An Introductory Q&A with BFI’s New Ex Comm Chair David Ackerly

July 14, 2021

BFI had the pleasure of interviewing David Ackerly, Dean of the Rausser College of Natural Resources and new BFI Executive Committee Chair. The Executive Committee is our on-campus governance and advisory body.

What got you first interested in food systems?

My own research focuses on natural ecosystems, and the impacts of climate change. To address the climate crisis, we can’t separate natural and human systems, as we’re all in this together. Producing and distributing healthy and sustainable food is a key, and in my role as Dean I see this as a vital priority for Rausser College.

What problem in food systems most concerns you?

Bridging the gap between the extraordinary productivity of modern farming and the deep inequities in access to healthy food is a critical challenge. And with a growing global population, we need to meet the food needs of a future population and maintain biodiversity and all the benefits of healthy ecosystems – natural and agricultural.

What is your favorite food?

That’s tough – I like a lot of different foods! I really enjoy hosting people for dinner parties (remember those?!) and my go-to dish to serve is grilled salmon and peppers, with lemon rice.

Are you reading anything food systems related at the moment or can you recommend any good food systems related books?

There are two books I’ve read in the last couple years that I think are really valuable. The first is ‘The Wizard and the Prophet’ by Charles Mann. The “wizard” in the title is Norman Borlaug, who launched the Green Revolution, and the “prophet” is William Vogt, whose work was foundational to our understanding of global limits to resource use, population, and consumption. The book looks at the great environmental challenges that face us, including food, water, energy, and climate, through these two perspectives – one more focused on technology and innovation and the other on conservation and living within limits – and challenges us to find a synthesis of these competing paradigms to solve our environmental problems.

The second book I just finished – Tomorrow’s Table, by the spouse team, Pam Ronald and Raoul Adamchak. Pam is a plant geneticist at UC Davis (and a PhD graduate of our Plant and Microbial Biology department) and Raoul is an organic gardener who retired last year as the Market Garden Coordinator at the UC Davis student farm. Together they paint a picture of how genetic innovation, combined with principles of agroecology and sustainable agriculture, could point the way to the future of food systems.

I guess it’s not a coincidence the two books have the same theme – looking for new solutions at the interface of the array of tools and approaches at our disposal.