A Vermont native, Vanessa moved to Alaska to complete her undergraduate studies at Alaska-Pacific University, one of Green Mountain College’s Eco League partners. After finishing her degree and getting a job with the US Geological Survey in Anchorage, she found her way back to Vermont in an unexpected way—through the online master of sustainable food systems (MSFS) program offered by GMC.
Vanessa was looking for a program that that could bridge her interests in food security and the effects of climate change in rural Alaska. She came across the MSFS program online and realized the program fit her interests and her busy work life.
“I ended up moving across country in the middle of the program (from Alaska to Colorado) but I never had to discontinue my studies,” she said. “The program allowed me to do classwork on my own time and I was able to finish in two years.”
At the US Geological Survey, Vanessa was part of a seven-person staff gathering information and reporting on effects of climate change in Alaska. The only Arctic region in the US, Alaska has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the nation, causing receding sea ice, thawing permafrost and large-scale disruption of wildlife habitat. Vanessa is especially interested in the effects of climate change on the rural tribal culture, diet and food security.
“Alaska only raises 5% of its own food. Everything else has to come long distances by barge or overland through Canada. If there’s an interruption in the supply chain, there is really no backup.”
People living in rural villages depend on hunting, fishing and gathering medicinal plants.
“Climate change is impacting the food they traditionally rely on. Importing of food from outside brings its own set of issues—foods that are not indigenous can lead to illness, disease and depression.”
Her work at the Geological Survey brought her in close touch with many non-profits and governmental agencies working on the pressing environmental and social issues facing the region. She used these contacts to develop a digest of resources for rural Arctic communities as part of her MSFS capstone project “Climate Change Adaptation Actions and Food Security in Rural Arctic Alaska.” The project included a mapping platform to help users visualize the geographical distribution of resources and enable communities to learn from the actions of the broader Arctic community.
“It covers the whole circumpolar region, not just Alaska,” Vanessa explained. “International boundaries aren’t as important to indigenous people who have a more holistic view of the environment.”
Vanessa recently moved to Pagosa Springs in western Colorado where she works as supply chain manager for Voormi, a company that produces technical wool outdoor apparel. Voormi products use locally harvested wool and are manufactured at several plants inside Colorado.
“I’m in charge of sourcing all the materials that go into the garment supply chain. The company is all about the things that are important to me—building community by building a socially and environmentally sustainable economy.”