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February 18, 2020

Learning the Business of Local Food in the UVM Food Hub Program

Benjamin Bartley’s career has touched many facets of the food industry, from baker, cook, and butcher to educator, advocate, and program director. The University of Florida alumnus, who graduated with degrees in religion and political science, completed UVM’s Food Hub Management Certificate Program last year.
Now a value chain specialist at La Montañita Co-op in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Benjamin is taking what he learned in the Food Hub program and applying those tools to his work.
The UVM Food Hub Management program—the first and only program of its kind in the country—offers a blend of hands-on, community-based, online and on-campus learning. Students in the program are prepared for effective management of food hubs and provide essential tools to advance their career in food systems.

The Business of Local Food

We talked to Benjamin about strengthening New Mexico’s agricultural sector, why he enjoys working in the local food movement, and what he valued most about the UVM Food Hub program.

You were the food access director of The Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture in Alexandria, Virginia, while you were a student in the UVM Food Hub Program. You then changed jobs and relocated to New Mexico last January. What led to making such a big change?

I had been following La Montañita Co-op for several years, as they had once sponsored a similar mobile market program to what I was managing at Arcadia. When an opportunity to work at La Montañita became available, I was thrilled to be chosen to continue—and grow—my career in local food systems at the co-op. The position was made possible by La Montañita’s participation in a new USDA program called FoodLINC, which stands for Leveraging Investment for Network Coordination.

How is working for a co-op in the southwest different from working at a food system nonprofit in the Washington, DC, area?

There are many differences between the two areas, but the main difference is the scale of the work. La Montañita’s retail stores and warehouse collectively do about $40 million in annual sales. The co-op has also been a part of its community for 40 years, working with its value chain partners throughout La Montañita’s multi-state foodshed for decades. But there are also some similarities. While the co-op is for-profit, it is also democratically run through an elected board of directors that is responsible for realizing La Montañita’s Ends, or mission. Most businesses don’t have mission statements like non-profits do. The co-op also incorporates food access into its daily work, which was core to Arcadia’s mission.

Can you tell us a little more about your work at La Montañita Co-op?

My general mandate is to help strengthen the New Mexico agricultural sector. That means creating market opportunities for New Mexico growers, which often involves leveraging the co-op’s resources and infrastructure; sometimes this results in a sale between a grower and La Montañita. But that can also mean that I’m writing grants for growers, matching them with buyers with greater purchasing power than La Montañita has, or conducting food and agriculture-related policy advocacy that doesn’t directly benefit or involve the co-op.

What is the most important skill you gained in the UVM Food Hub Program?

I like describing the program as a crash-course MBA that uses local food distribution as the case study. The most important skill I gained from the program was how to apply universal business tools to local food systems.

Would you recommend the UVM program to others?

I would recommend the UVM program to others—and have, including my successor at Arcadia—because it’s cohort driven, which allows for the sharing of experiences and best practices among peers. The subject matter experts who lead the modules and the network of professionals you gain access to through participating in the program are also invaluable, and are a resource that I continue to tap into.

You studied religion in college. Why did you decide to make the switch to food system work?

I majored in religion in college, but I also studied political science and environmental studies. Before that, I went to a culinary school. I’ve been involved with a number of fields and career paths, but I’ve always been working with food in one way or another. The switch from religion to food wasn’t that hard in the sense that both impact society through many facets, yet are ultimately a very personal thing.

What do you enjoy most about working with local food?

Food systems work is an interdisciplinary field—I like this because it requires that you draw from a similarly diverse set of tools and skills. I’m passionate about local food in particular because it’s inherently transactional—you’re constantly making relationships to get the product to market. And because it’s so perishable, you get to see the impact and fruits of your labor on a daily basis
February 18, 2020

Alumni Advice: Danielle Fleury Finds Farm to School Success in the Northeast

Burlington’s progressive values are what first attracted Danielle Fleury to UVM. It wasn’t long after she arrived on campus that she became personally interested in local food systems. While taking an environmental studies course at UVM, she first learned about food as an environmental issue. Later on, while studying abroad in France her junior year, she lived in a culture that accepted eating locally and regionally as the norm. Those two experiences resonated and continue to influence the work she does today.
AlumniAdvice_newThe UVM alumna, who graduated from UVM in 2005 with a degree in political science, is now the northeast regional farm to school lead at USDA in Boston. We talked to Danielle about her work in nutrition and food policy, the impact of farm to school programs, and how UVM prepared her for success.

What led to your interest in nutrition and food policy?

I worked on education policy after graduate school at the Massachusetts State Legislature, and I kept trying to find the root of the problems that many of our social programs are designed to address. On that path, I had worked my way to early literacy issues, but found that even then, without sound nutrition and access to healthy food, an intervention in the lives of young learners could not serve its full intended purpose. Our education and health outcomes as a nation are inextricably linked to our nutrition and food policy, and so I felt that working on those issues would make a significant impact.

How did you land your first federal job at the USDA Food and Nutrition Service?

I first joined the USDA in 2012 as a program specialist for community nutrition programs and became the regional farm to school lead in 2014. Prior to working at the USDA, I had never held a federal position. In order to open up my job search to federal government positions, I created a profile online at USA Jobs. I selected the locations in which I would be willing to work, and the agencies whose missions closely aligned with my interests. USA Jobs sends job seekers available positions when they’re open, and when I found one that required some of the experience I had in one of my desired topic areas, I applied. My master’s degree and experience working directly on related programs in state legislature proved extremely valuable in qualifying for the position.

What kind of impact have you seen nationwide with farm to school programs?

Farm to school initiatives have advanced at an incredible pace over the past decade plus. The movement has grown from a few model programs in early adopting states 15 years ago, to programs in all 50 states today. Our national census results indicate that more than 5,000 school districts nationwide participate in farm to school activities at some level. Over the past few years, the focus has grown beyond K-12 school meal programs to include preschool/early education and care, and summer. Children ages 0-5 are in daycare homes and centers that, like K-12 schools, can receive federal reimbursement to provide meals and snacks, and it makes sense to implement these strategies at the earliest stages of a child’s development when eating habits are being formed.

What are some of the challenges you face with farm to school?

There are certainly challenges, because implementing a farm to school program requires a systems change—a change in the sourcing practices of a school district, a change in the way food is prepared and presented in cafeterias and classrooms, a change in the way producers are marketing and distributing their products, and more. There are often supply chain challenges, as school districts may need food at a certain or uniform standard, packed a certain way, distributed to a central or several locations. The growing season in a particular area may not align well with the schoolyear. Each region has its own set of unique challenges but these are some common issues that programs across the country face.

What career advice would you give to someone looking to work in nutrition policy or food systems?

I would say be open to a lot of different experiences; they can all build your skill set in different ways and there’s not necessarily a recipe for securing the perfect public sector position in your desired issue area. Those working on food policy in government come from all different sectors, and that brings unique perspectives. Many had actually worked on different specialty topics in the past but have transitioned to food and nutrition; there are many interrelated areas in social programs and so experience in environmental, public health, educational programs are all valuable.
While I was a political science and public policy student, the most critical moments that sparked my interest in the work I do today occurred through environmental studies and French coursework. Cast a wide net and capture all of those valuable lessons learned as they may make unforeseen connections for you later down the road.

What did you enjoy most about your time at UVM?

A huge part of my decision to attend UVM was its location in a progressive community that I felt so aligned with, and one that was making significant strides in addressing many of the social issues I cared about. It also felt like there were endless opportunities to find and plug into your own communities on campus. I played a sport, and enjoyed staying active every day, traveling for competitive matches, being part of a close knit team, and found that experience to have a really positive impact on my academic life as well
February 18, 2020

Dr. Paul Farmer to Speak at UVM Aiken Lecture Series Nov. 3

Dr. Paul Farmer, chief strategist and co-founder of Partners in Health, will be the keynote speaker at the 2016 George D. Aiken Lecture Series on Nov. 3 at the UVM Ira Allen Chapel.
Nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Farmer helped found Partners in Health to provide free medical care in central Haiti. Today, Partners in Health teams up with local groups to treat people with HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and other conditions in Haiti and countries around the world.
Dr. Farmer is a physician and anthropologist, and has written extensively on health, human rights, and the consequences of social inequality. He has spent his career working to improve healthcare around the globe, because he believes “health is a right, not a commodity.” He says the biggest barrier to health care equity is a failure of imagination.
“It is an honor and privilege to welcome Dr. Farmer to UVM,” said UVM College of Arts and Sciences Dean William A. Falls, PhD, professor of psychological science. “His work has advanced the cause of social justice and health care across the globe, and his presence on campus will amplify our efforts to inspire our students to be responsible global citizens.”
Dr. Farmer is the Kolokotrones University professor and chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the South African Nobel Peace laureate, calls Dr. Farmer “One of the great advocates for the poorest and sickest of our planet.”
The UVM Aiken Lecture Series
Each year, the Aiken Lecture rotates between Governor Aiken’s primary areas of interest in public service and is hosted annually by the corresponding college at the University: the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences; the Rubinstein School of Environment and Natural Resources; and the College of Arts and Sciences. The College of Arts and Sciences is hosting this year’s event in collaboration with The Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at UVM.
The event is supported by an endowment created by George and Lola Aiken. A permanent tribute to the Dean of the United State Senate and Governor of Vermont for his many years of service to the people of the state and the nation, the lectures, which began in 1975, provide a platform for distinctive views on critical issues and is the University’s major annual public-policy forum.
The Aiken Lecture Series will be at the UVM Ira Allen Chapel at 5:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Parking is available at the University Medical Center at 1 South Prospect Street after 5 p.m. Learn more at
February 18, 2020

Legal Issues: Tackling Sexual Assault on Campus

A panel discussion at last year’s UVM Legal Issues in Higher Education Conference.
Stanford University student Brock Turner’s short jail sentence has triggered outrage against the judge and controversy over how the justice system treats sexual assault survivors.
Turner, 21, was released from jail in early September after just three months behind bars for sexually assaulting an unconscious 23-year-old woman at Stanford University.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, an estimated 20 percent to 25 percent of women will experience completed or attempted rape over the course of their college careers.
While the overall number of crimes reported by post-secondary institutions in the US decreased by 34 percent between 2001 and 2013, the number of reported forcible sex crimes on campus increased by 126 percent during this period—from 2,200 to 5,000—according to figures from the US National Center for Education Statistics that were published in May.
In an article published in Times Higher Education, Jeffrey Nolan, an attorney at law firm Dinse Knapp McAndrew, which specializes in legal issues affecting colleges and universities and campus safety, said that the increase is likely to be a result of universities better educating students about what constitutes sexual violence and better publicizing of how students can report such incidents.
Another reason, he said, is that institutions are changing the way that they deal with these reports, with a gradual shift away from a more public, face-to-face process.
“Once people who seek help at the reporting stage understand that they’re not going to have to do something that looks more like what they imagine a criminal trial would look like, they’re more willing to go ahead and participate in the process,” he said told the publication.
Christine Garcia, clinical director of the University of California, San Francisco’s (UCSF) Young Adult and Family Center and an expert at the National Center for Campus Public Safety, said that universities are becoming much more “trauma-informed” in how they deal with reports of sexual assault but there is still much work to be done to improve further.
She told Times Higher Education that this can involve focusing on sensory details rather than a timeline of events, investigators acting in a non-threatening way, and being upfront about the steps involved in the process.
“An investigator might say: ‘Tell me what happened in a linear fashion. You went out at such and such a time, and then what happened?’” she said. “Someone who has been through a traumatic event such as sexual assault doesn’t have that linear memory…The part of the brain that does the linear recall is kind of offline when a traumatic event is happening.
February 18, 2020

An Olympic Skier Sets Her Sights on Public Health

Like most students, Ida Sargent finds going back to school a bit of a juggling act. But Ida is not your typical student. The U.S. Ski Team member is training for the 2018 Winter Olympics while pursuing a career in public health.
A student in UVM’s online Public Health Graduate Certificate Program, Ida plans to go on to earn a Master of Public Health in UVM’s online program. The Vermont native attended Burke Mountain Academy and graduated from Dartmouth in 2011 with a degree in biology and physiology.
We talked to Ida about her Nordic racing career and why she wants to work in public health.

How did you become interested in this particular career path?

As an elite athlete, I am very grateful for my health. Sports has given me the opportunity to be fit and strong, and I believe that good health is one of the most basic rights in life. It scares me to see the rising levels of childhood obesity, and the physical and mental burdens that it places on young children. I’m involved with several non-profit organizations that use sports and physical activity to build confidence, self-esteem, community values, and healthy habits. This is mostly volunteer work, but it has given me the opportunity to share the values and building blocks of a healthy lifestyle, which I believe is key to our future.

As an athlete, how to manage to find time to go back to school?

Online courses are my only option. I spend at least half the year on the road with training camps during the summer and fall. From November through March, I am traveling around the globe with the U.S. Ski Team and racing World Cups almost every weekend. I often will be in four or more countries in a single month, so being in an actual classroom would be impossible for me. While I have a busy schedule, it’s great to have some balance on the road and to take my brain off of skiing.

What are some of your favorite classes in the Public Health Program?

I’m loving my epidemiology class right now and can see myself getting more involved in that field. My favorite class as an undergrad was immunology, and there are strong connections between the two.

What are your career plans?

I’m not sure exactly where my post-athletic career will take me, but right now I’m leaning toward a career in epidemiology or something related to community and youth programming. Right now I’m just taking it one adventure at a time!

Why did you choose UVM?

I grew up in Barton and now live in Craftsbury. I’m a Vermonter through and through, and it’s a place that I care about deeply. I’m very excited that UVM offers such a strong Master of Public Health program. It’s great to connect with many professors, public health professionals, and students who also have strong ties to Vermont and our communities. These connections can help us all make a difference improving the health of our population
February 18, 2020

Alumni Advice: How Scott Switzer Found His Niche in the Tech Start-Up Scene

Scott Switzer ’92, co-founder and chief technology officer of Authenticated Digital, has made a name for himself in the competitive world of start-ups. We talked to the UVM College of Engineering and Mathematical Science alumnus about working in business and technology, starting companies from scratch, and finding success.

You have been involved as an advisor, investor, or co-founder of multiple start-ups. How has the landscape changed for start-ups over the past 16 years? Is it easier now, or less risky, or more competitive?

AlumniAdvice_newToday it is easier to build an initial product without the need for venture capital. It’s less expensive, there are better software libraries to start from as well as co-location spaces. In the past, scaling a server farm would cost hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, whereas cloud services today cost only hundreds of dollars.
That said, today the bar is much higher for a Series A level of investment, which is the first round of financing given to a new business once seed capital has already been provided. Not only do you need to show that your product is complete and there is some level of traction from your customers, but many investors are looking for revenue growth as well.

Authenticated Digital, which was featured in Adweek, authenticates 90 percent of digital ad impressions. When did a lightbulb go off in your head that there was a need for this kind of technology?

tech-start-upBrands often buy ads for one site, but due to misrepresentation of inventory, they end up paying for an appearance on another. Also, many ad impressions are generated by bots. My previous company, OpenX, is one of the largest ad exchanges today. During my experience building OpenX, I learned that the architecture of ad exchanges relies on information supplied by third parties rather than collecting information directly. This means that there is a significant opportunity for fraud to be introduced by these third parties.
My co-founder and I started researching this, and once we found a way to measure the advertising supply chain directly, we found plenty of inconsistencies with the information that advertisers use to buy advertising.

A start-up sounds great in concept, but there are many logistical and financial challenges to make a go of it. What are some of the realities of launching a start-up?

Starting a company is risky from a financial perspective. For months, founders of a company will build without salary, and when they do have the ability to pay themselves via financing or revenues, their salary is much lower than the market rate.
However, starting a company while you have little commitments—such as a wife, kids, or mortgage—is easier. Also, I have found that even with the companies that I started that did not turn out well, I learned far more than if I had played a narrower role at a larger company.

What do you think it takes to succeed running a start-up?

The most successful founders that I have worked with are able to pivot their thinking quickly and recognize when customers find a product valuable. They are also able to suspend disbelief for a while and visualize a future with their company no matter how bleak the current market looks for them.

What advice would you give someone thinking about working in technology?

Build side projects. I have found that side projects naturally gravitates you to the things that you are interested in, and will give you a level of experience in where more nuanced product ideas can be considered.

How did your experience at UVM help prepare you for your career?

I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering, but have been interested in computer science since graduating. The most important part of my education was learning to be organized, solve hard problems, and make hard choices to get a good outcome. I found the co-founders of my first company through a UVM friend. Everybody’s experiences are different, but I have found that the network UVM provides compliments the education in a great way.

What are the greatest rewards of your career?

Starting something from nothing, see it live on and grow beyond my involvement.

Did anyone ever give you advice along the way that has paid off?

My wife’s grandfather told me that some of the most important decisions that you make are the seemingly smallest day-to-day decisions. I have found that in both business life and personal life, contributing some extra effort in some of the smallest cases will come back to enrich your life in a great wa
February 18, 2020

Elliot Kennedy on Breaking Down the Barriers in LGBT Healthcare

Photo: Elliot Kennedy, left, with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell
AlumniAdvice_newElliot Kennedy JD, realized as an undergraduate that advocating for the LGBT community provided a sense of purpose and fulfillment. The 2009 alum—who helped guide and implement the availability of preferred names in the student information system at UVM—is now the Senior Advisor for LGBT health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
We talked to Elliot about LGBT health policy, building a network, and making a difference in the LGBT community.

After graduating from UVM, you went on to law school and earned your JD. Why were you drawn to LGBT law and healthcare policy?

One of the things I find most interesting about LGBT law and policy work is that people in this field often become experts across a broad range of issues as there are similar barriers to access and equity.
I focused on health policy and access to healthcare in part because of the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, but also because of a personal interest in healthcare (which was fueled in part by my experiences as a transgender person trying to access care).

Research has shown a long history of anti-LGBT bias in healthcare despite increasing social acceptance. What kind of progress has been made in recent years regarding LGBT healthcare? Is the tide turning?

Yes, the tide is definitely turning. In the six and a half years since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed (and thanks to many, many other actions that we have taken), we have made dramatic progress towards ensuring that LGBT people have access to non-discriminatory and culturally competent health care.
I won’t list everything here, but I think these past few years have really been a sea change towards better access and better care for LGBT people. Before the ACA, transgender people and people living with HIV/AIDS could be denied healthcare because of a pre-existing condition. Until the Department of Health and Human Services took action in 2010, LGBT people in hospitals were often not permitted to have their family members visit them, and their advance directives were not always honored.
The Department of Health and Human Services released final regulations this year making it clear that under the ACA, discrimination based on sex—including gender identity and sex stereotyping—is not permitted by entities covered under the law. We have also made it clear that transgender people have the same access to the sex-specific preventive services available under the ACA that all people do, regardless of their sex assigned at birth, gender identity, or gender recorded by their insurance plan or doctor.
As someone who still often encounters issues in the doctor’s office or with insurance companies, I know policy change, education, and outreach isn’t always immediately felt, and that can be frustrating and infuriating. But I think the groundwork has been laid now such that LGBT people should expect equality in healthcare and coverage.

What advice would you give someone thinking about working in LGBT policy or advocacy?

The community of people that I know doing this work is vibrant, energetic, extremely passionate, often personable, not always great at self-care, and utterly wonky. They are lawyers, social workers, psychologists, community organizers, researchers, and statisticians, among many others.
Some things to consider about this field:
  • Now is a great time to get involved. We make amazing progress every day, and it is incredibly rewarding work.
  • That also means that more and more people want training and education and want to learn about LGBT people. There amazing resources out there to help you become a better teacher and trainer. Even if you don’t want to do full-time LGBT work, getting better educated about how LGBT communities relate to your other area of interest is something that everyone can/should do.
  • Non-LGBT organizations do a ton a great LGBT work. Professional associations, law firms, community health centers, local/state/federal governments, think tanks, and countless others are places where you can be a full- or part-time LGBT advocate.
  • To work in LGBT policy or advocacy, you definitely do not have to work at a national LGBT advocacy organization (although you certainly can).
  • For LGBTQ individuals, it’s important to think about self-care and burnout. For non-LGBTQ individuals the same applies, but I think it’s also important to be thoughtful about how you will lift up LGBTQ people in your work.

How did your experience at UVM help prepare you for your career?

Helping advocate for and then implement the availability of preferred names and pronouns in the BANNER system at UVM taught me a lot about myself and the way that I like to work. I am extremely and unabashedly interested in navigating bureaucracy and figuring out how to get things done. Through that project, I also learned the importance of a good, in-the-weeds, diverse team, recognizing that you are going to get things wrong, and why getting things wrong shouldn’t stop you from making progress.

Did anyone ever give you advice along the way that has paid off?

Networking, which is awful, is just talking to interesting people about interesting things—which is less awful. Like job hunting, almost no one has the energy or resilience to do it 100 percent of the time, but it is essential. Every job or internship that I have had since leaving UVM was in part thanks to building a network.

What is one piece of advice you wish you had received along the way?

At least for me, grappling with finding jobs and building a career has always also involved sometimes questioning my decisions, not having the energy to meet new people, and generally wishing I could retreat to the woods and live in solitude. When I give myself time and space to refocus and reground, my outlook improves and so does my energy. I think that’s probably true for most people as we have natural cycles and nothing in nature blooms all year.
One piece of advice that I wish I had received sooner than I did is to be more forgiving of myself and others, and to take good care of my mental health in addition to my physical health. This is hard, and it’s OK to admit that it’s hard and take care of yourself as part of the proces