As a result of a Peace Corps stint in Botswana, empathy with the plight of farmers took hold early in Jack Kloppenburg’s life, as well as an appreciation of locally-produced food, and led to a lifelong study of plant breeding and seed production and to a strong commitment to promoting local, sustainable food systems.
Now a professor emeritus in the department of community and environmental sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, those twin passions have endured.
Kloppenburg’s research studies the social impacts of biotechnology, the emergence of managed grazing networks in Wisconsin’s dairy industry, and the global controversy over access to and control over genetic resources. His comprehensive study of the history of plant breeding and seed production culminated in the seminal publication, “First the Seed: The Political Economy of Plant Biotechnology.”
In his work on the foodshed, Kloppenburg has envisioned the emergence of a sustainable food system founded on local/regional food production, regional reinvestment of capital, local job creation, the strength of community institutions, and direct democratic participation in the local food economy. He is a founder and board member of the REAP Food Group, a non-profit organization whose mission is to connect producers, consumers, businesses, and organizations to grow a healthful, just, and sustainable local food system in Southern Wisconsin.
In addition to his teaching at UW-Madison, Kloppenburg also co-directed the university’s Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems and the Program on Agricultural Technology Studies, and directed the GreenHouse Residential Learning Community.
Kloppenburg’s empathy with farmers continues, and he remains a force within the growing movement of applying “open source” principles to the biosciences such as the Open Source Seed Initiative.