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!
These past two days, Elise and I hit the road and began giving surveys to farmers throughout the Red Cedar Watershed. These surveys were developed by previous LAKES REU students and ask questions about landownership and renting, what types of conservation agriculture are practiced on the farm, what groups of people farmers would be interested in working with (agencies, farmer led councils, one on one consultations), what educational programs would be beneficial, and how farmers perceive the current environmental issues in conjunction with their livelihood. Elise and I have visited farms in Menomonie and Ridgeland so far and have had very positive interactions… I was surprised at how eager people were to share their experiences and opinions with us, and it makes my heart sing! It is one thing to collect the data from these surveys, but it is another thing entirely to hear personal stories and make connections with these local farmers. Hearing about how farms operate in a state so far from home is a wonderful opportunity for me, and it makes me feel like this work is doing a lot of good. I can see that there is a genuine passion for improving the local environment and this is another testament to what a caring and wonderful community there is in Wisconsin.
Elise and I are also developing our own research interests off of this main project. What I will be researching is whether or not social connections affect farmer BMP use. Narrowing down to this research topic proved to be quite difficult because I have so many questions! Are most farmers in the area from farming families? Why do younger people choose to farm? What characteristics do sustainably minded farmers share? Hopefully I can answer a lot of these questions and the many more that I continue to think of through my conversations with farming families and by analyzing the data from the surveys! I feel so inspired and rejuvenated through this learning experience and I hope these remaining six weeks don’t fly by too quickly! Keep an eye out for #TeamNels, coming to a farm near you: