Food for Thought: Sustainable Food Concentrator Gayelan Ulrich, ‘13

22 Apr

Gayelan Tietje-Ulrich, a senior who hails from Bennington, Vermont, is a familiar face around campus. Gayelan has appeared in many productions put on by the Smith College theater department, has a vocal range like Beyoncé (you can see her perform with the Smith College Vibes!), and an unforgettable, charismatic smile. She is a theater major with a Landscape Studies minor—in addition, this May Gayelan will also be one of the first graduates to complete the Environmental Concentration in Sustainable Food. I sat down with Gayelan to chat about her studies, interests, future plans, and what it means to study food.

Gayelan has been gardening since her senior year of high school, when she became interested in local, organic growing practices because her aunt worked at a nearby farm. Once she arrived at Smith she knew that she wanted to pursue Landscape Studies, but, unlike the many courses available at UMASS, there were no specifically agricultural classes available  to take here.  Lucky enough for her, the Sustainable Food Concentration was introduced her junior year—and, since she had decided that she wasn’t as interested in horticulture, it was exciting to be able to study food, something that she is passionate about.

Requirements for the concentration include taking either ENV 100 or LSS 100 as a gateway course, four food-related courses (which can be anything from Writing About Food to Plant Soil Sciences), a capstone course, and completing two practical experiences. Gayelan’s first practicum took place last summer in Ireland where she participated in the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms program (WWOOF). “I worked on a goat farm for two months, and we were selling cheese, milk, and ice cream products to visitors and tourists to the islands.”

Gayelan befriends some young goats and their mothers last fall at Glynwood Farm in New York.

Gayelan’s other practicum has been less physical and more involved in the non-profit sector of the local food movement. She is currently interning at Grow Food Northampton (GFN), just up the road in Florence, MA. GFN already has close ties with Smith’s Sustainable Food Concentration. During the capstone course this fall, students in the class worked closely with the organization to research and write up a report to help them determine the feasibility of starting an Incubator Farm Program, a program in which new and/or inexperienced farmers could strengthen and develop agricultural and business skills in a low-risk environment. Currently, Gayelan helps out at GFN with, well, anything and everything! “I’ve been working specifically with the Florence Organic Garden, whether it was doing volunteer work, putting together seed donations, putting together projects for musical parodies about water conservation, working on publicity, working on education—basically anything they need.” Gayelan has also been working to map the Florence Community Garden which, now in its second year, has grown to host over 250 community gardeners. (If you’d like to intern, volunteer, or learn more about Grow Food Northampton, you can contact them here).

So what would Gayelan like to see for the future of food studies at Smith?

“Just in terms of the classes here at Smith, for those who want to be involved in food production and farming, I would love to see Smith offer some sort of business course, and for so many different areas—not just food!” Gayelan would also love to see more hands on courses, like those offered at Hampshire and UMASS.

And her future plans?

“I’ll be working up at a goat dairy in Maine for a year after graduation and essentially a goal of mine is to own a cooperative farm with a few other people. It would be integrated livestock and veggies, and maybe some bees. I would love to own something, but really be a part of a team though, that owns it together. I think it is a very romantic idea to own a farm and be a part of this “local trend”, but I’ve seen so many other farmers who are totally stressed out by age 45—whether it’s [that] physically their back is out, or their mental state is just completely exhausted. I think it would be so much better with multiple owners, you know, people working together.”

Thank you so much to Gayelan for taking time to chat—and good luck to both you and the goats!

-Eva McNamara ’13

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