Food has always played an important role in Lisa Trocchia-Balkits’ life, beyond the purely nutritional necessity. Growing up in an Italian-American family in rural southeastern Ohio, meals were a source of cultural connection and shared experience.
Over the years, Lisa’s view of food and the role it plays in society was shaped by her experience as a mother, a baker and a chef, a market gardener, and her work with community-based, non-profit organizations. She has lived for the last eighteen years in Athens, Ohio, which is often referred to as the “local food capitol of the U.S.”
After graduating from the sustainable food systems program at Green Mountain College, she enrolled in a doctoral program at Ohio University where her focus is the social ecology of food systems.
“Athens is a poor county in the Appalachian region of southeastern Ohio,” she says. “Creating opportunities for food entrepreneurship was a big part of building a cooperative network structure for our local food system. I feel fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time; my relationship to community-based food systems is a lived one.”
Lisa completed her undergraduate studies at Miami of Ohio where she earned a degree in education. While working within the local food system in Athens, she was asked to speak to classes at Ohio University. The experience fueled an ambition to teach in higher education.
She began to look for a graduate studies program that reflected her own mindset—one that valued systems and network thinking—and discovered a description of the MSFS degree online.
“I was attracted to the fact that the program is interdisciplinary and systems-based in its approach. There wasn’t really anything else out there that spoke to me.”
She also embraced the online curriculum, which allowed her to stay in her off-grid home in the Appalachian foothills.
“GMC understood that those involved in food systems work were likely to be ‘place-based’ and that really resonated with me. I spent years cultivating trusting relationships in my local food community here. I just wasn’t enamored of the idea of moving to a large urban area like New York or Boston to study about local food systems when I was embedded within a vibrant one already.”
Lisa found the online environment an excellent way to learn about the food systems and networks represented by her cohorts, who were located throughout North America. She utilizes these perspectives in her current work doing curriculum development and teaching as an adjunct faculty member for GMC’s graduate programs.
“I think the systems-based approach at GMC, in combination with excellent instructors, provides a world-class educational experience. I felt well prepared to pursue my PhD and inspired to move forward as a transdisciplinary food systems scholar. The complex challenges we face seem best addressed by getting out of our silos and working together cooperatively.”