Huffington Post: “Wisconsin students know their meat”

Don’t be surprised if the line at Bucky’s Butchery gets a little longer. The UW’s student-run retail meat shop wasn’t exactly a secret, but if it were, the secret got out. Last Wednesday it was the focus of an article in the Huffington Post titled Wisconsin Students Know Their Meat.

“The UW-Madison Meat Lab, which includes Bucky’s Butchery, its commercial butcher shop, is a farm-to-table operation in its truest sense,” writes  author Theresa McCullar. “Pork and lamb come to campus from the university’s farms 20 miles north of the city to be “harvested” (slaughtered), cut, processed, packaged and sold – almost completely by undergraduates – in the Meat Lab’s facility.”

UW-Madison isn’t the only land-grant school with a meat program. McCullar says. Wyoming, Texas, Iowa and Kansas—places with far more cattle and hogs—do too.

“What sets UW-Madison’s Meat Lab apart, however, is the school’s location in the state of Wisconsin – historically, a prominent destination for German immigrants, who brought to the Midwest their expertise in curing meats,” she points out.

Master Meat Crafter training program

Bucky”s Butchery manager Robby Weyker

But some menu items “speak to Madison’s present more than its past: lamb and pork chorizos, oxtail, and beef heart and tongue. [Store manager Robby] Weyker has discovered an unexpected subset of shoppers who flock to Bucky’s Butchery: graduate students and faculty members from South America, Asia and Europe. They request cuts of meat and offal that would be unfamiliar, if not unwanted, in typical American grocery stores.”

Bucky’s Butchery and the UW Meat Lab are located between the dairy barns and the white foot bridge crossing University Avenue (map available here). The store is open every Friday from 11 a.m.–3 p.m. It takes cash, checks and credit cards.

Sign up for emails to learn about Bucky’s Butchery’s weekly specials:

Want a greener office? Visit the Horticulture plant sale Sept. 19-21

Want to green up your office or living room? UW horticulture students will be ready to help at their fall plant sale, Sept. 19-21 at the Stock Pavilion. The UW-Madison Horticulture Society holds this event each year to raise funds for conferences, field trips and other club activities.

“This year’s plant sale will include over 1,300 plants and more than 50 different varieties,” says horticulture grad student Terri Theisen. The inventory will include indoor tropical plants, cacti, hanging baskets, orchids, succulents, bromeliads, sensitive plants, lucky bamboo, crotons, ferns, money tree, air plants, venus fly traps, living stones, plant care supplies, and much more.

It will be a busy week for the horticulture students. They’ll spend a couple of days before the sale taking delivery, arranging and pricing the plants. But “Friday, Saturday and Sunday will be where all the fun is: chatting to people about plants, matching people with the right plant for their needs,“ says Theisen.

Proceeds from the fundraiser are used to help defray costs of attending horticultural conferences and expos, obtaining speakers and supplies for meetings, scholarships for members studying horticulture abroad, and field trips to businesses in the green industry such as botanical gardens, wineries, CSAs and farms in Wisconsin and northern Illinois, Theisen adds.

Sale hours are as follows:

  • Friday, Sept 19: 9 a.m.–6 p.m.
  • Saturday, Sept 20: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m
  • Sunday, Sept. 21: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m (or while supplies last)

Download the plant sale flyer.

CALS plant breeders harvest feedback from local chefs, farmers and foodies to develop tastier veggies


Photo by M.L. Johnson/AP.

This past Wednesday, CALS plant breeders held the first of three summer field days for chefs, farmers and foodies to taste and provide feedback on vegetable and fruit varieties being improved for local restaurant and fresh market uses.

“I think it went well,” says organizer Julie Dawson, an assistant professor of horticulture and UW-Extension urban and regional food systems specialist. “We had about 35-40 people there who were all interested in the trials, and they asked good questions. The tasting was [so] popular, we ran out of score sheets.”

Dawson and her fellow CALS plant breeders will use the field day ratings and other feedback to help guide their breeding efforts, with the goal of developing improved vegetable and fruit varieties that Wisconsin farmers like to grow and that local chefs are excited to serve.

Reporter M.L Johnson from the AP also showed up at the field day and wrote a nice article describing the broader effort. Here’s an excerpt:

Participating chefs receive weekly deliveries of produce that they evaluate on a 5-point scale for qualities like sweetness and texture.

Dan Bonanno, the chef at A Pig in a Fur Coat, estimated he’s tasted 80 varieties of tomatoes — “I never knew there were so many different tomatoes” — since mid-July. For him, the big find has been a sweet corn bred to have a less sugary taste and firmer texture than most popular varieties.

“I ripped open the husk, took a bite, and it was like eating a pear,” Bonanno said. “It was so juicy … I’m like, wow, you can make a very nice sauce or gelato with it because it’s already naturally sweet and buttery and it had so much water.”

According to Dawson, 10 farmers have been participating in the project this summer by growing vegetable trials on their farms, and four chefs have been receiving—and offering feedback on—weekly produce deliveries. She’s looking for more participants for next year.

The next veggie-tasting field day is set for Monday, September 22 and will focus on beets, carrots, onions and tomatoes. The third and final one is on Tuesday, October 21st and will feature potatoes, winter squash and carrots. Both run from 3 – 5 p.m. at the West Madison Agricultural Research Station, 8502 Mineral Point Rd, Verona WI 53593,

On the track of not-so-sweet corn

You might wonder why Bill Tracy bothers to breed new varieties of sweet corn. It’s already unbelievably tender and crisp and supersweet. We just need more of what we’ve got, right?

Not really, says Tracy, chair of the UW-Madison agronomy department, who has been breeding sweet corn since the 1980s. There’s a lot of things besides sweetness to worry about. And in fact, sweetness is something a lot of people would like less of.


Bill Tracy’s sweet corn team is in the midst of harvesting and sorting what they’ve collected from variety trials at the West Madison and Arlington Ag Research Stations.

“Modern sweet corn has excellent eating quality, flavorful and tender​. We are always looking to make improvements to eating quality but the corn is probably sweet enough,” says Tracy. “We want to improve disease resistance, weed competitiveness, shelf life, and other traits to make it easier to grow and provide better more consistent quality for the consumers.”

“We are also looking at developing non-sweet vegetable corns for culinary uses. Many chefs and cooks feel modern sweet corn is too sweet for many recipes. In 2014, we began new efforts in developing non-sweet vegetable corns. We have gathered heirloom sugary sweet corns that are prized for their corny flavor. We have also searched world collections for starchy corns that have been bred for eating quality when harvested green. We have Chilean choclos that will be tested by chefs in Madison this summer and fall. Since Chile has a similar growing condition to Wisconsin the choclos are well adapted here.”

And the perfect ear of fresh corn is only part of the equation. Sweet corn processors have very different needs. Processing corns must be very disease resistant and high yielding (tons per acre).

“They must also have very high recovery—number of cases of product per ton, which is affected by kernel-to-cob ratio. Longer kernels and thinner cobs which equals higher recovery.

cornharvest2“They also cannot be too tender because they need to withstand mechanical harvesting and processing. Fresh corn sold through grocery stores needs long holding capacity or shelf life.”

Wisconsin ranks third in the nation for sweet corn production (Minnesota is first) and 13th for fresh corn (Florida is no. 1), according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.



Boning up on precision ag: Images from Farm Technology Days

If you wanted to get up to speed on precision agriculture, Wisconsin Farm Technology Days was a good place to start. That was Dean Kate VandenBosch’s focus when she spent last Thursday at WFTD 2014. The three-day event is the state’s big all-agriculture trade show.

“Everywhere I go, I’m hearing about new innovations involving remote sensing being used for different applications looking at different parameters,” she says. “The equipment companies are interested, the seed and biotech companies are interested. Our faculty are bringing it up, and of course so are the growers.

“It’s an exciting time and changes are coming very fast. I wanted to increase my knowledge base, and Farm Technology Days was a great place to do it. There were lots of things going on in that area and I had a wonderful tour guide: Brian Luck was ready to show me around.”

Among the wide variety of precision ag technologies being demonstrated at the show was a moisture sensor system being developed by a CALS team than includes John Panuska in biological systems engineering.

Images: A great day at the State Fair

CALS was well represented at last Wednesday’s UW-Madison Day at the Wisconsin State Fair. Here are a few of our favorite images that capture the interactions CALS units had with fair-goers. To see more from the fair that event and and many others of CALS people and activities, go to the CALS Flickr page.


CALS forest science grads fighting Washington State wildfires

Three recent forest science graduates from CALS are participating in the massive effort to fight Washington State’s wildfires, which are the largest in the state’s history. Hillary Grabner, BS’13, and Ricky Keller, BS’12, (who met and fell for each other while undergraduates at CALS, pictured together above) and Tim Ketelboeter, BS’11, got involved through their work for the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

The trio were assigned to the Carlton Complex fire. Details about the fire and their working conditions are described in a Wisconsin State Journal article. The experience isn’t for the faint of heart. Here’s an excerpt:

The Carlton Complex fire is a collection of four fires burning in north-central Washington since July 14. Lightning strikes are believed to have caused the fires, which spread quickly in the first week, taking advantage of drought conditions, low humidity and high winds. [...]

The crews live in tents, work up to 16 hours a day — some work overnight — and must traverse rocky, hilly terrain while carrying heavy cargo and equipment.

The photos below, shared by Ricky, show some of the devastation from the fire, plus the tent camp where the firefighters sleep:




Enticing new doctors into a rural practice

If you want an example of the success of a new effort to get more physicians into rural communities, look at CALS biochemistry grad Gena Cooper, suggests Robert Golden, Dean of the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. Golden describes Cooper in a recent Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel op-ed column describing the Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine, which selects medical students who are most likely to pursue rural practice.

Here’s an excerpt:

Gena grew up on a farm in Mukwonago. After college, Gena was selected to serve as “Alice in Dairyland,” a highly visible spokesperson for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture. Gena’s determination to become a rural doctor grew out of her experience trailing her town’s surgeon, a family friend, on his hospital rounds. Gena was struck by the array of situations the doctor encountered, and his enormous impact on the lives of his patients. She learned about WARM right at its inception from an agriculture industry newspaper. She was excited about the prospect of completing clinical rotations in rural settings, and the WARM program recognized that Gena was precisely the type of student we wanted.

Like most WARM graduates to date, Gena matched in a primary care (pediatrics) residency program. She and her husband own a 120-head dairy cow farm in Columbus, and when she completes her residency training next year, she plans to practice in a similar community.

Report from Sturgeon Bay: Hail, rain, shredded crops

“If I took all the hail storms I’ve seen in my life and put them into one storm, that’s what we had.”

The night of Monday, July 14 was a tough one at the college’s Peninsular Ag Research Station near Sturgeon Bay.

“We had 4–6 inches of hail and over three inches of rain last night,” superintendnet Matt Stasiak said in an email the next morning. “All crops in a 1.5 x 2-mile swath are a complete loss.”

“If I took all the hail storms I’ve seen in my life and put them into one storm, that’s what we had,” Stasiak told the Wisconsin State Journal on Tuesday. With the exception of some potato plants in greenhouses, “everything at the research station is a loss,” he says.


Photos: Matt Stasiak


Making a film on the roots of corn

Millions of high school and college biology students could soon get a look at geneticist John Doebley’s research related to the domestication of corn. A film crew from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute was on campus last week to gather footage in Doebley’s lab, and they’ll be back in September to shoot in his field plots. The film will be shown in high school AP biology classes and college intro biology classes.

“We think that the domestication of corn is a terrific story, combining genetics with anthropology and archeology, all the better when it concerns the roots of a modern commodity that’s virtually taken over the world,” says Dennis Liu, an educator with HHMI’s Educational Media Group.

Liu’s group produces short science films, along with supplements designed to facilitate using them for formal science education and to extend the learning beyond what can be covered in the film itself.

“We pride outselves…on presenting research with scientific fidelity but also in a way that is engaging for students,” Liu says. He estimates the audience for the HHMI films to be well over 5 million students.

Hosting a film crew wasn’t that big a deal, says Doebley. “This is my 5th science film so same-old story.  Previously, I had crews from Germany and Japan in my Minnesota Lab, and crews from Portugal and NSF in my UW lab.”