I Am Stepping Down After Eight Transformative Years
Proud of the work we’ve accomplished, optimistic about our future, we are looking for the next ED of the Berkeley Food Institute.
When I applied to become the Berkeley Food Institute’s first Policy Director in 2014, I had just spent much of a decade working my way through national and international institutions in pursuit of public policy that serves a just food system. I could hardly believe that my alma mater and the nation’s foremost public university now shared that vision, and I wanted to be involved in any capacity I could. My experiences in research, policy, and organizing taught me that cross-disciplinary collaboration and a humble ear could help us avoid the externalities, or unintended ill effects, of our modern food system.
Under the mentorship of our founding leadership team of Claire Kremen, Alastair Iles, and L. Ann Thrupp, I was grateful to lead the policy program from 2015 to 2019. We made some amazing progress during that time. We created a space for food and agriculture policy not only at Berkeley but across the American university system. We took cross-disciplinarity seriously and welcomed everyone into the often opaque worlds of policy and power. We listened carefully to food producers of all types, to academic experts, to hardworking policymakers, and to eaters like ourselves to weave together their equally weighty conclusions into roadmaps that we hoped lived up to the ideals of democracy. We opened the door to international collaborators in recognition that the American food and farming paradigm does not have all the answers. We looked on proudly as our BFI graduates went on to influential careers in state and federal government, prestigious nonprofits, muckraking journalism, and, perhaps most difficult, sustainable farming and ranching.
Eight months pregnant, I was named BFI’s second Executive Director in summer 2019 and began the job after a three month leave. Little did I know we were about to face a global pandemic that would further expose issues of inequality and access in our food system. Still, with two kids in tow, and backed by our incredible community of scholars, staff, donors, and concerned citizens, I tried to ensure BFI was responding to our rapidly changing world. Gig grocery workers, Black farmer land loss, the importance of urban agriculture and emergency meals, the role of diversification in agricultural resiliency – all of the ideas we had been working on for years suddenly were top of mind due to the pandemic.
We didn’t expect to be busier than ever before, with everyone suddenly shifting attention to the food system. Media outlets like health and fitness magazine SELF published surprisingly good food system analyses. Black “Plantrepreneurs” were spurred on by BFI research on urban foraging, according to The Guardian. We were able to shine a light on crucial research around COVID-19 rates and risks for farmworkers. We could all feel the world changing and we stepped into the role we had been preparing for, launching our first partnerships with state and federal agencies to professionally evaluate some of the COVID-era changes, like California’s transition to healthier, more sustainable, free school lunches. This year, we were named a Workforce Development partner in the federal Transitions to Organic Partnership Program, the largest-ever single investment in organic by the USDA.
Personally, I have been transformed by our superstar staff and faculty team, whose passion and expertise on the food system turned BFI into a powerhouse of possibility. We all supported each others’ causes, and in my own time I was proud to volunteer for the movement to change UC policy to provide paid family leave.
Berkeley is a special place, and will always be my hometown. In 1896, my family emigrated to the Bay Area from Japan to work in Oakland’s fruit orchards. They went on to grow and sell flowers in Richmond for 112 years. The connection to land and place through food and farming has been a throughline in my family for generations. We are also connected to UC Berkeley, which has provided an excellent and affordable education for generations when other institutions closed their doors to us.
That pride as a Cal Bear has made it very difficult to make the important decision to give myself a break as soon as we, the organization, got to a place of fiscal and organizational strength. We are finally there and I could not be prouder of all that we’ve done. I am moving on from my position at the Berkeley Food Institute and know that an incredible leader will take the reins to lead us into the future.
Starting today, we are looking for a new Executive Director with a vision for research and education that’s grounded in food justice. Here is a link to the job listing. Please consider applying or helping us spread the word.
Lastly, I’d like to request that you become a supporter of the Berkeley Food Institute. As we search for a new ED, the hard work continues as our staff prepares for a busy academic year ahead. BFI is in good hands. Our amazing team brings a wealth of food systems experience, knowledge, and passion that I know will continue to propel this work forward.