Horticulture Grad Student Wins Writing Contest

This past spring, CALS agroecology graduate student Kitt Healy won second place in the Water Sustainability and Climate Project’s Our Waters, Our Future writing contest, which sought short stories about positive futures for water and people in south-central Wisconsin. As part of Healy’s award, her story, “The Incarnation of Nelmi Jane,” is featured in Madison Magazine’s June online issue.

The contest was an effort to encourage imaginative thinking about desirable and possible futures for the region. It was a collaboration of the UW-Madison’s Water Sustainability and Climate Project and Center for Limnology, Sustain Dane, the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters, and Madison Magazine.

Contest submissions came from all over Wisconsin and were judged in part based on their scientific plausibility, a call made by a team of four scientists from UW-Madison.

Wisconsin-based literary leaders Peter Annin, journalist and author of Great Lakes Water Wars, and poet Fabu, Madison’s third poet laureate, along with Madison Magazine, made the final decision on the first- and second-place winners.

“The Incarnation of Nelmi Jane has beautiful poetic lines woven throughout the story. It combines the realities of not taking good care of our water with the hope that new life and better understanding bring,” said Fabu of Healy’s story.

The contest ran from November 2015 through January 2016, and the winners were announced in March.

Read Healy’s story here.

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Greenhouse Wins Rural Development Initiative Award

The Flambeau River Community Growing Center in Park Falls, Wisconsin, which was founded with the help of CALS horticulturalists, (Mike Geiger and Dr. Sara Patterson) has been selected to receive a Top Rural Development Initiative award from Wisconsin Rural Partners, Inc.

Wisconsin Rural Partners, Inc. (WRP) is a statewide non-profit organization that develops rural networks and leaders, and provides a voice for rural Wisconsin. WRP is the federally-recognized State Rural Development Council for Wisconsin.

This is the sixteenth year that WRP has recognized Wisconsin’s Top Rural Development Initiatives. The program is designed to identify, highlight, and share innovative models, practices and programs that have a positive impact on rural Wisconsin communities.

Here’s the description of the Flambeau River Community Growing Center from the WRP news release:


Flambeau River Community Growing Center, Park Falls
It started in 2012 with the idea of using waste heat from the Flambeau Mill to heat a greenhouse which could provide higher educational classes, a food source for the food pantry, and community gardens. Through a collaboration with UW- Madison, the Flambeau Mill, UWEX – Price County, and the Flambeau River Community Growing Center committee, a nonprofit 510(c)3 organization was established. Today, the vision has been realized and the growing center provides educational classes, and community support through the availability of raised beds for community members and through the provision of fresh foods for the local food pantries.

Originally posted at ecals.cals.wisc.edu/2016/05/17

Sowing Seeds . . . Growing Communities

Just as some seeds yield tomatoes, carrots and lettuce, others grow community and partnership.

In a greenhouse in the northern Wisconsin town of Park Falls, all of those seeds are taking root with the help of CALS horticulture graduate student Michael Geiger, horticulture professor Sara Patterson and a team of dedicated local leaders.


Mike Geiger (left) at a hydroponic salad table workshop at the greenhouse. All photos courtesy of Mike Geiger. All photos courtesy of Mike Geiger.

“The greenhouse has opened doors to making healthier food choices, to education about gardening in local schools—and it’s given the university a presence in Park Falls,” says Geiger, who grew up in Arbor Vitae, some 50 miles away.

Geiger’s involvement with the project – called the Flambeau River Community Growing Center – started as an idea in 2012. That’s when his friend Tracey Snyder, a nurse practitioner developing a wellness program at the nearby Flambeau River Papers mill in Park Falls, approached him seeking guidance on the greenhouse project.

“I was very interested in what she was saying and thought it was something that would be fun to work on,” says Geiger, who then was a senior horticulture student at UW-Madison.

Snyder’s group was seeking funding for a greenhouse project, and Geiger teamed with Patterson to identify possible revenue sources. They developed a proposal for the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment at UW–Madison.

Their proposal was funded in the summer of 2013, and by the fall construction had begun on a 25-by-50-foot vail-style greenhouse, built by community volunteers on a vacant lot donated by Flambeau River Papers just north of the mill.

The greenhouse, built to withstand the heavier snows of northern Wisconsin, features in-floor radiant heating and custom greenhouse growing tables made of locally purchased white cedar and built by volunteers. Plans call for the facility to eventually be heated with waste steam from the mill.

An open house at the greenhouse.

An open house at the greenhouse.

The Flambeau River Community Growing Center has gained popularity with community members and school groups interested in learning about plants and gardening. “It’s a greenhouse, but it’s also a classroom,” says Geiger.

Learners include children from the Chequamegon School District, who start seeds in the greenhouse and nurture seedlings until they can be transplanted to their own outdoor school gardens. Area 4–H groups grow plants and tend them in raised beds just outside the greenhouse. Master Gardener classes are held at the facility, and community workshops have included such topics as square-foot and container gardening as well as hydroponics. Kids have been delighted with sessions on soil testing and painting their own flowerpots.

“It’s clearly a benefit to build a connection between UW–Madison and the community, for the community itself—people from ages 3 to 90—and for the local schools,” Patterson says.

Community leaders and institutions have joined to fuel the center’s success. Its chief executive officer, Tony Thier, recently retired from Flambeau River Papers, says UW–Extension has provided valuable educational and technical support, and volunteer opportunities draw professionals from various companies in the area. Park Falls attorney Janet Marvin helped the center gain nonprofit status last fall.

Thier says the center provides needed education for area residents. “It’s been very beneficial,” he says. “When I got involved, it really became a passion. I wanted to learn more about gardening and increase my skill. We try to involve the whole community.”

Geiger says the project has helped him in his academic career as he learned about project planning, gave presentations about the center at two national academic conferences and writes scholarly articles about his work there.

“I’ve been able to see this process through from an idea to reality,” says Geiger. “It’s been really rewarding.”

Original Posting: Dennis Chaptman,  ecals.cals.wisc.edu  04.14.2016  All photos courtesy of Mike Geiger.

Hort Grad Career Path

While trying to figure out who she was during her teenage years, Emily Haga discovered plants. She wanted to learn about her culture and ancestry and in doing so she learned to cook, make art and enjoyed being in nature. She volunteered at a natural and local farm and worked at a natural food store in her hometown, just south of Madison. All her experiences led to an interest and passion for food and gardening.Emily_Haga

“I was hooked on vegetables and plant diversity. The more I learned about plants, the more I felt connected to the people I came from, the food I was eating and the land I lived on,” Haga stated.

No stranger to the University of Wisconsin, Haga pursued her interest in plants and completed both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UW-Madison. Her undergraduate degree was in horticulture while her graduate studies focused on plant breeding and genetics.

As an undergraduate, Haga completed independent research on plant flowering time and research on pepper germplasm adaptation for the shorter growing season in Wisconsin. During her graduate work, she completed a multi-year field study on early blight resistance in potatoes.
Today, Haga is a plant breeder for Johnny’s Selected Seeds where she works on tomatoes, lettuce and peppers. At Johnny’s she develops new varieties to support small scale farmers and growers and looks at trends in the market to meet the future needs of these growers.

It involves a passion for both plants and people. Everybody is trying to make a difference and we all need to work together to bring our unique contributions to the table. We need all types of people to solve different parts of this agricultural puzzle.

—Emily Haga

Although her interest was in plants, she said she hadn’t planned on becoming a plant breeder but she liked the idea of preserving and yet creating new genetic diversity in crops.

Deciding to purse plant breeding didn’t come as a lightbulb decision; Haga attended multiple conferences, field days, plant breeder meetings and visited different gene banks across the United States during school. Through these experiences she realized how much of a multi-disciplinary study this field was and liked that it combined a lot of her passions from youth.

Haga encourages other graduate students to jump at the opportunities offered. Whether it is a lab job, independent study, or capstone experience, she says, “Get out in the world, meet new people and see what is available to you.”

Originally printed in UW Grad School Alumni Careers

Gift Establishes Endowed Fellowship in Vegetable Crops

The Department of Horticulture is extremely grateful for the generous donation from Steve and Christa Slinger of Randolph, Wisconsin to establish an endowed graduate fellowship in vegetable crops in the Department of Horticulture.  Steve and Christa have had a long association with UW-Madison and with the Department of Horticulture, and have committed a gift of $200,000 to establish this endowed fellowship.

Their gift will receive a “Nicholas Match,” which will double its value to $400,000. In 2015, the Nicholas family pledged to match new gifts toward fellowships at UW-Madison. The Slinger fellowship is to be used at the discretion of the department to support graduate students working with horticulture faculty on research involving vegetable crops.

Steve and Christa have had successful careers as vegetable farmers and continue their efforts to produce high quality crops in the Randolph area. Our department expresses its gratitude to them for this generous gift.

Can Plant Breeding Go Open Source?

Claire.LubyOn a warm and sunny day last fall, a handful of horticultural students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) descended on Elderberry Hill Farm, a small CSA
just across the lake from campus. They were harvesting carrots: orange, yellow, and purple; skinny and fat; stubby and elongated.

With a care and precision not normally associated with carrot har- vest, they logged the numbered tags for each small row, selected about a dozen of the better specimens, and bagged them for further study back in the lab. As they worked, they bantered about breeding technology, how long grad school takes, food politics, and the ethics of genetic engineering.

This carrot project led by Claire Luby (pictured on the cover of this issue) has radical intent.  Continue reading the article here.

Giant Pumpkin Regatta set for October 10

Chris D'Angelo and Lynn Maher, grad students in the UW Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics program, with the Giant Atlantic pumpkins they helped grow for the UW-Madison's Giant Pumpkin Regatta event, set for Oct. 10, 2015 at the Memorial Union Terrace.

Chris D’Angelo and Lynn Maher, grad students in the UW Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics program, with the Giant Atlantic pumpkins they helped grow for the UW-Madison’s Giant Pumpkin Regatta event, set for Oct. 10, 2015 at the Memorial Union Terrace.

MADISON, Wis. — There’s a fun, alternative way to enjoy the fall harvest: attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Giant Pumpkin Regatta. The event, which features students paddling hollowed-out pumpkins grown by fellow students, is set to take place at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10, at the Memorial Union Terrace, 800 Langdon St.

Parking is available in the Helen C. White Hall parking ramp, and the festivities will be held at the pier in front of the Wisconsin Hoofers’ outdoor programs office, located on the water level below the Memorial Union Theater.

The event is organized by UW-Madison horticulture professors Irwin Goldman and Jim Nienhuis, with help from the UW’s Hoofer Sailing Club. Racers, called “pumpkin pilots,” are recruited from Goldman and Nienhuis’ class on world vegetable crops. They will paddle hollowed-out, three-foot-wide Atlantic Giant pumpkins – rendered buoyant by tractor-tire inner tubes – through a course set up by sailing club members.

The massive pumpkins were tended by a number of UW students over the growing season, including Chris D’Angelo and Lynn Maher, graduate students in Goldman’s lab who are in the university’s Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics program.

The inaugural Giant Pumpkin Regatta was held in 2005, with the idea to make it an annual event. Mother Nature, however, doesn’t always cooperate.

“We’ve done it a number of times since 2005, but we have had to skip some years due to poor pumpkins,” says Goldman.

Fortunately, 2015 yielded a good crop.