UW Madison went organic before ‘going organic’ was even a thing. In 1911, F.H. King, then a faculty member in the Soils Department, wrote “Farmers of Forty Centuries”, a now classic book detailing how farmers in China sustainably cultivated the same fields for 4,000 years. He’s universally thought of as one of the founders of the modern organic agricultural movement and his legacy lives on: F.H. King: Students for Sustainable Agriculture, UW Madison’s student-run agricultural collective (and 2 acre organic farm) pays tribute to King and farms, over 100 years after his death, in his image.
In 19XX, the UW Madison organic research program began with the certification of XX acres at the Arlington Ag Research Station. Since then, more acres have been added every few years as the scope of research and size of the organic research community has steadily grown.
As organic research grew, so did the number of academic opportunities – in 2007 the M.S. Agroecology program was founded, training students to engage with agricultural systems within a broader environmental and socio-economic context, including organic farming. Starting in the early 2000‘s, long-standing courses began to include organic agricultural topics, leading to over a dozen courses relevant to organics in our course catologue.
In 2016, Dr. Bill Tracy, agronomy professor and sweet corn breeder, was named the country’s first ever endowed chair of organic plant breeding. The $2 million endowment is supported by Organic Valley and Clif Bar & Company, with the help of a matching gift from UW alumni John and Tashia Morgridge. Dr. Tracy has mentored many students, both undergraduates and graduates, studying organic agriculture and released a new organic sweet corn variety with one of those students, Dr. Adrienne Shelton.
More recently, the inaugural Harvest of Ideas forum eventually led to the creation of the UW Organic Collaborative in 2020, finally creating an institutional home for all things organic at UW, from research to outreach to academic programs and beyond. One of the early contributions of the Collaborative was the formation of the first Undergraduate Organic Agriculture Certificate Program in the country, introduced Spring 2021.