New Report Highlights Recommendations for a Just Transition to Managed Grazing

Scott Mericka looking at a bug on his hand.

January 26, 2023

MADISON, WI: What could a just food system look like? How do we get there? Erin Lowe and Ana Fochesatto, researchers with Grassland 2.0 at UW-Madison, published a new report and six briefs for practitioners and community members addressing these questions.

Over two years, Lowe and Fochesatto spoke with nearly 130 people across the Upper Midwest engaged in sustainable agriculture. In their conversations they focused on managed livestock grazing, farming that promotes environmental and human health with potential to enhance economic and social viability of rural communities. They asked community members about their visions for the future, how to support graziers, and how to do so in ways that make more likely equitable outcomes for farm owners, workers, and eaters.

Four images of the possible future of the agricultural system - a system in which the food system is democratized, the next generation is uplifted, quality of life is stressed, and the farm landscape is diversified.
These four themes – democratizing the food system, uplifting the next generation, improving quality of life, and diversifying the farm landscape – came up across many interviews. Art by Liz Anna Kozik.

“Across conversations with farm owners and workers, non-profit professionals, Tribal government employees, and many others, we found that many of the ideas people had for how to support managed grazing were much broader than grazing alone,” notes Lowe. “Their ideas aligned with many of the things they wanted to see for the future of agriculture in the Midwest – better quality of life for those who work in the food system; more diverse, regional food systems; more opportunities for the next generation of farmers; and more democratic food systems.”

Fochesatto explains, “As people told us their stories, they unpacked a web of interrelated issues ranging from markets to land prices to retirement, healthcare, and discrimination. In this report, we share their stories and their ideas for how to address inequities in the distribution of power and resources.”

The report synthesizes recommendations from community members across eight key issue areas: education, alternative markets, processing, essential workers, consolidation, capital, land access, and social norms. The briefs, published along with the report, outline actions that educators, Extension professionals, University researchers and administrators, policy advocates, and NRCS can take to support a just food system.

Scott Mericka looking at a praying mantis on his hand.
Scott Mericka checks out the insect diversity on his farm,
Uplands Cheese, Wisconsin

Interviewees’ stories and perspectives are the heart of the report. Featured farmers include Scott Mericka, a dairy grazier and owner of Uplands Cheese. Scott has been searching for ways to allow his workers to build equity in the farm business. He’s interested in sharing some of the risks and rewards of owning livestock and creating more avenues for upward mobility for farmworkers, especially immigrants.

Rodrigo Cala, Agricultural Trainer at Latino Economic Development Center in Minnesota, grows organic vegetables and raises sheep and Tree-Range chickens on perennial pastures. He has extensive experience with cooperative structures that allow resources, risks, and benefits to be shared by farmers.

At the Oneida Nation, Lynn Utesch works at Tsyunhehkw^, a 53-acre farm that supports Tribal food sovereignty through growing grass-fed beef and white corn and offering educational and cultural programs for Tribal members. Lynn also owns Guardian of the Fields Farm where he direct markets beef to neighboring families.  

Lowe and Fochesatto will talk about the report and provide an opportunity to ask questions in a webinar on Tuesday, February 14th at 3 pm CT. The webinar will also feature Scott Mericka, Rodrigo Cala, and Lynn Utesch, who will share how the actions in the report could impact their experience and farms.

More information and the full report can be found at