Philip’s latest book has become a modern staple for refocusing the local food lens on the broader issue of rebuilding regional food systems.
In his homesteading memoir Up Tunket Road: The Education of a Modern Homesteader, Philip Ackerman-Leist describes one of his early teachers, Carl Stoddard, a master gardener who also happened to be the chief security officer at Green Mountain College. Philip, fresh from the Sandhills of North Carolina, was a comparative neophyte when it came to growing vegetables in northern New England.
The “pupil instructing the teacher” is a theme of sorts for Philip’s own life and work at GMC. But since his arrival in 1996, he has become a national leader in the local food movement in his own right, authoring several books, traveling as a sought-after speaker at national and international conferences, pioneering GMCs Farm & Food Project, and establishing academic programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Recently, Philip developed the first Vermont Food Systems Study Tour, a collaboration between GMC, several other Vermont colleges, and the Vermont Council on Rural Development to bring more agriculture students to the state. For almost 20 years at GMC, Philip has asked his students to reconsider food (we are what we eat, after all) while placing agricultural education squarely in the liberal arts arena.
“When you get down to it, we have to take economic value based on appropriate values–all the better to use the liberal arts context, where the liklihood of success is much higher than through ‘siloed’ land grant schools,” Philip says.
Philip grew up in a farming family in North Carolina. His grandfather was a plant pathologist at North Carolina State University who opened the Sandhills Research Station in Jackson Springs. Addressing the needs of local fruit growers, the work involved developing disease resistant trees and spray programs for weed and pest control. “I was around pesticides quite a bit,” Philip remembers. While he still holds a high degree of respect for his grandfather’s work, and the work of traditional land grant universities, he never felt comfortable with agricultural practices that included the use of powerful insecticides. He gravitated early on to organic methods.
His latest book Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable, and Secure Food Systems has become a modern staple for refocusing the local-food lens on the broader issue of rebuilding regional food systems that are not only attuned to ecological and economic concerns but also focused on food justice, nutrition, and animal welfare. The book has been used as a text by universities such as Duke, Evergreen State, Virginia Tech, and Oregon State, as well as for community discussion groups.