MJ Pickett knows she can make a change.
The UVM alumna, who graduated in 2010 with a degree in Natural Resources Management, grows vegetables and raises hogs with her husband at their farm in Gunnison, Colorado. Their farm, Calder Farm Ltd., produces pork, root crops, and cut flowers. The couple started their farm in 2016 and sells their products at farmers’ markets, a CSA, and to local restaurants.
While her farming operation is a success, Pickett is compelled to help the local food system make progress. She enrolled in UVM’s Breakthrough Leaders for Sustainable Food Systems Professional Certificate Program last summer to find ways in which she could move the needle.
The three-week UVM program includes two weeks of online course instruction followed by one-week in Burlington to meet with food system leaders and producers.
“Before the program, I thought that real change could only be made within certain parameters, such as taxes and laws. But I learned that more powerful change could come from a paradigm shift where you have self-organizing movements,” she says. “That realization gave me confidence. I’m not that policy-minded, but I am a person who talks to my community all the time. So, now I know I can make a difference.”
UVM’s sustainable food systems certificate leadership program helps participants:
- Grow leadership skills and expand skills to recognize and create positive, forward-looking solutions for the food system.
- Gain an understanding of systems theory, the food system hierarchical structure, and evaluate every step of the interconnected food system, from growing food to distribution strategies and consumer consumption patterns.
- Engage with local sustainability-based organizations and gain a hands-on perspective of community-based practices.
One of the main takeaways for Pickett was knowing that as a producer, she can be a leader in the food system movement. Spending a week in Burlington helped her realize that change happens from the ground up—and within the community.
“Burlington is a community that self-organized around their values,” she says. “It’s not an effort by corporations or the government. And there are all these different players in that community that has created a successful food system.”
What Pickett found particularly inspiring at UVM was realizing that her values about community, health, environmental health, and soil health could be reflected and strengthened in her leadership role.
“Before I came to UVM, I didn’t feel like I could make a change,” says Pickett, who has a master’s degree in regional food systems from Western State Colorado University. “I felt bogged down in the technical parts of farming and in the weeds—literally and figuratively. I felt like I needed to shake the tree, and I think this program did that for me. It helped me realize that I have a lot of power in the food system.”
Breakthrough Leaders for Sustainable Food Systems is sponsored in part by Ben & Jerry’s.