An innovative new means of supporting the dreams of aspiring young farmers also honors the memory of a Richland County dairyman and family farm activist.
These are the main goals of the Mike Cannell Scholarship Fund at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, recently established to help deserving young people attend the Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy Farmers (WSBDF).
A Cazenovia dairy farmer, Mike Cannell was a leader in establishing forward-thinking programs and policies to support family farming, rural community revitalization, social justice, and sustainable agriculture in Wisconsin, nationally, and internationally.
Cannell was one of the early champions of management-intensive rotational grazing, or “grass-based farming,” an approach to animal agriculture that involves carefully planned movement of livestock through pasture lands. One goal of grass-based farming is to help young people get into the profession with a lower capital investment than many confinement- based dairy systems might require.
This is also an aim of the WSBDF, now in its second year. The school trains young people to prepare for successful grazing-based farm startups through a combination of in-class time taught by UW faculty and experienced Wisconsin graziers, on-farm internships, mentoring by experienced graziers, and networking events like the Wisconsin Grazing Conference.
WSBDF coordinator Dick Cates, of the UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, said, “Mike and Charlotte Cannell have long had a keen interest in helping young people start their own grass-based farms. They were instrumental in the formation and first year of the school. They served as founders and advisors for the school”s planners. They also acted as mentors to students in 1996 and planned to do so again in 1997.”
However, Cannell was killed in a machinery accident in December, 1996, while helping a neighbor unload corn.
In his honor, colleagues, friends, and Cannell family members established the Mike Cannell Scholarship Fund. “The fund will offer scholarships to WSBDF students,” explained Cates. “These would cover part of the tuition and other expenses for the recipients.
“This fund offers an innovative way for people both to remember Mike”s vision and his contributions to Wisconsin agriculture…and to support the farming dreams of these energetic young folks.”
Cannell was widely recognized as a family farming activist, a mentor, an advisor to UW research teams, an on-farm researcher, and one of Wisconsin”s truly powerful voices for a more socially just, sustainable agriculture. “This was a person who was loved and respected for his positive, caring, and enthusiastic vision of society and farming,” recalled Cates, “as well as for his sense of humor and his ability to challenge others” viewpoints in a way that left them feeling richer for the encounter.”
Individuals interested in learning ore about the Mike Cannell Scholarship Fund should contact the UW Foundation at (608) 263-6669. Gifts to the fund can be made payable to the UW Foundation-Mike Cannell Scholarship Fund, UW Foundation, 1848 University Ave., P.O. Box 8860, Madison, WI 53708-8860. For more information about the Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy Farmers, contact Dick Cates at (608) 265-6437.