Seeing the Big Picture for Sustainable Food Systems Leadership


Molly Clark came to UVM to get a broader perspective on sustainable agriculture.
The environmental studies graduate student from the University of Pennsylvania enrolled in UVM’s Breakthrough Leaders for Sustainable Food Systems Professional Certificate Program last summer for a high-level understanding of food, farms, and sustainability.
Clark is an assistant field manager of Rushton Farm—owned and operated by the Willistown Conservation Trust—which is a small-scale vegetable farm CSA and land conservation organization in Pennsylvania. While her day-to-day responsibilities at the farm include planting seeds, harvesting crops, and setting up the weekly CSA, Clark is also interested in learning more about how agriculture and the environment intersect.
Clark graduated from Bucknell University with a degree in environmental studies, and after college worked for environmental organizations that focus on water quality.  Through that work, she began learning more about agriculture. She enrolled in UVM’s sustainable food systems leadership certificate as part of an independent study program with UPenn.
In the UVM Breakthrough Leaders program, Clark heard from speakers, including Scott Marlow of the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, who highlighted the struggles that farms are facing. Clark also visited City Market Co-op in Burlington to learn about food access, volunteer programming, and community building.
“It was so refreshing to hear speakers and visit places to broaden my view again. We talked about things like supporting small farms and how we’re losing middle size farms, which are critical for the economy,” she says. “Small farms are important and so are things like farmers’ markets. But in terms of big scale change, there’s a lot more that has to be part of the movement.”
The three-week UVM Breakthrough Leaders program includes two weeks of online course instruction followed by one week in Burlington to meet with food system leaders and producers.

The UVM sustainable food systems leadership certificate program helps participants:

  • 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.
  • Grow leadership skills and expand skills to recognize and create positive, forward-looking solutions for the food system.
  • Engage with local sustainability-based organizations and gain a hands-on perspective of community-based practices.
“I came away from the UVM program feeling inspired. It’s so evident that people are talking about all these issues, and it’s encouraging that the public is catching on,” she says. “I’m inspired that food systems are not just a trend. It’s all about connecting the environmental, public health, social justice, social aspects of agriculture and food. And we just have to keep pushing that message.”