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Growing a New Generation of Food Systems Leaders By Jessica Rowland, University of New Mexico Sustainability Studies Program

I never intended to have a career in food and agriculture. I had, in fact, spent most of my teens and twenties trying to get as far away as possible from the agrarian lifestyle and the family farm I had known as a child. The damp evergreen forests and expansive pastures in western Washington were beautiful, but the chores were unending and oftentimes performed in pouring rain. Although it wasn’t remotely hip back then, my family ate mostly local, homegrown food. We raised cattle, pigs, and chickens in our desolate little valley, and grew a variety of fruits and vegetables. Every summer we took a gamble on choosing correctly the single fiveday window of consistent sunshine, during which we would frantically bale acres and acres of hay.

crops often rotted in water-logged soil instead of shriveling in sun-parched earth. In the gardens we battled moles, slugs, snails, and deer, rather than squash bugs, leafcutters, spider mites, and cabbage moths. But, the fundamental challenges remain similar regardless of climate, geography, or scale: Can you make a living, feed your family good food, and do work that is personally fulfilling, as well as good for the land and your community?

Planning the month-long summer immersion experience connected me with a diverse network of growers, processors, restaurateurs, advocates, educators, and others across New Mexico. I was impressed by the richness of the state’s local food system, and quickly realized that food was the perfect starting point from which to begin a dialogue about sustainability. Sustainability is all about balancing that proverbial stool on the three legs: environmental health, economic vitality, and social equity. Without adequate consideration of all three components, the stool will not stand upright for long. The current industrial food system has on the whole disregarded two of the legs in exchange for singular pursuit of profit.

In some ways the farming challenges my family faced in the Pacific Northwest were the opposite of the ones we encounter in the high desert of New Mexico. We had too much rain as opposed to not enough. Our

These are the questions I now think about every day. After attempting a career in environmental consulting, I wanted to engage in more meaningful community-based work. In retrospect, it was a logical offshoot of my formal academic training in climate change science (and a happy accident) to become a lecturer in the University of New Mexico Sustainability Studies Program. Given the opportunity three years ago to develop our program’s Summer Foodshed Field School, I knew that food systems would become my focus.

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Above left: Foodshed field school at Gemini Farm in Truchas, New Mexico. Photo by Bruce Milne. Above right: Working with students at Santa Cruz Farm. Photo by German Martinez.

edible Santa Fe | SPRING 2014

As such, the Sustainability Studies program is committed to engaging students in educational and research opportunities that advance food system transformation. By building a strong foundation of knowledge and encouraging collaborative, real-world interactions, students can grow into leaders

Edible Santa Fe - Spring 2014  

Women and Food - The spring issue is a showcase of amazing women working in food and agriculture, from those defining local food distributio...