Student Spotlight: Audrey Slatkin

Audrey Slatkin is a fourth-year Conservation and Resource Studies major with an emphasis in  Food Systems and Environmental Business. She served as the Food Recovery Lead at the Berkeley Basic Needs Center, which redistributes leftover food from restaurants and dining halls on campus to Berkeley community members who struggle with food insecurity. Since April 2020, Slatkin has held multiple roles at the Farmlink Project, a volunteer-run, national non-profit seeking to reduce food waste and combat hunger, before becoming Director of Sustainability in January. 

Farmlink began in response to the coronavirus pandemic, as global food supply chain disruptions caused food insecurity and shortages of essential goods. The organization connects farmers with surplus or unmarketable produce with communities in need of food. It’s run predominantly by college students and recent graduates from across the country, and Berkeley students have been at the forefront of the initiative, with about 20 Berkeley students involved since the pandemic began. Many of the Berkeley students worked with Farmlink as their community partner for their Food Systems Minor Community Engagement capstone.

Thus far, Farmlink has delivered over 40 million pounds of fresh produce to communities in 48 states.

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How did you first get involved in Farmlink? 

On April 11th of last year, The New York Times published an article entitled “Dumped Milk, Smashed Eggs, Plowed Vegetables: Food Waste of the Pandemic“. As a Conservation and Resource Studies major with an emphasis in food systems and waste, I wasn’t surprised but was deeply moved and concerned. Simultaneously, a few friends had read the same article and it conjured up similar feelings in them. They sprung into action and dreamt up The Farmlink Project with no experience or prior knowledge—just a fervent drive to grow the project. When I heard what they were doing, I called one of them up and explained that I was doing very similar work at Berkeley, but had long dreamt about repurposing lost food on a larger scale. I officially became a “Farmlinker” the very next day, and was the first of many Cal students to join the team!

Where did you first get interested in food waste and food systems?

When I was 8 years old, my family and I went to see the movie WALL-E. Before this, the word conservation wasn’t even in my lexicon, nor did I understand that human activity and greed were compromising the health of our planet. That movie made me realize for the first time that humanity stood to lose so much of the beauty of the natural world. I remember walking out of the theater and feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders. 

Since then, I have dedicated my education to conservation and sustainability efforts, especially within the food space. Working at my family’s restaurants during the summers, I was endlessly frustrated by the amount of perfectly good food that was scraped off every plate. In high school, I designed a donation model in conjunction with my local food bank, whereby volunteers would retrieve landfill-bound leftovers from restaurants and repurpose them into meals for those in need. Since coming to Berkeley, I’ve continued to merge my passions for environmental activism and social service, and I served as the Food Recovery Lead at the UC Berkeley Basic Needs Center before joining Farmlink. 

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Can you tell me more about working at Berkeley Basic Needs Center?

As the Food Recovery Lead for my first three semesters at Cal, I led a team of student interns working to eradicate food waste and insecurity on campus. We collected leftover food from dining halls and campus eateries and repackaged them into meals for the Basic Needs Center Food Pantry. In my last semester as lead, we diverted over 1,500 pounds of food from the landfill and fed more than 1,000 students who would have otherwise lacked consistent food access.

What does your specific role of Director of Sustainability at Farmlink entail? 

As Director of Sustainability, I have the honor of leading an incredible team of 12 as we work to incorporate sustainability into the Farmlink story and actualize our environmental goals. Most people are entirely unaware of the grave impacts that food waste has on our environment. In fact, if food waste itself were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the U.S. and China. By diverting food from landfills and preventing it from rotting in the fields, we are subsequently saving millions of pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into our increasingly fragile atmosphere. 

My team is focused on questions like: How can we reduce the greatest amount of carbon emissions? How can we monetize the prevented emissions in the form of carbon offsets to secure an alternate source of revenue for our organization so that we can sustain our operations for generations to come? 

An average day consists of a team-wide morning meeting, followed by research, outreach to potential carbon offset buyers and project developers, and meetings with other people or organizations working at the intersection of food and the environment. Our goal is not just to learn as much as possible from each other, but also from as many people in the climate sector as we can. We are all working towards giving our planet a fighting chance, and together we can do so much faster and more efficiently. 

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How would you describe the project’s impact thus far?

Since beginning a year ago, The Farmlink project has moved over 40 million pounds of surplus produce, or over 33 million meals, from farms to food banks in 48 states. In addition, our efforts have helped prevent over 40 million pounds of CO2 from being emitted into the atmosphere.  We have partnered with Chipotle, Uber Freight, Kroger, Guayaki, Smart & Final and more, all of whom have helped us reach as many people and farms as possible. We’re honored to have been featured in several news outlets including The New York Times, The Today Show, Variety Magazine, ABC World News and many more. Most recently, our CEO and co-founder, James Kanoff and Aidan Reilly, were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor Service Award for creating The Farmlink Project.

Does the Farmlink student-run model have any implications for social action?

Learning about the climate crisis means facing a lot of really disheartening truths. Many students in environmental classes share a sense of doom or despair, but unlike the generations before us, we don’t have the luxury of denial. None of us are planning on Mars as our Plan B. The climate crisis is here, it’s worsening, and our elders have made it clear that it’s up to our generation to fix it. Possibly the most gratifying part of Farmlink is that we are all young adults. We have all read the discouraging reports and seen the horrifying statistics about what we stand to lose if society continues business as usual. And we have all chosen to take action rather than surrender. Working alongside my Farmlink peers has instilled in me a new sense of hope for climate salvation. In just a year, we’ve all proven to each other that we can rise to this momentous occasion and change the course of our futures and our children’s futures, if we do it together. 

What projects are coming down the line for Farmlink?

In addition to the food redistribution work that Farmlink does, our Sustainability Team has just launched Carbonlink, Farmlink’s Carbon Offset for a Sustainable Food System. Today, our unsustainable food system is responsible for over 25 percent of global emissions. Carbonlink is the first comprehensive carbon offset that can help change that statistic and transform our food system to fight climate change while providing meals to millions of families. After a year of talking to farmers, suppliers, processors, and consumers, we identified points along the food system that have the most potential for environmental improvement with direct investment through carbon offsets. We’ve partnered with experts and project developers to start providing individuals and companies in the food sector with a way to offset their own carbon footprint—and all while furthering Farmlink’s mission to bridge the gap between food waste and insecurity. 

What has it been like doing this work while a student during the pandemic?

Since so many college campuses closed in March 2020 in response to COVID-19, we have been fully remote since our conception. Most of us have never met outside of the confines of our zoom screens. It was incredibly gratifying to be a part of something larger than myself while stuck inside. Volunteering not only helped me stay grounded and keep perspective, but also served as a welcome distraction—other than Tiger King—to keep me occupied as lockdown began. After months of working remotely, restrictions started to lighten up and the first thing we all wanted to do was meet each other in person. I’ve met probably 15 Farmlinkers face to face by now, and we are currently planning a Berkeley Farmlink lunch event.

Each Farmlink volunteer I meet continues to affirm that our community is made up of truly special people. Each of us are so different yet so similar, not only in the values we hold true, but in this magical shared energy we all radiate. Each new Farmlink friend I’ve made has been intelligent yet personable, so driven but still so warm and generous with their time. Especially after such a socially isolating year, I feel incredibly lucky to have formed a new group of friends, all of whom I believe are worthy of their own medals of honor!

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During professor Kathy De Master’s course “Sociology and Political Ecology of Agro-Food Systems,” I had the opportunity to grow my understanding of food systems, especially from a policy perspective, and connect with Berkeley students who were interested in joining Farmlink. Since our start with Farmlink, our Berkeley Farmlink family has grown to include almost twenty volunteers, many of whom are students in Rausser College! Claire Rider (’22 Anthropology, American Studies) is currently working on starting an official in-person Cal Farmlink chapter. We just finished recruitment for volunteers for summer 2022 and will likely be recruiting again for the winter and spring semesters in December!

What is your next move following graduation? 

I am graduating in December and moving to New York, where I hope to get a job working in the environmental sector. More specifically, I hope to work for a tech startup I’ve been hugely inspired by that has been working to eradicate food waste and insecurity just as we have been doing at The Farmlink Project. This really is my life’s work, and I will find a way to continue doing it until our food system can truly serve both people and the planet.

Learn more about the food systems minor here. 

Food for Climate League

Food for Climate League - Idealist

Alejandra S. Marquez
Fall 2020

Food for Climate League (FCL) is a 501c3 nonprofit seeking to identify the most effective ways to communicate around food and climate in order to make sustainable eating inviting and relevant for all people. FCL’s goal is to democratize sustainable eating— to help people feel in control of their health, connected to the community, and empowered to change the world, all through climate-beneficial eating habits. I worked with them as Grant Writing and Brand Development lead, through which I’ve built FCL’s funding and social media strategies, and helped communicate our impact as an organization. FCL is a unique organization because we focus on the ways in which climate-smart eating is tied with people’s core needs of control, community and purpose— we aim to show that sustainable foods nourish both human and planetary well-being, and in doing so, we will drive demand for plant-forward, biodiverse, and nutritious foods. 

Real Good Greens

William Brinkerhoff
Spring 2021

For the past semester, I’ve worked with Real Good Greens, a small business that was founded in 2020 to increase accessibility to high-quality local produce for families in the Bay Area. Helene, the founder, saw a huge imbalance in supply and demand when restaurants closed in April 2020, leaving farms without any outlets for their bounty. She began curating a weekly box of local fruits and veggies from her favorite local farms and selling them to Bay Area eaters, offering to deliver to doorstep. Since then, she’s coined the phrase ‘Farm to Doorstep’ to describe the company’s mission and has continued to increase the accessibility of locally farmed produce in the Bay Area. Throughout this process, I’ve learned that there is an important balance between producer, distributor, and consumer that can make small farms economically viable for everyone involved. I’m very grateful for the time I’ve been able to spend connecting Bay Area folks with their local farmers and will continue celebrating local food & its dedicated growers in the future. Find out more at www.realgoodgreens.com.

Community Foods Market

Ariana De La Fuente
Spring 2021

This semester I was able to work with Community Foods Market, an independent and locally-owned grocery store in West Oakland, CA that aims to serve and support the surrounding community. As a marketing and content intern, I was able to highlight the narratives of those who shop at the market and share nutritious meal ideas on their social media platforms. This market only opened in 2019 and was a result of community efforts and engagement in West Oakland. This store is a real-life example of combating the lack of access to food and the inequalities that marginalized communities face.

Dr. Susana Matias’ Lab

Saadhana Deshpande
Spring 2021

This semester I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Susana Matias from the department of Nutritional Sciences & Toxicology on a research project. We aimed to find the underlying benefits of green space and gardening exposure for the student community at Berkeley, and more specifically, at Berkeley Student Farms. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a direct increase in the rates of depression and anxiety in young adults and students, and gardening (one of the few fairly COVID safe activities) could be a mechanism with which to remediate the decrease of mental health that we are continuing to see. I was able to contribute to an extensive literature review as well as the Qualtrics survey that we shared with students at UC Berkeley. While we still have a long way to go in terms of collecting and analyzing data, we are excited to be studying the effects of community gardening on student health and well-being in various ways.

Food for People

Since 1979, it has been Food for People's mission is to provide nutritious food to folks throughout Humboldt County. Over the semester, I have had the joy of interning at the Eureka Choice Pantry where I interacted with the community through packaging and distributing food. On top of this, I have been able to expand my design skills by developing flyers that will circulate the community, created pins, and created my first animation for the introduction to their video based culinary lessons.

Emily Diehl
Spring 2021

Since 1979, it has been Food for People’s mission is to provide nutritious food to folks throughout Humboldt County. Over the semester, I have had the joy of interning at the Eureka Choice Pantry where I interacted with the community through packaging and distributing food. On top of this, I have been able to expand my design skills by developing flyers that will circulate the community, created pins, and created my first animation for the introduction to their video based culinary lessons.

Geyserville Kitchen Commons

Hannah Doolittle
Spring 2021

For my community partnership, I assisted an MDP graduate student with her research project conducting a community food assessment in Geyserville, a small town in Sonoma County. As a Public Health student with a strong interest in food systems, I was really drawn to this project as it aims to help address food insecurity, particularly among the Latinx population in Geyserville. In addition to remote work, I was very lucky to even get the chance to travel to Geyserville and volunteer at a food distribution to connect with community members in a meaningful way. The data that was collected and analyzed in our food assessment will hopefully be used to inform future interventions in Geyserville with the aim of increasing access to fresh produce for those experiencing food insecurity. 

Berkeley Student Farms

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Akila Ganapathi
Spring 2021

This semester, I had the opportunity to do my community partnership with the Berkeley Student Farms (specifically the Student Organic Garden Association). I worked on a community composting project in which we aimed to expand community composting operations at the student gardens. I was responsible for working with a team to regularly create new compost piles and maintain those piles by flipping them weekly. One of the goals of the project was to come up with a more scientific approach to conduct the composting so we tracked the weights of the inputs (food scraps brought by student volunteers, coffee grounds, wood shavings, etc.) going into each pile. Overall, I had a great experience working with the Berkeley Student Farms and overseeing the composting operations! This experience made me realize how valuable a closed-loop system of food production is and how we can minimize our food waste as individuals by composting. 

Nestlé USA

Serafina Keltner-McNeil
Spring 2021

I was interested in learning more about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and sustainability efforts in a large company, leading me to my partnership with the Corporate Affairs team at Nestlé USA. I worked as a Project Management Intern this Spring, primarily tracking the US application and adherence to a set of commitments entitled the Creating Shared Value commitments, released every year by Nestlé Global in Switzerland. I had the chance to interview commitment owners and stakeholders across departments and operating companies, diving deeper into the topics of sustainable sourcing, environmental practices, net-zero emissions, and nutrition, health, & wellness. Ultimately, I produced an internal tracker with the US commitment updates for 2020. 

Berkeley Student Farms

Sana Khader
Spring 2021

This semester, volunteering at Berkeley Student Farms (BSF) became a peaceful part of my week. BSF is a coalition of seven campus garden spaces, all student-run. I spent most of my hours weeding, harvesting and planting at the Student Organic Garden on Northside. I loved getting to spend time with other students in-person, masked and six feet apart. The work felt significant to me, knowing that the produce harvested was going to the campus food pantry. I also helped design a few pages for the garden cookbook, featuring food grown in the garden. It was eye-opening to be part of an organization that ran horizontally — I always felt there was space for me and my ideas, and I appreciated this open structure.

Leah’s Pantry

Kelly Lam
Spring 2021

Leah’s Pantry is a non-profit organization that focuses on providing trauma-informed nutrition education. Its mission is to improve the health, wellness, and resilience of communities. In particular, the team members at Leah’s Pantry formulate their programs and resources to target low-income communities that have historically been underserved. For my internship, I provided support to the organization’s Food Smarts for Waste Reduction Program by co-facilitating various classes covered in the program’s curriculum. Some topics in the Food Smarts curriculum include food code dates (i.e. how to decipher them), food storage, composting, healthy eating, and zero-waste cooking. I also assisted with the maintenance and management of the organization’s eatfresh.org website. In partnership with CalFresh, the site offers a variety of easy-to-make, healthy, and budget-friendly recipes. Overall, Leah’s Pantry seeks to nourish communities and promote a healthy and equitable food system.

Center for Good Food Purchasing

Gabriela Olmedo
Spring 2021

My community partner was the Center for Good Food Purchasing- an organization that helps public institutions implement values based food procurement with standards for local economies, health, valued workforce, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability. As the Policy and Programs Research Intern I supported the Director of Institutional Impact in building resources to support program participants in identifying model policies and best practices around values-based purchasing. My work will contribute to an “Action Planning Toolkit” that will be provided to the Center’s partner institutions to help them meet their goals more efficiently. In the course of my time with the center, I learned all about the state of food procurement in the US, possibilities for betterment, and key players/organizations in the fight for a more just, equitable, and sustainable food system. I’m excited to take what I learned into my future career!

Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health (CERCH)

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Vera Qu
Spring 2021

For the Food Systems Minor Capstone course, I volunteered as a research assistant under the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health (CERCH) at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, which seeks to understand and mitigate environmental threats to children and community health. I contributed to manuscript preparation and data analysis for the Healthy Children and Environments Study (HCES), which quantifies pesticide exposure among young children in California child care facilities and applies integrated pest management to reduce pesticide use. Children are at critical stages of development and thus disproportionately susceptible to adverse health risks associated with pesticide exposure. Agriculture accounts for almost 90% of pesticides in the US, with commercial, industry, home, and garden use making up the remaining 10%. My research mentors are incredibly passionate and willing to teach—I’m excited to apply my skills in a clinical research setting and continue understanding how agri-food systems manifest as social determinants of health.

Back to the Roots

Stephanie Ross
Spring 2021

I worked with Back to the Roots an organic home gardening product company founded by two Cal alumni, Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez. BTTR produces at home grow kits for plants such as herbs, mushrooms, and certain vegetables, and packet seeds for a wide range of flowers, plants, herbs, fruits, and veggies. Back to the Roots actually only exists because of an anecdote a Berkeley professor mentioned about the possibility to grow mushrooms out of coffee grinds. From there, Back to the Roots sprouted and has grown ever since!

Food Association at Berkeley

Charlene Roxas
Spring 2021

The internship that I did this semester is with my organization on campus named the Food Association at Berkeley. Our main goal is to gather like-minded individuals who are passionate about food. Our three main pillars are education, initiative, and social space. We wanted to have an inclusive organization on campus that aims to build a deeper understanding of food and its systems. We made this possible by inviting professionals, business owners, and professors in the food industry to help us educate ourselves about food and its systems. We did 3 pro-bono consulting throughout the year to help out small businesses who are struggling as part of our initiative. Lastly, we had some social events that helped our members gain connections in an online setting that helped them get through these hard times.

Oakland Unified School District

Joshua Sheng
Spring 2021

I did a collaboration with Oakland Unified School District to help construct an oral history for the gardens at the various schools. Many of these gardens were actually quite large and contributed quite a bit to local food production, but there has been little written material describing them in the past. By writing narratives about them, it helps to record the histories of the schools but also allows us to spread the benefits of school gardens (which include climate change mitigation, community integration, and connecting students with nature) around, and thus encourage other schools to create their own garden programs. Something I would like to see in the long term is for food production to be controlled largely by independent small farmers and gardeners, and I feel that this project is a good start for that.

Chapul

Anna Kate Stephenson
Spring 2021

Over the past few months, I have been collaborating with Chapul, a cricket powder pioneer based in Oregon. I worked with Pat Crowley, the founder and CEO of Chapul who has appeared on both Shark Tank and TEDx , and originally inspired my love for edible insects. Needless to say, this was an unparalleled opportunity to learn about the industry directly from my role model within it. I focused mainly on SMS and email marketing, building campaigns and familiarizing myself with different provider platforms and marketing strategies. As our world population grows and resources dwindle, we will have to find a protein sourcing alternative to intensive meat production. Many experts have pointed towards entomophagy, or humans eating insects, as a potential solution, and it is already done in 80% of countries! Having this experience at Chapul has taught me the most effective ways to promote this practice in mainstream, Western markets, and given me a clear idea of the industry’s exciting future. 

Berkeley Unified School District

Ema Willis
Spring 2021

This semester I partnered with Berkeley Unified School District and helped maintained the student gardens used for their nutrition and gardening program. I believe that connecting people to their food, starting at such a young age, leads to healthier and more sustainable generations. Its not everywhere kids have the opportunity to connect with the Earth and get their hands dirty, and it is so important to building an appreciation for the world around you. The biggest thing I learned and want to take with me into my career in the agri-food system would be to maintain the simple sense of wonder and curiosity that children have. Always ask questions and always want to learn new things!

Food & Water Watch

Amanda Yuelapwan
Spring 2021

Throughout my time as a digital organizing intern at Food & Water Watch, I have worked on a number of projects ranging from making google sheets of information on legislature, to reviewing informational articles for publication. I was also able to do a number of outreach projects that worked to gain momentum for mega-dairy moratoriums in Oregon. These projects served as fuel for the many initiatives that Food & Water Watch runs under its factory farming team, which works to establish moratoriums in the hope of getting factory farms banned nationwide. Although some states vary in scale for their concentration of factory farms, this work is thought to benefit the food system nationally, and perhaps globally in the future and I will take pride in my work of holding political players accountable for the years to come. Below is a clip from an article that I edited and gave feedback on to help Food & Water Watch better reach their target audience.

Geyserville Kitchen Commons

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Sophia Zhuang
Spring 2021

As part of my ESPM 197 internship this semester, I worked with a Master of Development Practice student along with an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley on a project called Geyserville Kitchen Commons to increase food access in a small, rural town called Geyserville, CA. We were able to conduct a Community Food Assessment (CFA) to understand the food system in Geyserville by surveying residents and conducting interviews with experts in the community. Conducting a CFA allowed me to discover the incredible strengths and assets of Geyserville that can be leveraged to increase food access in the area. I learned that every community has its own unique strengths if you take the time to get to know the community and the people within it. From conducting research to developing survey instruments to interviewing community experts, I have been able to develop key transferrable skills that I hope to take with me to my future career. My involvement in this project has validated my passions in public health and food security, and I hope to continue to be involved in work that advocates for food equity in every community. 

Once Upon a Farm

Dylan Alcantara
Spring 2021

This semester I had the opportunity to intern for Once Upon a Farm, a sustainable and organic children’s food company based in Berkeley, CA. As a marketing intern, I was fortunate to work on a number of projects to increase their e-commerce sales and understand the operations of a company in the food industry. During my internship, I was able to witness the company undergo a brand refresh and help with the launch of their new website. Additionally, I spent time with their Marketing & Sustainability Coordinator (a UC Berkeley alum!) working on Once Upon a Farm’s sustainability reporting processes. Through the internship I learned how the company sources their ingredients, packages their products and distributes them to customers and grocery stores. I was interested in learning about the product packaging as the company looks into options to increase its plastic pouches recycling efforts.

One Fair Wage

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Angela Aguirre
Spring 2021

Only seven states have required that employers pay tipped service workers a full minimum wage, and One Fair Wage (OFW) is trying to change that. They organize service workers across the country and think of innovative ways to pressure the federal government and service industries into paying all workers not just a full minimum wage but a fair wage. For example, the California campaign is looking to start a CA Food Service Worker Cooperative to enable a fairer fight against the unfair policies lobbied for by the National Restaurant Association and perpetuated by larger corporations in the foodservice industry. Through my community partnership with the OFW California campaign, I explored various skills through tasks that will hopefully advance the cause for fairer wages. For example, I helped with research and data entry related to grants and restaurant spaces for the co-op. I also developed my understanding of digital advocacy by creating infographics and memes. I even attended an event where a U.S. House Representative was my server for an hour. However, the most meaningful part of my community partnership was solidifying my stance and potentially helping others realize that all workers, especially those in the food and service industries, deserve a living wage.

Pesticide Action Network (PAN) North America

Chloe Cho
Fall 2020

Pesticide Action Network (PAN) North America is part of a global network of over 600 NGOs, institutions, and individuals in over 90 counties. Together, they work to replace the use of highly hazardous pesticides with ecologically sound and socially just alternatives within a rights-based approach that prioritizes agroecology, food sovereignty, and food justice. As an intern, I was a member of the PAN International Agroecology Workgroup, where I supported many projects, including planning and co-hosting an international webinar, Agroecology: Farmers’ Pathways to Liberation from Pesticides. Hearing firsthand from farmers about their successful transitions from conventional pesticide use to agroecological practices was inspiring and encouraging, demonstrating a way forward with pesticide-free production. With the Grassroots Science Hub, I conducted a literature review about the impacts of climate change on agricultural insect pests which will soon be published as an issue brief and blog. Working with the PAN team has been an incredible experience and I will be continuing as a Science Fellow post-graduation, working alongside amazing individuals from around the world working toward a safer, healthier, more just food system by eliminating the use of highly hazardous pesticides in agriculture.