The current agricultural system in the Upper Midwest is built on annual cropping systems to support dairy and beef production. But, seventy-five years ago, most dairy and beef production relied on grassland – native tallgrass prairie that covered much of the Midwest and was used for grazing. Many livestock producers are facing volatile prices and profits in today’s system, and many are being forced to ‘get big or get out’.
A collaborative group based at UW-Madison is working to provide an avenue for farmers facing these challenges to transition to pasture-based farms in order to reduce price swings, lower input costs allowing for increased profitability regardless of size. The group, Grassland 2.0, is funded by a grant from the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture and includes producers, researchers, and public and private sector representatives including the North Central Region Water Network.
“Research shows that perennial agriculture and managed grazing can improve soil health in-field and water quality outcomes downstream,” notes Rebecca Power, North Central Region Water Network Director. “Grassland 2.0 is a great opportunity for the Network to work on improving water management on the landscape in a different way. We are collaborating with community partners and hope to help them expand locally driven plans for change. These local plans will be important building blocks for a regional plan for transforming our agricultural system into one that works for our farmers, our communities and our environment.”
The project is taking an integrated approach to increasing grasslands on the landscape. They are creating local learning hubs – or spaces for communities to have conversations about what we, as a society, want our food and agriculture system to do for us. The learning hubs engage communities in conversations that are rooted in rich local knowledge and allow the community to think and plan beyond day-to-day activities to the future they wish to have for their children and grandchildren. Through these discussions, project partners gain a sense of how community interactions can sometimes create inertia and sometimes drive innovation on the ground in watersheds in Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest.
As a part of their work, the team is partnering with Wormfarm Institute to host a two-day festival near Sauk City celebrating regenerative grazing and rural culture. The event, dubbed, Fermentation Fest: Grassland Edition, will showcase the promise and possibilities of regenerative grazing to support healthy ecosystems, communities, and people across the rural-urban continuum. The event will bring together folks from across the rural-urban continuum for a weekend jam-packed with local food, live music, demonstrations, tastings, dance performances, educational activities and more.
The festival is a spinoff of Wormfarm’s annual Fermentation Fest – a live culture convergence where farmers, artists, chefs, fermenters, and eaters converge to celebrate live culture in all its forms. Fermentation Fest: Grassland Edition, will build on this theme and highlight the benefits and promise of managed grazing and perennial agriculture with a diverse group of folks. It will also highlight the delicious flavors of grass-fed meat and cheese to consumers from across Southern Wisconsin.
More information on Grassland 2.0, their learning hubs, the Fermentation Festival and other aspects of their work can be found at https://grasslandag.org/.