Will Ball, MS student

I became interested in studying food systems after interning with GrowNYC, a non-profit that manages over fifty New York City farmers markets. I saw firsthand how complex local and regional food systems are and was eager to learn about alternative systems like this one, that have the potential to sustain society over the long-term. My interest led me to designing my own food systems major at the University of Vermont, where I was exposed to agroecology, ecological economics, and food policy. As an undergraduate student I was able to study in Copenhagen, Denmark, for one semester, learning about sustainable development and food systems from a European perspective. I also had the privilege of traveling to Santa Catarina, Brazil, with Joshua Farley, Ph.D, in a course that aimed to increase adoption of silvopastoral Voisin grazing among smallholder dairy farmers. Over the past two years I interned with Rural Vermont at the Vermont State House, working to pass bills that benefit regenerative farmers throughout the state. I am tremendously excited to be back at UVM to continue developing an understanding of complex food systems, and using ecological economic principles and agroecology to envision and implement a more resilient future.


Susanna Baxley, MS student

I earned a B.A. in Studio Art and a B.S. in Nursing from the University of Texas in 2006 and 2011. I currently work as an RN in the Emergency Department at UVMMC in Burlington. In 2018, I received a Family Herbalist certificate from the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism in Montpelier. I was drawn to plant medicine to find an alternative to the one-size-fits-all and stringent structure of western medicine, as well as to deepen my understanding of the relationship between plants, humans, and the earth. I worked a small organic farm in Starksboro in 2016 & 2017, and although I only farmed part-time it was enough to radically shift my perspective on this small slice of the food system. I had a newfound respect for those that commit their lives to farming. I better understood the importance of local producers to land and community. I felt the urgency for policy change for farm viability. I cultivated my love for the earth and my respect for plants. However, I found myself frustrated with barriers that felt insurmountable to staying in the farming field, such as accessibility to land, farmer income, student debt, health insurance costs, government policies, and the unpredictability of climate change. I was drawn to the food systems program to dive into the world of food production and agroecology, specifically how to make farming more sustainable for farmers and the environment in the face of economic, environmental, and political challenges.


Ann Chiarenzelli, MS student

I graduated in 2016 with a B.S. in Environmental Psychology from St. Lawrence University. My passion for regenerative agriculture began when I volunteered at Bittersweet, a small diversified farm and continued on to intern with GardenShare, a food security non-profit. Over the past year, I served as an AmeriCorps VISTA at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Clinton County in New York as the 4-H STEM Educator and Outreach VISTA. There, I worked to form curriculum in Animal Science, Environmental Science, Permaculture and more. I am excited to pursue a graduate degree in Food Systems at UVM because of how many different possibilities the program has to offer.


David Cutler, MS student

I graduated from Bates College in 2012 with a B.A. in environmental studies. In the summer of 2014 I moved to Vermont and began working on an organic beef and dairy farm. I quickly fell in love with farming and worked at a handful of other small farms before starting my own pastured livestock operation in the spring of 2016. While I had always understood intuitively the inequity in our food system starting my own farm brought those inequities into sharper focus for me. It became clear that growing food and raising animals sustainably does not produce food that is affordable to all. At UVM I am excited to dive deeper into the connection between food security and sustainability and explore options for making sustainably produced food available to all.



Melissa Pasanen, MS student

In 1999, after a decade of work in marketing, research and product development, I signed up for a UVM summer course in food and wine writing and launched my current career as a journalist specializing in food and agriculture. More than 1,000 articles, two cookbooks and dozens of radio shows later for media outlets ranging from the New York Times, Saveur and the Food Network to Vermont Life, Seven Days and Vermont Public Radio, it felt like time for another next step. I have always tried to frame the stories I share 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. My work has taught me a significant amount about the food system—but, of course, the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. As a part-time student still working as a journalist, I have already had the opportunity to apply what I’ve learned in the Food Systems graduate program. I look forward to continuing to use new skills and knowledge to help the general public understand more about the system that feeds them.


Katie Robertson, MS Student

After graduating from Iowa State University in 2012 with a degree in Global Resource Systems, I decided to join AmeriCorps, which eventually led to me serving in Montpelier. I quickly fell in love with the state and the culture in regards to local food systems. This sparked an interest in pursuing a masters in Food Systems. Before coming to UVM, I have spent the last few years working in nutrition education, food access and social justice within the food system. I am particularly interested in the intersectionality of food access, climate change and social justice.


Kristen Wirkkala, MS student

My passion for food systems is driven by a mission to improve human health through a love for the earth. I see food as our deepest connection to nature and our reminder that we are a part of this earth, not just living on it. I am an avid gardener and believe empowering others to grow their own food is the most effective vehicle through which to improve health and instill a desire to care for the earth. I graduated from Keene State College in 2012 with a BS in Secondary Education and Social Science. After graduation, I spent two years volunteering as an AmeriCorps VISTA in Manchester, NH before moving to Burlington and beginning a career in nonprofit development. In my current role as the Development Director for KidsGardening, I am able to bring together my passion for food systems with my career in fundraising to help create opportunities for children across the country to learn through gardening. I am excited to begin the Food Systems Graduate Program at UVM and deepen my understanding of the many aspects of food systems and how they contribute to health of our planet and its people.After graduating from Iowa State University in 2012 with a degree in Global Resource Systems, I decided to join AmeriCorps, which eventually led to me serving in Montpelier. I quickly fell in love with the state and the culture in regards to local food systems. This sparked an interest in pursuing a masters in Food Systems. Before coming to UVM, I have spent the last few years working in nutrition education, food access and social justice within the food system. I am particularly interested in the intersectionality of food access, climate change and social justice.


Carolyn Hricko, PhD Student

Growing up in a rural farming community taught me to appreciate the complex relationships between our environment, communities and dinner tables. My hope and aim is to inform and develop policies that recognize these complexities and bring sustainability and health to the forefront. My research interests include the interactions between diet, health, agriculture and the environment, and the roles of agroecology and ecological economics in supporting a more just, sustainable food system. Prior to joining UVM, I managed the food systems policy program at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. My areas of focus included the environmental and health impacts of industrial food animal production, institutional food procurement reform, dietary guidelines and nutrition policies, impacts of industrial agriculture on immigrant workers, diet and climate connections, and the Farm Bill. Before my time at Johns Hopkins, I worked with USAID as a strategic policy and program management specialist for the South and Central Asia region. Although I’m a small-town Mainer at heart, I’ve spent time living and working in Montana, Guatemala, Alaska, India, Kyrgyzstan and places in between. I developed a passion for health, environment and agriculture at an early age, which was further fueled by time volunteering as a ski patroller and EMT, working in outdoor education, land use planning and food service, studying plant physiology, and gardening with my family and community. When I’m not studying or teaching, you can probably find me skiing and running with my husband, hiking with my dog, fishing and canoeing with my family in Maine, or teaching yoga. I earned my Master of Public Health degree in Global Environmental Sustainability and Public Health with a certificate in Food Systems, the Environment, and Public Health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and my bachelor’s degree in Biology and Chemistry from Bowdoin College.


Tung-Lin Liu, PhD student

Tung-Lin Liu is a Ph.D. student in the University of Vermont’s Food Systems program. His interest in Food Systems began during his time studying Gastronomy at Boston University. There he had the opportunity to apply system thinking and computational tools to the understanding of social patterns in food production and consumption. At UVM, he hopes to expand his current work and explore the future of food and computing.




Maya Moore, PhD student

Maya has been working in the conservation and development field, mainly in Madagascar but also in Thailand and Guatemala, for nearly 15 years. She holds degrees in Biology and Sustainable International Development. Having grown up in Northern Maine, she looks forward to joining the UVM community this fall and returning to New England with her family and three dogs. She is predominantly interested in seeking out interdisciplinary answers to the challenges of food security in the face of climate change, as it relates to human well-being and tropical biodiversity protection. Her broad research questions pertain to the ways in which smallholder farmers are experiencing and perceiving climate change, how this is impacting their land management decisions, and how this affects conservation strategy in the tropics where agricultural pressure is the leading cause of deforestation. Other interests include sustainability, organizational development, climate and food justice movements. She loves to travel, experience different cultures and try the food!


Caitlin Morgan, PhD candidate

I grew up in northeastern Vermont and got my undergraduate degree in Food Literacy from the University of California at Berkeley, working for several years after as a freelance writer and community nutrition educator. Having just finished my master’s in Food Systems at UVM, I have decided to stay for the PhD in Food Systems and ecological economics. My master’s thesis, on food agency in a low-income community of color, taught me how incredibly strategic people can be at accessing food in an unsupportive environment, and solidified my interest in research and the communication of science. My PhD research will continue my work on food agency and on social justice in the food system and in a changing climate.



Brendan O'Neill, PhD student

For the past decade or so I’ve been working in close collaboration with the Vermont immigrant dairy worker community to imagine, create and build Migrant Justice. I partnered with the community to organize several human rights and food system campaigns, which have resulted in significant changes to Vermont legislation and public policy. More recently, I helped to facilitate a process where dairy worker members of Migrant Justice organized to envision, design, and create a groundbreaking farmworker rights program called the Milk with Dignity Program (MD), which ensures that farms in Ben & Jerry’s northeast dairy supply chain comply with a set of worker-defined labor and housing rights standards. These experiences and my broader interests in human rights, economic justice and social movements have now inspired me to return to UVM (MA in Geography, 2005), to pursue a PhD in Food Systems with a focus on issues of social and economic justice. I’m particularly interested in researching and analyzing how different food system policies, initiatives, and actors either promote or restrict fair, dignified, and sustainable livelihoods for both workers and farmers in the dairy industry. I look forward to collaborating with the UVM Food System interdisciplinary team and am excited for this opportunity.


Luis Rodriguez-Cruz, PhD student

I had two experiences back home, in Puerto Rico, that led me to pursue a research career focusing on the intersections of climate change and food security at the individual, social, and institutional levels in island contexts. During my time at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, I worked with fisherfolk communities, and in an education project at the Extension Service with 4H students. These opportunities widen my perspective about the complex issues affecting Puerto Rico’s agriculture. I intend to generate knowledge through a transdisciplinary and collaborative approach that serves the current and future conversations focusing on the improvement of the Puerto Rican agri-food systems. Currently, under the advisory of Dr. Meredith Niles and in collaboration with the UPR’s Extension Service, we are working to assess Puerto Rican farmers’ drivers and barriers to climate change adaptation, their climate change perceptions, and experience with Hurricane Maria, in order to understand food security and resiliency outcomes. Our research will contribute to a nascent area of study focusing on island food systems, which are highly vulnerable in this changing climate. To truly develop possible solutions for our food systems’ problems, we must understand peoples’ perceptions and backgrounds, and how these intertwine with institutional and social frameworks. In terms of my academic background, I have a BS in Biology with a sub-concentration in biotechnology from the UPR-Ponce, and a MS in Food Science and Technology from UPR-Mayagüez. For more information and my CV, please visit https://luisalexis.com/


Nick Rose, PhD Student

As a community nutrition educator for the largest food co-op in the nation, I enjoyed the unique challenges of explaining the complex science of nutrition to the general public through teaching, writing, and community outreach – with a mission of helping others make conscious food choices for improved personal and planetary health. Over the past decade, the nutrition community has become more mindful of the food system, and there has been a remarkable shift in consumers’ level of interest in topics such as animal welfare, social justice, food additives, and the environmental impacts of food production practices. This increased awareness has motivated me to return to graduate school to learn about the latest research on sustainable agriculture, and to contribute to the growing body of research exploring how food production practices can impact the nutritional benefits of different foods. I believe that improving the food system has great potential to transform public health, and I’m inspired to study food systems and public health at UVM, where I can collaborate with others in identifying innovative strategies to support healthy eating patterns for all.


Josiah (Josh) Taylor, PhD candidate

I completed a B.A. in cultural anthropology and environmental studies at Colby College.  Then I apprenticed in organic farming in Canada, and recently completed a M.Ed. at the University of New Brunswick, compiling interviews with Wolastoq First Nation Elders, archiving their narratives, focusing on community and family food systems. Enjoying time in nature, I’ve been studying and teaching about botany, gardening, ecology, and health, working with schools, ages pre-K – 12.  Additionally I have been researching with William Woys Weaver, working to preserve endangered, historic food plant varieties through propagation and dissemination.  In 2015 the teaching garden I founded in Pennsylvania won 2nd best educational and community garden in the U.S. by America in Bloom.  While at UVM, I am excited to study school nutrition programs, and farm to school and community food education projects, with goals of advancing health, engagement, and community vitality.


Master skill sets for work in Food Systems

The transdisciplinary nature of our program prepares students for work across all sectors: public, private and nonprofit. They will obtain important and relevant skills and knowledge such as:

  • Ability to understand and implement multiple research methodologies
  • Ability to perform critical analysis of complex issues and make policy recommendations
  • Experience in public speaking
  • Experience writing for a range of audiences, from scholarly reports to blog posts
  • Exposure to agroecological methods and practices
  • Exposure to ecological and life sciences perspectives on food systems
  • Exposure to cultural, historical and economic perspectives on food systems
  • Analysis of global food supply chains and alternative food movements
  • Methods of sustainable agriculture