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Bioneers Speaker Series to Feature Plant Genetics and Sustainable Farming Expert

[Friday, February 23, 2018]


Jim Nienhuis

McHenry County College continues the 2018 Great Lakes Bioneers Speaker Series featuring MCC alum Jim Nienhuis, who teaches plant breeding and genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He will present two informative sessions on Tuesday, Feb. 27, including “Renaissance Art and Vegetables” at noon and “Women Farming Cooperatives in Central America,” at 6 p.m., both in the Luecht Conference Center.

The speaker series is sponsored by the McHenry County College Sustainability Center and the Bioneers Steering Committee.

In the noon presentation, “Renaissance Art and Vegetables,” Nienhuis will discuss the evolution of fruits and vegetables through art dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries.

The 6 p.m. presentation, “Women Farming Cooperatives in Central America,” will feature a project funded by USAID through the University of California-Davis, where Nienhuis’ lab worked as a lead institution in an international project to promote sustainable vegetable production in rural areas of Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica. He will share the science and the stories behind this international research project that impacted many people both in central America and in sustainable farming in the U.S.

Nienhuis grew up on a vegetable farm in rural Woodstock that eventually became Oney’s Christmas tree farm. He recalls attending MCC when it was housed in the Pure Oil Building. He later joined the Peace Corps, where his job quickly evolved into an attempt to control abuse of pesticides by rural farm families. After the Peace Corps, Nienhuis studied agriculture science at the University of Illinois in Urbana and later completed his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he will soon complete 30 years as a professor there. He continues his research internationally, including tomato grafting as an applied technology for rural women’s cooperatives in Central America.

Nienhuis returned to international work and spent several years in Colombia as a bean breeder and worked as a tomato breeder in collaboration with HJ Heinz in California. In 1988, he joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he will soon complete 30 years as a professor there. Nienhuis’ lab works on genetics with a focus on molecular markers, and they also do a lot of international work, especially in Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Costa Rica. In Central America, they’re currently working on tomato grafting as an applied technology for rural women’s cooperatives.

Area organizations will also be available immediately following the evening presentation to continue the discussion or to provide information on how to get involved locally. The speaker series is free and open to the public. For more information, visit or contact the MCC Sustainability Center at (815) 479-7765.

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