Meet Swette Center staff member, Erica Martin

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 Erica Martin, Graduate Research Associate. 

When did you first get interested in food systems work?

I grew up in areas that were pretty rural and had a lot of local farms. I realized once I moved to Washington, DC for my undergrad that I had taken that level of access for granted. I started becoming more interested in food systems, and I was looking for opportunities while I was living in a city to still be able to enjoy local food and agriculture. My initial interest in food systems started with the importance of food for culture and identity. Over time, as I learned more about other components like supply chain complexity and climate impacts, my interest expanded. In undergrad, I took a class on the political ecology of food and agriculture, where we would read the works of Wendell Berry and other key environmental and food scholars. That course was one of the first formal introductions that I had to thinking about food systems from an academic perspective. I started to enjoy that and ended up doing my senior capstone on local food systems, where I was able to go to farmers' markets and talk to farmers about why they chose to produce organically or use sustainable methods. Being able to cultivate those relationships with different producers in the area and understanding their values and their motivations for participating in the system got me excited to pursue a career in food systems.

What are you working on currently? 

I am supporting the Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP), which is a national USDA initiative to support farmers transitioning toward organic production, build a network of organic producers, and foster community-building. It is an incredible and unique opportunity to be part of such a large-scale project – It's an exciting time to be working in this space!

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

Because food systems are so complex, one of my goals is to identify opportunities to get people involved where they're interested. I think that there can be a lot of different kinds of access points to get engaged with food systems work. Whether you're interested in production as a farmer or you're an artist, there are many ways to get involved. For me, it's about creating a spectrum of opportunities for folks to get engaged in food systems and show the breadth of possibilities that exist. 

Any advice for current food systems students?

Getting out there talking to people who are practitioners in food systems and trying to get some of that experience yourself is awesome. In previous jobs, I had the benefit of working with sustainable farmers and people who are working in food hubs. Being able to have that experience, and see how all the different puzzle pieces fit together through working out in the field is impactful.

What is your favorite food to make? 

Whatever is in season! My favorite thing to do is to just go to the farmers market without really a plan in mind, and see what's available on any given weekend. Then, I try to get creative with what I can make with that.