Darryl Wong - Staff

February 16, 2022


What brought you to the Center for Agroecology?

I originally came to agriculture through food. My father was always the cook in our family and his mother came over from China in the late 1940s. They did some farming of Asian vegetables, winter melons and things like that but then quickly got into the restaurant business and they did that for a while. But growing up, my dad always loved to cook and so I think that really inspired in me a real love of food and cooking. I had a chance to travel when I was in college and something that struck me was just how connected food was. It didn’t matter if I couldn’t speak the language, my favorite place was always in the kitchen with somebody, connecting over food. After studying abroad and seeing the world, I dropped out of college and I went back to the my hometown in the East Bay Area and worked at a restaurant called Olivetto. This was in the early 2000s when the local food thing was really kind of picking up. I heard about the Apprenticeship Program and decided to go for it in 2004. I always thought I would go back to working in restaurants but I got hooked on the agricultural side of things.

Do you have advice for people who want to work in the food system?

It’s an exciting time because not only has so much groundwork been laid by programs that the Center runs but also people who have been pushing change in the food system. There are so many more opportunities now and so many organizations doing good work. There are opportunities in government and in politics, there are research opportunities. There are local restaurants and folks who are doing creative work in that way but there’s also the palpability, or palatability, of these conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion. I think there’s so much more space for inventiveness within the food system that hadn’t been around in the past. By giving folks access who typically haven’t had access to these systems and these understandings, I think we will see a real paradigm shift in terms of how we conceptualize what the food system can look like. It’s an exciting time and it’s in the face of what is catastrophic and in our face: climate change, fires, droughts, all of these problems that need to be tackled now with creative solutions.

What do you look forward to in your new position as executive director?

I kind of experienced the Center from just about every angle that you can. I’ve been an apprentice, a second year, an undergrad, a graduate student, staff. What’s exciting to me is to be able to share stories from all those different ways the Center impacts this change and working with all these different groups. To be able to share how impactful this place can be to such a broad range of people and the role that I think it has played and can play in continuing the transformation of our food system. I use that term a lot but when it comes down to what our goal is here at the Center for Agroecology, we are here to transform the food system. How do we do that? What are the different ways that we do that? It is ambitious to say that we’re going to do that but I think if we’re not going to do it, who else is?

What are some of your goals as director?

When Kirstin (Yogg, field site manager) and I are working in the field site, we say that our job is to make the space as welcoming as possible to as many people as possible. Carrying just that nugget into the larger Center to make sure we’re thinking about how to continue to bring people to this space that is so transformative and has been for so many people is a goal. I’m also excited to think about how we continue to serve the larger food systems network that is doing so much. And there's an opportunity for us to engage with all of the different partners that have developed and come up in the last two decades, and to really think about, structurally, institutionally, where the new levers for change are to really continue to push that kind of next level. For a long time, it was enough for us to be a garden
where people came and were exposed to the practices. That is still very important for those folks who can access it on that hyper local level, but how do we continue to impact the broader movement that is much bigger than just this place to make sure that we’re supporting that kind of coordinated food systems change?