About media and communications


One of the toughest realities when working with grassroots communities is that it is hard to get a media coverage on the cool things that we do–At least I have to think that my work is cool, right? So that I could have the confident of telling people what is so cool about my work.

This somewhat pessimism is what lead me to want to know who to write a journalistic article. Because, just by investing a web domain (even a free domain would do), and social media accounts, I can develop and circulate my stories around my cool work.

I am grateful that the Nelson News has been supportive to me. Overall, my Monona partnership had a couple of publications at least. During the initial years of South Madison partnership, the Nelson News sent their “journalist” to write about or project. It was not until we won multiple awards that journalists from multiple platforms are approaching for news about our project.

I am certainly having better understanding about how the media works, especially when it comes to grassroots initiatives.

Anyway, one of the South Madison project articles made the homepage slider of the Nelson Institute site. That is cool! This one (click on the image) is written by our own student Kelcie Kempenich who is majoring in strategic communication and environmental studies. The University Communications is also working on another this semester; so I am looking forward to that.

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See also other articles about our project:


On teaching, learning, and service


My current community-based project has brought lots of reflective thinking. On one hand, I am blessed. On the other hand, I could not really avoid them. Here is my latest reflective thinking that I recently shared with my “partners in crime.”

If done right, community-based project is one of the most frustrating projects. Sometimes, one of the most successful is among the most frustrating. People might argue it doesn’t have to (be frustrating). I would argue back, I am not sure if he/she truly understands the complexities of a true community-based project.

One of the possible source of frustrations from this process is that I follow a learning process/theory called popular education (see Paulo Freire and Myles Horton if interested). While the very large majority of instructors follow traditional learning approaches called pedagogy (teaching for children) and/or andragogy (teaching for adult). Popular education is mostly adopted and continued to be developed in a specific area of sociology and community psychology. While pedagogy and andragogy are exclusive in school of education. Most of their strategies are contradictive.

In addition, I am *very* flexible, but I realize it does create confusions and messiness around me sometimes, and maybe they could be counter-productive. But as long as it produces good impacts on community partners and their immediate communities, that is all that matters to me, to be completely very honest. I don’t mind at all with all the messiness, I will have to deal with them.


” … to put simply, I am lost” : the reality of “unreal” world


” Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backward 10 years later.” – Steve Jobs, 6/12/2005

This week, I completed my first sessions working with a total of 51 undergraduate students; out of 275 or so total students  enrolled in the course .  In short, the course is to address students’ anxieties about the “real world” so they can strategize their college years.  The INTER-LS 210 2nd Yr Career Course “Taking Initiative” largely builds on the idea of liberal arts education that encourages students to think creatively about themselves, and eventually about the environment they belong to.

Rightly so, reading my students initial reflective writing, which is one of the assignments in this course, I have learned overwhelming  number of students experiencing fear about the “real world.”  One student wrote, “I have never understood how the real world works.”  This leads me to think, are we (students) now in an unreal world?   This post is my elaboration on the question. Continue reading ” … to put simply, I am lost” : the reality of “unreal” world

It’s more than just a job training, it is a civic engagement project

Robert Pierce at Meriter Hospital
Robert Pierce in the Meriter’s site of the South Madison Farmers’ Market

This post is about my partnership in South Madison.  Reading the most recent story at the Capital Times about our project could potentially be misleading as this may be perceived as just another job training trying to help Formerly Incarcerated Individuals (FIIs). FIIs are not the problem.  FIIs are part of our solution in developing a strong and just local food system in South Madison.

First, it is very possible that we have not been able to communicate clearly about what is it that we want to do with the project.  It is very convenient to think that our project is just another job training for FIIs who lack of skills and lack of trust when trying to reenter the society.  This project is thought to bring together a group of saviors who will give the skills and jobs to FIIs.  No, we are not a savior, and this project is not a job training.  We are using the job training as a means, but the ultimate goal is to build a strong connection between the commercial urban agriculture skills and the food desert community where these FIIs are a part of. Continue reading It’s more than just a job training, it is a civic engagement project

being unproductive for my 15-minute a day writing goal


I am debating myself about this writing, not the whole idea, but the idea of each post I am about to write.

Should I focus on a writing that is good and informative?  OR should I focus on writing that the quality I should care less as long as I write continuously 15-minute a day?

Even when you are trying to be as casual as possible in writing, knowing that your goal is merely to be comfortable in writing, you still have this constant barrier in your mind: what should I write?   Mostly probably because you can’t really get away with the idea of writing something informative.

But even if it is informative, maybe frame it in a different way, informative for who?  Who is my audience in this 15-minute a day writing?  Should I think that the audience is anyone out there online — (as if the trend visit on my website is high)?  Or maybe I should just think that my audience is my own, and I should care less about whoever reads my 15-minute a day posts?

They are easy questions with easy answers.  But when you are doing the work and actually trying to practically answer the question, that is probably the hard part.

Ciao —

ps.  Maybe I should just stick with this kind of writing I did for this post?

Writing a reporting article


One of the skills that I would like to promote for academics is the ability to write a popular article, reporting their activities while they are working with grassroots communities.  I do realize that most of my work will not be “sexy” enough for a reporter to write.  So instead of waiting for their report, I would just write my own and circulate through social media.

My most recent reporting article “South Madison farmer fights food injustice with Ex-Cons” has gotten attention.   Both Anthony Cooper and Robert Pierce were approached by the Capital Times after reading this article.  It certainly helped amplify the mission of the project, and reach out broader community about the food justice movement in South Madison.

Update Aug 10 – read the article at host.madison.com.

First “serious” grant!


I am truly honored and humbled that I had the opportunity to work with amazing students of Nelson Institute and community partners SMFM and Nehemiah who could deliver this kind of work.  This is the first “serious” grant I am part of!

The recent approval of the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment would continue to facilitate the realization of a viable local food systems in South Madison.  The multiple partners associated in this project could be a model in how to deliver social change through an intensive collaborative work.

More information about this project, please read the project partnership page.