Check Out ASAP Scholars; Applicatons Due March 2

Meet some of the Agroecology and Sustainable Agriculture Program’s Scholars.  ASAP scholars receive support to study critical issues in agriculture, food systems and their interactions with the environment and society.

Applications for 2014 ASAP Scholars are due Feb 30 2014! (oops March 2!)

ASAP scholars pic 2013


Ron Revord (far right) is a second year M.S. student working on breeding methods to develop a Midwestern hazelnut crop. Currently, the U.S. produces about 3% of the world’s hazelnut crop behind major producers, which include Turkey, the European Union, and Azerbaijan.  Ron’s focus on hazelnuts grew out of his concern for agriculture and the environment and his recognition of societies’ need for increased and diversified staple food-crop production systems that can improve rather than degrade the environment.  Ron believes a vital U.S. hazelnut industry could be built through improvement of commercially promising varieties that incorporate disease resistance and resilience traits from the American Hazelnut, which is native to a large portion of the Eastern U.S. and so co-evolved to resist Eastern Filbert Blight.  That disease unfortunately currently prohibits production of higher yielding varieties in the Midwest.  According to Ron, improving resistance to EFB will help launch an industry that can contribute to increased domestic food production and ecological rehabilitation of degraded lands.  In addition, Ron’s suggests an emerging hazelnut industry would provide a ‘foot-in-the-door’ to producers seeking ways to transition to more sustainable perennial polyculture and silvopasture production systems.  ASAP has been proud to support his research, which focuses on the development of early-generation selection methodologies for hybrid hazelnuts which would otherwise require time lapses before phenotyping and subsequent selection that are way too long for a graduate student to tackle as part of a degree program.  Ron’s success with asexual propagation protocols and q-PCR methods has attracted the attention of others including the American Hazelnut Association.  It is no surprise that he already has plans for his PhD and a career devoted to the betterment of breeding and genetic methods for woody perennial nut-crop improvement.  The goal of all of this is to promote wider adoption perennial crops and the use of marginal lands for crop production.  Who could argue with that?


Rafter Ferguson (far left) is a third year PhD student who came to the Crop Sciences Department at University of Illinois in 2010, after receiving an M.S. in Agroecology from the University of Vermont. Prior to graduate study, he spent a decade as an activist in the global justice movement, as participant, organizer, and scholar. He has worked as a professional in ecological design, as a consultant and an educator working on ecological waste reduction and water treatment, integrated mushroom production, and whole farm design.  Rafter currently works with farmers and community groups to support the transition to sustainable and multifunctional agriculture. According to Rafter, his research is informed equally by agroecology and political ecology, so he is interested in both the quantifiable performance of farming systems, and in the ways in which our ideas about agriculture translate into policies and practices that have variable consequences for different communities. ASAP is happy to help support Rafter’s dissertation research which focuses on the permaculture movement, and it’s present and potential contributions to ‘agroecological transition’.   According to Rafter, agroecology is a promising alternative to industrial Agriculture because it has the potential to avoid the negative social and ecological consequences of input-intensive production. He notes, however, that transitioning to agroecological production is complex and will require the involvement of actors and groups outside of academia. This is why he has looked to the permaculture movement for ideas.   His work will provide a rare scholarly look at permaculture globally and provide in-depth analysis of farmers using permaculture practices in North America.  ASAP congratulates Rafter on his success at funding some of his field research using crowd sourcing!  Go Rafter.

Dane Hunter (center) is a first year M.S. student and an Illinois native who grew up on a family farm in southern Illinois.  Dane continues to work on the farm with his dad where they raise corn, soybeans, wheat and a few head of livestock.  He earned a B.S. in 2009 in Agricultural Education from UIUC and taught high school agriculture and biology for four years before deciding to come back to graduate school. He would like to identify influential factors and learn how to produce food while improving soil and water quality so that he can implement good practices on his home farm and teach about these practices down the road.  His research was developed in response to the Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP), which calls for increased use of locally produced food as a way to reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and enhance the community by providing local jobs.   He hopes to encourage campus to increase local food purchases by determining just how much of an impact ‘buying local’ might have on our GHG and economic footprint.  He is currently trying to inventory all our purchases in order to run life cycle assessments (LCA) of food products procured by the University of Illinois Dining Services. Typically, LCAs track the factors (eg: GHGs, jobs or water use) associated with the production, processing, use, and disposal of a given product or its ingredients.  Dane plans to engage undergraduate students in his LCA effort and hopes to use the results as part of an educational campaign that will inform the students and the public about the impacts of their food consumption. The educational campaign will include GHG labeling of selected food items in campus dining facilities.  Dane is finding that the transportation costs associated with moving food from ‘farm to fork’ account for only a small portion of the product’s environmental footprint.  Accordingly, Dane is looking for models to help him evaluate how changing our purchasing rules and practices to increase local sourcing might influence our GHG emissions, economy and soil and water resources.  He hopes that whatever he learns will help students, campus administration and dining services decide where to direct our food dollars to increase campus sustainability.  Food for thought!

Looking forward to 2014!