Tell us about yourself. I am currently a PhD student working under Dr. Stephen Jones at The Bread Lab, a part of the plant breeding program at Washington State University-Mt Vernon. My focus is on breeding and trialing malt and food barley and dry beans for production in northwestern Washington.
For my undergrad, I majored in Anthropology and Gender & Women’s Studies — so you could say I sort of fell into plant breeding. After graduating from Scripps College, I went back home to Corvallis, Oregon to look for work. With such a tough job market in my field, I jumped at an opportunity to assist a family friend with research at Oregon State University’s barley breeding program. Before I knew it, I was falling in love with barley, getting my Masters in Crop Science, and packing up my bags for Mount Vernon to start a PhD.
Why is sustainable food and farming of interest to you? Growing up, my mom always bought organic. It’s what I knew. But before I got into agriculture, it felt more like a buzzword than an actual concept to me.
When I got deep into my studies and started to see the harmful effects of mono-cropping and pesticides, I knew I wanted to focus my research on grain production within small-scale, sustainable farming systems.
What is your connection to farming, if any? My grandparents on my dad’s side were farmers in rural Minnesota, and my dad grew up there, too. My grandfather on my mom’s side got his PhD in plant pathology, focusing on peas and beans. Both of my parents got their PhD’s in science-related fields — my dad in Biochemistry, my mom in Botany. I grew up on 35 acres in rural Oregon, with multiple green houses and a huge garden. In a way, the land is in my blood.
As a kid, one of my chores was to weed. I used to hate it, but now, I’m out in the fields a lot for my research, and I love it. I find it cathartic. If only my mom was out here to help me now!
What is your vision/hope for farming and food production in Washington State? On a personal level, I’d love to see more people growing and eating barley. People tend to think of barley in the context of animal feed or beer. Or maybe just their grandmother’s beef and barley stew. But there is so much more you can do with barley. It works wonderfully as a rotation crop for farmers, and serves as a great source of fiber, which most American’s don’t get enough of in their diets.
Beyond barley, I would love to see a greater awareness of what farming really is, across the board. From labor and practices, to what’s being grown in this region, there is so much to learn about our food system. Seattle is so close to incredible agricultural communities, like Skagit Valley — I’d love to see people get closer to the rich agricultural industry that exists here.
How did you first learn about PCC Farmland Trust? Dr. Steve Jones always raves about how wonderful PCC Farmland Trust is, as a member of your board. Last fall, I got to meet the staff at the PCC Farmland Trust retreat that was held at our research station. From there, I researched your organization, and learned about the great work you all do.
If money were no object, what would you most like to see the Trust accomplish? Steve likes to give the example of Kent Valley, how it used to be a major agricultural center, and now it’s completely developed. Skagit Valley is so important, both to my work, and to me on a personal level. I’d be devastated if what happened in Kent Valley happened there, too.
Your farmland conservation work is so important. Keep doing it!