five open-pollinated corn populations grown at West Madison Agricultural Research Station in 2022. The nine populations were chosen for their agronomic performance and novelty, including in endosperm carbohydrate composition, kernel shape, size, and color. The nine populations span a diverse spectrum of old-fashioned sweet corns, flint, and dent grain corns, with white-, orange-, yellow-, and purple-colored kernels. The culinary evaluation ballot consisted of four sections that correspond to the operation of La Cosecha Tortilla Company: nixtamalization, wet milling, tortilla production, and sensory evaluation of the tortilla.

The evaluations showed that old fashioned sweet corn varieties do not produce useable masa. Despite trialing different cook times during nixtamalization, all the sweet corn varieties absorbed so much water during steeping that the resultant masa was too wet. This may be because the sweet varieties in the trial contain high levels of water-soluble polysaccharides, which absorb much more water than the insoluble starch constitution of flint or dent varieties. Another important finding was the utility of flint grain varieties. Correa found that flint grain varieties were suitable for certain applications where their harder starch was an asset, for example as a fried tostada. Flint grain varieties are early maturing and are commonly grown in short seasons like we have in the Upper Midwest.