Farmer Profile: Visions for a New Sustainable Vegetable Farm in Putnam, CT

by Nako Kobayashi

Farmer Yoko Takemura hopes to incorporate aspects of her Japanese heritage as well as her academic background in environmental sustainability into her new farm business.

Yoko on a large bag of potting soil. (Photo: Instagram @assawagafarm)

Yoko on a large bag of potting soil. (Photo: Instagram @assawagafarm)

While farmers represent an increasingly aging demographic group, a growing number of young farmers in New England and across the country are working to change the food system. Many of these new farmers, like Yoko Takemura of Assawaga Farm in Putnam, Connecticut, do not have farming backgrounds but instead have experiences that bring different perspectives and ideas into their farming practices. Yoko, who I was introduced to through my former boss at Cloverleigh Farm, is drawing inspiration from traditional Japanese agricultural practices in her effort to make her new farm a truly sustainable operation.

Growing up around the world due to her father’s occupation, Yoko always had a passion for the environment. She never thought, however, that she would end up becoming a farmer. After graduating from a university in Tokyo, she briefly worked in investment banking so that she could save money for graduate school. She eventually quit her job and moved to New York City to study environmental sustainability in graduate school. Living in Bed-Stuy, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, she became a member of a community garden and started developing a passion for growing vegetables and the way growing food can bring people together. It wasn’t until she joined her first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group while working for a consulting firm in NYC, however, that she really started to think about starting her own farm. Yoko’s “a-ha!” moment came to her when she visited Windflower Farm in upstate New York for the annual CSA member’s potluck. “On the ride back to NYC,” she reminisces, “I couldn’t stop visualizing myself as a farmer!” She then applied for apprenticeships on vegetable farms outside of NYC and eventually found Riverbank Farm in Western Connecticut, where she worked for 3 years.

Yoko and her husband, Alex, in front of a farm building they constructed. (Photo: Instagram @assawagafarm)

Yoko and her husband, Alex, in front of a farm building they constructed. (Photo: Instagram @assawagafarm)

To start their own farm business, Yoko and her husband Alex bought 22 acres of land in Putnam, Connecticut in 2016. Because the land had been previously used to farm hay for decades, Yoko and Alex had to build all of their own farm infrastructure from scratch. However, this actually works to their advantage as they now have the freedom to design their infrastructure with their specific sustainability goals in mind. For example, they were able to build their greenhouse in a way that accommodates SolaWrap, a durable greenhouse cover that lasts much longer than many other plastic films used in greenhouses.

SolaWrap being installed on Assawaga Farm's new greenhouse. (Photo: Instagram @assawagafarm)

SolaWrap being installed on Assawaga Farm’s new greenhouse. (Photo: Instagram @assawagafarm)

Yoko and Alex take a lot of inspiration from traditional Japanese agricultural methods in order to achieve their sustainability goals. The couple spent some time travelling around Japan and visiting many farms and learning about the various ways in which some Japanese farmers have cultivated a harmonious relationship with the natural environment. While organic agriculture can often be heavily dependent on inputs from fossil fuels, Yoko hopes to take her greenhouse off the grid by incorporating the Japanese practice of fumikomi-onsho, which involves mixing a large amount of leaves with some rice bran and chicken manure, applying water to it, and stomping on the mixture in order to generate heat. This variation of composting creates a fairly steady level of heat for weeks. This allows farmers to start their seedlings as well as have heat in the greenhouse without the use of electricity.

Building a relationship with the forest is another aspect of traditional Japanese agriculture that Yoko became enamored with when visiting farms in Japan. “The forest gave the farmers mulch, wood, bamboo, inoculant, etc. and the farmers gave back by maintaining and taking care of the forest through selective cutting, cleaning up, etc.” In comparison, Yoko explains that “the health of our forests around here” is “terrifyingly bad”. Yoko hopes to actively help better the condition of the forests that encompass her land in the coming years “because the forest is as much part of our farm as is our field.” One way Yoko and Alex want to give back to the forest is by applying “humanure” from composting toilets to the neighboring forests, after a two year composting period. For various health-related reasons, the “humanure” will not be used for their actual farming operation, but it is one way Yoko and Alex can create a more harmonious relationship with the forests that surround their land.

Yoko and Alex's DIY composting toilet. (Photo: Instagram @assawagafarm)

Yoko and Alex’s DIY composting toilet that will help them give back to their forests. (Photo: Instagram @assawagafarm)

For Yoko, the terms organic and sustainable are not one and the same. While Assawaga Farm has applied for organic certification, there are some additional practices that Yoko and her husband want to incorporate in order to reduce as much waste associated with and inputs required for their farm as possible. In addition to some of the Japanese practices they want to try out on their farm, there are many other sustainable practices not included in the certification that Yoko and Alex hope to take on. For example, they hope to use minimal amounts of plastic by not using any one-time drip tapes or plastic mulch, often used by organic farmers to help suppress weeds. They also plan to eventually create all of their own fertilizer, compost, and potting mix using the Japanese bokashi method of inoculating fertilizer with local culture taken from the nearby forests.

Believing that “organic originates in soil”, Yoko wants to take special care of the soil on their farm by using minimal tilling and eventually transitioning into no-till agriculture. This will help them “keep the delicate web of microorganisms and mycorrhizal fungi intact,” in addition to preserving the soil structure, maintaining carbon in the soil and keeping a steady release of nutrients in the soil “rather than short bursts of it.” They plan to have at least one field in their farm dedicated to cover crops year-round which will help prevent the depletion of nutrients and accumulate biomass. The couple also hope to save their own seeds and breed seeds that are adapted to their local environment.

In addition to using Japanese farming practices, Yoko also plans to grow many Japanese varieties of vegetables on her farm. When asked why she wanted to grow Japanese varieties, she responded simply that she just wanted to grow vegetables that she craved from home and that she wanted to eat herself! In addition, growing Japanese varieties helps Yoko target a niche market within the oversaturated market for organic produce in the Boston area. She is particularly excited about growing edamame, as “it’s just not summer without edamames!”

Alex seeing Assawaga Farm's first crop - garlic! (Photo: Instagram @assawagafarm)

Alex seeding Assawaga Farm’s first crop – garlic! (Photo: Instagram @assawagafarm)

In the next few months, Yoko and Alex will be busy getting ready for their first growing season and transitioning into the full-time farming lifestyle. They start seeding in three weeks! Look for Yoko and Alex in farmers markets in the Boston area this coming season (locations yet to be decided). They also have some CSA shares available through their website.

Update, March 2, 2018: An earlier version of this article failed to clarify that the composted humanure would be used on Assawaga’s surrounding forest land only, and not on the farm itself. This has been updated for clarity, and we apologize if our omission was misleading to our readers.

Nako Kobayashi is a first year AFE student from Japan who has experience working on a small organic farm, a biodynamic vineyard, for the agricultural sector of a Japanese municipal government, and on a food hub development project. Having a B.A. in anthropology, she loves talking directly with farmers from various backgrounds and hearing about their unique perspectives of the food system. 

The Return of Jumbo’s Kitchen

by Theo Fitopoulos

Jumbo’s Kitchen is entering its ninth year as a program at the Friedman School. Now under new leadership, Tufts students are hoping to grow the program to better serve the needs of those in our community. Jumbo’s Kitchen volunteers will have the opportunity to empower students at the nearby Josiah Quincy Elementary School through cooking and nutrition education. Learn more about what is in store this semester, and how you can get involved!

It is that time of year again! Students of the Tufts Health Sciences schools now have the chance to teach children in the local community about having fun, gaining confidence, and making healthy choices through cooking and nutrition education. Jumbo’s Kitchen returns this spring, giving students the opportunity to volunteer at the nearby Josiah Quincy Elementary School to teach the basics of cooking and nutrition. This year the Jumbo’s Kitchen team is also aiming to teach the students about gardening and growing their own food.

Student Simon Ye teaching at a Jumbo's Kitchen session in Spring 2017

Student Simon Ye teaching at a Jumbo’s Kitchen session in Spring 2017.

Jumbo’s Kitchen started at the Friedman School in 2009 and despite operating in different schools around Boston, the mission remains the same: to promote an understanding of nutrition and introduce basic cooking skills to empower kids to develop healthy eating habits. Simon Ye, a PhD candidate at the Friedman School, began volunteering with Jumbo’s Kitchen as a Curriculum Development Chair during the 2015-16 school year. When asked why he wanted to get involved initially, Ye said, “Personally speaking I love cooking and working with kids, so taking this role was ideal for me to serve the community in a way that I really enjoy.” Partnering with the Josiah Quincy Elementary School offers the Friedman the opportunity to build a sense of community with our neighbors and volunteer with young students at an age when it’s more important than ever to develop healthy eating habits.

As a first-year student at Tufts Medical School, Vanessa Yu was looking for different volunteering opportunities offered through the school. When she learned about the Jumbo’s Kitchen program, she was eager to get involved: “Going into Tufts Med, I knew I wanted to find a way to engage with the local community. Tufts is the only medical school to be located in a Chinatown, which is a really unique position to be in, in terms of understanding how to interact with a different community and culture. It’s important for students on the Boston campus to be cognizant of the lives that their patients lead, and programs like Jumbo’s Kitchen are a great way to gain that awareness. By spending a few hours each week with students of the Josiah Quincy School, we’ll get to learn about the littlest members of our community and discover what’s most important to them.”

Josiah Quincy students learn how to make smoothies.

Josiah Quincy students learn how to make smoothies.

Jumbo’s Kitchen also provides a valuable experience for volunteers. Not only are they able to help neighbors in our community develop healthy eating habits, but Jumbo’s Kitchen volunteers also gain experience developing lessons and teaching nutrition in a classroom setting. Some of the sessions in this year’s Jumbo’s Kitchen curriculum include an introduction to food groups and the USDA MyPlate, basic cooking techniques, serving sizes, healthy snacking, and field trips to the Friedman School garden and a local Chinatown grocery store. Each week will feature a different food that fits the specific lesson, and students will keep track of what they learn in their own journals, so they can share lessons with their families at home.

The time commitment for Jumbo’s Kitchen volunteers includes lesson planning, food shopping for the week, and class time. Classes will take place on eight different Fridays this semester at the Josiah Quincy Elementary School. This year’s curriculum has the Jumbo’s Kitchen board very excited, and we have a great group of volunteers ready to start the semester; however there is always room for more students to get involved. Simon Ye has seen the benefit of the program to the kids first-hand: “Jumbo’s Kitchen’s goal is to teach kids basic nutrition and food preparation skills. I believe that developing a positive and active relationship with what we eat is critical for leading a healthy lifestyle in the long run. I wish that when I was a kid someone could have helped me understand what food is in a way that Jumbo’s Kitchen is now doing. I can tell that many of the kids enjoy our classes and learned something that they will carry later on.”

To get involved with Jumbo’s Kitchen contact Vanessa Yu at Be sure to keep up with Jumbo’s Kitchen this semester by following us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, using @jumboskitchen!

Theo Fitopoulos is a second-year student in the Food Policy and Applied Nutrition program, and current intern at the Tufts Health Science Public Relations Office. In his free time, he enjoys sampling the burgeoning Boston restaurant scene, experimenting with traditional Greek recipes in his own kitchen, and playing basketball and tennis when the weather permits.

Opening the Unpaid Internship Opportunity: Friedman’s New Direct Service Scholarship

by Julie Kurtz for Friedman Justice League

In February, Friedman students launched a Crowdfund Campaign for a Direct Service Internship Scholarship. In the video, witness the stories of past students who engaged in direct service internships. If you’re a first-year student, consider applying for the scholarship. And everyone: the campaign has 7 days left—donate and share to support service learning at Friedman! #Give2Serve 

“Is it paid? Ugh, bummer.”

“Nope, can’t do it.”

“Please tell me there’s a stipend…”

We’ve heard this story from Friedman students searching for their summer internships. Despite great interest in working for organizations that align with their passions and professional goals, they simply can’t swing an unpaid summer internship.

During a Faculty-Student Lunch n’ Learn last December, Friedman Justice League (FJL) heard a related need: faculty and student participants identified service learning as a gap in our Friedman education.

To address these two challenges, FJL initiated a crowdfund campaign to raise $4,000, enough to fund one student for a 10-week, direct service summer internship. Since many service and social-justice oriented internships cannot offer a stipend, the scholarship will support students in pursuing their desire to serve when funding opportunities are limited. Though initiated by FJL, it’s a community-wide effort! Faculty have been donating, Dean Mozaffarian has tweeted, and the administration has affirmed their support for this critical student effort.

Despite the modest financial goal, the impact will be sizable. Beyond the lifelong impact on the recipient and the service provided to the organization, the internship will nurture a relationship between community partners and Friedman.


What does this mean for students?

  • If you are a first-year student, please consider applying! Friedman administration will choose a recipient whose internship meets the values of the scholarship. All unpaid service or social justice internships are eligible!
  • Donate and share! The campaign runs till March 8th. Every little bit helps, and so does sharing the campaign with your friends and networks!


What do we mean by direct service?

It can mean many things, but here are two examples from Friedman alums:

  • Alison Brown, PhD developed a program called ‘Keep it Real: Better Food for Better Health’ at a community fitness center in Dorchester. Her program worked with women and children to cultivate fitness and nutrition skills for healthier lifestyles. It was memorable for Alison to see people grow healthier and become excited about cooking healthy foods. For Alison, direct service is about empowering disenfranchised communities while paving the way for rooted and relevant policy change.
  • As a Master’s student at Friedman, Dan Hatfield, PhD led a walking and running-based physical activity program for 6th grade boys in East Boston. Dan worked directly with the community to develop an evidence-based program. The boys learned to set, track, and accomplish their physical fitness goals. Dan, in turn, was inspired to pursue a PhD and continues to do work that bridges the gap between research and practice.

We hope this initiative communicates to the Friedman administration the student body’s desire for direct service opportunities and the need for assistance to make it possible. This direct service scholarship sets a precedent. Friedman’s summer internship requirement is one of the few opportunities we have to explore service learning before diving into our careers. We encourage all first-years to consider applying, and invite everyone to donate to make it possible!

Julie Kurtz (MS/MPH) joined FJL in 2016, after her professional experience impressed upon her that community involvement matters as much as one’s job description. She loves the rich history of Friedman students who have contributed to FJL’s unique DNA.

UN ECOSOC Recap: Building a Sustainable Future

by Laura Barley

In January, second year AFE student Laura Barley served as a student representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in New York City. Empowered youth from across the globe gathered with governmental officials to share ideas about how to achieve the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Here, she recounts her experience and shares some of the key takeaways from the event.

Image source: Author

Image source: Author

For two days at the end of January, I was given the opportunity to travel alongside four fellow Tufts student representatives to the ECOSOC Youth Forum at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The forum was a whirlwind of speeches, brainstorming sessions, and long-winded discourse from youth representatives and official ministries from all over the world—all putting their heads together to decide how to best empower the future.

ECOSOC, abbreviated from the UN Economic and Social Council, regularly holds these types of events to integrate policy frameworks that support the Sustainable Development Goals from the ground up. For those unfamiliar with the SDGs, they were created by the UN in 2015 as a comprehensive platform of 17 goals that cover the world’s most pressing issues: gender equality, hunger and malnutrition, and climate change mitigation, among many others.

By popular consensus, the SDGs are seen as a much-needed improvement from the UN’s previous set of Millennium Development Goals, which many viewed as too vague and intangible. Instead the SDGs work to define timely, measurable goals that nations can properly mobilize—for instance, reducing current levels of food waste by half, or completely eradicating poverty for people living on less than $1.90 a day.

Fostering the notion that young people have exceptional power to drive social change, the Youth Forum focused specifically on six SDGs that dealt with clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, sustainable cities and communities, sustainable consumption and production, life on land, and technological innovation, and how to empower youth to achieving these goals.

The structure of the forum allowed participants to choose only one SDG-focused brainstorming session, and as the pious AFE student that I am, I naturally gravitated towards the session on SDG 12: Sustainable Consumption and Production. Voices from Great Britain, Nepal, and Saudi Arabia all echoed sentiments familiar to the halls of Jaharis—we’re consuming too much and too quickly for our planet to withstand. We ought to know better by now, but we’re not living up to our own standards as we should be. And under the framework of youth empowerment, the subtext of these truisms begged the question: how can we raise our children to be more mindful than we’ve been?

The voices from developed nations, including my own American perspective, maintained that serious gaps in our educational institutions preclude most youth from even realizing that their choices have an impact on the natural environment. Exposure to nature, agriculture, and nutrition have become secondary and tertiary priorities in most public school systems, which ultimately neglects the chance to positively influence the consumers that all children will become.

So, when it came time to distill our ideas into concrete policy recommendations, we converged on a few points central to the evolution of education. We recommended increasing diverse and equitable educational experiences across all types of school systems, emphasizing focus on transforming the mindsets of youth from those of a consumer towards those of a producer. In this sense, sustainable development means an expanded awareness of the relationship between consumption and production, and that even the simplest of our everyday choices has the power to influence how the world’s natural resources are used.

Image source: Author

Image source: Author

Ultimately, the participants’ recommendations will be compiled into a broader report on youth engagement published by the United Nations, reflecting official policy goals of the signatory countries to the SDGs. And though I gleaned constructive insight into the annals of UN procedure—how they gather information, how they form their policy stances—I found that the hallway conservations I had with my peers were far more valuable. These events function to tap into the infinite potential of minds with vision and hope, and the sum of our parts are starting to become an incredibly powerful whole. Earnestly, I hope to see the Tufts community continue to engage with the Sustainable Development Goals at this level and beyond.

Laura Barley is a second-year Agriculture, Food, and Environment master’s student ceaselessly curious about the complexity that global food systems has to offer. She’s always happy to indulge conversation at

Branchfood Holds First in 4-Part Panel Series on Technological Innovation in Food and Farming

by Laura Barley

On February 22, Branchfood hosted the first panel in a four-part series entitled The Future of Food, exploring innovation in agriculture, food products, nutrition, and retail. Second-year AFE student Laura Barley attended The Future of Agriculture panel, and reports on the exciting developments on the industry’s horizon. Don’t miss the rest of the series! (Details below.)

As part of its mission to connect food innovators from the local to the global, last Thursday February 22 Branchfood debuted the first in a four-part series of panels devoted to the future of food systems. The Future of Agriculture convened four ambitious leaders for a discussion on the role of data and technological innovation in agriculture, and how they can contribute to the greater vision of global sustainability.

The panel, moderated by the charismatic captain of the Entrepreneur Agrarian Fund, Aaron Niederhelman, focused heavily on one recurring theme: digital disruption. And for a field so central to the health of the planet, this kind of disruption may just be the type of makeover that agriculture needs to account for its externalities.

Water scarcity, greenhouse gas emissions, and chemical run-off continue to plague large-scale agriculture all over the world, so the implicit question underlying the panel remains: in a world where machines can now compile and analyze massive amounts of data, how can we teach sophisticated machines to solve agriculture’s most complex problems?

Lauren Moores, Vijay Somandepalli, Lawrence Wang, and Brett Brohl discuss their work in agriculture tech and data science. Aaron Niederhelman moderates. (Image source: Author)

Lauren Moores, Vijay Somandepalli, Lawrence Wang, and Brett Brohl discuss their work in agriculture tech and data science. Aaron Niederhelman moderates. (Image source: Author)

For Vijay Somandepalli, co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at American Robotics, the answer lies in automation, though developing this technology hasn’t always been as straightforward as it seems. “Lots of drones work, but almost none of them are actually used,” Vijay admitted.

To counter the trend, he and his team have developed the first fully-automated field drone, which independently collects and analyzes crop field data from launch to landing. From his point of view, automation is one step closer to ensuring that the benefits of drone technology are actually implemented—if farmers don’t have to manually monitor their field data, they and their workers can spend their time on tasks better suited to human hands. Given the continued trend toward farm consolidation, where the average size of an American farm is 234 acres and half are more than 1,100 acres, this can translate into an incredible amount of saved time and energy.

Essentially, automation has the potential to become the hallmark of precision agriculture, where farmers can build trust in technology to deliver the efficiency gains they need to remain profitable. This vision for technology was echoed by the other panelists, each of whom has the power to influence agricultural production trends on a global scale.

Lawrence Wang, Digitalization and Analytics Strategy Lead at Cargill, spoke to the promising commitment that the multi-national agribusiness company has made towards technological innovation and sustainability. Cargill has partnered with Ecolab and Techstars to create a Farm to Fork Accelerator, an entrepreneurship program dedicated to bringing some of the leading ideas in food safety, manufacturing, and food waste to fruition.

Brett Brohl, Managing Director of the Techstars accelerator program, contends that “The timing is right—there’s a bunch of venture capital moving into food innovation in the last several years.” For a behemoth processing and manufacturing corporation like Cargill, which largely contributes to the nine billion animals slaughtered in the US each year, re-shaping conventional systems of meat production could have widespread implications. Concepts like traceability and transparency have become increasingly popular among consumers, and in an attempt to gauge consumer interest and trust, Cargill has even started to trace each Thanksgiving turkey all the way back to the start of its supply chain.

But for Lauren Moores, VP of Data Strategy and Data Sciences at Indigo Agriculture, data amounts to more than the results it produces. She believes that data analysis is fundamentally a storytelling challenge, and in her line of work, that challenge means simplifying the vast complexity of the plant-soil microbiome. As a prominent Boston startup, Indigo works to tap the potential of the microbes that have evolved in conjunction with plants over time, ultimately to produce a seed coating that maximizes plant health and productivity. The universe of the microbiome is still so elusive, and the microbial cocktail of Indigo’s seed coatings is complex enough to warrant selection by machine learning just to refine the tens of thousands of possible strains available.

Lauren also acknowledges that “farmers know their land better than anyone,” and that Indigo’s role is to develop data to help them cultivate their land more sustainably. The standing paradigm of the microbiome, which Indigo is actively researching, suggests that the biology of bacteria and fungi can enhance crop water and nutrient uptake, so that excessive irrigation and synthetic nutrients won’t need to be applied as frequently.

Interestingly, Vijay’s drone technology aims to reduce the need for agricultural inputs from a slightly different angle—drone imagery can pinpoint nutrient deficiency and other crop ailments at a much higher resolution than even the farmer’s own eye. Where a farmer used to apply chemicals to a whole field just to cover their bases, they can now apply them only to the specific areas in need.

This is the story of technological efficiency—and optimism—that these innovators are trying to write. Collectively our minds are capable of pioneering solutions to the problems of our past’s conventions, and agriculture isn’t the only sector that could use a technological re-vamp. To bring awareness to innovation materializing throughout the whole food system, Branchfood is hosting three further panels on the Future of Food Products, the Future of Nutrition, and the Future of Grocery respectively on March 22, April 26, and May 24. The panels will continue to bring visionary food minds together, to share and inspire how our collective food story will evolve.

Correction, March 7, 2018: This article has been updated to clarify that Indigo Agriculture uses data about plant-soil microbiomes to develop seed treatments that enhance plant health and productivity. –Editors

Laura Barley is a second-year Agriculture, Food, and Environment master’s student ceaselessly curious about the complexity that global food systems has to offer. She’s always happy to indulge conversation at

A Magical (Food) Journey

by Hannah Macfarlane

Some people visit theme parks to go on the rides, others go to investigate the food. For Hannah Macfarlane, her winter vacation presented an opportunity for both. Keep reading to explore Orlando’s famous parks as told through meals and learn some tips for eating your way to a great vacation .

Over winter break, my mom and I headed to Orlando for four days of theme park hopping: two days at Walt Disney World and two days at Universal Studios. We walked more than forty miles, rode nearly every roller coaster designed for people over the age of six, and took lots of awkward selfies so our family at home in the Northeast could envy the beautiful weather. And because I am a food-loving nutrition student, I made it my mission to find the healthiest, most satisfying theme park food I could.

Quick disclaimer: if you want to eat cheeseburgers, churros, and cotton candy while you’re on vacation (or not), go for it! No food is bad food, ESPECIALLY when you’re in the Happiest Place on Earth™. For me, eating balanced meals was important because I have a sensitive stomach and experience acid reflux, so my goal was to find foods that wouldn’t make me feel sick while riding roller coasters that made me feel sick. Isn’t that great logic?

Day 0:

We had originally planned to do one day at Disney and two at Universal, but thanks to some last minute inspiration and a free flight change from Delta, we ended up arriving in Orlando a day early. That meant more time for rides, and more food to eat! Before we checked into our hotel, we stopped by the supermarket (Publix, obviously) to pick up some food and local beer for our mini fridge. Breakfast ended up being the one meal that stayed consistent all week: fresh berries with plain Greek yogurt and chocolate granola, and whatever coffee we could find. I referred to my breakfast as “room service,” but really it was my wonderful mother waiting on me so I could sleep in. She’s a saint.

Day 1:

Not food, but I had to throw in a photo of Cinderella's castle at night! (Image source: Author)

Not food, but I had to throw in a photo of Cinderella’s castle at night! (Image source: Author)

We officially began our adventure in the utopia that is Magic Kingdom. I’d downloaded the Disney World app the previous week and looked at the menus about 17 times each, so I knew I wanted to drag my mom to Columbia Harbour House for lunch. I ordered the Grilled Salmon; she had the Broccoli Peppercorn Salad. The food was good, but the best part of the meal was making a new friend in the form of a flight attendant from Seattle who had run the “Dopey Challenge” the previous weekend—a 5K, 10K, half marathon, and full marathon in sequential days. I discovered that not only are there obsessed Disney World fans and obsessed runners, there are a ton of people out there who are both. Personally, I prefer to get my physical activity in by skipping from ride to ride, but to each their own.

For dinner, we swung by the Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn, located in the Frontier Land area. I went for the tacos, but quickly fell in love when I discovered the UNLIMITED GUACAMOLE. Yes, you read that right. After you order your food—I got a Taco Trio with Seasoned Ground Beef, Seasoned Chicken, and Spicy Breaded Cauliflower topped with 5-spice Yogurt and Pineapple Salsa – you head to the toppings bar for all the fixin’s. I am not kidding when I say I helped myself to a full cup of guacamole, or $10 worth if we’re talking in Chipotle terms.

Day 2:

This was our longest day; we were in the parks from 8 am (pre-rope drop for those in the know) to 11 pm. Lunch was this bowl from Satu’li Canteen in the new Pandora section of Animal Kingdom, and it was DELICIOUS. I hadn’t decided what to eat until I walked past the restaurant and scoped out the menu (I spent a lot of time looking at menus, clearly). As soon as I saw it was a build-your-own-bowl place, I knew I had to get that food in my belly. I would have gone back for dinner but we were in Epcot by that point. Go to Pandora for the food, stay to watch people suffer through the ridiculously long lines for the Avatar Flight of Passage ride.

(Image source: Author)

(Image source: Author)

Our second park dinner was our only real sit-down meal during the four days of park hopping. One of my mom’s best friends and her daughter had planned a trip to Disney at the same time, so we met up at Restaurant Marrakesh in the World Showcase. My mom and I ordered two dishes—Roast Lamb Meshoui and Shish Kebab—and swapped halfway through so we could try both. Honestly, the best part of the World Showcase is the food—you can try food from all around the world in one place!

A typical menu at Universal Studios. (Image source: Author)

A typical menu at Universal Studios. (Image source: Author)

Day 3:

As much as I love Disney (and I do LOVE Disney), I was most excited to visit Universal for one reason only: the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I don’t love being surrounded by hordes of people, but I’m happy to deal with crowds of Muggles trying to catch a photo of the Gringotts dragon mid-fire breath.

The food at Universal Studios is generally pretty limited, making me wish there were house elves on hand to cook up our favorite foods. When you search the park’s website for “healthy options” in the two main parks you get one result, and it costs $50 for an adult. That said, it’s the Marvel meet-and-greet restaurant, so you may get to hang out with Thor.

I made the rookie mistake of winging lunch that day, and I ended up struggling to find something that met my requirements (read: not a burger and fries) while fighting through my “hanger.” We finally ended up at Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck for—you guessed it—more tacos. Sadly, the guacamole there was NOT unlimited, but I did enjoy the Korean beef. Universal closed at the non-magical hour of 7 pm, so we didn’t waste time getting dinner at the park. Why eat when you can ride the Hulk again and again?

Sunset over Hogsmeade. (Image source: Author)

Sunset over Hogsmeade. (Image source: Author)

Day 4:

After my lunchtime annoyance of the previous day, I had already decided to visit Fire Eater’s Grill for our final lunch. The food wasn’t the best, but my gyro came with a side of veggies (carrots and celery sticks) and hummus. Not too shabby! Disappointingly, there were no fire eaters to be found. 

Ice cream at Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour (*authentic British spelling!) (Image source: Author)

Ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour (*authentic British spelling!) (Image source: Author)

I only got ice cream once during our four days in the park, but this cup from Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour* was totally worth the wait. As a huge Harry Potter fan, just having the experience of eating ice cream in Diagon Alley would have been enough for me; this ice cream also happened to be incredibly tasty. My mom and I ordered separately and somehow both ended up with salted caramel blondie and clotted cream. Accio deliciousness!

After picking up souvenirs at Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment, we headed back to Hogsmeade only to discover that the park closed at 6 pm. I didn’t get to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey again, but we did have extra time to get tasty Ethiopian food for dinner near our hotel.

Overall, I was pretty satisfied with the food I found at both parks, especially Disney World. It definitely takes some effort and planning, but there are vegetables to be found! Most importantly, I had a blast.


  1. Do breakfast/coffee in the hotel so you’re in a good mood by the time you reach the park. Those crowds can be brutal and you don’t want to face them when you’re hangry (trust me on that one).
  2. Bring snacks. I had plenty of dried mango in my bag so that I could raise my blood sugar whenever I felt myself getting cranky (see above). We also had pretzels, cheese crackers, beef jerky, nuts, and granola bars—snacking is a serious business for us!
  3. Plan ahead. This is especially true if you have any kind of dietary restrictions. I’m just picky, but I still got a little hangry (again, see above) on the one day I didn’t pick a lunch spot ahead of time. (Sorry, Mom!)
  4. Look into the meal plans. We didn’t do this, but both Disney and Universal offer flat rate meal plans that are accepted at many on-site dining locations. As a bonus, you’ll feel like a freshman again!

Hannah Macfarlane is a second year student in the Nutrition Interventions, Communication, and Behavior Change program. Her favorite activities include re-reading Harry Potter, snacking, and pretending to be a kid again.

Paradise Lost

by Laura Barley

Climate change is a globally felt human experience that recently hit home for California native Laura Barley. Here, she reflects on the wildfires in her home state and takes a look at some policy tools aimed at climate mitigation.

California is on fire. Needless to say, the past two months have been a terrifying series of events. The Thomas Fire has devoured almost 275,000 acres, granting it the all-too dynamic status of the largest wildfire in California’s recent history. It wraps up the most destructive wildfire season California has on record, capping off at over 500,000 acres burned—more than double the total acreage burned in 2016. To add insult to injury some of those acres, charred of all vegetation by the Thomas Fire, bore the burden of a flash flood that killed 21 people in Montecito.

Even though the Friedman School pulled me to Boston, California is and always will be my home. For the most part, I watched the coverage of the Thomas Fire from afar. Tucked away in the icy confines of my Somerville apartment and Jaharis 118, I checked my phone every few hours to see who of my friends had been evacuated, which of my sun-streaked memory lanes had been destroyed. I couldn’t believe what I saw—apocalyptic images of scrubby hillsides swallowed by flames, plumes of orange clouds encompassing the whole sky. Each picture I saw boomed the same message over and over: that nothing would ever be the same again.

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

The frequency of large-scale devastation speaks for itself: California’s climate is changing. It appears that the massive strain on the state’s agricultural and urban water resources, fueled by the longstanding lure of its eternal growing season and illustrious vision of paradise, have come to a reckoning. Years of prolonged drought followed by a sporadic year of intense rainfall have created ecosystems irresilient to the rapid shifts—groundwater and river basins have all but dried up, leaving forest and chaparral ecosystems as little more than tinderboxes. The euphoric agricultural and commercial boons of the twentieth century have lurched into a twenty-first century defined by scarcity, uncertainty, and dramatic change.

So, what’s really at stake here? Climates change, they have for eons. Species perish and adapt in the great equilibrium of life. And we—Californians, Americans, humans—will adapt too, hopefully in a timely manner. But much of the world finds itself in the middle of a cycle that feels beyond our control, where the climate interventions we make barely seem to break even. The tons of carbon dioxide emissions from a single large-scale wildfire, like the Thomas or Napa Fires, are estimated to equal the annual emissions of all motor vehicles in the state, and definitively offset much of the progress made by the state’s cap-and-trade program.

For the foreseeable future, California and much of the American West will continue to battle climate change on multiple fronts—greenhouse gas emissions, sea level rise, flash flood and wildfire mitigation, to name a few. Encouragingly, Governor Jerry Brown’s administration has made significant headway towards a baseline system of climate accountability across the state. In addition to the emissions cap-and-trade program, since 2009 the Safeguarding California plan has established a template for large-scale climate change adaptation strategies, and continues to convene action plans across multiple state and municipal departments. Additionally, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 has finally enacted groundwater monitoring protocol in a state that will continue to rely almost exclusively on subterranean water stores for agricultural production. These are positive signs of political responsiveness, and hopefully yield noticeable impacts in the years to come.

But at the heart of climate change, there exists a loss more worrisome than any policy analysis or statistics could project. For me, for now, the loss is purely psychological. The sense that all of us feel to some extent, which is felt especially strongly in California and the developed world at large, the sense that nothing bad can ever happen to us—that’s gone now.

Enduring the human experience of losing the places we’ve built from scratch, places with cultural and spiritual significance, places we call home—this is the global price many of us will have to pay in the coming decades. The stories of devastation and loss are the stories we should be paying attention to, the stories that make the numbers real. More importantly, they’re the stories that motivate us to action, out of fear and compassion that nothing so terrible should ever happen to us again. Because every time it happens, it shouldn’t.

Laura Barley is a second-year AFE Master’s student, who grew up in the Bay Area and lived in Southern California while attending UC Santa Barbara. She is a member of the Water Systems, Science, and Society research program aimed at mitigating water constraints to healthier diets. Most importantly, she strives to be a climate optimist.