by: Alex Schwartz and Dadit Hidayat
On Tuesday June 3rd 2014 there was a big celebration for friends of South Madison at the Olin House, the UW-Madison Chancellor’s residence. Robert Pierce was honored with the 2014 LaMarr Billups Community-University Engagement Award by the UW-Madison Chancellor, Becky Blank. His exceptional collaboration with the university for over 15 years is unparalleled.
The LaMarr Billups award is a prestigious one for individuals who have demonstrated outstanding contributions to campus-community partnerships. LaMarr Billups was a much respected community leader at UW-Madison, and was deeply committed to key civic institutions and social causes. He served as a special assistant to two UW-Madison chancellors and was the director of community relations from 1996 to 2007. When introducing Mr. Pierce, Everett Micthell, the Director of Community Relations, said “Mr. Pierce is one of the few remaining African American farmers in Wisconsin. His lifelong dedication to bringing safe-affordable-healthy food to South Madison, and his willingness to work side-by-side with UW-Madison students, staff, and faculty to learn together about possible solutions to this challenge is inspiring.”
Mr. Pierce is one of the few remaining African American farmers in Wisconsin. His lifelong dedication to bringing safe-affordable-healthy food to South Madison, and his willingness to work side-by-side with UW-Madison students, staff, and faculty to learn together about possible solutions to this challenge is inspiring
Born and raised in South Madison, Robert has been a farmer for more than 30 years. He owns the organic farm Half the 40 Acres, and started as a vendor at the South Madison Farmers’ Market (SMFM) in 2002. He has been the market manager for SMFM for over a decade. In addition, he also directs Growing Power Madison, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing equal access to high-quality food for people in all communities. Robert implements this mission by providing hands-on training to develop sustainable community food systems and working with the Badger Rock Middle School to educate the next generation of food growers.
In the acceptance speech, Robert said, “I am honored to have received this award, but none of this would have been possible without support from many of you, especially Margaret.”
Dr. Margaret Nellis has been a longtime supporter of South Madison. She is a Manager of Academic Partnerships for University Health Services and Faculty Associate in the School of Human Ecology.
“Robert has an excellent vision for the future and I’m so happy that I have been able to work with him over the years. This award means so much to Robert, his family, and the South Madison Community,” said a touched Margaret at the award ceremony.
Chancellor Blank also presented eight other University-Community Partnership Awards, two of them being South Madison based partnerships.
The South Madison Project has been running for the last five years. The partnership has been collaboratively organized by the Slow Food UW and the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County (BGCDC). It started with offering gardening and cooking experiences for low-income children at the club, and then branched into three separate projects: Teen Cooking Night, Family Voices and the Garden Club.
Another awardee was the Family Voices, a particularly exceptional partnership with over 12 years of collaborative work. Also with BGCDC, Family Voices has maintained a sustained positive engagement with African American families in South Madison through a culturally relevant model for mentor-tutor-enrichment program for children in grades 1-8 with strong parent engagement.
The remaining six University-Community Partnership awards went to Water Stewardship with the Bad River Ojibwe; Dane County African American Prostate Cancer Initiative; Menominee Journey to Wellness; COMETS-Creating Opportunities in Math, Engineering, Technology and Science; Growing Farm to School; and The Immigrant Justice Clinic at the University of Wisconsin Law School.
Robert and Margaret will continue to partner in promoting safe-affordable-healthy food. Supported by Alfonso Morales (Department of Urban and Regional Planning) and Dadit Hidayat (Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies), they will continue to revitalize the farmers’ market with a stronger local support from the South Madison community. Through the UW Odyssey Project directed by Emily Auerbach, the Growing Power Madison engage Odyssey students about growing their own food.
For any questions related to the South Madison UW-Madison partnership, please contact Abby Jackson.
— The article is written for the South Metropolitan Planning Council‘s Southern Exposure Summer Issue.