Steering Council Candidates

Vice Chair

1 seat available, 2 candidates
1-year position
The vice-chair succeeds to the office of Chair for a term of one year after finishing their term as Vice Chair. As vice chair, they will assume the duties of the Chair in the event of the inability of the Chair to fulfill their duties. As vice chair, they learn to perform the duties of the Chair, who is the presiding officeholder of the Association. Chairs organize steering committee meetings and conference calls, set agendas and decision-making priorities, and delegate appropriate duties to other committee members and subcommittees. The Chair also represents the organization at SAEA conferences and other public events. By nominating a Vice-Chair, you are effectively nominating the next SAEA Chair.

Sarah Berquist – Lecturer – University of Massachusetts Amherst

Sarah Berquist is currently full-time lecturer and advisor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the Sustainable Food and Farming program.  Sarah offers contemplative and participatory courses in farm-based agriculture education, social justice, food systems, and personal sustainability. She strives to equip students with practical life skills: the ability to grow their own food, confidence in leading others, community organizing, and critical thinking to solve problems. Experiential learning is at the heart of her teaching philosophy and she loves getting her hands dirty with her students in the field.  The SAEA has seen Sarah grow from an undergraduate student to full-time faculty and provided incredible support in this transition through conferences, collaborations, and resources. She is excited for the opportunity to serve as SAEA Vice Chair to deepen her involvement, share her organizational and facilitation skills, and learn from the experience and wisdom present in the network. In addition to teaching and advising full-time, Sarah’s past community and leadership experience include serving on Board of Directors at a local community farm, managing a large local farmers’ market, and co-organizing various local farm-based educational and community events.

Will Valley PhD- Instructor  – Faculty of Land and Food Sytems at University of British Columbia, Vancover, Canada.

Since 2014, I have been an instructor in the Applied Biology program in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. I am also the academic director of the Land, Food and Community (LFC) Series, a set of courses, from 1st through 4th year, that from the core curricula of the faculty, which bring students from the diverse set of disciplines in the faculty to work on issues of food system sustainability, food security, and food sovereignty. Prior to entering graduate school, I taught elementary and secondary sciences as well as conducted farmer outreach for management of species-at-risk in agricultural settings. My doctoral research explored pedagogical processes involved in sustainable food system education programs, and focused specifically on the cognitive development of systems thinking competencies of second-year students in the LFC series. I teach the second and third year courses in the LFC series, which both involve an emphasis on systems thinking, interdisciplinary collaboration, and community-based experiential learning. Students are required to apply theoretical knowledge in a real-world setting, such as local farms, community kitchens, neighbourhood houses, K-12 schools, and local, regional and national non-profit organizations that address issues of food insecurity. My current research focus is on identifying common curricular and pedagogical themes within sustainable food system education programs in order to analyze, collaboratively evaluate, and improve stakeholder experiences and outcomes (e.g. students, community members, and instructors). I am also involved in research that analyzes urban agriculture and municipal policy, and the design, development, and assessment of K-12 school food systems, from growing, preparing, sharing, and managing “waste”, to policy,procurement, school food environment assessments, and curricular design. I am also co-director/owner of an urban farming business in Vancouver, Inner City Farms  We grow food in multiple residential spaces within the city (roughly 3/4 of an acre) and distribute our produce through a CSA model to 13 restaurants and 50 households.

I am interested in in the position of vice-chair of SAEA in order to learn more about the organization, contribute to the growth our membership, and enhance collective impact in the communities we all serve. I believe that our modern, global food system has many positive attributes but there remains much room for improvement. Part of the transition towards healthy, just and sustainable food systems is transforming how we prepare future professionals and citizens within the food system and I am excited to continue to work with individuals, communities, and institutions involved in SAEA as part the necessary pedagogical shift. The role of vice-chair provides an opportunity to contribute at a deeper level in the organization, for which I would be grateful.  

Student Representative

2 year positon
1 seat available, 3 candidates

Student Representatives maintain awareness of the diverse views, goals and objectives of the membership of the SAEA and represent these as appropriate at meetings of the Steering Council. They are required to serve as chairs or members of subcommittees. Nominated Student Representatives must be current students in any institution of higher learning when elected, but may continue their appointed term past graduation.

Marisa Benzle – Graduate Student – Michigan State University

When I first came to sustainable farming in 2009 it was in the hopes that I might not only gain the skills of growing food in a more sustainable way but that I would then be able to share those skills with others. In the last eight years, I have had vast opportunities to learn and share knowledge about animal husbandry, queen rearing, vegetable growing, and organic practices with a wide range of audiences from children to adults well into retirement, in the United States and abroad.  I began my graduate career at one of the oldest land grants in the country because I am a true believer in the mission of the land grant, to execute applied research and to use that information to teach students in an academic setting and the farmers who struggle to be good stewards of the land and provide for their own families and communities. While growing up in Ohio, working in North Carolina, and now in Michigan I have seen the erosion of state extension as a priority of the land grant mission.  As we move towards a reworking of the extension vision, there is a great opportunity to apply successful models of extension in a changing world.  I hope to use a position on the SAEA steering council to gain and spread awareness of this changing landscape, hone my skills in public outreach and adult education, and work with like minded leaders in finding solutions in a an evolving agricultural extension system.


Brook Comer – Graduate Student – Michigan State University

I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Horticulture at Michigan State University.  My focus has been on composting systems, reduction in food waste, organic vegetable transplant production, and on-farm fertility that is readily accessible to farmers. I have also been in the Ecological Food and Farming Systems graduate student specialization, affording me greater breadth in my education into social sciences as they relate to the food system and interdisciplinary research.  I have experience in sustainable agriculture internationally as well, having served in the Peace Corps and started a non-profit organization with a focus on environmental sustainability and agriculture with which I have been a part of projects in 16 countries between 2008 and 2012, and continue my international connection with a demonstration and training farm in coastal Ecuador.  While in graduate school I have also been farming at an incubator farm, to gain a better appreciation of what it takes to be a beginning farmer and to aid in my ability to connect with students as I teach about sustainable agriculture from a production perspective.  I have been a member of SAEA since 2014, both attending and presenting at the SAEA Conferences in NC and CA.  My work at Michigan State has involved working with a number of undergraduate students in a teaching capacity.  My primary pathway into teaching sustainable agriculture has been working on a field based course since its inception called Michigan Food and Farming Systems Field Course.  A primary objective being introducing students from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines to Michigan’s diverse agriculture via visits to farms and food system location such as distribution centers.  I look forward to using my degree and knowledge I have gained by becoming a professor teaching sustainable agriculture.  I think SAEA is a very important group of professionals in a field I am excited to be a part of, and I feel encouraged by all the time I have spent with SAEA members.  I would look forward to being able to be on the steering council for SAEA as a student representative.


Maywa Montenegro de Wit – Graduate Student – UC Berkeley

I am a US-Dutch-Peruvian citizen who grew up in Appalachia, studied molecular biology in theNortheast, worked as a science journalist in New York City, and then migrated to the Left coast to pursue a PhD in sustainable agriculture. As a sixth year graduate student in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at the University of California, Berkeley, I study the policies and politics of access to seed diversity, focusing in particular on ex situ and in situ strategies of governance, research, and practical renewal. I consider myself primarily a political ecologist, combining a range of methods and theoretical frameworks, including STS, postcolonial studies, agrarian political ecology, and agroecology.
My approach to learning and teaching is one that is inspired, among others, by Freire, Dewey, Hooks, Chambers, and my own mentors Alastair Iles and Ryan Galt. Rather than consider students (or farmers) passive recipients of knowledge that I bestow upon them, I believe education is reciprocal and mutually informing. The ‘informing,’ in turn, is less a teleological process of enlightenment than a nonlinear and circuitous path of discovery, experimentation, and reflexive critique.  As a journalist, I also strongly believe that education does not take place only in the academy but in wider civic spaces; indeed journalists themselves are educators, at the interface between the public and the scientific studies, policy, and economic ongoings in the wider world of agri-food beyond our easy reach. I therefore use the media as an educational tool to learn about agricultural and food systems, to study the politics of framing and expertise, and to help students reach/teach a broader public with their own writing. My experience on the conference organizing committee for SAEA 2016 was transformative, insofar as I understood – for the first time – what it means to find community in decolonizing methods, support for fearless experimentation, and joy in the taste of a just-picked strawberry. I would be very honored to serve as student representative to the SAEA Steering Council, and hope you’ll consider my nomination.