Francis Ge - Staff

February 16, 2022

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How did you become interested in agriculture and sustainable food systems?

My first experience in agriculture was working as a field intern at a maize genetics lab when I was in high school. I did the tasks of growing corn and planting and weeding, harvesting and doing crosses. It was a very formative experience, but I thought of it basically as science, and not as agriculture and food systems.

My first actual farm internship was the summer after my junior year in college. I was a biology major and didn’t really have a career planned out. I just thought it would be fun. Everybody thought I was nuts, but I loved it. After I graduated, I did the Farmer Training Program at the Rodale Institute, and later ended up going to grad school for Food Studies.

What brought you to the Center for Agroecology?

I was very torn for a while about whether to be a farmer full-time or to get into food systems and food policy. We were running into a lot of problems that we couldn’t solve as a small organic farm, where the number of people we could possibly serve or reach and the amount of power a single farm could have is limited. Being a nerd, I thought the way I could understand food systems more deeply would be through more school. Halfway through the Food Studies master's program, I got an internship with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets focusing on urban food access programs in New York City, and that led almost directly to my work here at the Center for Agroecology.

Can you tell us a bit about your role at the Center?

I’m the Basic Needs Coordinator 75% of the time, and 25% of the time I’m the staff advisor for the Food Systems Working Group. On the Basic Needs side, I’m doing produce distribution and also a bit of production planning and working in the field when I can. Lately I’ve been trying to sit in on the first half hour of the field internship to learn about the UCSC farm. Every farm is so unique and I haven’t farmed in California before, so I’ve been learning a lot. I’m also the supervisor for the Produce Pop-Up, which is a twice-weekly on-campus low-cost organic farmstand. It’s a way to make produce really accessible to students and to the community.

Basic Needs is also working with the Dean of Students and Student Success Division to strategize on the university level about our goals for the next three years and what we’re going to be focusing on. The part of me who is interested in systems and policy is very thrilled to be part of something that’s happening at the state and legislative level. And I still sort of believe in the possibility of the government making things better for people and spending taxpayer money wisely. I think Basic Needs is one really good way to do it. 

What do you enjoy about your work? 

It is kind of perfect because it encompasses everything that I was interested in doing or that I had dabbled in before, like working in the field, working in food systems, in a restaurant, and then in government at the New York State Department of Agriculture. 

My first week here, I asked my colleague Brooks [Schmitt, Cowell Coffee Shop supervisor] what we were doing, and he said we are in the business of keeping students “fed and empowered.” I think about that a lot. It feels good to be able to be in the field and physically make things happen – grow and harvest produce – and then drive everything up to campus in that big box truck and hand them into students' hands. I like being an advisor. I like being able to put all that theory into practice, and having those two things both in the same job is so ideal, because sometimes they come apart. Being able to do it all at once here on one campus is amazing.