Meet Sammi Lin ’24, an undergraduate in Global Development who is on a mission to advance food security with local communities across the Americas. Locally, Sammi has engaged with food security challenges as an intern and researcher with Cornell Cooperative Extension, and globally explored issues of food and nutritional security as an intern with Terra Genesis and PROAmazonía in Ecuador. This summer, she is working with the Environmental Defense Fund as an Atkinson Fisheries & Food Systems intern in Mexico, and was recently named a Cargill Global Scholar. As a Global Scholar, Sammi joins students from around the world in leadership development and mentoring opportunities as they pursue careers in the food, agriculture, and risk management fields.
You’ve recently been named a Cargill Global Scholar. Tell us what this means to you and what you’re looking forward to most.
To me, this award represents an opportunity to gain a greater understanding of how international development is carried out on a global scale, allowing me to begin to consider how I may fit into this evolving field. Particularly, networking with and receiving mentorship from professionals across agriculture-related disciplines — including those related to agricultural and food systems transformations and development — will help me identify how to best apply my skills and knowledge to work towards overall global food systems change. I am especially looking forward to further developing my leadership and multicultural intercommunication skills by sharing stories and experiences with a cohort of international students.
What are the big challenges you want to confront in the world?
Globally, the food system is broken and not benefiting the most marginalized people. Even before the pandemic, the system of endless industrialization and intensification of global agriculture and food production drove increasingly concerning levels of greenhouse gas emissions in addition to unfairly and unjustly treating workers, many of whom often migrated temporarily for the purposes of seeking employment. These offenses were only more clearly exposed as supply chain disruptions over the past two years demonstrated the inequitable distribution of power that exists within this system. I want to address issues of food insecurity and champion sustainable agriculture, all while upholding a commitment to work with and within communities to best represent and listen to their needs. I want to be part of the solution, especially by empowering marginalized and local voices and traditional agroecological practices.
You’re spending the summer as an Atkinson Mexico Fisheries & Food Systems intern. What type of work will you be doing there?
As an Atkinson Mexico Fisheries & Food Systems intern with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), my primary role this summer will be to support the EDF Mexico team in advancing and promoting fisheries as a catalyst for food systems transformation that centers on environmental sustainability, resiliency, and inclusivity. To do this, I am conducting research on the current impact of and potential of fisheries, with the goal of producing a report that disseminates a strategy with concrete priority actions that can be implemented by key stakeholders, including merchants, academics, civil society organizations, government officials and policymakers, and the general public. My hope is that through this experience, I will be able to better hone my skills and confidence for communicating with a variety of groups. I’m excited to work within an international platform and learn how to best ensure that goals such as equity and resiliency are being met for all.
What has been your most impactful engaged learning experience thus far at Cornell?
I am truly indebted to my experience working with Cornell Cooperative Extension in the summer after my freshman year. The experience of working with urban farms and community gardens in New York City and being welcomed into their spaces has truly shaped the way that I now approach “development” work.
Specifically, it was through this internship that I gained a deep understanding and appreciation for the inherent local and traditional knowledge that community members already have. I often found myself enriched with new perspectives, stories, and recipes from all of the farm and garden managers and the myriad volunteers and curious neighbors that would stop inside the spaces on the hot summer days to chat with us. It was in those moments and conversations that I realized the drive and motivation that local people, among which include many immigrants and refugees as well as those with generational connections to the land, have towards building community and sharing their knowledge and cultures.
Engaging with local communities has allowed me to realize that those doing “development” work should rather reframe our roles as offering support rather than “helping” communities. In my own hometown and communities around the world, it is often community members themselves that are best positioned to identify and implement actions to best look after each other.
What three words would your friends use to describe you?
In three words, my friends would describe me as enthusiastic, conscientious, and kind.
What does global development mean to you?
To me, global development is a commitment to learning from and understanding the experiences of local people. Global development means having empathy and humility, and not being afraid to admit when something around you, or even yourself, is wrong. Through many of my classes and experiences at Cornell, I have had the privilege to witness and hear countless stories of the power that local people already have, and that it is only the added support of perhaps resources or the creation of networks for information sharing that equipped communities to mutually uplift one another. I think that the biggest takeaway I have through my time at Cornell is the inherent and existing power that local communities have, and how much more I have to learn from them.
What research projects are you currently excited about?
Over the past semester, I have started working alongside Jenny Kao-Kniffin to develop a research project that aims to contextualize the emergence of urban farms and community gardens alongside the historical background of racially exclusionary red-lining policies in New York City. The goal of this project is to tell the story of urban agriculture through the eyes and words of BIPOC farmers and their communities, and collectively uncover where the greatest needs or gaps are that Cornell Cooperative Extension and other institutions can aim to better address.
Building resiliency and the desire to reclaim agency and sovereignty within the food system are often key facets guiding the establishment and development of such spaces, especially centering around supporting and empowering marginalized youth in addition to preserving and maintaining the cultural diversity of community members through the types of crops grown and the ways that the spaces are managed. In this way, I am curious to discover whether there exists a difference between BIPOC-led farms and gardens within marginalized communities as a result of historical red-lining policies in comparison to wealthier, production-focused agricultural spaces.
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