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Kathleen Merrigan, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and a leader in sustainable food systems, is the first executive director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University. Merrigan also holds the position of the Kelly and Brian Swette Professor of Practice in Sustainable Food Systems with appointments in the School of Sustainability, College of Health Solutions and School of Public Affairs.
Merrigan brings decades of experience in agriculture, sustainability and food systems to ASU. She helped write the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, which enacted a standard for organic products. As the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture from 2009 to 2013, Merrigan managed the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative to support local and regional food systems. She became the first female chair of the Ministerial Conference of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization in 2009; she was named one of Time magazine’s “100 most influential people in the world” in 2010; and, most recently, Merrigan was the executive director of sustainability at George Washington University, where she led the GW Sustainability Collaborative and the GW Food Institute.
“Food sustainability — learning how to feed the world’s growing population more efficiently and effectively — is one of the most daunting challenges we face,” ASU President Michael Crow said. “Kathleen Merrigan is eminently qualified to lead the new ASU Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems, given her extensive background in agriculture, food sustainability and food systems. She has been involved with sustainable food systems at nearly every level and understands every facet of it, providing an abundance of knowledge for our students.”
The Swette Center was announced in late 2017 after entrepreneurs Kelly and Brian Swette, who left their corporate careers in 2012 to launch vegetarian food company Sweet Earth Natural Foods, made a major gift to ASU to establish the center and an endowed scholarship. The foremost goal of the Swette Center is to educate the next generation of consumers and decision makers through the first Sustainable Food Systems degree program. The center tackles food systems from a holistic standpoint, taking into consideration water and energy use, carbon footprint and nutrition, innovations in food policy, and the well-being and livelihood of farmers and others working in food systems.
“We are fortunate to have Kathleen lead the center, and there isn't a better place to launch it than ASU,” Kelly Swette said. “There can no longer be an indifference to how and what we eat.”
Merrigan’s expertise and leadership will strengthen ASU’s global impact on research, policy and education in food systems. She will work to influence a sustainable and healthy food economy that will have lasting impact for years to come.