In this series, we’re meeting with Swette Center team members to explore their background in food systems, what they are currently working on, and their vision of food systems transformation.
Read on for an interview with Courtney Buzzard, Projects and Events Coordinator.
When did you first get interested in food systems work?
I first got interested in food systems work during my undergrad here at ASU. I was a sustainability student, but also worked in food and beverage at the same time. While working in hospitality, I realized what an impact you can have on people through food. It became a passion of mine through my personal experiences in the industry and through school. I graduated in 2013, so the sustainability program was still relatively new. I moved to Arizona for it, and at the time, it was the only university offering sustainability as an actual degree. At the time, we didn’t have a food systems track. There was one class called Food and Farms, which still exists, but that was the only food-focused offering. After I graduated, I stayed in food and beverage for a long time. I worked at a local brewery for about four years as their taproom manager. And then, 2020 came around, and I was without work for a period of time. I decided to go back to school. I graduated from Prescott College with an MS in Sustainable Food Systems in 2022.
What are you working on currently?
My current focus is the Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP). I am the coordinator for the program out of the Swette Center. We have several different hands in the project. It is a five-year program out of the USDA that helps farmers transition to using organic practices and provides technical assistance, workforce development, and community-building initiatives. It’s a nationwide program, and the Swette Center is the state lead here in Arizona. We are also working on various aspects of data collection for TOPP at both the federal and regional levels. In addition to TOPP, I also work on other organic-focused projects. We’re working on putting together a couple of organic reports, and recently, we were awarded the 2023 ASU President’s Award for Transdisciplinary Collaboration, which highlights the Swette Center’s organic efforts.
What do you think is a priority in transforming food systems?
A priority really should be reestablishing personal connections with food. We live in a very fast-paced society, and food is often overlooked as a necessity rather than really thinking about traditional and ancestral points of connection that we have had with food for thousands of years. I think a lot of it is that moment when you realize that food is more than just sustenance for survival. It really is what binds people together and has always connected traditions and cultures. There is a sense of beauty about being in a shared space, at a shared table, and having conversations over food.
Any advice for current food systems students?
This is actually a hard question to answer. Food is really challenging, and it’s demanding to be in a space with so many challenges. I would advise students not to overwhelm themselves with all of the negative aspects of the food system and really try to remember that joy and connection with food. There is a reason all of us are here, either working or studying in this space, and for sustainability in general, it’s really easy to become overwhelmed because it’s a lot; it’s a heavy burden. Just don’t lose your joy in food and why you’re here.
What is your favorite food to make?
This is also a tricky question with kind of a strange answer. I believe that the best meal I’ve ever had is the meal that I’m currently eating. Every dish and every food choice you make has a story behind it. Whether that story is you’re running late for work and you need a bagel from Starbucks, or it could be an amazing Michelin star experience. I don’t want to read, hear, or watch the same story every day. I think that food should be the same way, too.