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The Center for Food in Community and Culture

Laurel Phoenix, new Co-Director of the Center for Food in Community and Culture, honored by the American Water Resources Association

At the May 11 meeting of the Center, Laurel Phoenix, Associate Professor of Public and Environmental Affairs, and Chair of Geography, was elected Co-Director, serving with Debra Pearson.

Professor Phoenix was honored by the American Water Resources Association with the Icko Iben Award, established to recognize persons who have made outstanding contributions to the promotion of communications among the various disciplines of global water resources. She was given this award in November for her work as an Associate Editor of Water Resource IMPACT.

Professor Emerita Sandra Stokes

Professor Emerita Sandra Stokes of the Center for Food in Community and Culture, passed away March 26, 2012. Her research and teaching focused on early childhood education, specifically on pedagogies and community practices that promote literacy.

Her studies on literacy concluded that cultural literacy and anti-poverty programs as well as broad community engagement with literacy are critical to reinforcing good classroom pedagogy. Her interest in literacy led her to study and write about the importance of school lunch and breakfast programs to student achievement. Sandy and her dedication to advancing Center projects, her friendship, and her talent will be missed.

Nutrient Quality of Food Affected by Agricultural Practices

Dr. Debra Pearson’s presentation at NEWfare focused on how agricultural practices influence the nutrient content of the fruits and vegetables we grow and the livestock we raise. An examination of the USDA’s food database since the 1950s indicates that there has been a decline in some nutrients over a range of fruits and vegetables.1 There are still many unanswered questions and controversies about why there has been a decline in the nutrient content of produce, but research suggests 3 reasons for this decline: 1) monoculture farming, 2) selection for yield, and 3) plant defenses. Techniques of plant breeding, selection and genetic modification, fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide practices, crop and livestock management differ markedly between sustainable/organic farming and industrial farming, and these differences impact the nutrient profiles of crops and livestock.

For a number of reasons relating in part to uniformity of produce to make machine planting and harvesting easier, the varieties of any given crop grown has sharply declined over the decades. We used to grow many more varieties of apples, corn, potatoes, broccoli etc, but in recent decades for most of these crops we have drastically decreased the number of varieties. One of the basic tenants of good nutrition is “variety”. The greater the variety of foods in our diet the better our chances for obtaining the wide array of nutrients we need. The minute we reduce the variety of foods, it becomes harder to obtain the full range of needed nutrients. Along with a reduction in the variety of crops grown, industrial farming has emphasized yield – selecting and breeding plants for bigger yields. Scientists theorize that plants have a somewhat fixed amount of resources, and if the plant is bred to grow rapidly and/or produce larger fruit (more dense head size in the case of broccoli) then the plant has fewer resources to direct to vitamin synthesize or mineral acquisition, thus nutrient density is compromised. We have seen this happen for instance, in the wheat cultivars we grow. We have both reduced the variety of wheat cultivars grown and selected for larger wheat yields. This then has reduced the mineral content of several minerals in the modern wheat cultivars grown versus the historical varieties that used to be grown.2

Plants synthesize a wide variety of phytochemicals (over 8000 have been identified) that protect plants from viruses, fungal diseases, UV/oxidative damage, and help in plant growth and maturation. Humans obtain these important beneficial phytochemicals when we eat plants. Also, livestock – if allowed to graze in the fields – obtain these phytochemicals as well, which means their meat, eggs, and milk are enriched with these phytochemicals. Industrial farming, with its heavy reliance on pesticides and fertilizer practices that don’t support the maintenance of a rich organic soil matrix seem to dramatically decrease the amount of phytochemicals the plants produce.3,4

What we feed livestock directly impacts the nutrient and phytochemical content of the meats, milk and eggs we eat. Grass-fed cattle and free-range chickens produce milk and eggs that are lower in overall fat content, higher in omega-3 fatty acids, higher in conjugated linoleic acid, higher in vitamins such as vitamin E and higher in phytochemicals. To reverse the decline and increase the nutrient density of foods, Dr. Pearson concluded that we need to research, develop, and encourage the use of agricultural practices that promote high quality, nutrient dense foods.

Davis et al J Am Coll Nutr, 2004, 23, 669
Murphy et al Euphytica, 2008, 163, 381
Wang et al JAFC, 2008, 56, 5788
Mitchell et al JAFC, 2007, 55, 6154

NEWfare Conference on Local Food, Health and Wealth

On Nov. 4, 2011 at NWTC in Green Bay, farmers, food entrepreneurs, health professionals, community food advocates, and students attended NEWfare: A Forum Cultivating Health and Wealth through the Local Food Economy.

One of the featured speakers was Debra Pearson, Co-Director of the Center for Food in Community and Culture. Dr. Pearson discussed how agricultural practices influence the nutrient content of the fruits and vegetables we grow and the livestock we raise. Lynn Walter spoke on the development of New Leaf Market Cooperative in Green Bay. Videos of both presentations are available at in Media Resources under “NEWfare Conference Videos”.

Joanne Gardner at Eco-Deck for Earth Week

Joanne GardnerJoanne Gardner and her UWGB students represented Sustainable Green Bay’s Food and Local Health Committee at the first Eco-Deck party on April 30, 2011. For Earth Week, they demonstrated how to grow your own sprouts, and Joanne talked about how we can improve our health by growing and preparing our own food.

Jeffrey Hou on Community Gardens as Hybrid Public Space

Jeffrey Hou

Jeffrey Hou, chair of the Landscape Architecture Department at the University of Washington-Seattle, was on campus on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010 to present a public lecture on his work on Seattle’s community gardens. His presentation expanded upon his 2009 co-authored study, Greening Cities, Growing Communities: Learning from Seattle’s Community Gardens. Dr. Hou began by noting the rapid development of community gardens, nationally and internationally, in the last decade. He began to pointing to Vancouver, BC as one of the leaders in this trend, then focused on Seattle, where the formal community garden program, called the P-Patch Program, was instituted in 1974 and has grown today to 73 garden sites. He related the expansion of community gardens as a public project to the growth in farmers markets, community-supported agriculture, and urban agriculture, and argued that these developments are embedded in larger social movements around food systems, food security, food justice, food sovereignty, food democracy, healthy eating, local food, and urban sustainability.

Jeffrey Hou’s research on community gardens in Seattle focused on six case studies of specific community gardens in Seattle, cases chosen to represent various socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of community gardeners, their land-use patterns, as well as the appearance and functions of the gardens, and particular themes. Among the more significant lessons he and his co-authors–Julie M. Johnson and Laura J. Lawson–learned about the relationship between community gardens and urban sustainability were that community gardens breed activism and grow community. In short, community gardens are more than just gardens. They are also cultural locations, educational sites, gathering places, and public art settings; they reflect the differences among community gardeners. Dr. Hou highlighted their central finding that design matters to all the diverse patterns and functions of community gardens. Community gardens are what he calls “hybrid public space.” That is, they are individual, collective, private, and public. They have multiple uses. They draw on and express multiple cultural and generational practices. They create opportunities for learning. They have multiple stakeholders.

Dr. Hou concluded by explaining that scaling up community gardens will require more institutional and social support-–more staff and resources, not just sites. It will also require the integration with local food systems and urban green infrastructure and the engagement with community and urban planning. A crucial question in the process of scaling up urban agriculture is whether such development can retain the idea of community open space. If so, then we must incentivize community-driven processes, volunteerism, and collective actions. We must recognize the diverse values, practices, and benefits of gardening/farming and insure that community gardens/farms retain their character as “hybrid public space.”

2010 Champions of Conservation Awards

Champions of Conservation, photo courtesy of Dominion
Coggin Heeringa, Carl Scholz, Kay and Wayne Craig and their son Rudy, and LNRP Director Jim Kettler

The Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership presented its 2010 Champions of Conservation Awards at a reception and ceremony in the Phoenix rooms of the University Union on May 20, 2010.

The honorees were Kay and Wayne Craig, owners and operators of Grassway Organics Farm for Land Use Protection and Habitat Protection through managed rotational grazing.

For Environmental Education and Outreach the winner was Coggin Heeringa, Director of Crossroads in Big Creek in Door County, for promoting environmental education programs for children and adults.

The Champion of Champions Award went to Carl Scholz for his lifelong environmental stewardship in Water Resource Protection.

The program was hosted by Jim Kettler of Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership, who sponsored the event with Dominion. Campus co-hosts were the Center for Food in Community and Culture, EMBI, and SLO Food Alliance.

Community Gardens in Brown County: Past, Present, and Future Generations

The Center for Food in Community and Culture sponsored a panel discussion on Community Gardens in Brown County on Wednesday, April 21, 2010 at 7 pm in the Central Library in Green Bay. The panel discussion was to support the One Book, One Community reading selection of Seedfolks, a novel for young adults by Paul Fleishman.

Community Gardens Panelists
Panelists Yia Thao, Sue Huxford, Frank Haney, and Karen Early

Sue Premo of the One Book, One Community committee began the evening with a brief introduction to Seedfolks, which tells the story of how 13 people from diverse cultural heritages and generations came together to create a community garden in a low-income neighborhood in Cleveland. The panel began with Karen Early of UW Brown County Cooperative Extension, who presented the history of the development of community gardens in Brown County from the 1990s to the present outlining their successes and struggles over the years. Frank Haney, from Oneida Nation followed with a presentation of the development of various Tsyunhehkw^ (trans., Life Sustenance) programs, including an organic farm, cannery, and retail store. Yia Thao, Southeast Asian Coordinator for Student Services at NWTC, discussed the role of Hmong elders in community gardens–as farmers and farmers market vendors. Sue Huxford who teaches English Language Learners at West High School in Green Bay wrapped up the panel discussion by sharing her experience teaching the book Seedfolks and community gardening in Portland, Oregon. The audience of about 40 people had many points to discuss, especially about how we can improve the nutritional quality of school meals and the health of children through school gardening programs.

Lynn Walter was moderator for the Community Gardens Panel Discussion on April 21. Sue Premo of the One Book, One Community Committee introduced the book Seedfolks, which is their reading selection for this year. Here are a couple of PowerPoint slides from the evening that illustrate the connection between food security, culture, and environment.
Audience Community Gardens Poster Sue Premo
Audience, panel, and moderator, Lynn Walter
Poster for Community Gardens Panel
Sue Premo

Are We Restoring or Destroying Our Health? Agriculture from the Ground Up

Science faculty members from the Center for Food in Community and Culture participated in a panel discussion, entitled “Are We Restoring or Destroying our Health? Agriculture from the Ground Up,” 5:00-6:15 p.m., Thursday, November 19th in Mary Ann Cofrin Hall 208.  Joanne Gardner, Vicki Medland, Debra Pearson, and Angie Bauer-Dantoin focused on various impacts of agricultural and food production practices on human health.

Registered dietitian and nutrition consultant, Joanne Gardner introduced the panel discussion with an overview of some of the problems confronting contemporary agricultural and food production practices with regard to human health. She pointed out that sustainable high quality food is rooted in fertile soil, ample clean water, biological diversity, and predictable climatic conditions, each of which has been negatively impacted by high productivity demands on energy and water use; fertilizer and pesticide inputs of industrialized agriculture and food processing; and post production outputs, such as manure runoffs and pesticide residues.  Diets, shaped by political, economic, and social factors, as well as by advertizing, ethics, and taste preferences, in turn shape our health. In the United States, our agriculture and food policies are designed, in part, to assure a supply of cheap food, much of it in the form of highly processed sugars and grains, have led to increased obesity and Type 2 diabetes.  In the developing world, on the other hand, over a billion people go hungry, and population increases put ever greater pressure on agrifood production and the productive capacities of natural resources and the environment. All of these processes challenge the very elements upon which our lives depend.

Vicki Medland, biologist and Associate Director of the Cofrin Center for Biodiversity, spoke on Agrobiodiversity with a focus on the biological diversity of potatoes. Dr. Medland noted that although there may be as many as 5000 varieties of potato concentrated in its original area of domestication in the Andean region of South America where the varieties are adapted to diverse micro-environmental zones.  In the United States, however, we rely on only a few commercial varieties. The Russet Burbank constitutes 80% of U.S. potato production and dominates because of its preferred qualities for processing into French fries for fast food restaurants, particularly for McDonald’s.  U.S. production is concentrated in the state of Idaho where potatoes are typically grown as monocultures using industrialized agricultural practices, including extensive irrigation and repeated applications of pesticides in an attempt to control pests like the Colorado potato beetle and late blight fungus. Over-use of pesticides has led to a decline in the biodiversity of beneficial species and has contributed to pesticide resistance in both Colorado potato beetles and late blight. However, recognition of these problems has resulted in innovative opportunities for farmers to increase production while maintaining biodiversity. In Wisconsin, some farmers are using precision agriculture and integrated pest management to reduce the use of the most toxic pesticides and have instituted requirements for restoring surrounding habitats.  Significantly, McDonald’s has also committed itself to reducing pesticide residues as their shareholders apply pressure on management.  Finally, the International Potato Center in Peru has received grants for local farmers to preserve the biodiversity of potatoes and the cultural diversity of growers.

The impact of agricultural practices on the nutrient qualities of food was the subject of Debra Pearson’s presentation. Dr. Pearson, who is Co-Director of the Center for Food in Community and Culture and Associate Professor of Human Biology and Nutritional Sciences, compared the pre-harvest nutrient profiles of foods produced using conventional industrial agriculture with those grown using sustainable farming practices. She cited a study that shows a decline in nutrients—protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, and vitamins A, B2, B3, and C–in 43 crops from 1950 to 1999. One theory about why this decline has occurred is that growing crops for maximum yield per acre tends to dilute the levels of nutrient in these crops. Another theory is that industrial agriculture has selected varieties for qualities like size, uniformity, machine harvestability, and shelf life that do not necessarily provide the most nutrients. Also, extensive use of energy, water, fertilizers and pesticides inputs may make “life easier for the plants” such that they do not have to produce the same level of phytochemicals to protect themselves from oxidative stress or pest attack. The net result for humans are produce with lower levels of important health-promoting phytochemicals.

Thousands of these phytochemicals are used by plants to defend against fungal, viral, bacterial, and insect attack; to protect against UV light damage; and to promote growth, ripening, and coloration.  New research is being conducted on various food crops, such as blueberries and tomatoes, to assess the impact of specific phytochemical on the promotion of consumer health. Other studies indicate that meat, milk, and eggs from animals that are grass-fed and free range have higher levels of phytochemicals, higher omega 3 fats, lower omega 6 fats, and more CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). Much research indicates that westerners are not getting enough omega 3 fats and getting too many omega 6 fats. A return to animals products that are grass grazed can help correct this imbalance in omega 3 and omega 6 fats in our diets. Pearson concluded that more research on these issues is vital, and that consumers need more information upon which to select foods with the highest nutrient profiles.

Angie Bauer-Dantoin, Associate Professor and Chair of Human Biology, reported on the impact of endocrine disrupting chemicals on human health and the potential impact of agricultural practices on prevalence of these chemicals in well water in ten wells in four northeastern Wisconsin counties, including Brown County.  Dr. Bauer-Dantoin started by noting the pervasiveness of endocrine disruptors from bisphenol A and nonylphenol in plastics and PCB contamination of the waters of the Fox River to herbicides, pesticides, and hormones from agricultural production and human waste. Endocrine disrupting chemicals are a cause for concern about human health, having been linked to infertility, intersexed conditions, low sperm counts, and hormone-sensitive cancers such as prostate and breast cancers.  Her chemical analyses of well water found samples with unsafe levels of coliform, E. coli, and enterococci bacteria as well as nitrates.  Well waters in the region are especially vulnerable to contamination from manure and artificial fertilizers because of their permeability. She and her graduate student Sarah Wingert also found some samples with estrogenic activity that generated breast cancer cell proliferation under laboratory conditions.  Further studies are being planned to attempt to identify the source of the estrogenic contaminants.

Center Faculty publish on Critical Food Issues

Laurel E. Phoenix and Lynn Walter have edited a two volume collection on Critical Food Issues: Problems and State of the Art Solutions Worldwide, which was published by Praeger Publishing in September of 2009.

Among the contributors are Center faculty members–Joanne Gardner, Regan Gurung, Aeron Haynie, Vicki L. Medland, Debra Pearson, Larry Smith, and Sandra M. Stokes. Other regional authors include Bill Van Lopik of the College of Menominee Nation and Cheryl Kalny, Lecturer in the Social Change and Development Department at UW-Green Bay and at St. Norbert College.

The authors take an interdisciplinary approach to the examination of problems ranging from food insecurity and natural resource depletion to disordered eating and declines in food quality. The main focus of each of the 31 chapters is on strategies devised by farmers, scientists, artists, and citizens from around the world to address these problems.