Interview by Kelly Dumke
1. Describe your road to the Friedman School?
My road to the Friedman School started on a road to Vermont, actually. As an undergraduate at Tufts University, I ended up doing a program called Summer Scholars, where you’re paired with a professor who needs a research assistant for a summer. I worked for Kathleen Merrigan, currently our Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, but who was then the Director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment program at Friedman. My first day on the job was waking up at 4 am to hit the road with Kathleen to Vermont dairy farms. We were collecting raw milk samples for an antioxidant study, and I found myself loving the process of interviewing these farmers and learning about their production practices. As consumers, there is just so much we don’t know about how our food is produced and for me it was an eye-opener.
I’d say that was the beginning for me. I ended up doing an undergraduate thesis studying certified organic farmers around the Northeast. It was a good way to combine my majors in anthropology and environmental studies.
After graduation, I worked for Oxfam America’s domestic program. Our work focused on a variety of issues, including emerging networks in sustainable agriculture, farm worker rights and the domestic fair trade movement. It was a nice foundation for me before coming to the Friedman School’s AFE Program.
2. What did you do at Friedman? Internships, Research, Concentration
While at Friedman, I often found myself interested in the producer end of the food system—the agricultural and environmental policy and management. I took a number of UEP courses to round out my curriculum.
To get a different perspective, I interned with Organic Valley, an organic foods cooperative, in La Farge, WI. I highly recommend this internship for students interested in understanding food business, but particularly to see a revolutionary and potent model for “change in the marketplace” operating in real time. I loved the experience and found myself a little split between specializing in corporate social responsibility or environmental management and policy. I ended up choosing the latter, but my coursework really covered both, and I think it’s important for AFErs to consider both avenues. We need people in community-based organizations, in policy-making roles, and advocacy positions to make change in our world. We also need people to enter food business and to promote better systems.
3. What are you up to now?
Right now I work for Farm Aid as their Program Manager. Farm Aid is a big tent nonprofit organization that brings together musicians, farmers, farm organizations and citizens to create a better food system.
Most people hear of Farm Aid through our annual fundraising concert, which features four members of our Board of Directors–Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews. However, most of the year we are granting to food and farm organizations around the country, engaging in advocacy work, and responding to farmers in crisis or who are interested in transition to organic or sustainable production practices.
It’s a great position for me because I get to wear multiple hats for the organization and also get to meet people in the food and farm movement from across the country. It’s also a very action-oriented, creative work environment.
4. Plans for the future?
Eh, I’m not sure. Working with Farm Aid gives me this great birds-eye view of our field, and I’m excited to be here during their 25th year–it will be a great celebration of our history and call to action for change. Down the road, I can see myself working in food business, as I alluded to before, to create more sustainable procurement strategies and deepen relationships between the business and the producers it depends on. I also love writing and hope to build a career in that realm too, perhaps in journalism. Who know? There are so many directions to take this degree!
5. What advice can you give to current Friedman students?
Really take the time to get to know your classmates. The network of AFE alumni is powerful and growing, and I find we all support each other professionally (and personally too!). We bring a very important voice to the food and farm world out there.