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How Hannah Fuller ’19 is changing the food system game to put people first

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By Hannah Fuller '19
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  • Department of Global Development
  • School of Integrative Plant Science
  • Global Development

With a commitment to create more equitable food systems, Hannah Fuller ’19 is reshaping community and national food systems to place people front and center. An entrepreneur, farmer advocate and food systems expert, the 2019 graduate with degrees in International Agriculture & Rural Development (IARD), Plant Sciences and a minor in Community Food Systems is placing a news lens on sustainable eating practices and systems as she works to change lives around the globe.

 

What are the big challenges that motivate you most?

Too much of the focus in our food system today is on large commodity crops. This has led to vast inequities in access, health outcomes, and income, as well as environmental degradation. I believe we need to shift to economically and ecologically resilient agricultural systems that grow nutrient rich crops for everyone to live vibrant lives. Through my work I want to shift our national ag policy to better address these issues and support farmers who are growing nutritious food, stewarding land, and revitalizing communities.

 

Resilient food systems, revitalized communities — those are huge challenges in the decades ahead. How did Cornell Global Development prepare you?

IARD really inspires students to think about the big picture and connect lots of different aspects of the world together and see how they affect systems on a micro and macro level. My first job out of Cornell was in AmeriCorps as Community Food Systems Coordinator for the Oregon State University Wasco County Extension Service, which is a small county in the Columbia River Gorge. There I worked to provide nutrition education, engage volunteers, conduct an evaluation in local schools, and develop reports for local partners. The technical skills I developed at Cornell were critical to being successful in this role, but it was the deep understanding from my Community Food Systems minor about the value of putting community first that really prepared me best to listen and serve.

After AmeriCorps I co-founded Grounded Grub, an integrated communications platform with environmental, socio-economic, and cultural considerations, and I also work for the Farmers Market Coalition, a national non-profit that represents, advocates and strengthens farmers markets nationwide. At the Farmers Market Coalition, our primary work is to serve the farmers market operators—the managers, volunteers, and others behind-the-scene—who make farmers markets happen in thousands of communities across the country. My plant sciences major serves me very well when I am working with farmers directly. Unlike a major with a singular focus, IARD develops students with a multidisciplinary mindset who are ready to take on broad complex systems.

Experiential learning is a huge part of the Cornell Global Development education. How did your experiences prepare you for your professional life? 

In 2018 I traveled to Northern India with the Tata-Cornell Institute as a CALS Global Fellow. I worked on a project that was introducing the orange flesh sweet potato and measuring health outcomes, especially for children who were lacking sufficient year-round vitamin A in their diets. While I was able to conduct some exciting interviews and contribute to the overall energy of the project, I believe that I learned so much more during my time in the field about myself than I could ever contribute to the project. I grew so much as an individual and met so many Indian nationals who were so dedicated to making people’s lives better around them.

My time in India was life-changing—it helped me understand where my strengths lie and where I have so much space to grow. I hope to continue to work rooted in community but also someday expand back into the global issues that got me so interested in food systems in the first place.

In the spring of 2019, my Community Food Systems minor cohort published a book together full of reflections from our practicum experiences. This process was really impactful because until then I was really only writing reflections about my experiences in the food system for classes and academic work, without recognizing that even as a student I had experiences and insights that were of value. I was so also surprised when my friends from other majors were excited to read about our work and I learned that there are so many others who are interested in the way our food system works and fascinated by the people who are changing the world and how our food comes to our tables. Finally, it showed me how powerful a collection of voices can be when they come together to share a collective vision for a different world.

I really think this experience of collaborating with my peers and sharing stories led to the direction we’re taking with Grounded Grub and my faith in the power of people to share writing that can change the world.

Tell us more about Grounded Grub — what is its focus and how does it align with your passions?

Grounded Grub is a collaborative space that works to promote sustainable eating practices with environmental, socio-economic, and cultural considerations. We navigate this increasingly complex world along with our readers and community members and hope to both learn and teach the skills and techniques that will allow everyone to approach the world of food with flexibility, mindfulness, curiosity, and excitement. We are an online blog and run multiple social media accounts that engage readers of all ages and backgrounds in sustainable food issues and food justice and bring an anti-racist lens to their interactions with the food system

I started Grounded Grub with Ben Ross just a few months after we graduated from Cornell. We both worked for Anabel’s Grocery and shared a passion for cooking, food systems, sustainability, community engagement, collective action, and dialogue. We spent many nights of our senior spring cooking “family dinners” with farmers market produce and talking about the future we were entering. We were both looking for a marriage between all of these things that we were passionate about.

And as we entered the “real world” we found that we were missing those conversations and a creative outlet that challenged our skills and passions outside of work.

Currently many of our contributors are Cornell alumni who I met through my courses and extracurricular activities at Cornell, like Anabel’s Grocery and Dilmun Hill Student Farm. Unlike an academic journal, we provide a space for young writers to articulate progressive, complicated topics for a public audience. We are providing a unique space for young people to find their voice in food systems writing that does not currently exist anywhere else at this time.

How did the lessons you learned at CALS inspire your career goals?

My time at Cornell was focused on engaged learning for nearly all four years. In my sophomore year I took a class called Seed to Supper that really changed the course of my time at Cornell. This course introduced me to engaged learning and the concept of food security and how community-based action could change the outcomes of people’s lives.

I have always been passionate about trying to make the world a better place but my time at Cornell and through my engaged experiences I really learned how to put community voices first and understand my role in supporting the grassroots work already happening in communities.

This perspective has really shaped my goals and lead to my passion for communicating stories, lifting up voices and supporting community empowerment through providing tools, support and advocacy. I am excited to see where my current work takes me, and I am thrilled to have the strong foundation that I gained during my time at Cornell.  

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