On Data and Reverie: A Farmer and Writer-in-Residence at the KBS LTER

Erin Schneider, farmer writer in residence at KBS.

A blooming redbud tree flashed a profusion of pink outside the large windows in the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station’s Terrace Room. Inside, vases of freshly-picked plants spiffed up the small tables set around the room: milkweed, wood sorrel, garlic mustard, purple dead nettle, dame’s rocket, and motherwort. The bouquets were more than decoration; they were little collections of inspiration from a week spent exploring the lands, people and research at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station.

Self-described “people, plants and dirt-lover” Erin Schneider assembled the bouquets ahead of a workshop that punctuated her time spent as the first-ever farmer/writer-in-residence at the KBS Long-term Ecological Research project, or LTER.


Erin, who co-owns Hilltop Community Farm in La Valle, Wisconsin, and Julie Doll, KBS LTER education and outreach coordinator, met while serving together on an advisory committee. Julie invited Erin to visit KBS and examine the interstices between science, nature and art through poetry.

Erin agreed, arriving on a cold rainy Sunday in late May. She and Julie decided to let the week meander, setting up some meetings with scientists and staff but also allowing for plenty of unstructured time.

The culmination of the week was a poetry workshop, where the KBS community was invited to come and play – with the plants in the vases, with Schneider’s ideas and with their own writing.

One of her inquiries: What brought you here, to where you are today? What allured you?

Wildflowers collected by Erin during her visit.

Poets hiding in plain sight

During her week at KBS, Erin toured the LTER sites and learned about farming systems and cover crops research, visited the Pasture Dairy Center and got licked by cows, experienced the sounds and texture of barley, and gained insights into the navigational habits of dung beetles.

And she enjoyed a reprieve from the harried pace of farming in May from the confines of the KBS Lakeside Cottage, under the cover of a giant basswood tree.

Schneider has a background in soil science, so some of what she learned at KBS was not entirely unfamiliar. One thing that surprised her, however, was the number of “hidden poets” she discovered. Some shared their thoughts on poetry in general. Some sent her original haiku. And many curious KBS denizens showed up to her Friday workshop to hear her thoughts and writings about her experiences, and to create some of their own.

“It was a real treat to have time to tend to my writing, fuel the imagination and collaborate with the KBS community and the land to distill the essence of what is ‘blooming in the hearts, minds, and research underway,’” Erin says. “I am energized for the season ahead and supporting ways to further arts and science collaborations taking root at KBS and discovering poetry within and throughout along the way.

“My heartfelt gratitude to all for the warm welcome and your willingness to share,” she adds.

Julie notes that other sites in the LTER Network have hosted artists in residence. “These sites paved the way for others to explore the intersection between art and science. We are excited to learn more from them as our LTER explores options for creating a long-term program in art and science collaborations.”

Erin plans to return to KBS this fall as a bookend to her residency. She and Julie will be hosting an evening “Allurement Salon” on Thursday, Nov. 7, where the broader community can gather to explore KBS LTER science through the lens of poetry, sketches and photographs from KBS scientists and staff.

We hope Erin Schneider is the first of many artists-in-residence to spend time living, learning and creating at KBS.