Kristen Wirkkala, MS 2021
Kristen completed her master’s degree in Food Systems in August 2021. She currently works for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets, where she helps support Vermont food, beverage, and forestry businesses to grow their markets through domestic and international events. While at UVM, her research examined trends in home food procurement activities (gardening, hunting, fishing, foraging, canning, and backyard livestock) among Vermonters during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and their impact on diet quality, food security, and mental health.
“I chose the UVM Food Systems Graduate Program because of its transdisciplinary approach, focusing on all of the interconnected parts of our complex food system. I'm passionate about a variety of topics relating to food - from global trade policies down to the microorganisms that live in our soil - and I’m grateful that my studies at UVM gave me the space and flexibility to explore that wide range of interests.”
Kristen’s final project is The Fruits of Labor: Home Food Procurement Impacts Food Security, Diet Quality and Mental Health During COVID-19.
Susanna Baxley, MS 2021
Susanna graduated in May 2021 and spent time working with the Vermont Land Trust for her research. Her project is The Working Landscape: Vermont Land Trust and Farmland Access in Vermont.
Caitlin Morgan, PhD 2021
Caitlin Morgan completed her PhD in Food Systems in January 2021. She is currently working as a Postdoctoral Associate in UVM's Nutrition and Food Sciences department on a "serious gaming" project funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The project, a cross-disciplinary and cross-institutional collaboration, is aimed at developing policy mechanisms that would better support food access and health equity, specifically for sustainable farmers aiming to feed their local communities.
Caitlin's dissertation is Food From Somewhere: Envisioning and Practicing Aspirational Food Systems.
Melissa Pasanen, MS 2020
After a decade in consumer research, product development and marketing, Melissa took a UVM summer course in food and wine writing, which launched a new career in food and agriculture journalism. Thousands of articles later, she braved another (less fun) summer course in statistics and applied to the UVM Food Systems MS program.
Melissa’s goal was not to find a new career this time, but to become a better journalist. She wanted to learn more about the systems that influence her beat, and develop new tools with which to analyze and apply that knowledge. She continued working as a freelance journalist while completing the program part-time, and is now a staff writer for Seven Days, Vermont’s alt-weekly paper.
“I have always tried to frame stories in their larger context, the economic pressures that impact the decisions made by a farmer or chef, the history and culture of an immigrant community that holds its food traditions close, the diverse reasons that push someone into food insecurity,” she says. “My professors and fellow students really helped push me beyond my comfort zone to broaden my perspectives and skillset.” Among her new skills, Melissa’s MS project involved learning how to report, writer and produce audio stories in the form of podcasts.
Devon Johnson, MS 2019
Devon joined the California Climate Hub in November 2020 as an Assistant Specialist in Agriculture and Climate Adaptation Science. Her project title is "Climate Change Adaptation in Northern New England: What do Farmers Need to Adapt & How Can Agricultural Advisors Help?" You can read more about Devon's work here.
Emily Barbour, MS 2019
Emily is the Foods Lab Manager for the department of Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Vermont. They help facilitate and design classes and research studies run through the teaching kitchen and ensure the day-to-day operations of the lab run smoothly. Reflecting on their experience with the program, Emily says, "The transdisciplinary approach of the program provided a wealth of opportunities to step outside of my comfort zone in how I engage with both academic questions and the broader world, giving me new tools to approach systems level challenges and solutions. The size and connectedness of both the program and Vermont also afforded me a unique opportunity to gain a deep understanding of the state's food system and connect with a wide variety of people working within it through jobs, internships, and class projects.
Emily's final project is Fruit and Vegetable Access in Mobile Food Pantries Serving Households Impacted by Opioid Addiction.
Caroline Aubry, MS 2019
Caroline works as a Research Assistant with Tetra Tech working on a Bill & Melinda Gates funded crop analytics project based on the intersection of agriculture, data, and technology. Caroline appreciated the Food Systems program which provided ample networking opportunities, systems thinking framework and helped her build solid qualitative and quantitative research skills. While at UVM, Caroline got involved with launching the Swipe Out Hunger program in coordination with UVM Dining and the Campus Food Insecurity Working group, and completed her project-based master's work on Farm to School programs across Vermont.
Sarah Lyman, MS 2019
"I came to the UVM Food Systems program motivated and curious, but not really sure of my intended direction," Sarah reflects. "The professors here not only gave me tools to make a positive impact in the food system, they inspired me." Sarah is now the Communications Manager at Farm to Institution New England (FINE) where she helps shape content that encourages increased local food purchasing in schools, universities, hospitals and other institutions. Sarah came to UVM mid-career and took classes part-time while working full-time at UVM Extension. "That worked out great," she says. "In addition to getting a deeper awareness of the complexity of our food system, I was also developing an extensive network of professional and academic connections that help me now in my communications work.
Sarah's final project is Uncharted Territory: UVM Extension Data Visualization Needs Assessment. Sarah completed the MS program part-time while working full-time for UVM Extension.
Serge Wiltshire, PhD 2019
Serge finished his Ph.D. in Food Systems at the University of Vermont in May 2019. His research interests lie in the areas of computer modeling of complex agroecological systems, behavioral economics experimentation, and computational analysis of food systems network structures; with an eye toward improving food system resilience. Previous and ongoing research efforts include the development of strategies to promote the adoption of best management practices among Vermont’s dairy farmers, computer modeling of livestock production chain network structures in order to reduce epidemiological vulnerability, and analysis of public policy solutions which could reduce the impact of soil and water degradation, climate change, changing diets, and other factors on future global food security. Serge is currently a post-doctorate at University of California Berkeley working on a project funded by the NSF titled "The Influence of Conflicting Policies and Supply-Chain Pressures on Farmers' Decisions and Tradeoffs with Respect to Biodiversity, Profitability, and Sustainability."
Serge's dissertation is On The Application of Computational Modeling to Complex Food Systems Issues.
Olivia Pena, AMP 2018
Olivia currently works as a Food Security Specialist for Hunger Free Vermont. In this role, she conducts trainings and outreach to advocate for the 3SquaresVT program (SNAP in Vermont). She interacts with a wide range of food systems stakeholders and community partners, such as service providers, other nonprofit organizations, and state and federal representatives. Given that food insecurity is a complex issue, she feels the MS program equipped her with the skills to consider how changes and policies at multiple scales impact lower-income Vermonters, and how she can advocate for the best, most dignified 3SquaresVT program that meets community members' needs in collaboration with other stakeholders.
Olivia's final project is The Vermonter's Guide to the Farm Bill.
Chloe Boutelle, MS 2018
Chloe Boutelle is the Tompkins County Farm to School Coordinator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County. Chloe is developing the counties first county-wide farm to school program! She works with 30 schools in Tompkins County to help them procure fresh, healthy, regional foods, and to raise awareness of seasonal foods, local farming, and to promote healthy food choices among students and families. She works with food hubs, farmers and food service directors to help schools procure NY state products and collaborates with community partners to train food service staff how to scratch cook. She works with Cornell Cooperative Extention staff to engage students and the community in farm to school activities. She does broad-based work, from developing a coordinated buying strategy across the county to beginning a social media presence. The project-based work she did as a Food System's Master's student prepared her to take on this project that requires a diverse skillset; project management, communication, collaboration, networking, and qualitative and quantitative research methods!
Chloe's final project is Direct Farm-to-Institution Marketing: The Common Challenges and Keys to Success of Northeast Producers.
Meghan Brooks, MS 2017
Meghan currently works as the Production Manager at The Hub on the Hill, a food hub in Essex, New York. The Hub on the Hill works to promote and support local farmers and food producers in the Adirondacks. The main avenue for this is through the Hub’s commercial kitchen, where Meghan manages the processing of fruits, vegetables, and grains from the local farms. The most enjoyable parts of her work are curbing local food waste and providing a new market to support small farms in the area. The Food Systems program provided the opportunity to analyze the complex food system in the United States and gain experience across a spectrum of topics. This has been an exceptional asset when working at The Hub on the Hill because each day brings up new food issues. Thanks to the MS program, Meghan is prepared to take on all of these challenges. In addition to her work at The Hub on the Hill, Meghan recently started her own pie business called Honey Pie!
Meghan's final project is Agricultural Impacts on Rural Food Access in Vermont: A Situational Analysis and Ideas for the Future.
Shannon Esrich, AMP 2016
Since graduation, Shannon’s career has shifted in focus but remains rooted in her passions for systems thinking and community service. After completing her degree, Shannon moved to Senegal, West Africa where she served in the Peace Corps as a Sustainable Agriculture Specialist. Upon her return to the US, Shannon directed camps for middle school girls and non-binary youth to learn self-empowerment through carpentry and welding. She then went on to serve in the Vermont State House as a Committee Assistant to the House Committee on Education. Currently, Shannon works with The Water Project to help facilitate water, sanitation, and hygiene projects in Sub-Saharan Africa. Regardless of position, Shannon continues to find her skills gained from the MS program to be invaluable. These include being able to consider both a system and its many parts, nonjudgmentally understanding opposing perspectives, and never being afraid to dig deeper into the “why’s, how’s and what-if’s” of our world.
Shannon's final project is Dirt in Your Soul: An Exhibit Plan.
Hailey Grohman, MS 2016
Hailey is the Community Manager for Fork Food Lab, a shared kitchen and tasting room in Portland, Maine. She handles events, manages the catering program and oversees their 35 member companies. Hailey enjoys the fast pace and the opportunity to learn so many aspects of food entrepreneurship. "It's an awesome job and I feel very lucky to have found something so relevant to what I studied." In reflecting back on her experience in the Food Systems program, Hailey says, "I had a lot of freedom to customize my MS experience, so I focused on food media and food systems communication. I wrote for publications of all types - blogs, academic journals, etc., and gained experience in creating marketing copy for the UVM Food Systems Summit as we ll as for a small food and agricultural book publisher."
Jennifer Porter, MS 2015
Jennifer is the Community Food Security Coordinator for the Northeast Organic Farming Association, in Vermont (NOFA-VT). Previously, she served as Institution Coordinator at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM), where she assisted in the coordination of the Vermont Farm to School Grant Program. In thinking about how her current work relates to her graduate studies, Jennifer says, "My studies in the Food Systems program were very diverse and comprehensive, which equipped me with a well-rounded perspective on the food system. This perspective has been critical to my work by allowing me to understand the issues I deal with in a holistic way. My thesis work during the program focused on farm to college initiatives, was directly applicable to my farm to institution work at VAAFM. The program also gave me a pretty in-depth understanding of the history and current state of Vermont’s food system, in particular. I knew I wanted to stay in Vermont after graduating, and this place-specific knowledge has informed my work on a daily basis."
Bert Richards, MS 2015
Bert manages a mushroom production at Sharondale Mushroom Farm, a small scale mushroom farm in central Virginia, where a variety of gourmet mushrooms are grown and sold through direct to consumer and retail market avenues. "Studying Food Systems at UVM gave me insights into the cultural, political, and economic landscape that small scale farmers operate in. My studies have equipped me help plan a future for the farm that is sustainable in every sense of the word."
Gemelle Brion, MS 2015
Gemelle is a Soil Conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, in Central California. She credits the UVM Food Systems Graduate Program with rounding out her professional skillset: “I wanted to continue my education in the field of agriculture and found the Food Systems program to be a good fit because I could continue to take technical classes in production agriculture, I could perform my thesis project focused on organic farm production, and I could learn more about the social and political forces that influence agricultural production."
Maria Carabello, MS 2015
After graduating, Maria worked as an Assistant Chef Instructor at Vermont Works for Women's FRESH Food Program in Winooski. In this role, she trained un- and under-employed women for jobs in the culinary field. Maria is now pursuing a joint PhD in Health Services Organization & Policy and Sociology at the University of Michigan. Her experience in the Food Systems program at UVM showed her the value of systems thinking and taking an interdisciplinary approach to issues at the intersection of food and public health. Some of her current research interests include food choices and behaviors, social determinants of health, immigrant and minority health disparities, obesity and diet-related disease, and population health trends.
Katrina Light, MS 2014
After graduating, Katrina took a position as Director of Food Sustainability for Chartwells Dining Services, at Bard College. In her role as Director, Katrina handles sustainable procurement, education, and carbon footprint analysis. Katrina is also a visiting instructor in the Environment and Urban Studies Department, at Bard College, where she teaches a practicum and tutorial on the farm-to-institution movement. In addition to her work at Bard, Katrina also teaches in the summer for the Farm & Culinary Workshops at the Putney School. She works with highschoolers on a dariy farm and in the kitchen to increase food agency and awareness. In all of these endeavors, Katrina is glad her time at UVM gave her a foundation in critical thinking and innovation. As a self-described interdisciplinary thinker, she enjoys taking on these different roles in the food system. “Graduate school reawakened my various passions, and that helped me patchwork together a series of jobs that work for me. They match my various interests and how I make sense of the world.” Read more about Katrina's work.
Rachel DiStefano, MS 2014
After graduating, Rachel became a Health Policy Research Fellow at The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. She currently serves as Quality Management Specialist at Gifford Medical Center, in Randolph, Vermont. “Before entering the Food Systems Graduate program, I had been accustomed to professors staying within their respective departments and areas of expertise. In this program, the boundaries between disciplines are fluid, with research projects often crossing over into other subject areas.”
Kristyn Achilich, MS 2014
Kristyn is the Academic Program Coordinator of the Organic Garden and Permaculture Site at Saint Michael's College. In this role, Kristyn supports students, faculty, and community members who use the Organic Garden and Permaculture Site for education and research. She also provides resources for faculty as they plan lessons in the outdoor classroom. Additionally, she manages and designs the facility to maximize its research, teaching and community-engaged learning potential, while modeling best ecological farming practices for students. Read more about the work Kristyn is doing.