The University of Wisconsin–Madison has launched a series of projects aimed at supporting rural communities and tribal nations in Wisconsin, funded through the Wisconsin Rural Partnership initiative. Announced in December 2022, this initiative, established with $9.3 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, seeks to advance the University’s land-grant mission, support community-based projects, and create partnerships to address the needs of rural communities.
The Wisconsin Rural Partnership is part of a larger Institute for Rural Partnerships, which is funded by a $28 million grant from the USDA and is a collaboration between UW–Madison, Auburn University, and the University of Vermont. The Institute aims to promote resilient and equitable food and agricultural systems, as well as enhance opportunities for rural community development by partnering with community initiatives, local research institutions, and subject matter experts.
“Here in Wisconsin, our rural communities face unique challenges to growing their local economies and it is important we provide them the tools and resources they need to thrive in a changing environment and economy,” said Senator Tammy Baldwin. “I am proud to have helped deliver federal funding that will allow the Institute for Rural Partnerships to invest in the future of our communities. I am so pleased to see these dollars forge new partnerships, support economic development, and meet the needs of rural Wisconsinites so they can live in the place they love.”
The Wisconsin Rural Partnership initiative has already provided funding to purchase scientific equipment for the Wisconsin Environmental Mesonet, a comprehensive network of 90 environmental monitoring stations across the state. This network will assist the agricultural community in improving harvests and resource protection. The Rural Partnership is also helping to fund the state climatology office, housed in the UW Nelson Institute’s Center for Climatic Research. The office provides help to Wisconsinites – especially those in rural areas – by providing information and decision-support tools to effectively use weather information.
The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and the Division of Extension jointly 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.
“We are grateful for this funding and the support of Senator Baldwin,” said Dean Glenda Gillaspy of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. “It is inspiring to see UW experts from many disciplines throughout the university focusing on problems facing our rural communities.”
“All of these projects put a real emphasis on community outreach and partnering with the people affected by the opportunities and challenges our state’s rural areas see every day. We look forward to funding new research and connecting communities with UW–Madison to lift up rural voices, lives, and well-being,” said Karl Martin, Dean and Director of UW–Madison’s Division of Extension.
The four research projects selected for Wisconsin Rural Partnership funding are:
The Rural Livability Project
This project aims to address the challenges faced by rural communities in Wisconsin due to the dwindling access to essential institutions and services like grocery stores, pharmacies, healthcare facilities, and banks. Additionally, these communities are experiencing shifts in their economic foundations and a decline in civic engagement. These factors collectively contribute to a reduction in the overall livability of rural areas, making it increasingly difficult for residents to meet their basic needs and sustain their quality of life.
The primary goal of this project is to identify the fundamental assets required to maintain the well-being and viability of rural communities. By understanding these essential elements, the project intends to formulate effective strategies and policies for community economic development. These strategies will be geared towards enhancing the livability and resilience of rural areas, thereby ensuring that residents have reliable access to critical services and a higher quality of life.
Project leader: Tessa Conroy, Professor and Extension Specialist, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Promoting Family-Centered and Family-School-Community Mental Health Support for Children in Rural Wisconsin Communities
Mental health support for children, especially in underserved rural communities, is a pressing concern. This project aims to enhance mental health support for children in rural Wisconsin communities. It seeks to build capacity for integrated family-centered mental health services by providing training, supervision, and evaluating the effectiveness of mental health programs.
By working with community partners, researchers will work to understand unique needs and challenges of rural areas to plan and enhance readiness, providing training to education and human service professionals, school staff, and community members, as well as providing ongoing supervision and support for professionals offering mental health services to ensure that quality care is maintained. Regular check-ins, consultation, and collaboration can help address challenges and refine interventions.
Project leaders: Andy Garbacz, School of Education; Robert Nix, School of Human Ecology; Jen Park-Mroch, Institute for Health and Well-Being, Division of Extension; Angela Flickinger, Institute for Health and Well-Being, Division of Extension
Connecting Cultural Values and Indigenous Research Towards Food System Resilience
This project focuses on the challenges faced by tribal nations in Wisconsin concerning food systems and community resilience. It aims to engage tribal nations and partners to develop research, education, and outreach projects that promote food sovereignty and address environmental challenges. This project is addressing critical issues related to food security, cultural preservation, and community resilience.
The project team, consisting of 28 members, will focus on five key areas: Indigenous crop and livestock, community food systems and nutrition, wild rice, maple sugaring, and evaluation, communications, and public participation.
This project has the potential to contribute significantly to the preservation of Indigenous food systems, cultural heritage, and community resilience in the face of environmental challenges, addressing both immediate needs and long-term sustainability.
Engaging tribal nations and a broad network of partners ensues that the solutions developed are informed by a variety of perspectives and expertise. Collaborative efforts will likely lead to more effective strategies and a higher chance of success.
Project leaders: Tricia Gorby, Natural Resources Institute Director, Division of Extension; Dan Cornelius, Outreach Program Manager, UW Law School’s Great Lakes Indigenous Law Center and College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Community Health Workers as a Bridge Between Extension and Rural Healthcare Systems to Support Whole Family Health and Well-Being
Within rural communities, additional barriers exist for people with limited income and people of color, resulting in patterns of poorer health outcomes. This project focuses on addressing health inequities in rural areas of Wisconsin, by leveraging the expertise and resources of the UW–Madison Division of Extension’s Health & Well-Being Institute to establish a network of Extension-based Community Health Workers (CHWs) who are embedded within the communities they serve. CHWs, public health workers who are trusted members of those communities, will be recruited from rural and tribal communities in Wisconsin and will respond to emerging health needs using a holistic family approach. CHW’s will be hired, trained, and supervised by researchers to provide workforce development and strengthen leadership among tribal members. They can provide culturally sensitive support, education, and outreach related to health and well-being.
This comprehensive strategy to address health inequities in rural and tribal communities through a combination of local leadership development, community-based solutions, and targeted health interventions aims to make a positive impact on the health outcomes of underserved populations in rural Wisconsin.
Project leaders: Amber Canto, Health and Well-Being Institute Director, Division of Extension; Larissa Duncan, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, School of Human Ecology; Zoua Vang, Professor and Extension Specialist, School of Human Ecology
These projects are designed to address the specific challenges faced by rural communities and tribal nations in Wisconsin, ranging from economic development and mental health support to food sovereignty and community health. Through these initiatives, the University of Wisconsin–Madison aims to contribute to the well-being and development of these communities while fostering collaboration and partnerships.