Students use GIS to map local food producers

December 12, 2014
Wehler and Wells
Cheyenne Wehler and Allison Wells

PLATTEVILLE, Wis.—Dr. Lynnette Dornak, assistant professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, is leading a Pioneer Academic Center for Community Engagement-sponsored project that will enable community members to see where their food and other products they purchase come from.

PACCE is a UW-Platteville initiative and funding source for campus-wide coordination, integration and leadership of community-based scholarship of engagement projects and internships that involve students, faculty, staff and community partners.

Twenty-one students in Dornak’s Introduction to Geographic Information Systems course have spent the semester using ArcGIS – a geographic information system software that provides an infrastructure for making maps and geographic information available throughout organizations, communities and the web – to map local food producers for the Driftless Market in Platteville and the Dubuque Food Co-op in Dubuque, Iowa. Of the seven groups of students in the class, four groups are creating maps for the Driftless Market and three groups are creating maps for the Dubuque Food Co-op.

“I thought community members would like to have a map to see where their food comes from, and the concept of creating an online map was exciting,” said Dornak. “Everyone benefits from this project. The suppliers get publicity, the community is informed about where their products come from, the Driftless Market and Dubuque Food Co-op get to share information about their suppliers with the community and the students enjoy the satisfaction of completing a start-to-finish project and contributing something valuable to their community.”

Over the course of the semester, the students have been learning how to gather and compile spatial data to create a hard copy map and an online map to provide to the Driftless Market or the Dubuque Food Co-op. After the project is finished, the Driftless Market and the Dubuque Food Co-op will choose which map they want to display on their web pages and in their stores.

“The students have complete artistic freedom with their maps,” said Dornak. “They just need to make sure they include the basic components of a map.”

“Using GIS is a great way to manipulate and display data,” said Allison Wells, a junior biology major from Moline, Ill. “It’s important for our community partners to connect their customers to the products they provide, and GIS was a great way to do that.”

Heidi Dyas-McBeth, co-owner and representative of the Driftless Market, said it is important to remember that food has a huge connection with the land and the people who grow/produce it. Patrick Brickel, general manager and representative of the Dubuque Food Co-Op, stated that the co-op establishment “needs a profit to exist, but does not exist to make a profit.”

Dornak’s Intro to GIS class meets on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Every Friday is a PACCE project day, in which the students spend the class period discussing their projects or working on the project goals for that week. According to Dornak, each group is also required to meet with her once a week, which helps students stay accountable for their work and continue making progress on their projects. It also allows students one-to-one opportunities to ask questions they may not have been comfortable asking in class.

Dornak hopes to continue working on projects in the future that will benefit the community. For example, she hopes to work on a community project with her Advanced GIS class that will be more analytical and involve more statistics than her Intro to GIS class as well as continue mapping the food producers in the Driftless Region. According to Dornak, suppliers will change through time and she would like students to update the maps each year.

Written by: Connie Spyropoulos, College of Liberal Arts and Education, 608-342-6191, hamerl@uwplatt.edu

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