The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday March 28th

Q&A with professor, author Philip Ackerman-Leist

Philip Ackerman-Leist, an associate professor of environmental studies and director of the Farm and Food Project at Green Mountain College, is the author of “Rebuilding the Foodshed” and “Up Tunket Road.”

Staff writer Lynsay Williams spoke to Ackerman-Leist about sustainable living and a lecture he gave on campus Thursday.

Daily Tar Heel: What do you hope students take away from the event?

Philip Ackerman-Leist: I think college students are a really critical force in the rebuilding of local food systems. It’s really important to have institutions of higher education involved in this whole process because these institutions have enormous purchasing power. Students help bring the really important values to the table in this conversation.

DTH: Where did you get the inspiration for your new book, “Rebuilding the Foodshed?”

PAL: The book is actually a project that was born out of a collaboration between the Post Carbon Institute and Chelsea Green Publishing. It’s a really interesting project. They really wanted to focus in on rebuilding local — in really all parts of that word — so they decided to do a series, the Community Resilience Guides series, a series on rebuilding local economies.

My book, “Rebuilding the Foodshed,” is the third in the series, and it’s focused on community based food systems.

DTH: How did you become passionate about sustainable living?

PAL: I grew up in North Carolina, and some of the richest childhood experiences I had were during the time when I lived in Gastonia, North Carolina, and it was always the woods between our house and the textile mills actually. That was a place of solace and retreat for me — a place of magic and kinship with the environment and the natural world — and that was something I was always looking for. My family moved to Smithfield, North Carolina; we were in a more suburban context. I never felt at home there.

I really was seeking something much different from the experience that I had during my junior high and high school years, and it sort of permeated my college experience as well.

Ultimately, it was an attempt to find a way to live values and lifestyle in a way that felt right to me.

DTH: What do you hope to accomplish from talking to people and writing books about this issue?

PAL: We have to think harder, longer, with a broader diversity of players in order to really rebuild the community food systems.

Hopefully it’s shedding light on some of the models from around the country and what’s worked and what hasn’t worked, and those models are thinking complexly about food systems.

There is one other piece that I think is really important about all of this that I tried to put forward in the book, and that is really unveiling some of the things that we don’t think about often enough in local food conversation.

For example, thinking about minorities and the issues that they’re facing with the system and thinking about those who are facing the triple threat: poverty, obesity and diabetes.

Thinking about not only the workers that we have on our farms — who very often have very few rights and benefits — but also looking deeper into the processing sector, where some of the issues are at least as bad and sometimes worse.

My hope in all of it is that we start to think more complexly and with a broader diversity of layers.

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