Friday, August 18, 2017

Using Remote Sensing to Measure Riparian Buffers

My mini project this summer was to use remote sensing to look at riparian buffers in Wilson Creek and the Annis Creek Watershed. Remote sensing is the science of obtaining information about an object without being physically near that object. Riparian buffers is a strip of natural vegetation along the side of waterways that are meant to keep sediment and pollutants out of them.    

The Wilson Creek and Annis Creek Watershed is an area of 46,946 acres. By comparing, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Cropland Data Layer (CDL) map and the Department of Natural Resources‘ Wiscland map to the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Imagery Program (NAIP) imagery, I analyzed how many acres of riparian buffer each watershed has, as well as the amounts of properties that have riparian buffers around Wilson Creek and Annis Creek.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Diving In: Conservation Conversations north of Highway 64

We spend a lot of time talking about “the environment.”
We talk a lot about what can we do to protect the environment, to improve it- as if we could somehow take a step back and see the planet as separate from ourselves.  The academic and mainstream discourse surrounding our natural resources often tends to be from an outside perspective: eager plans to shape and defend and save the world... plans made from a calculated distance.  In this summer’s anthropology project, I had to strive to hit the sweet spot of ethnographic research: become a part of the community I wanted to comprehend while maintaining a clear and focused role in data collection and analysis.  The comforts of graphs and charts and correlations disappeared as I tried to grasp how a society realizes its relationship with the lakes and waterways that surround it.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Wading Forward

There is a place just outside of Colfax, WI, off of highway 40, where a person can put on some waders, step into a stream, and imagine that they are a pioneer exploring their way through new territory. I have been to this place where the silt grabbed at my feet and the water flirted dangerously close to the tops of my waders. Eighteen Mile Creek is beautiful. It looks pristine as it rustles softly over the rocks at its bottom, but this creek has a secret that it shares with many other streams and rivers in the Red Cedar Watershed. It is absolutely full of P.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Utilizing Diverse Communities within Menomonie for Water Quality through Community Organizations

I’ve learned in the past few years of my life that community is a crucial element of what’s important to me. But for me, that has only been defined as far as having people around me who are supportive and make me feel at home. This summer I’ve had the chance to really think about what makes a community works, how it actually functions, and how it creates change. The more academic, but helpful, term for this is community capacity. It’s a concept that includes elements that work together to accomplish just that, a functioning community. These elements include having a sense of community, commitment, being able to define and access resources, as well as the ability to set and achieve goals. Actually thinking about the elements that contribute to a community is valuable when it comes to solving issues. At this point in my life, my interactions with community have been transitory – traveling and moving around, working seasonal jobs, being a student. I haven’t had the chance to establish myself as part of a long-term community yet. Having the opportunity to have a glimpse of what that looks like and study it this summer in Menomonie has been insightful. It is very fitting then that my final research project revolved around this idea of how community organizations can contribute to the community’s capacity for changes in water quality.  

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Long Live Nach Raff: A Summer Session in Policy Analysis and Interdisciplinary Fun

“We are all born with a unique genetic blueprint, which lays out the basic characteristics of our personality as well as our physical health and appearance...And yet, we all know that life experiences do change us.”
- Joan D. Vinge

Purpose. Many aspects of life are centered upon a sense of purpose, upon the “why?” factor that either motivates us or moves us to find another use for our time. Fortunately, this summer was devoid of the latter and saturated with the former. The beginning of these past eight weeks was nothing short of a search for purpose as I tried to find my footing within the larger scope of the program. Thanks to the guidance and support of my faculty mentor Zach Raff, that purpose was found in short order as we promptly set our research project in motion. While I was excited to begin and well aware of how rewarding the process would be, I quickly realized that this summer was going to be a lot more than an exercise in research exposure; the experience as a whole would shape my career goals and personal outlook on what it means to find one’s niche in the world.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Trading Manure for Fertilizer May Improve Water Quality

       The water in Dunn County is green. We know nutrient runoff is a major contributor to the algal blooms that can be found in Lakes Menomin and Tainter, but how can we most effectively reduce the amount of these nutrients getting into our lakes and rivers?  

Friday, August 4, 2017

Water Quality's Impact on the Red Cedar Watershed Economy

Environmental sustainability has gotten a lot of attention in the last few years, and with it, has come even more controversy. Many will claim that protecting the environment hurts businesses and cuts jobs by making it more complicated to grow due to more regulations. However, my research (accompanied by Madison Biggs and Chris Ferguson) has proved otherwise. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Solutions in the Sediment

What if the solution to remediating the lake lies in viewing the problem as a potential solution? This summer I was so fortunate to be a part of a research team that looked at the Phosphorus loading situation with fresh eyes.

Harmful blooms of cyanobacteria occur annually in the anthropogenically eutrophic lakes across the Red Cedar Watershed. Toxic conditions produced by cyanobacteria threaten the health of both terrestrial and aquatic flora and fauna. Many efforts have been made to remediate the lake system however removing the phosphorus which causes the blooms proves to be a challenge. Not all bad though, Phosphorus is an essential plant macronutrient as it aides in the production of energy. This study proposed using phosphorus laden sediment which has been carried off of farm fields as a soil amendment.

What Does Soil and Water Quality Mean for the Economy?

                “Investments in environmental issues are job-killers!”
                “It’s going to hurt the economy!”
                These are common misconceptions about the effects of tackling water and soil quality issues. However, after researching this concept at University of Wisconsin – Stout for 8 weeks, Chris Ferguson Ph.D., Ryleigh Prochnow, and I discovered that improving the health of the environment can have a positive impact on the local economy.

Riparian Buffer Impact on Stream Health in the Wilson Annis Watershed, Dunn County, WI

As part of the geography team this summer with the LAKES REU program we wanted to find out what measures of stream health riparian buffers impacted most. A riparian buffer is a zone or strip of dense vegetation along a body of water, such as a stream or lake. This zone aids in preventing erosion and pollutants, via stream runoff, from entering the water. The area we chose to examine was the Wilson Annis Watershed in Dunn County, WI. We chose this watershed because it was accessible and because of the implementation of the Wilson Annis Watershed Partnership, a program dedicated to help the watershed. Within the Watershed we chose fourteen sites along Wilson and North Wilson Creek to analyze, where we had to ask landowners for their permission to enter the stream through their property where we were, several times, warned about a bull potentially coming over to the stream.

How dairy you say that

The livestock farming industry has gone through a significant transformation in the previous few decades. Production has progressed from smaller, family owned farms to large scale farms that regularly have corporate contracts. A majority of meat and dairy products now are being produced on large farms with single species buildings or open air enclosures. When reviewing our existing data on agricultural operations I noticed that there was minimal information about the current discussions pertaining to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) or the current policies being implemented in regards to them. However, few have addressed the ways in which the industry has been challenged towards improvement or the cumulative effect of multiple unregulated small livestock operations. If we hope to improve water quality, we must take into consideration all the various factors as well as the limits to our current resources and the ways in which we should go about expanding them.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Neighbor Influence: Social Connectivity and the Adoption of Conservation Agriculture

           Whether it be to appease the ever-growing demand for organics or to become more environmentally friendly, conservation agriculture is on the rise. As defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization, this agricultural approach is described as having a focus on improved and sustained productivity, increased profits, and food security while preserving and enhancing the environment. There are many different practices that can fall under the title of conservation agriculture, however most definitions include these general ideas. To some, it seems like the obvious solution for everyone practicing conventional agriculture, which generally uses a lot of inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides) and intensive tillage, to begin transitioning to conservation agriculture in order to sustain our planet. So why don’t they?

The Loaded Question: “So is it too late to fix our lakes?”

            In a practical sense, as this summer’s research draws to a close, it is hard to for me to come to the realization that the majority of what I have been doing for the past eight weeks by surveying farmers and analyzing their responses is coming to an end.  But by the same token, I know that my true contemplation on all that I have learned is only just beginning.  In experiences past, I strongly believe that these situations of endings that feel more like beginnings have been some of the most rewarding, challenging, and memorable ones yet.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

What ever could I be???

It feels like some people come out of the womb with a purpose.  Not I.  I don't remember ever having an answer for that old chestnut "what do you want to be when you grow up".  Two problems really, first either I have never grown up (or it happened sometime around the age of 13), or I have never known what I wanted to be.
I like acting, but the chances of a making career out of that are slim.  So it's a hobby I love doing it but it is very unlikely it would ever go beyond that.  I also really like making funny voices, and have a passable villains laugh, but I don't think that really qualifies me for voice acting as I also have a slight lisp that I can't seem to break.  

So what else?

Inspiration or Would I Actually Do Anything Else?

This year the students gave us a few topics to choose from. Since two of them are very much related for me, I’m going to combine them.

What would I be doing if I wasn’t professor?
What was my most inspirational experience and what did I learn from it?

I always liked school, reading, learning, and discovering new things, so I went to the University of Houston planning to become an archaeologist. I quickly discovered that I preferred talking to living humans, so I switched my focus to Cultural Anthropology. I was also lucky enough to take a class from Pauline Kolenda. She was an amazing teacher, and I learned a tremendous amount from her and from reading some of the literature on gender in anthropology. Eventually I took several of her classes and was able to travel with her to India (my first fieldwork experience). This inspired me to continue on the path to working on a PhD and becoming a professor.

A little bit of everything

For my guest blog, I am going to respond to all of the suggested prompts (except that one about animals...). But as a warning, I would not choose a career that involved blogging, my bucket list does not include starting a blog, and my most important experience in life will certainly not be writing this blog (although "never say never" I suppose). As someone who doesn't participate in any sort of social media (and as a Wisconsin kid with four brothers ready to tease you for anything), I have never felt too much like portraying my thoughts for all to see! That being said, I am glad to jump on board the LAKES REU blogspot this week to give all of the hard-working students some much needed time away.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Alternative lives: Science, Design, and Geography

As a small child, my plan was to become a marine biologist. I loved animals and the ocean. As I grew, my interests expanded but I continued to be interested in the environment and ecology. My major in college was environmental science. I thought that if people just had clear facts, we could convince everyone to do the right thing, and protect the environment. Over time realized that despite clear scientific evidence, humans often choose to prioritize other things.

After college, I began working in environmental education, thinking that education was the solution. If I could just get people to care about the natural world the way I did, to see the wonderful diversity of life the way I did, they would want to help protect it. I worked for almost a decade in science and environmental education. I enjoyed being outside, making science accessible to people, and sharing what I loved.

I ended up going to graduate school and becoming a geographer because of what I noticed visiting schools all over northern California. What I saw was the incredible disparities between schools and neighborhoods in terms of how much science education children got and even how much opportunity they had to play outside. Some neighborhoods were paved over and devoid of opportunities to learn about living things.

When I started graduate school, I wanted to become landscape architect and design enriching landscapes for children and youth. If I wasn’t a geography professor, I would likely be a landscape architect today. If it wasn’t for the financial crisis in 2008, which decimated jobs in landscape architecture, I might have continued and gotten a job in a design firm or with a planning office. Last summer I was sitting, sipping gin and tonics, with two of my close friends, who are also geography professors, and we discovered that we had all wanted to be landscape architects. So there you go, I'm secretly a frustrated landscape architect. 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Bucket.

I get "bucket lists".  I do.  It's a reminder to drink all the marrow from life.  But usually it's reinforcing an idea that life would be so disappointing if you didn't see that band live or visit those three countries or buy that car.  Our students posed a few questions to the mentors this week about bucket lists, roads not taken, and inspirational moments.  I'd like to take a stab at all three by way of re-imagining the bucket list idea a bit.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Put down your scissors

I remember when I was younger I really wanted to open a box that contained the ultimate in summer fun: a slip and slide. It was taped shut so being the logical young kid that I was I went and found a pair of scissors. I opened the scissors up, grabbed them around the middle, and started cutting open the box with one of the blades. Obviously this story doesn’t end very well for my hand. However, I did get the box open. It was just much more painful than it needed to be. If I had consulted with other people, perhaps ones who had opened a box before or who has access to a box cutter (you know the parental types), I might have found a better solution to my problem. Perhaps one that also allowed me to use the slip and slide on the same day. The same idea works in research. As a biologist I can see a lot of solution to numerous problems, but most of them would not work in reality. It might be because they cost too much or people are not motivated to make the necessary changes. The solution might exist but it is too painful to be viable. That is why we need collaboration across disciplines. It allows us to streamline our research more efficiently and effectively towards solutions that could work.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Interdisciplinary Research - A Practice in Finding More Doors to Bring People to the Table

As a student studying both Environmental Biology and Anthropology, I have spent my undergraduate years literally navigating between the natural and social sciences. I know the fastest route between the buildings is through Trombley Square and takes 4.5 minutes. I know that taking the back route around the library is a tad longer, but a safer bet for avoiding running into people I know who might make me more late to class than I already am.  I’ve walked door to door more times than I can count. However, this summer, I have learned to navigate interdisciplinary life in a less literal and more applied fashion, which thankfully doesn’t have me running across campus all day. It’s left me knowing that in research having a multidisciplinary lens leaves you with many doors to open and charges you with the task of finding out which path between them all is the approach you want to take to discover something new and invite people in.

New Skills

All my life, I have struggled being confident with conducting, displaying, and discussing my research. Even though I still have a long way to go in implementing this confidence, this research internship at the LAKES REU has without a doubt increased my confidence in my research abilities more than I could have ever hoped for. Not only has confidence in myself and in my research improved, but I have also learned about the importance of surveying in my research field, and how the order and phrasing of questions have a HUGE impact on how people answer the survey. It has been really interesting seeing how people respond to these surveys which has shown me two things: when conducting a survey, they need to come off as neutral as possible as to not scare possible participants away, and that I should never get my hopes up when receiving surveys back because the response rate is extremely disappointing (of the about 250 surveys we handed out, we got about 35 back).

The Study of Humans

Humans are complicated creatures and that is why I hardly interact with them. I can understand plants and animals interacting with the environment. I can even understand the relationship between humans and the environment. But when it comes to studying human nature and behavior, it all goes over my head.  

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Jump right in, the water’s warm (ish)

This past weekend I had the opportunity to cross off one of my eagerly-awaited “bucket list” items which happened to be visiting and touching one of North America’s Great Lakes, Lake Superior.  Arguably, this particular water body turned out to be one of North America’s most superior and spectacular wonders indeed.  The most highly anticipated moment of the whole trip arrived when I had the opportunity to submerge my entire body in what I had dreaded was going to be the coldest water I had ever experienced in my life.

The Humanity Variable

It can be easy to lose oneself in numbers, trying to discover an answer or set of answers to analytical questions that could potentially carry great weight far beyond one project. This summer I've tried my best to not become completely immersed in data and data analysis even though they are fruitful efforts for which I possess a strong sense of enthusiasm. So far, the "head above water" approach seems to have done the trick, given that I've been able to keep track of the fine work that my LAKES colleagues have been engaging in. Seeing them in action, both directly and indirectly, has enabled me to fully appreciate the integration of multiple aspects towards a common goal in addition to molding my own mind into a more expansively inclined one. A collective, interdisciplinary approach now seems almost necessary to me for any economic endeavor, academic or not, because of how much every field has informed and influenced my thinking about policy analysis. Without their input, I doubt that the full breadth of our economic analysis would have been brought to light. 

Time and Mosquitos.

Having a project that is field work intensive had led me to learn lots of skills I didn’t know I would learn.  I have learned to walk through creeks of all different kinds. I have learned how to avoid large branches and jump over fallen trees. I’ve learned to accept mosquitos but to cover yourself as much as you can and spray every inch of remaining skin with bug spray because they’re ruthless and will bite your eyebrow, which is very annoying. Oh, and I’ve learned how to avoid the big ugly spiders that like to hangout in the trees. But, I’ve also learned that it takes a lot of patience and practice to be out several days a week in the heat surrounded by mosquitoes to obtain the information we want to ultimately present to the community yet fun and rewarding to do.

Academia is at its strongest when we all work together

Thirteen students from eleven different states studying in programs ranging from economics to environmental studies to anthropology to sociology came together this summer in perfect harmony. There is much beauty in the interwoven nature of the LAKES project. Since day one in Menomonie, our group focus was to interdisciplinarily study one common problem using six different approaches. Each group was equipped with an expert in his/her field who would guide their team in developing a research question to tackle phosphorus loading into the Red Cedar Watershed.

When a biologist is faced with a problem it is to be expected that the way he/she handles it will be much different than that of an economist. It is that very reason why interdisciplinary research is so vital. A scientist could find the magic key to solving the algal blooms here in Menomonie, but without the costs of this plan calculated nor the community’s support, the solution may never be implemented.

The biology team’s project this year revolves around the idea of recycling phosphorus from a phosphorus loaded system and posing it as a land-amendment rather than synthetic fertilizer application. In order for this idea to work, one must understand the whole story of the watershed, which is where the geography team comes in. This summer they are assessing stream health by testing numerous sites along Wilson Creek. Each site they measure water quality data as well as macroinvertebrate sampling coupled with the land use and buffers in the relative area. By collecting this data, they will be able to map the entire stream and directly relate the land use to stream health.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Research Connections

Interdisciplinary research has turned me into a huge nerd... and I'm pretty okay with that. Not only am I curious about Ryleigh and I's own personal economic projects, but I'm super fascinated by what other students are working on this summer as well. Last Friday we assisted the sociology team (Elise and Sadie) in surveying farmers. Elise is studying farmers' practices based upon public policies and institutions that farmers interact with (i.e. the DNR). Sadie is also looking at farmer practices but is instead interested in the social connections that impact their business decisions. It was great to get away from the desk for a while and explore rural Wisconsin with them! Except for when the roads became increasingly confusing...whose idea was it to put fractions in street numbers?


I don’t really know what my ears look like. I know the shape from the front, I guess I know how they feel, but in a line-up of ears… I’m not positive I could pick out my own.  But I can close my eyes and picture the ears of my friends with no problem.  I see them from a different angle.  Our world is beautifully complex, and a place this rich and teeming with diversity will understandably demand a complex and open-minded pattern of thought to navigate the challenges. To gain a cohesive understanding, changing the viewing angle matters- for ears, for elephants, for science.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Science and Social Science

          So far I’ve spent a few days working on other students’ projects: two days with the biology team and one with sociology.  The two days I spent with the biology team consisted of helping them prepare for an experiment on plants that could potentially uptake phosphorus from polluted water. They eventually had to scrap that project, but they’re continuing with their second experiment on testing whether sediment can be used as an effective fertilizer. As I see it, both measures, if effective, could be novel ways of reducing nutrient loads in water. If they are, I wonder to what extent either practice is economically feasible. Sediment used in this way is a good analogy to what I’m studying this summer. Manure can be used as a fertilizer, and there’s evidence that it, if applied correctly, can improve soil quality and reduce runoff. But in some areas the high cost of transport for manure compels farmers to use commercial fertilizer instead. Is it possible that sediment use would run into a similar problem? And what can be done to mitigate those costs?

Save the World: With a Little Help From Your Friends

If there is one thing that I have learned to be true, it is that most problems need to be solved using an interdisciplinary approach. In fact, the reason I applied for the LAKES REU program is because of how interdisciplinary it is: economics, sociology, geography, biology and anthropology all working together to improve water quality in the Red Cedar Watershed. It is interesting how solitary all of these disciplines seem until you begin to tackle one project together. Elise and I are on the sociology team and have been administering a survey to farmers to learn more about their agricultural practices, values, and networks of how agricultural knowledge is shared in the area. However, a lot of this information needs more background. Luckily, a lot of my questions that naturally arise from this project can be answered by my peers. From the economics standpoint, how do farmers afford to transition from traditional practices to conservation agriculture? Biologically, how can phosphorus pollution be mitigated? Anthropologically, how do people remember water quality changing throughout the years? These, and MANY other questions are being explored by the diverse backgrounds on our team.

Biodogs (Title courtesy of Elise)

While doing research in the Anthropology group I’ve had the opportunity to interview a series of individuals as well as attend various community meetings. So far I’ve made good progress in developing my project, but I’ve also have had the chance to work with other groups on their plans. So far I’ve went and helped out both the biology and sociology team.

In one of the previous weeks I took an afternoon to go and help out the biology team carry equipment out to a designated location on the lake. I remember that I struggled a bit carrying the sets of supplies (as well as the plants they had selected for their research) and wondering why I didn’t pack any mosquito spray with me. When we got to the site we started putting together the set of plants in containers which would then be put on a raft that had already been constructed by the team. For me personally it was interesting to see some of the scientific research actually done in the lake and all of the factors that have to accounted for. It provided with clearer understand of what the process is when trying to figure out ways to correct the phosphorous situation. As an anthropologist my research doesn’t involve actually getting in the lake and doing what I would say as “hands on work.” Rather going out and details from the public or reading up on policies. However, tagging along with the biology team has helped understand certain regulations better as well as more knowledge about the ecology involving the lake.

Another time I went and spent the entire day surveying farms with the sociology team. Me and Elise Martinez partnered up and drove to different farms to hand out surveys pertaining to agricultural practices. I give props to the sociologist team for going out almost every day to hand out these surveys. When first hearing about conducting surveys it doesn’t seem that bad, but there’s a lot of work and effort into creating the surveys, traveling far distances to hand out the surveys, trying to deal with farm dogs (We saw a lot of them, but thankful they were pretty nice), not getting lost in some random parts of Wisconsin (which I’ve done myself when I got out and do my interview), and just being positive even if they get a rejection. From an anthropologist viewpoint it was interesting for me to go and give these survey and not trying to conduct interviews with the people I met. In all I think me and Elise gave good feedback to one another of what strategies we could both use when trying to talk to different individuals and how to get information more efficiently. I also will say having another person in the car with you is reassuring when you’re not the familiar with area because if you do get lost (which fortunately we didn’t, praise google maps) at least you have some company.

I had a lot of fun working with these different groups and learning more about their own projects and seeing how everything ends up connecting. I think it’s important to be able to see this phosphorous situation from different sides and evaluating who and what it affects. I look forward to helping out some of the other groups in the weeks to come.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

LAKES REU Alumni Updates!

Each summer we ask LAKES REU students from years past to update us on what they're doing.  I gave them short notice this year, but even so we were able to hear back from many of them!  Want to know who's working for the Department of Transportation in D.C.?  How about who just started a job at Stanford University?  Or who just spent a year working in Nigeria?  Or who is starting her doctoral program in the fall?  Read on for these reports and much more!

Monday, July 3, 2017

How to Get to Know Kayleigh DeBruyne: A Checklist

My post this week is a tad late because I was fittingly distracted doing the things I love (see #1, #2, #5, #6 and #7). This left me with much inspiration for writing this post, but also at a loss for how to convey it. I’ve decided to present you with a quick list of things to do to get to know me. This allows me to share my interests with you while also perhaps being a helpful resource for the people in the area I hope to cross paths with this summer. So, without further ado, I present to you How to Get to Know Kayleigh DeBruyne: A Checklist. 

Dangerous Mission

We were trudging through five feet of tall grass. The soil was sinking beneath our weight. The land topography was anything but even, unexpected drops and rises caused us to panic and yell out to the other to be careful. Using our d-nets as make shift machetes we cut a path through the dense grass. Our destination, a part of the Wilson Creek. Science was about to take place.  

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Exploring Oneself Through the Lens of Academia

            Food, work, gym, sleep, repeat. Unless it’s basketball season, in which case watching as many games as possible is thrown into the mix. I’d give reading its own spot if it weren’t for the fact that 99% of it ends up being related to one of the aforementioned facets of my life.  It’s a simple life and I thoroughly enjoy keeping it that way, mainly because it makes for optimal efficacy in each component. Every part receives my complete effort, especially food, and that in itself enables me to maintain a laser focus on any and every task (or meal) that I take on.

Let's Explore Some Stuff!

Some of my favorite things to do involve doing something new in a new place. Exploring a new park, a new restaurant, or even a new hobby. Yearning for the new became a struggle when I had to decide what was my absolute favorite thing to do, aka picking a major I would want for the rest of my life, that involved having to always learn new things in different places. This led to taking various kinds of classes from all different aspects when I was in community college. Taking these classes, I definitely found what wasn’t my favorite thing, but finding my favorite, not so easy. While there’s a lot to learn and keep learning from whatever major it is that you chose, I wanted a combination of the environment, new places, new things to explore, and being outside. I found a combination of all of that in geography.

Small talk to big questions

Windows condense with water that slowly forms frosty, crystalline patterns across the panes of glass. Steam swirls up in lazy spirals from a mug held by hands barely emerging from a warm blanket as the smell of wood smoke and the crackling sounds of a fire fill the room. Winter’s chill is held at bay.
The scent of freshly turned dirt is in the air as a shovel rips through the earth. Dandelions and nettles lay limp in a wheelbarrow as herbs and vegetables find new homes in the black dirt. The sound of a hose hisses through the air as sweat drips from tired brows. The seeds have been sown and soon summer will bring ripened fruit.

Into the Wild

My entire life I have questioned everything, always that annoying kid who wouldn't accept a simple "because" for an answer. I have always wondered why we do the things we do. Whether it's why people stuff their animals from hunting and hang them on their walls, to why we have to dress nice for church if God loves us for who we are. Whenever I've asked these questions, I have always received stern looks from my elders that were intended to discourage me from being skeptical about the way things are. This constant skepticism and desire to understand how the world works has caused me to love reading books. Being inside someone's head, seeing how they see the world, and feeling/understanding things from their perspective/situation has always been my passion. My favorite book I've read, I read in high school. It was "Into the Wild," by Jon Krakauer.

Let's Get Physical: A Handbook for Tactile Learners

            For as long as I can remember, all things I have ever truly loved doing have always involved some measure of getting dirty and sweaty.  From playing in (and eating) the dirt in my mother’s garden as a chubby 2-year-old to hot days of breathing in the scent of horses and saddle soap as a young equestrian and finally to my love of running and hiking today, I have always been most happy when I am completely immersed in the physical environment around me.

A sociologist, an anthropologist, and an economist walk into a bar.

I love garage sales.  I love the feeling of unearthing a treasure, and not just a bargain, but something with its own stories.  An inscription on the front cover of a book, the idea of wearing a shirt that someone else wore while hugging their best friend goodbye, or a trinket that was picked up on a special vacation- I love the physicality of those things.  I think it’s sweet that humans collect stuff… what funny soft animals we are to accumulate these bits and pieces that appeal to our senses and surround ourselves with them.

Bringing Together (Seemingly) Disparate Interests

Before I came to economics, I started out studying physics. When I was in high school, it was around the time that the Large Hadron Collider was running in Geneva and the discovery there of the Higgs Boson particle—which gives other particles their mass.  Those developments, plus a good physics teacher in high school, motivated me to start there in university. But after doing some freelance journalism that year (which I had continued from high school), I decided studying social problems was ultimately more interesting, so I switched to the social science that looked most like physics: economics.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Different walks of life

There are a lot of things that I enjoy doing, but some of my favorites include learning about new cultures as well as languages. Growing up I was introduced to several individuals, who are now my friends, that had different cultural backgrounds than I and came from different places around the globe. It was through them that I became fascinated with learning more about cultures and people in general. While being here in Wisconsin I’ve had the opportunity to chat with several different kinds of individuals from different trades and have come to know a bit about the lifestyles here. From policymakers to farmers to regular citizens everyone has something to say.

You would think from hearing all of this that my current major anthropology was my first choice when I decided what I wanted to study, but in fact it was my second. When I started studying at my university I started out learning how to code and doing other work more in the computer science field. To tell the truth I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study and chose it out of a slight interest. However, as more time progressed I found myself being more interested in anthropology (Thanks to one of my professors) and decided to make the switch. I found myself more content with the research I was doing and have more ambition towards the work I do.

Being a part of the LAKES program has allowed me to become better at interacting with other people, understanding their wants, needs, and interests. I spend my days interviewing people the community, hanging out with them, taking photos, and being involved in the kinds of things they do. In all I think It’s also helped me become a better communicator and listener. By making an honest attempt at awareness of the issues that others face, I also think you become better equipped to help resolve them and mitigate tensions. I’m constantly learning new things, experiencing new challenges, meeting interesting individuals, getting to try out new techniques out in the field, and most importantly being able to follow my passion. I’m looking forward to expanding my network and reaching out to more people and talking to them about their own experiences and challenges.

Water is Life

As geeky as it may sound, my first love was education. From the aroma of old books in a library to the rhythmic patter of a busy mind on a keyboard, I indulged in it all. As I grew older I realized that education held the key to solve some of the world's most critical problems. Upon graduating high school I fell in love for the second time with culture. In 4 years I walked in the shoes of people groups from 6 separate countries. Each time I entered into a new land I payed attention to the difficulties and hardships which inflicted the least represented. I strayed as far away from the beaten path and meandered along the road less traveled by tourists in order to gain the most authenticity. Language learning and culture adapting where imperative. Every voyage would end in deep reflection and a feeling of responsibility-- which is where I fell in love for the third time with social action.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Chit Chattin' in Chetek

One of my favorite things in life is adventure that takes me out of my comfort zone, and every single day that I've been here in Wisconsin has been that. I've plunged into the freezing cold Lake Menomin after a long, rainy day, I've traveled around the entire perimeter of the Chetek Chain of Lakes to chat with strangers all in one afternoon, and I've tried the squeakiest food on the planet: cheese curds. And it's not just these adventures that I enjoy doing, it's the people that I am honored to enjoy them with. I get to work with the most fun, adventurous people; they make me laugh too much to be worried about stepping out of my comfort zone.

These are a few of my favorite things...

I find it fascinating how difficult it can be to choose a path when pursuing higher education, and yet when you settle on the right subject, it seems so obvious. For me, that subject is sustainable agriculture, however it took me quite a bit of personal exploration to reach this conclusion. My original plan was to attend Bridgewater University straight out of high school for psychology because I had taken AP Psychology and was fascinated by how people think. Then, in a whirlwind of spontaneity, my best friend and I decided to take a gap year and backpack through Europe for a few months. This bit of travel was my first introduction to anywhere outside the United States and made me realize how much I had left to see, leading to my ever fervent interest in traveling. Thus, I applied to a program called Global College, a program that allows one to travel while studying for a bachelor’s degree, through Long Island University and was accepted. However, a few weeks before I was about to move to Costa Rica, my loans were not approved and I couldn’t make this program financially feasible. After a second gap year of working full time and saving money, I moved to Western Massachusetts and began to attend community college for women’s studies. Not finding the drive I was looking for,  I FINALLY decided to dig deep down for what truly inspires me, what hobbies I already have that could create a livelihood, where I could see myself in the future…and duh! Agriculture!

Monday, June 26, 2017

50 Shades of Chetek

Anthropology is not black and white.  It’s more shades of grey than would fit between the pages of an airport paperback.  And the next day, it might be pink or blue or plaid.  Dealing with humans and the way they understand this complicated world is a hard thing to measure, but it is vitally important to this picture that we are assembling of water quality.

A City Girl’s Day On The Farm

I learned so much just by visiting the Red Cedar Demonstration Farm last week. One thing is learning about conservation agriculture through a textbook and another is seeing it right before your eyes. I thought I knew what no-till farming was until I saw what no-till farming really is. I was in awe. I never thought about how even if a field had been converted into no-till for a couple of years’ the soil still showed signs of compaction. It was still so compacted that even after 10 minutes of water sitting on top of it, it would not percolate down.  John Sippl, the district conversationalist, shoveled out 7-inches of soil and we all were able to see the layers of compaction. I was under the impression that no-till would have fixed this but John explained how no-till is used to mitigate erosion. No till serves as a method to grow crops without disturbing the soil thus decreasing erosion but in order to decrease this compaction, John explained how cover crops roots adds complexity to the soil structure which leads water to percolate into the soil easily as well as lessen erosion too.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Stop P[ing] in the Lake

There are a lot of things I am learning about this summer, but all of them come down to one pesky, little letter. P. It is the symbol for the element phosphorous. Phosphorous is usually a good thing. It is used to make ATP, which powers cells, and it is used to make DNA, which powers life. However, the phosphorous in the Red Cedar Watershed is a perfect illustration of the phrase “too much of a good thing.” The huge amount of phosphorous in the lake is what leads to the toxic blooms of cyanobacteria every summer. This phosphorous gets into the lake because of people.

'Til the Cows Come Home: Experiential Learning At Its Finest

This past week has been quite the fruitful continuation of an introduction to the world of academic research. After a week of gathering sources and reading through a plethora of literature regarding water quality policies, I got my hands dirty and worked with real data for the first time in my academic career (unless you count FRED data downloads for problem sets...). This week's appetizer came in the form of water quality data from the National Water Quality Monitoring Council, which proved to a delectable selection of information that will serve as the backbone for the remaining components of this project's particular approach. Once that data had been spruced up and made into workable sets, the entree awaited: data from the 2002-2012 USDA Agricultural Census, specifically farm counts and total acreage. And why stop at one dish? Throughout the week I was also making steady progress on a second plate of brain food: a literature review encompassing last week's readings, and representing a key component of this summer's research.

Lesson #2: Never Trust a Cabbage

Lesson #2: Never Trust a Cabbage

Team Biology has wasted no time in beginning an experiment to biogeochemically remediate lake Menomin. Toxic conditions at this lake have been accredited to Microcystis aeruginosa, a freshwater cyanobacteria, who fully takes advantage of the overabundance of phosphorus in the lake. Our plan is to introduce a plant species who will uptake the phosphorus before the Microcystis can. Preparation for this experiment has been long and labor intensive as our team has worked tirelessly shedding blood*, sweat, and tears in the name of science. The plants will sit atop rafts constructed from 2X4s, chicken wire, and pool noodles. We will be using collard greens in this experiment considering they are known to uptake a considerable amount of nutrients and are fairly hardy plants.

Manure Economics

This summer I’ll be looking at the effects of manure use on water pollution. Manure is often used as a substitute for commercial fertilizer, but its impact on water phosphorus levels is somewhat unclear. In the literature on the subject thus far, manure use and relevant regulations have been shown both to increase and decrease pollution (depending on the assumptions and conditions of the study). Many are case-studies, meaning the results of which are of limited generalizability. To my knowledge, the project I’m undertaking will be the first empirical analysis of manure use’s relationship to water phosphorus levels using data from the U.S. Midwest.
      After looking at these effects, I will run some policy simulations to try to determine the optimal regulations for manure use in the area. The hope is for this paper to be published and noticed by policymakers who will use these results to make an informed decision on how to improve the quality of our water.

Curiosity and Questions: A Methodology for Accessing Our Greatest Resource

How do you transform a problem into solutions? This is what I want to know. But if a straightforward answer existed I feel like more of us would be screaming it from the rooftops and making spending every living moment doing it and the world would be a happier, cleaner, safer place. But that doesn’t exist. The answer is elusive, complex and specific for different issues. So where does one even begin?

Building a Sociological Atlas: Interviews and Surveys

           After a week of learning everything ranging from how to analyze data using statistical software to how to conduct interviews with farmers to get the most authentic responses, it seems as if my head is practically bursting with unexpected knowledge of all sorts.  That being said, the most startling of all these developing new insights seems to be concentrated in the form of maps.  By “maps”, not only do I mean as in physical roadmaps of land (as there has been plenty of that in the past few days with Sadie partnering with me to navigate through multiple Wisconsin counties in order to survey farmers), but also “maps” of all the interconnected pieces that are building my own growing knowledge about farmers’ livelihoods and the daily realities they face.

Kites are cool!

Creating our own aerial photography is one of the things I am learning this summer. This consists of flying a kite and attaching a camera to it, via a rig, setting it to automatically take continuous images. This meant testing out our 7 foot and 9 foot kites this week! Getting the kite to take off was quite the challenge at first but, thanks to consistent wind this week, I’ve gotten the hang of it, plus its really fun! We made a rig out of a water jug, pool noodles, and rubber bands. There were high hopes that the kite would be able to carry the rig with a digital camera to it but quickly learned it wouldn’t when we were testing it out at 11 PM one night. We did, however, attach an iPhone to it (with no protection whatsoever which was super scary and we were nervous it was going to fly off and crack), and successfully the kite took it away with no problem. Here, we learned that we needed to get a lighter camera, that will hopefully get here next week so we can finally start taking pictures. By the end of these couple of days experimenting with the kite, I can say that I’m pretty darn good with a kite. I need to put these skills to display and join some sort of kite club! If that's even a real thing. 

#TeamNels Takes the Watershed by Storm!

Two weeks in and I am feeling oh so good! It has been amazing to switch up the regular learning routine of daily classes and instead delve into the life of a researcher. I have already learned so much and become so close with my peers, it is difficult to quantify what these two weeks have meant to me. Even on the tough and long days, I am so grateful to be here! Back home in Massachusetts I attend Hampshire College and study sustainable agriculture. At Hampshire, students develop their own study of interest (rather than choosing from a list of majors) so I have also been able to foster my interest in studying community. My partner Elise and I are working with our mentor Nels Paulson (#TeamNels) on the sociology piece of this LAKES project to create social networks and examine how these social networks affect the adoption of best management practices (BMPs). Since my background is not directly in sociology, I was a little intimidated by the amount of math involved in social analysis and modeling, but after a few long days of learning statistics, the fun has begun!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Meetings, Meetings, and More Meetings

During the course of week, I’ve had the pleasure of attending various meetings pertaining to the policies in the county of Dunn as well as talking to the people who are affected by them. This also includes learning about how the county and community currently work towards land and water conservation, who gets a say when constructing certain policies, and how different boards will communicate to the public about these issues. Overall it’s quite interesting seeing how policies are perceived through the eyes of different individuals and their takes on what is actually important. Along with my group members Amber and Kayleigh we got to see a bit into the history of water use in Lake Menomin thanks to the Dunn County Historical Society. In order to improve the water quality here in Menomonie in addition to other areas I think it’s important to identify the social infrastructure as well as the community capacity that will help attain more measurable and sustainable results.

The eCOWnomics of Menomonie

Two weeks have flown by and I can tell my brain is already getting bigger! Well, maybe it hasn't actually physically grown in size, but I sure am learning a lot from this experience. From my past three years of studying economics, I certainly understood that communities are complex - but real-life research gives you an entirely new perspective on the word "complex." While exploring IMPLAN (an input-output software that allows you to analyze the effects of a given shock on an economy), my team and I discovered just how many inputs go in to the development of a community project (hint: it's too many to count). For instance, we're interested in learning more about how the TMDL will affect the local economy. TMDL stands for Total Maximum Daily Load, and the Red Cedar River Water Quality Partnership created a plan for the town of Menomonie to reduce phosphorus loads that are heavily polluting the Red Cedar watershed. While this plan is good for the environment, we want to know if it's economically feasible for the community.

Summer Learnin'

Since I am passionate about our environment and know that the Menomonie economy has a strong agricultural sector, I would like to learn more about how conservation practices in agriculture can improve water quality, which can improve tourism, which can improve the local economy. If I find that practicing conservative agricultural practices would actually hurt the Menomonie economy, I would like to learn about possible solutions that could counteract that negativity. The community here is full of generational farmers, so I'm sure it will be hard to convince them to change their traditional ways of farming, but I'm hoping with the research my team is doing this summer, we will have enough evidence to show that practicing agricultural methods that improve water quality for our community can at least benefit the well-being of the locals.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Menomonie--Through New Eyes

My name is Ryleigh Prochnow and I was born and raised in the Menomonie/Colfax area, but I study economics at UW La Crosse. Because I am a local, I honestly didn’t have much for expectations since I already know the area, or so I thought. Growing up in this small, rural area in the middle of nowhere, I always idolized the bigger and exciting cities. However, now that I have gotten more involved in the nature and history of the area, I have realized how unique and beautiful Menomonie and the surrounding area really is. By seeing the reactions to the town and nature from the other students, I have grown a new appreciation for this environment. The thick, beautiful grasses and flowers from abundant rainfall, the plentiful creatures like deer and squirrels on campus (we saw a deer right across our dorm), and the beautiful people have reached a new light in my life, and I could not be more thankful to have this new perspective. I have learned that life's most beautiful gifts can be right in front of you, you just have to look carefully. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Menomonie I thought I knew you

A campus ordinarily teeming with people is quiet. Streets I have passed hundreds of times hold new interests and experiences. People all around me are full of questions I can’t give satisfactory answers to. Menomonie I thought I knew you. I grew up next to you. I visit you all semester long when I go to classes, when I stop by to see family, when I just need to pick up a few groceries. Yet I don’t think I ever gave much thought to what you are or what you had to offer.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Lucky 19

When times grew dark in Middle-earth, Gandalf assembled a widely assorted company.  Each was chosen for a reason, and each was crucial to the success of the group.  While our project descriptions didn’t mention nearly as much dragon gold as Tolkien dropped into the mix, my heart is already overflowing with the way our band of nineteen is starting this journey.

Finding Home Amongst the Wisconsin Waterways

As the ETA on my Google Maps navigation drew closer and closer and my road trip to Menomonie approached the end, my heart beat faster in anticipation of seeing the place I would soon call my summer home. Traveling to Wisconsin for the season isn’t a new feeling for me. Wisconsin lakes and rivers have actually been the main character of my summer for years. A homegrown Hoosier (aka a gal from Indiana, and no, we don’t really know what it means either), I’ve spent the past four summers trekking north to work at a camp leading canoeing trips in the northernmost reaches of the state . These experiences in the Northwoods have been instrumental in forming my relationship with the environment and teaching me how to build community. I choose the LAKES program because I wanted to spend another summer revolving around lakes, watersheds and the formation of communities, but from a new angle. Finally arriving in Menomonie I stepped out of the car into the hot, humid air and have been surprised ever since by one, how Wisconsin can be so hot in early June, but more importantly, how a place can feel equally new and like home all at once.

Menomonie is Oddly Beautiful

The snippets that I have seen of this charming small town are beautifully odd. Odd in a good way! The first odd thing that I noticed is that professors from different fields are actually interacting with one another. In the application process for this internship, we had to answer questions on what interdisciplinary research means and most importantly what it means to us. I do not remember how I answered the question but I am realizing now that I did not know what interdisciplinary research truly means, how it functions, or how it even looks like until I came to Menomonie. Interdisciplinary research means to use knowledge from a variety of academic fields to approach an issue. I have seen this for the first time in how my team leader and geography professor, Innisfree McKinnon interacts with the biology professor Arthur Kneeland. Arthur is adding his knowledge to our project and even training us on collecting sensitive insect species in streams and rivers. Through this, he is helping the geography team access and map the health of the water in the Red Cedar Watershed.

Seeing the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

           Faster than you could say “America’s Dairyland”, my summer in Menomonie, Wisconsin has officially begun.  In the spirit of finding myself now situated a mere 236 miles away from The University of Wisconsin—Madison, the alma mater of the so-called “land ethic” conservationist himself, Aldo Leopold, I would like to call your attention to one of my favorite quotes of his.

“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” –Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac.

Florida man refuses to believe he is in Wisconsin, claims government has hijacked his brain

Born in the land of infamous headlines and delicious chicken tender subs, forged under the fire of the eternal summer sun, and my parents, I arrived in Menomonie ready to embrace rural Wisconsin and treat it like home. After almost a full first week here, Menomonie gifted my openness with a taste of home - storms, humidity, heat, and mosquitoes. But for all the similarities that I've noticed so far, it's the differences that have enthralled me the most. A small city bursting with kindness and homely cheer, an even smaller cohort of colleagues emanating a friendliness to be cherished, and a gorgeous surrounding environment that befits the lofty goals and genuine motivations of the LAKES REU. In less than a week, living in this sublime place and having the pleasure of working with such good-natured people have made for a fantastic start to a summer of fun and impact.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Lesson #1: Learn to Co-Op

Lesson #1: Learn to Co-Op

     On the corner of 8th and Main St East in Menomonie, Wisconsin sits my first lesson about this eccentric small town. For some, this food market co-op serves as a place to grab lunch between long days at the lab. For others, a trip to this market is just the first step in bringing the family together later that night through a meal made with love. Unlike any other food store I have been in, co-ops are community owned. Over 2,000 community members of all walks of life own equity in this co-op where they share a common goal of sourcing local, organic, and natural food. 

     Analogous to the food market co-op is the dynamics of my LAKES research team. Never would I have believed that I would be working alongside of economists, anthropologists, geologists, and sociologists with a common goal in mind. In a world with so much disconnect built from egocentricity and isolationism, invisible barriers have been placed between the disciplines where one dares not to cross between. There is true beauty in the shattering of these barriers. 

Hello, Menomonie!

Arriving to Menomonie, WI I expected to see and feel a complete change from where I come from, Texas. I, however, attending Sam Houston State University am fortunate enough to be surrounded with trees, with both the Sam Houston National Forest and Huntsville State Park being nearby, much like Menomonie being surrounded by hundreds of beautiful trees. The city being right on the edge of Lake Menomin leads to beautiful views of the lakes, with my favorite being on the third floor of Harvey Hall on the campus of UW-Stout. I found the city scenic and the daylight hours to be longer, leading to always being confused about what the actual time was. Its charming here and seems like such a peaceful place to live. 

Lake Menomin: Beautiful With A Dirty Secret

After completing one week here in Menomonie, it is still so surreal that I'm here working with the most incredible group on the LAKES REU project. I am so thankful and lucky to collaborate on research that the community of Menomonie is so invested in, and the people working alongside me are the most positive, inspirational people I could ever ask for (I'm pretty sure I've never seen my mentor without a smile on his face). This is my first experience with legitimate research; I've only ever needed to do research for projects in my college classes. However, with real-life research that actually affects an entire town, I'm beginning to feel how high-stakes this project really is. The slight feeling of nervousness only drives me to be more ambitious because I strive to force myself out of my comfort zone, and this program is designed to do exactly that.

First Impressions and Economic Analysis

In anticipation of coming to Menomonie, I had been wondering how the Midwest would differ from my experiences living in New York and North Carolina. Having grown up in the Northeast, moving down South was a big change. Not only did I find out how different college town Chapel Hill is from metropolitan New York, but in the two years I’ve been there, I’ve also had to modify many preconceived notions about the South that I had brought with me. So I made sure to come to Menomonie with an open mind.   
            After arriving, one of the things that I noticed at once was the strong feeling of community here. Standing out especially was a meeting of the Tainter Menomin Lake Improvement Association that I and a few other students went to on our second full day here. People from all over the community came together in an effort to try to collectively tackle problems related to the management of the Lake Menomin.  

Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Change in Scenery

For a while I had been looking around at different internships and was having a difficult time finding one that interested me. It wasn’t till I found about the LAKES REU project that really spiked my interested. Naturally I applied and I couldn’t be any happier that I was accepted. On the plane ride over here I found myself glued to the plane window gazing out at the landscape. It was almost shocking for me to see actual trees and not just some cactuses or small shrubs. Coming from living in an area that is situated in the Sonoran Desert to the town of Menomonie has been quite a drastic change for me. However, I find myself adjusting well to the area and enjoying all greenery.

A Wonderful Menomonie Welcome!

I had been thinking/dreaming/stressing about arriving in Menomonie to begin working with the LAKES REU program for weeks and was so thrilled to FINALLY make it here! I have never visited the northwest and couldn’t help but obsessively google images or ask my (surprisingly plentiful) Wisconsin friends what it is like, but Menomonie has certainly exceeded my expectations. When imagining the northwest, my mind conjured up pictures of wide open expanses filled with corn and cows, few people meandering about, and certainly no conveniently located grocery stores. I was pleasantly surprised to find a very similar college town to the one where I live in Massachusetts, if not better because the influx of students has dwindled.