You don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. And you don’t have to be a sociologist to know that our society is in considerable ferment. Nowhere has this been clearer than in the state of Wisconsin, in our own institution, and in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
The resignation of the CALS Dean a year ago has made for a fluid and uncertain institutional environment which has been exacerbated by the prospect of deep budget cuts mandated by the new governor. These shifts have come at a time when the College urgently needs to focus its attention and energy on the social and biophysical challenges posed by the need to feed and fuel ourselves sustainably.
It appeared that one casualty of this ferment might be the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS). For over 20 years, CIAS had been a leading edge of research and outreach in sustainable agriculture. However, a loss of faculty leadership and a softening of programmatic focus made this unit vulnerable to retrenchment.
C&ES chair Daniel Kleinman and faculty member Jack Kloppenburg were asked by the CALS administration to join Entomology professor Russell Groves as interim co-chairs of CIAS. Together, this troika undertook the defense and nourishment of the organization. They have worked with staff to identify CIAS’ strengths, and to focus its activities on a discrete set of areas: farmer training, managed grazing, and food systems. They have also engaged in dialogue with other CALS units in order to develop a coherent and cooperative approach to fostering sustainability.
A particular strength of CIAS has been the Citizens Advisory Council (CAC). The CAC, comprised of some dozen to twenty farmers and other stakeholders, provides advice and oversight to the faculty directors and staff. This input is solicited during meetings, in summer and winter. The 2011 summer CAC meeting was recently held at Renaissance Farm, Mark Olson’s basil and pesto production facility in Spring Green. A tour of the fields and plant was followed by a productive afternoon of discussion on CIAS strategic orientation to the future.
With luck, a search for a permanent CIAS director will begin soon, and CIAS will be in a position to take a lead role in CALS’s efforts to develop a sustainable agriculture for Wisconsin.