ASAP’s Scholars welcome Ross Wagstaff as the newest Scholars Awardee

urban agThe Agroecology and Sustainable Agriculture Program has awarded Ross Wagstaff with 2 years of support as part of our ASAP Scholars program.  Ross will join Sam Wortman’s Urban Agriculture Research Lab in the Department of Crop Sciences to study the complex relationship between plants and the urban environment.  According to Ross, “the urban atmospheric growing environment is substantially different from the rural environment, which is where the vast majority of agricultural scientific knowledge has been obtained”.  He argues we need to increase our understanding of this environment and has proposed four specific research objectives to help him do just that.  Ross plans to: 1) characterize the atmospheric environment along an urban to rural latitudinal transect through the Chicago, IL metropolitan region with regular measurements of ambient CO2, tropospheric ozone, temperature, light intensity, vapor pressure deficit, and wind speed; 2) quantify crop and cultivar plant physiological response to altered environmental conditions along this urban to rural latitudinal transect; 3) determine the relative influence of each environmental factor on crop and cultivar physiological response and fruit quality; and 4) understand ecological processes of urban food production by monitoring insect and soil microbe diversity and population across the urban to rural gradient.

The Urban Agriculture Research Lab at the University of Illinois was formed to develop science-based information and tools necessary for urban farmers to develop productive and economically sustainable cropping systems. They seek to quantify and characterize the distribution of air and soil pollutants in and around urban areas and understand how these pollutants influence crop physiology and productivity, develop research programs focused on hydroponics and aquaponics, and understand the challenges with heavy metal soil contamination and remediation of these soils in an urban environment.

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Craig Cox of the EWG Discusses the Farm Bill, Farm Programs and Their Effect on Stewardship

craig7Conservation and the 2014 Farm Bill

April 23 Alice Campbell Alumni Center Ballroom         5.30 pm Reception followed by

6.00-7.30 pm presentation and discussion

Craig has devoted his working life to conservation.  He began his career at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in 1977 as a field biologist and then moved to Washington DC where he served as Senior Staff Officer with the Board on Agriculture of the National Academy of Sciences and completed three major studies, including Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture.  He then led the development of the conservation title of the 1996 farm bill while serving as staff of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and has remained involved in farm bill efforts ever since.  Craig then joined the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service as a Special Assistant to the Chief and served briefly as Acting Deputy Under-Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment in the Department of Agriculture before moving to Iowa in 1998 to become Executive Director of the Soil and Water Conservation Society.  In August 2008 he joined the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to direct EWG’s Midwest office and lead the organization’s research and advocacy work in agriculture, renewable energy, and climate change.   Craig has degrees in Wildlife Ecology and Agricultural Economics from the University of Minnesota and is an avid fly fisherman, hunter and hiker.

Here is an abstract of Craig’s talk

“The Agricultural Act of 2014 eliminated so-called Direct Payments and used most of the savings to enact several new revenue insurance options and a new countercyclical program which puts a much higher floor under prices of selected crops. These revenue and price guarantees are now the most important—and potentially very expensive—way that taxpayers support farm income. The law also reconnected the conservation compliance provisions of the 1985 farm to the crop insurance program and added a new SodSaver provision. These provisions are essentially a quid pro quo between farmers and taxpayers. In return for crop insurance premium subsidies and other federal farm program benefits, farmers are asked to take steps to cut soil erosion on their most vulnerable cropland, protect wetlands and refrain from breaking out native grassland and prairie. The new law comes during a period when high crop prices, biofuel mandates and competition for land have spurred substantial intensification and expansion of row crop production. The law also comes at a time when concerns about soil degradation, water pollution and loss of habitat are also intensifying.  I will discuss my view of the conservation and environmental implications of the new farm bill and describe what I think will be needed to harmonize agriculture and the environment in what appears to be a challenging century.”

This event is being hosted by the Agroecology and Sustainable Agriculture Program in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences in honor of Earth Day in partnership with the Student Chapter of the Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Society, the Agriculture Watershed Institute, Faith in Place, Illinois Stewardship Alliance and Prairie Rivers Network!   The event is free and open to the public.  Free parking will be available after 5.00 in lot D22 904 W. Oregon.

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Savanna Institute’s March 2014 Newsletter

From Concept to Reality

Welcome to the first Savanna Institute (SI) newsletter! On a monthly basis, we will keep you informed on our progress, provide helpful resources, and keep you updated on news and events happening in the movement.

As some of you may be new to SI, here is a little background on our story. The concept of an organization like SI has existed in the minds of ourboard members for quite a while, but it was not until the stars aligned last summer that all the pieces came together. SI was formed in 2013 as the Midwest daughter organization of the Restoration Agriculture Institute. Our vision is an optimal and resilient agriculture industry, inspired by the savanna biome, widespread throughout the Midwest. Within this broad vision and widespread movement, our mission is to empower industry stakeholders to support, adopt, and enhance resilient agricultural practices.

Currently, the primary mechanism by which we enact our mission is through the Savanna Institute Case Study Program, in which we work directly with farmers to establish new Restoration Agriculture systems in the Midwest. Without much marketing or outreach, we were able to obtain seven farms as part of the 2014 Case Study Program. That is seven farmers and landowners willing convert their land today to Restoration Agriculture and contribute their time to help us study these systems.

This is not an easy process, and we greatly commend our inaugural case study farmers for being true pioneers. Without them, SI would not be what it is today. For more details on the farmers taking the challenge to revolutionize agriculture, visit the Meet the Farmers page on our website.

These on-farm case studies will help us learn more about the economic, environmental, and social benefits of Restoration Agriculture, along with the current barriers to adoption and the top-priority research areas. In order to facilitate interaction between the case study farmers, we have already brought them together for a round table dinner discussion with board members and set up a forum for them to share ideas and best practices.

SI has many exciting things coming in 2014. This spring, we will see our inaugural round of case studies become planted, and later this year we will have our second set of farmers ready to go. We already have many farmers interested in being part of the 2015 Case Study Program! Please check our website to keep updated as we move forward.

To help spread the word about our work at the Savanna Institute, please forward this email to 5 people that you think should know about us and have them subscribe to our newsletter!

Thank you for your support!

The Savanna Institute Team

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Want to go to Local Food Awareness Day During Spring Break?

bfblASAP will be bringing a group of students and friends to Springfield on Wednesday, March 26th to participate in Local Food Awareness Day and to encourage their legislators to support local food and farms.

There are several interesting pieces of legislation that you might want to learn more about or even support.  These include

  1. House Bill 5657/Senate Bill 3380, also called the Farmers’ Market Regulatory Modernization Bill. It will:
  • Create a simplified, consistent, and statewide process for vendors to offer samples at any farmers market in Illinois
  • Provide consistent and uniform regulations for farmers markets throughout the state
  • Create new product origin requirements to foster transparency and help consumers identify “re-sellers” at farmers markets and,
  • Cap registration fees for cottage food operations at a reasonable rate

2.  House Bill 5907,

  • to  create a new microloan program to assist beginning farmers.

3.  Senate Bill 1666

  • that mandates the labeling of food products with genetically engineered ingredients also known as GMOs.

To register or to learn more about the Illinois Stewardship Alliance organizing the event click here and to register simply click here.

If you would like to ride with a group from U of I campus email us at!

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U of I Students Support the Student Farmworker Alliance

fair foodThe UIUC Alternative Spring Break organized a trip to Florida over winter break that engaged students with the Student/Farmworker Alliance (SFA), which  is a national network of students and youth organizing with farmworkers to eliminate sweatshop conditions and modern-day slavery in the fields.

The SFA works with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a Florida-based, membership-led organization of mostly Latino, Haitian, and Mayan Indian low-wage workers.  Bill Moyers covered the SFA along with other groups working to build social justice in the field.
The UIUC Alternative Spring Break is a student led organization housed by the campus YMCA.  Their mission is to educate students about social, political, and environmental issues through direct service, group reflections, student leadership, diversity, and engagement beyond the local community. Participants will develop empathy and be motivated to action with the local community.  Check out their spring trips!


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Check Out ASAP Scholars; Applicatons Due March 2

Meet some of the Agroecology and Sustainable Agriculture Program’s Scholars.  ASAP scholars receive support to study critical issues in agriculture, food systems and their interactions with the environment and society.

Applications for 2014 ASAP Scholars are due Feb 30 2014! (oops March 2!)

ASAP scholars pic 2013


Ron Revord (far right) is a second year M.S. student working on breeding methods to develop a Midwestern hazelnut crop. Currently, the U.S. produces about 3% of the world’s hazelnut crop behind major producers, which include Turkey, the European Union, and Azerbaijan.  Ron’s focus on hazelnuts grew out of his concern for agriculture and the environment and his recognition of societies’ need for increased and diversified staple food-crop production systems that can improve rather than degrade the environment.  Ron believes a vital U.S. hazelnut industry could be built through improvement of commercially promising varieties that incorporate disease resistance and resilience traits from the American Hazelnut, which is native to a large portion of the Eastern U.S. and so co-evolved to resist Eastern Filbert Blight.  That disease unfortunately currently prohibits production of higher yielding varieties in the Midwest.  According to Ron, improving resistance to EFB will help launch an industry that can contribute to increased domestic food production and ecological rehabilitation of degraded lands.  In addition, Ron’s suggests an emerging hazelnut industry would provide a ‘foot-in-the-door’ to producers seeking ways to transition to more sustainable perennial polyculture and silvopasture production systems.  ASAP has been proud to support his research, which focuses on the development of early-generation selection methodologies for hybrid hazelnuts which would otherwise require time lapses before phenotyping and subsequent selection that are way too long for a graduate student to tackle as part of a degree program.  Ron’s success with asexual propagation protocols and q-PCR methods has attracted the attention of others including the American Hazelnut Association.  It is no surprise that he already has plans for his PhD and a career devoted to the betterment of breeding and genetic methods for woody perennial nut-crop improvement.  The goal of all of this is to promote wider adoption perennial crops and the use of marginal lands for crop production.  Who could argue with that?


Rafter Ferguson (far left) is a third year PhD student who came to the Crop Sciences Department at University of Illinois in 2010, after receiving an M.S. in Agroecology from the University of Vermont. Prior to graduate study, he spent a decade as an activist in the global justice movement, as participant, organizer, and scholar. He has worked as a professional in ecological design, as a consultant and an educator working on ecological waste reduction and water treatment, integrated mushroom production, and whole farm design.  Rafter currently works with farmers and community groups to support the transition to sustainable and multifunctional agriculture. According to Rafter, his research is informed equally by agroecology and political ecology, so he is interested in both the quantifiable performance of farming systems, and in the ways in which our ideas about agriculture translate into policies and practices that have variable consequences for different communities. ASAP is happy to help support Rafter’s dissertation research which focuses on the permaculture movement, and it’s present and potential contributions to ‘agroecological transition’.   According to Rafter, agroecology is a promising alternative to industrial Agriculture because it has the potential to avoid the negative social and ecological consequences of input-intensive production. He notes, however, that transitioning to agroecological production is complex and will require the involvement of actors and groups outside of academia. This is why he has looked to the permaculture movement for ideas.   His work will provide a rare scholarly look at permaculture globally and provide in-depth analysis of farmers using permaculture practices in North America.  ASAP congratulates Rafter on his success at funding some of his field research using crowd sourcing!  Go Rafter.

Dane Hunter (center) is a first year M.S. student and an Illinois native who grew up on a family farm in southern Illinois.  Dane continues to work on the farm with his dad where they raise corn, soybeans, wheat and a few head of livestock.  He earned a B.S. in 2009 in Agricultural Education from UIUC and taught high school agriculture and biology for four years before deciding to come back to graduate school. He would like to identify influential factors and learn how to produce food while improving soil and water quality so that he can implement good practices on his home farm and teach about these practices down the road.  His research was developed in response to the Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP), which calls for increased use of locally produced food as a way to reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and enhance the community by providing local jobs.   He hopes to encourage campus to increase local food purchases by determining just how much of an impact ‘buying local’ might have on our GHG and economic footprint.  He is currently trying to inventory all our purchases in order to run life cycle assessments (LCA) of food products procured by the University of Illinois Dining Services. Typically, LCAs track the factors (eg: GHGs, jobs or water use) associated with the production, processing, use, and disposal of a given product or its ingredients.  Dane plans to engage undergraduate students in his LCA effort and hopes to use the results as part of an educational campaign that will inform the students and the public about the impacts of their food consumption. The educational campaign will include GHG labeling of selected food items in campus dining facilities.  Dane is finding that the transportation costs associated with moving food from ‘farm to fork’ account for only a small portion of the product’s environmental footprint.  Accordingly, Dane is looking for models to help him evaluate how changing our purchasing rules and practices to increase local sourcing might influence our GHG emissions, economy and soil and water resources.  He hopes that whatever he learns will help students, campus administration and dining services decide where to direct our food dollars to increase campus sustainability.  Food for thought!

Looking forward to 2014!

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Cover crops prevent soybean disease

bold50U of I Professor Darin Eastburn recently reported that cereal rye and rapeseed were most successful at warding off diseases than the other two cover crops studied – brown mustard and winter canola.  But all four crops tested prevented root rot and other diseases from getting any worse during the three years.

Here is a link to the presentation

And more on Peter Gary Field Note report on covers

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10 Week Graduate Course on the Future of Agriculture

NRES 512 ______March 5-May 6 _____5.00-6.30 PM.___ 1 Credit____eag NRES 512

In the coming years agriculture will have to adapt to multiple converging challenges: increasing climate extremes and water scarcity, increasing carbon costs, loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, and the emergence of pesticide/herbicide resistance in pests and weeds. This 10-week graduate-level seminar will be organized around readings from the recent book Darwinian Agriculture, by R. Ford Denison, and additional readings to help situate discussion in a broader agroecosystem context. Guest faculty presenters will include Ford Denison, Gary Nabhan and others. Students are encouraged to present their own questions to help guide discussion.  Course sessions will be facilitated by Dr. Michelle Wander, and ASAP Scholars Rafter Ferguson and Ron Revord.

  • •Explore the limitations of conventional thinking about both biotech and ‘ecological’ agriculture
  • •Use insights from evolutionary ecology to evaluate constraints and opportunities in crop improvement and agroecosystem planning
  • •Understand how evolutionary processes can be leveraged to improve the performance of agricultural systems.

“[To] all those researchers, institutes and companies whose research aim it is to face the challenge of a growing world population that needs to be fed on a planet on which the climate is rapidly changing [...] Denison’s arguments are convincing and we as humans may be missing out on a bright future if we ignore this book.” – Duur K. Aanen, Evolution.


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Agricultural Innovation Prize


Check out this unique opportunity!

The competition is open to U.S. undergraduate and graduate students across all academic disciplines and runs through spring 2014, when teams will compete for the chance to win $215,000 in prize money, with a grand prize of $100,000; making this the largest agriculture-focused student competition in the world.

The contest encourages student teams to develop innovative plans to address social and agricultural challenges within food systems, improving the standard of living and quality of life for the world’s population.

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World Soil Day Dec 5

soil suppoting crops and pastureWorld Soil day celebrates the importance of soil as a critical component of the natural system and as a vital contributor to the human commonwealth through its contribution to food, water and energy security and as a mitigator of biodiversity loss and climate change. It is celebrated particularly by the global community of 60 000 soil scientists charged with responsibility of generating and communicating soil knowledge for the common good. many events focussed on increasing the public awareness of soil and its contribution to humanity and the environment. it is held on December 5th because it corresponds with the official birthday of H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej ,The King of Thailand, who has officially sanctioned the event.

David Lindbo, North Carolina State University soil scientist and president of the Soil Science Society of America reminds us  “Soil is one of the world’s most neglected resources,” and “We must take care of our soil for this generation, and all generations to come.” The tag line for the society is “Soils Sustain Life,” which “illustrates that without soil, we don’t have food, clothing, shelter, water—all the things that contribute to life,” he says. Nick Comerford, a University of Florida soil scientist and SSSA member, wrote a SSSA blog post for World Soil Day explaining how soil cleans our water. “Soil is the largest filter on the planet,” says Comerford. Soil is a physical filter, taking out particulates. It also is a chemical reactor. Negatively charged soil acts like a magnet, pulling out positively charged ions and other pollutants that travel through the soil. And, microbes that live in soil help to clean water further by providing miniature water treatment plants in the soil.

This society is not just for academics.  Students and professionals can benefit from becoming members in this important society!  Whether you are a grad or undergrad student, conservationist or consultant, consider joining today!

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