How should CALS address sustainbility? Weigh in at April 20 meeting or via web forum.

We invite you to join us at an open meeting to discuss how the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences can most effectively engage the challenges posed by the need to enhance the sustainability of the food and agricultural system. This meeting will be held on Monday, April 20, from 1–3 p.m. in room 351 Moore Hall. You can also share your views online at CALS will also be holding a series of listening sessions for stakeholders. Updates on this process will be posted at

The Dean of The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) at UW-Madison has asked us, three faculty members, to advise her on CALS’ approach to supporting food and agricultural sustainability generally, and for a re-visioning of the role and structure of the Wisconsin Institute of Sustainable Agriculture (WISA) in particular. In its current configuration, WISA includes the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS), the Nutrient and Pest Management program (NPM), and the Integrated Pest Management program (IPM). These units have strong records of research, education, and outreach and have cultivated important relationships with constituencies in Wisconsin and beyond. Many individuals and groups have worked tirelessly for a more sustainable food system, and we believe their efforts should provide the foundation on which CALS will continue to enlarge its contributions in that area.

There now exists a widespread sense that all elements of society can be making more sustainable choices. This is nowhere clearer than in the food and agricultural sector where rapid growth of demand for organic and sustainably produced foods have highlighted the need for land grant universities to increase their commitments to facilitating a transition to new farming practices and marketing arrangements. Although many faculty and units in CALS are working on issues of sustainability, better integration of their activities could produce fresh and important synergies. In today’s rapidly changing social, biophysical, and technical environments, CALS needs to ensure that it maintains a robust but flexible institutional framework for guiding its contributions to the development of sustainable food and agricultural systems for Wisconsin, the nation, and the world.

CALS administration has asked us to develop a proposal for a process whose goal is to produce a framework for enhancing the capacity and effectiveness of WISA. We are committed to developing this proposal through open, transparent, and inclusive dialogue. Between March and June 2009, we plan to convene 6 to 8 stakeholder listening sessions at which input into how the process should be constructed will be collected and distilled.

At these sessions we will seed the discussion with the following questions:

  1. Does CALS need to develop a revised approach to food and agricultural sustainability, and what should be the role and structure of WISA in particular?
  2. What processes might be used to develop that approach?
  3. What resources need to be mobilized to develop and support this initiative?

The meeting on April 20 is intended to solicit advice, views and guidance on these questions from the campus community. We welcome the participation of any faculty, staff, graduate students, or undergraduate students from across the university who would like to comment on these matters.

In addition, we are providing web-based opportunities for public comment on our three central questions. Interested faculty, staff, students, citizens and stakeholders can share their views through participation in an open blog at Confidential or other commentary can be sent directly to the three of us at

By the end of this exercise, we believe that we will have a good idea of

  • the level and distribution of support for a CALS initiative to develop a revised approach to food and agricultural sustainability;
  • the contours and elements of a consultation process that would have broad legitimacy among stakeholders;
  • which organizations and/or individuals would be willing and well positioned to participate in that process.

By early summer, we expect to produce a draft proposal for a process for a review and re-visioning of the role and structure of WISA that is informed by broad stakeholder input. This would include recommendations of a formal charge, for leadership, for representative participation, an outline of consultation formats and procedures, and a time frame for completion. Our draft proposal will be circulated to stakeholders who will be asked for comment. Once this document has been vetted by stakeholders, a final report will be delivered to the Dean of CALS.

We look forward to many fruitful discussions about sustainable agriculture and are excited to be involved in this process.

Jed Colquhoun, Associate Professor, Department of Horticulture
IPM Advisory Group
Integrated Pest and Crop Management Advisory Group

Randy Jackson, Assistant Professor, Department of Agronomy
Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center
Affiliate Faculty, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies
Affiliate Faculty, Agroecology Program

Jack Kloppenburg
Professor, Department of Rural Sociology
Co-Director, Program on Agricultural Technology Studies
Affiliate Faculty, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies
Affiliate Faculty, Agroecology Program