Thinking as a Community

Grassland 2.0’s Summer Meeting Recap

By Greta Landis

“Until we build visions and models for the future, we won’t know where we are going, or how to chart our course to get there,” said Randy Jackson, one of the principal investigators of Grassland 2.0. A barn full of 50 farmers, researchers, and conservation and policy specialists nodded along as he followed, “We need to keep having community conversations about what’s possible.”

Looking at intersecting landscapes from White Oak Savanna in Dodgeville (G. Landis)

That idea of thinking as a community—and giving voice to what we want from our rural and agricultural landscapes—came up throughout the Grassland 2.0 all-team meeting on June 28th. We shared project updates, questions, and tested out the latest Grassland 2.0 land use planning tools, all while basking in the rolling hills of the Driftless Region from White Oak Savanna. The Gaynor family’s farm and events venue was a beautiful spot to consider different kinds of landscapes, from corn and alfalfa fields to restored oak savanna and prairie to the forests of Governor Dodge State Park just up the road.

Until we build visions and models for the future, we won’t know where we are going, or how to chart our course to get there. We need to keep having community conversations about what’s possible.

Randy Jackson
A collage for a future zine (G. Landis)

We spent the morning catching up on the community conversations happening across the wide web that is Grassland 2.0. We heard about advocacy work and peer-learning in farmer-led watershed groups from grazier Eric Cates and policy director Margaret Krome. We got a demonstration from Ashley Becker and Mia Keady on soil health and strategies for measuring soil carbon. John Strauser, Gabriella Martinez Motta, and Sarah Lloyd talked us through social science strategies to facilitate discussions about land use, asking us to share our impressions and associations about the different landscapes we could see. We discussed cooking techniques and tasted grass-fed delicacies with Chef Jack Kaestner and Laura Paine, and we even did some creative visioning and zine-making with Hannah Kass! This ‘collage’ of discussions set us up to test out the latest version of Smartscape in the afternoon.

Claudio Gratton and the Grassland 2.0 modeling team are building out Smartscape to illustrate how changes in land use affect soil nutrients, biodiversity, water quality, and productivity at a watershed-level. As we explored the shift from annual crops to perennial cover, the output of the models was exciting—these tools helped us visualize what environmental change could look like as a community effort, not just for individual farms or landowners. Being able to “scale the conversation” about land use to different watersheds opened discussion about making change with more transparency and coordination.

Ashley Becker and Mia Keady demonstrate soil sampling (G. Landis)

Sharing these conversations in the heart of the Driftless Region (accompanied by a few raucous campfire songs the night before) was an inspiring reminder of why we are working towards healthy landscapes and communities, at both large and small scales. The more perspectives and experiences we have in the room, the more exciting the conversations.

We hope to see you all next time!