Fred Madison: NCR-SARE Hero (Presented Posthumously)

Coordinated by the NCR-SARE Alumni Organization, the term "NCR-SARE Hero" recognizes the leadership, vision, contributions, and impact that certain people have made in the field of sustainable agriculture in the region. 

Affectionately known as “Dr. Dirt,” Fred Madison spent more than 50 years getting his hands dirty working to protect, build, and teach others about soil and water natural resources in the Midwest. 

Madison received a bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of Wisconsin, where he also received his master’s and doctoral degrees in soil science in 1963 and 1972. During that time, he was the director of the Peace Corps’ Midwest Regional Recruiting Office. Madison served as a legislative assistant to Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, where he assisted with the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. This 1968 law helps protect more than 12,000 miles of river in 40 states today. He was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to the Upper Great Lakes Regional Commission and was reappointed by President Richard Nixon. Madison returned to the University of Wisconsin’s Department of Soil Science in 1978 when he began a split position as an assistant professor of soil science and an Extension specialist with the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey. He received tenure in 1984 and was promoted to full professor in 1991. Among other activities at the University of Wisconsin, he taught, developed courses, and coached the UW–Madison soil judging team.

Passionate about sustainable agriculture and conservation, Madison served as chair of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board for a number until 2018. He received the Wisconsin Idea Award in Natural Resource Policy from Extension in 1995 for his contributions to natural resource policy and his accomplishments as an educator. 

Madison commenced his service to SARE in 1995 as a State Geological Survey representative for the Administrative Council and remained in that position until 2010; he chaired the NCR-SARE Administrative Council chair in 1997. He also served as a SARE State Coordinator in Wisconsin for several years. He was a champion for producers and worked to keep NCR-SARE focused on serving farmers.

Madison passed away on June 3, 2019, at the age of 82. This recognition was presented posthumously to his wife, Tracy.

Leaders in sustainable agriculture offered tributes as Madison was nominated and selected to receive this recognition, including:

  • "Fred provided steady guidance and moral leadership to NC-SARE. He was instrumental in moving the organization from Lincoln to St. Paul, adding professional organization while maintaining strong support from throughout the region. He constantly reminded the organization that it needed to have measurable impacts to continue to receive funding and that we needed to make real changes in how the food system worked. He also reminded the organization that, while it includes academics and representatives from industry, government, and others, the purpose and the soul of the organization are farmers. He was mindful that the power dynamics, including time, resources, and in his case longevity on the board tend to favor staff and others who are not farmers; and he pushed for institutional awareness and rules that controlled that imbalance." - Bob Wills, Founder of Cedar Grove Cheese and Clockshadow Creamery, past NCR-SARE Administrative Council chair 
  • "With just an auger, Fred would show his 'audience' the magic of soil, the stories soils tell, and how amazingly diverse, colorful, and connected the landscape is. Fred seamlessly connected soils, landscapes, and people. He taught his students to listen to people, to understand the challenges they face and the problems waiting to be solved. He synergized research, livelihoods, education and environmental solutions in transformative ways." - Nic Jelinksi, Assistant Professor, Department of Soil, Water and Climate, University of Minnesota