Where to meet?

Munken, Pirsenteret


Michael Bell
Corey Blant
Jacob Grace
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Topic: Grassland 2.0: Grounding Knowledge for Place-Based Action to Perennialize Agriculture


Dairy agriculture in the US, and especially Wisconsin, is in full-on crisis. Returns to farmers for
conventional dairy production have been significantly below break-even continuously for over
four years. Wisconsin lost approximately 10 percent of its dairy farms in 2018 alone. As well,
rainfall is becoming much variable and intense, with frequent record-setting rainfalls, resulting
in soil erosion and pollution of water by nutrient and soil runoff. In Dane County, Wisconsin –
the highest producing agricultural county in the state, and also home to the state capital,
Madison – August 21st, 2018 saw rainfalls as high as 15 inches (38 centimeters) in some rural
areas in just 24 hours. The area has many lakes, but most beaches had to be closed because of
algal growth stimulated by phosphorus runoff. Eventually, the nutrients make it down the
Mississippi River, leading to the infamous “dead zone” where algal growth removes most of the
oxygen from the water, undermining fisheries.
In response to these agroecological challenges, a diverse agroecological network is launching
the Grassland 2.0 project in the Dane County region. The goal is to convert as much of the
landscape as possible to a new version of the grass-based ecology that persisted before
European settlement. The initial impetus for the project comes from the Agroecology Cluster at
the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which has a vision of the many social, economic, and
ecologic benefits of grass-based animal agriculture, in place of the grain-based approach now
dominant and now in such crisis.
But the project will only lead to agroecological transition if mutual knowledge identification
among all local actors – from farmers to eaters to officials to business interests to academics –
can be cultivated. The project is attempting to overcome the “initiation problem” widely
discussed in participatory research through implementing a grounded knowledge approach
(Ashwood et al., 2014) that creates conditions that encourage participants to see their
knowledge as socially situated but also potentially linked to other socially situated knowledges
– just as one area of ground connects to all other ground. The aim of this approach is to
transcend the typical expert/local knowledge divide by encouraging all perspectives, including
university researchers, to see their knowledge as having a particular social situation or identity,
but potentially linkable through building trust and a sense of inclusion. Through such
knowledge mutualism, we expect to promote agroecological innovations that none of the
participants could have fully anticipated.

Go back to the workgroup WG 17