Meet Swette Center staff member, Ethan Ellis

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 Ethan Ellis, Research Analyst. 

When did you first get interested in food systems work?

I was always interested in the environment, especially climate change. At some point in time, but especially after an internship with the US Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service, I made the connection between climate change and agriculture. Agriculture contributes anywhere from a fourth to a third of GHG emissions, depending on how you measure it, so I was naturally interested in sustainable food systems. While at the USDA, I researched climate-smart viticulture and got to delve into food systems-related issues connected with climate change. Ever since that internship, I’ve continued to pursue sustainable food systems and climate change work. 

What are you working on currently? 

I am working on a National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA) grant, which focuses on helping farmers capture value from climate-related programs and markets. We're looking at how cooperatives can be utilized to help farmers adapt to climate change, access climate markets, and get financing or technical systems to adapt to climate change. I'm currently in the early phases, designing interviews and surveys. I think what's held back many farmers from adapting to more climate-friendly practices is the difficulty in transitioning. Researching ways farmers can get extra support to be climate-friendly, especially in those early years of transition, could be super impactful. 

What do you think is a priority in transforming food systems?

I think the biggest challenge facing food systems in the next decades is how to deal with and adapt to climate change. While in grad school, I taught a course on the intersection of food security and climate change, hoping to highlight this challenge. Not only does agriculture greatly contribute to climate change, but food production is also very vulnerable to climatic impacts. Tackling this issue needs to happen soon so we can fight climate change, support growing populations, and adapt to changing climate trends.

Any advice for current food systems students?

My advice is to be open-minded, especially in transitional moments in your life. Be willing to break from your set path, whether that's one you dictated to yourself or given to you by others or by circumstance. Be open to take advantage of different opportunities and learn and grow. 

What is your favorite food to make? 

I was raised vegetarian, so I like meals that have a lot of vegetables. My favorite meal is ratatouille because there's a diverse amount of vegetables in there and it’s packed with flavor. Not to mention, it's also cheap and easy to make.