SHALL Mission

The Soil Health & Agroecological Living Lab (SHALL) is committed to examining social dynamics that contribute to more healthy agroecosystems in Wisconsin and beyond. Our work sits at the intersection of ecological and human well-being. Topics of interest include agroecological systems, social links between human health and agroecological health, the cultivation of environmental knowledge, and perceptions of and connections with the natural environment.







We are mutually involved and thus mutually obligated. One context has consequence for another. One consequence is context for another. That is why, the agroecological imagination is so very, very important — socially, ecologically, economically, and ethically.”

-Michael Bell-

Lab Members

Michael Bell

Philip David Lowe Professor of Community and Environmental Sociology, SHALL Lead

Rachel Gurney

Faculty Associate, SHALL Co-Lead

Valerie Stull

Faculty Associate, SHALL Co-Lead

Confidence Chimerika John

MS Student

Brittany Isidore

PhD Student

Sarah Janes Ugoretz

Apprenticeship Manager, FairShare CSA Coalition

Hannah Kass

PhD Student

Marisa Lanker

PhD Student

Mpumelelo Ncwadi

PhD Student

Jules Reynolds

PhD Student

John Strauser

Natural Resource Social Scientist


The Soil Health Collaborative – Wisconsin

Michael Bell, Rachel Gurney, and Valerie Stull

Improving soil health is an approach to building farmer and rural community well-being and economic vitality while reducing risk, soil loss, soil compaction, nutrient loss, water pollution, biodiversity decline, energy use, pesticide drift, fine particulate pollution, and other challenges to agricultural sustainability.

SHALL works in collaboration with a multidisciplinary and multi-institutional USDA-funded research project entitled the Soil Health Collaborative (SHC). The SHC initiative is committed to understanding how agriculture can mitigate soil loss, soil compaction, nutrient loss, water pollution, biodiversity decline, energy use, pesticide drift, fine particulate pollution, community decline, income loss, social disparities, and other challenges to agricultural sustainability. Through the Soil Health Collaborative (SHC), the USDA ARS Dairy Forage Research Center (DFRC), Michael Fields Agricultural Institute (MFAI), and UW-Madison’s Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS)—along with farmer and stakeholder partners—investigates and conducts outreach on equitable, community-supporting, and practical strategies for building agricultural soil health. The SHC integrates research and outreach in a scientifically-grounded and participatory way to support landscape transformations.

The SHC project builds on the success of a similar past endeavor entitled the Cover Crops Research and Outreach Project (CCROP). Broadly, the SHC focuses on understanding the social, agronomic, ecological, and economic efficacy of practices that promote these principles of soil health, such as incorporating small grains into rotations, the use of cover crops, and grassland and perennial systems. Crucially, these practices must engage farmers, their strategic partners, and other stakeholders, if they are to succeed.

SHALL contributes to the broader SHC project by developing understanding of the social factors and dynamics that promote and/or hinder principles of soil health. We consider how agriculture practices associated with soil health—e.g., maximizing soil cover via cover cropping and perennials, optimizing biodiversity via crop rotation and diversification, engaging in minimal disturbance (no- or reduced-till)—overlap and synergize with farmers, farmworkers, and their communities.

Grassland 2.0 – Wisconsin

Michael Bell

Grassland 2.0 is a collaborative group of scientists, educators, farmers, agencies, policymakers, processors, retailers, and consumers working to develop pathways for increased farmer profitability, yield stability, and nutrient and water efficiency, while improving water quality, soil health, biodiversity, and climate resilience through grassland-based agriculture.

Grasslands 2.0 is taking an integrated approach to developing technical and financial tools, expanding grass-fed markets, cultivating positive institutional policy changes, and empowering producers and consumers.

Grasslands 2.0 hosts listening sessions, conducts surveys, and convenes local conversations to learn from communities across the state and beyond to develop paths that move us toward grassland-based agricultural systems that create a healthy environment, healthy communities, and healthy people. Throughout the process, the project seeks to engage with farmers and consumers across Wisconsin.

The Livelihood, Agroecology, Nutrition and Development (LAND) Project – South Africa

Michael Bell and Valerie Stull

Improving health, tackling economic challenges, and managing natural resources are all important aspects of agroecological development that are tightly linked. The Livelihood, Agroecology, Nutrition, and Development (LAND) Project is committed to addressing these challenges using a holistic, participatory approach to agroecological development—one where the most up-to-date scientific evidence is merged with crucial, on the ground know-how and contextual knowledge.

By combining the expertise of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Community and Environmental Sociology, Kidlinks World, and Fort Cox Agriculture and Forestry Training Institute the LAND project seeks to improve livelihoods and health in communities across South Africa. The LAND Project is thus a partnership between NGOs and the University, which uses research, participatory approaches, and educational outreach to generate change. We engage undergraduate students in service-learning trips, foster open dialogue between community members and local agencies, and seek to innovate new methods of sustainable development. The LAND Project emphasizes continual, cross-cultural learning and relationship building to ensure lasting partnerships and create durable change.

We give special focus to the needs and opportunities for youth in the communities where we work. Children and youth are at once the most vulnerable community members, and a community’s best hope for the future.

“If I wanted to have a happy garden, I must ally myself with my soil; study and help it to the utmost, untiringly. Always, the soil must come first.”

 – Marion Cran –