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Just Food Thoughts with Annie

Center for Sustainability: What does sustainability mean to you? What was your first encounter with sustainability?

Annie Drevno: The most memorable occasion of defining “sustainability” came out of the Summer 2007 issue of The Santa Clara Magazine, which was dedicated to this mushrooming buzzword. On the cover, with a reusable water bottle in hand was my close friend, Lacey Schauwecker ’08 (See picture below). Her earth-tone, sweatshop-free t-shirt read “Sus-tain-a-ble adj. meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”  This [United Nations] definition was [discussed] in one of John Farnsworth’s writing classes and was then incorporated into the mission statement of our Residential Learning Community. I have carried this definition in my back pocket ever since.

CfS: What career and educational experiences led you to where you are today?

AD: For me, the most influential educational experiences occurred outside the classroom: in gardens, in retreats and professors’ office hours, in homestays during my study abroad program, on immersion trips, living in a tent on a farm for 9 months, doing surveys and interviews in the field, and getting out of my comfort zone by engaging with people different than myself and my immediate circle of friends. Clearly, lectures and in-class discussions had an important place in my education, which is why I want to dedicate my life to teaching. But thankfully Santa Clara gives their students ample opportunities to complement the theories and concepts learned in the classroom and apply them in a meaningful and engaged way outside of the SCU bubble. I could not be more grateful for my undergraduate education and to have had the opportunity to incorporate Community-based Learning into the Food & Environmental Justice course.

CfS: What was the focus of your PhD, research, and other work?

AD: My doctoral work focused on the policies and politics of agricultural water pollution control in the U.S. and California.  My dissertation used mixed methods, including interviews, document review, spatial analysis, and a survey of 1,200 farmers to better understand governance structures and stakeholder participation related to water quality protections in agricultural landscapes. Prior to my doctoral work, I had two formative research experiences. One was working under the guidance of Peter Kareiva, former chief scientist of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and our ESS Capstone professor. I spent six months at the TNC headquarters in Chiapas, Mexico conducting interviews, surveys and reviewing documents related to the Mexican government’s Payment for Ecosystem Services program. The second research project occurred while I was simultaneously working at Bronco Urban Gardens. Under the guidance of Professor Leslie Gray, our research team assessed the impacts of backyard gardens on food security in the same San Jose neighborhoods where BUG was helping co-create community and school gardens.

These research experiences and relationships I established with ESS faculty are ultimately what brought me back to SCU.  After lecturing Environmental & Food Justice this quarter, I am eager to start my two-year postdoctoral fellowship at SCU funded by the National Science Foundation’s Science, Technology & Society program. Under the guidance of Leslie Gray, my postdoc research will examine the linkages between water pollution, policy implementation and technological developments in California’s urban-agricultural interface.

AD: A just food system is one in which all communities can exercise their right to grow, sell, and eat healthy food. Healthy food is fresh, nutritious, affordable, culturally-appropriate, and grown locally with care for the well-being of the land, workers, and animals. To me, it looks complex, colorful, dynamic, and awfully messy. The earthworms and actinomycetes in the compost are well-nourished and working overtime, and the steaming pile smells like sweet earth. The hands and shirts of the kids harvesting berries in the garden or farm are stained red, and their moms and dads don’t have to work several jobs to put a balanced meal on the table. The most important element of this vision – everyone has access to this experience if they want it.

CfS: What is one action everyone can take to create a more equal and just food system?

AD: There are the ever-important and slightly cliché bumper sticker slogans that have their place in creating a more just food system, such as “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” and “Eat Local, Buy Local.” Although the relationship between the producer and consumer is important, especially as our food goes global, we all intuitively know that we aren’t going to shop our way out of food injustices.  In our Environmental & Food Justice class we talk a lot about policy change and social movements, because with history as our teacher, that is where we can make the most change.  It is going to take sustained social and political engagement in issues like demanding livable wages and humane working conditions for farmworkers, providing more equitable access to healthy, affordable, culturally-appropriate foods, and advocating for pollution control regulations that halt agriculture’s free-pass on discharging into our waterways. SCU does a fantastic job of educating its students to be informed and ethically engaged. Stay engaged!