Zine-making: Grassland 2.0 leverages counterculture tactics

Cover of the Community Vitality Issue of Gra-Zine

Story by Hannah Kass

The Grassland 2.0 Curriculum Development and Education Team has been busy on our latest project, The Gra-Zine (gray-zeen)! The Gra-Zine is a zine – a mini, self-published magazine – exploring topics related to Grassland 2.0’s vision: shifting Upper Midwest dairy farming toward a grass-based agroecosystem. Topics encompass the range of benefits, barriers, and possibilities brought by this transition onto grass.

What is a zine? This is a question I have been asked many times, and for good reason – zines are a mainstay of counterculture and have historically been an underground means of communication for many different political movements and subcultures. Zines create easily distributable venues publishing one’s own voice from the grassroots, without appealing to official publishers or unreachable authorities. Zines have allowed those who may not be heard or spotlighted by mainstream media institutions to directly communicate their ideas without mediation.

Front page of the riot grrrl mini-zine.
Snapshot of the cover of
riot grrrl

This has been especially important for uplifting the otherwise suppressed voices of marginalized communities – for example, zines played an important role in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, and the feminist riot grrrl movement of the 1990s. Today, zines continue to wield significant power in shaping their milieus, particularly among autonomist, anarchist, abolitionist, and queer movements. They offer a do-it-yourself way of communicating important information that builds grassroots movements – from complex political philosophies to how to engage in self-defense and how to start a food waste recovery and distribution project that feeds hungry people in the community. Zines can inspire ideas and action for movements of all kinds, including the one Grassland 2.0 is creating: the movement of conventional farming systems onto grass.

Our first zine series, The Land Series, included five zines on issues pertaining to land access and use. Among them are the “Land and Grazing” zine, which provides an overview of grazing basics for non-farming audiences.

The “Land Use in America” zine looks at the disproportionate use of the country’s land to grow corn and soy for export, rather than feeding the American people. “Land Grabbing in America” briefly explores the history of land theft from Indigenous peoples in the United States and farmers in Wisconsin for the construction of military infrastructure, and public land leased by the government for extractive industries. “Clarity on Land Disparity” shows the highly unequal distribution of farmland ownership in the United States. “Land Reform in America” offers possible solutions to the problems analyzed in previous zines in the series. Each of the zines include farmer interviews conducted by the Grassland 2.0 Policy Team, right here in Wisconsin!

Three pictures -Left: Example of the participatory zine-making in action. Right - two pages from The Community Visions Series.
Left: Example of the participatory zine-making in action. Right – two pages from The Community Visions Series.

Our second zine series, The Community Visions Series, is a participatory zine-making series which includes the visions of community members themselves. This series is written by those who have stopped by the Gra-Zine’s zine-making station at various community events. We created a community zine at the Fermentation Fest: Grassland Edition in September 2021, which solicited participants’ artwork and writing contributions answering the question: what do you wish to see in your food system? The results were compiled into the first Community Visions Zine: “What do you wish to see in your food system?”

At the Grassland 2.0 All-Team meeting this June, another zine-making session was held. This time, we asked the community to share their visions for grasslands – their vision could be at any scale; on their farms, in their backyards, in their community, in the state of Wisconsin, or in the grasslands of the entire Upper Midwest. Participant contributions from this zine-making session will be compiled into a new Community visions Gra-Zine in the next few months.

Each of these sessions introduced zines as a form of autonomous communication to new audiences and got everyone’s creativity flowing!

The newest member of the Grassland 2.0 Curriculum Development and Education Team, Mpumelelo Ncwadi, is working to create a new zine series called The Resilience Grazing Series – which will include three zine issues describing economic tips and tricks for succeeding as a grazier. Stay tuned for more great work from him!

Learn more about The Gra-Zine’s work, contact us, and download the latest issues by visiting our website: gra-zine.com.

Hannah Kass, Ph.D. student in the Department of Geography and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at UW-Madison.

Headshot of Hannah Kass

Hannah Kass is a former farmworker and joint Ph.D. student in the Department of Geography and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. She holds a Master of Environmental Studies with an individualized concentration in Political Agroecology from the University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include the U.S. nation-state/plantation nexus, agroecology, agrarian political economy, carceral society, state theory, anarchism and abolitio