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Feature: Tim Galarneau

Tim Galarneau has achieved a lot in his 34 years. Already he has left his mark upon the field of food justice, wellness and sustainable food systems — and he's nowhere near finished.

Before Tim graduated from University of California Santa Cruz in 2005, he had spearheaded several sustainability projects and programs. To name a few: He gathered student support for a self-imposed fee that would fund $250,000 annually toward student-directed sustainability initiatives; he organized a petition to bring all dining services in-house; and he surveyed his fellow students for their support for just and sustainable food, culminating in a flood of 10,000 postcards presented to the regents of the entire UC system.

After graduating, Tim began his work with UCSC's Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, and he co-founded the Real Food Challenge, which launched nationally in 2008.

In 2010, Tim facilitated a kick-off event for what became the Central Coast School Food Alliance, an organization that advocates for universal access to healthy, locally sourced food in K-12 schools throughout Santa Cruz County. At present, he serves as an education and research specialist for CCSFA. He also serves as the chair for the UC Sustainable Food Service Working Group, comprised of food service staff and directors from all UC campuses and six affiliated medical facilities.

Now, Tim is pursuing his master's degree in Marylhurst's MS in Food Systems & Society program, directed by Dr. Patricia Allen. Why choose a master's program after he's accomplished so much? Tim answered this — and other questions — in a recent interview.

What are you currently working on? What projects give you the most excitement?

I'm currently facilitating a participatory action research project with local youth empowerment groups, community partners and UCSC students. This project will help enhance the school environment by targeting sources of unhealthy food sales (from fundraisers and birthday snacks to corner markets and mobile vendors) that compete with the efforts to improve healthy on-campus options. Our research from the one-year project will inform decision making within six school districts in Santa Cruz County, as well as four city councils.

On campus at UCSC, I oversee our campus Food Systems Working Group, which is comprised of students, staff, faculty, farmers and community members. Right now the group is focused on the establishment of college gardens and the completion of green certification for all campus facilities and contracted vendors. I'm overseeing a project this spring working with all college-run cafes and contracted food vendors on their sustainable procurement — they're committed to a 20% real-food sourcing by 2016.

I also lead an annual food systems alternative spring break for UCSC students. Following three years of partnering with acequia water and food-based learning projects in New Mexico, we are turning our direction further west. This spring I will be leading a program to Maui on island food systems, which will entail service-learning across a taro farm, agroecological coffee farm and mixed specialty crop site. We'll be mixing experiential learning across the sites with critiques of the political economy of the sugar cane industry, impacts of eco-tourism and GMO research trials.

What has been the biggest surprise for you throughout your advocacy efforts and program creation / management?

The biggest surprise/appreciation for me is how experience across my organizing and project dimensions have introduced deeper questions about approach, methodology and framing that I would not have seen 10 years ago. The MS in Food Systems & Society program itself has allowed me to "step back" and critically reflect about my praxis for social change. I firmly believe that the program has already improved my competency in project development, and I am excited to see how, once completed, I can apply it to my journey ahead.

What was the "origin," if you will, of your interest in food systems and sources? What experiences or moments helped shape your trajectory?

Great question. I have always wrestled with how [origin stories] are presented. I like to use the analogy of a river, which is rather non-existent at its headwaters. The formative moments that have shaped my activism include tributary experiences that are cumulative. Here are some of them:

  • Working as a dishwasher, busser, prep cook, and waiter — from casual to fine dining on both coasts — I have seen abhorrent management, communication and disregard for workers that has always remained crisp in my mind
  • Working with horses while living in Santa Ynez instilled some experience in "will exertion" and empathic connectivity to other life forms and wild spaces
  • Leading successful campaigns as a student, transforming my own institution and partnering on statewide and national visions
  • Having a 10+ year relationship of inspiration by the international activist, Vandana Shiva, who helped me get funding for my statewide student food campaign and served as an advisory partner with Real Food Challenge
  • Traveling to India in 2005 for an eight week immersion across five northeastern Indian states, during which my team participated in a rally, visited farmers, engaged in a water yatra, took part in seed saving gatherings and more
  • Launching the Central Coast School Food Alliance and becoming more active in K-12 school food reform efforts and new approaches to food bank / food security partnerships

What was it like to achieve so much at such a young age? How has that influenced you personally and professionally?

I still struggle at times to say "no" to opportunities and projects that I come across as the need for community organizing, social change and civic engagement is everywhere, and I am drawn to supporting efforts wherever I can.

I do feel that, over the last seven years, I have learned a great deal on ally-ship (i.e. "solidarity not charity" as my friend Nikki Henderson has framed it), as well as how to seek resources and build up community leaders while undertaking the less front-line work that underlies social movements.

You have an impressive resume. Why are you obtaining your master's, and why the FSS at Marylhurst in particular? (I believe you knew Patricia Allen from UCSC — did that play a role in your decision to attend Marylhurst?)

Working at a four-year public research institution as academic staff — but no advanced degree — introduces certain challenges in advancement. I realized two things when Patricia departed from UCSC. One, I really respect her leadership and the critical insights she contributed at UCSC and was bringing into the new program at Marylhurst. Secondly, I could not think of a better program — as a working professional — to receive input, guidance and support in strengthening the architecture of my writing and thought in preparation for a future Ph.D.

In reality, I, along with many of my cohort peers, are not in a position to stop working to pursue further education. We need to work to keep our heads above water, and we also have a yearning to go deeper. I was ready to jump into it and am so grateful I have.

What are the most important issues, for you, regarding the food systems here in the States?

The most important issue for me regarding our food system is broader than food and agriculture. It is the ever-concentrating base of capital and power while, at the same time, an increasingly number of individuals are living at or below the federal poverty line.

The myth of pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps is so fundamental to convictions of enterprise, and it is so far removed from those who historically and presently suffer a lack of wealth. Vulnerable, historically marginalized communities face an insurmountable challenge of pursuing the American dream. It's time to rewrite that dream and uplift and support the emergence of new leadership that will shift policy and bring the forked issues of racism and classism to the forefront, so we can stop distracting ourselves with peripheral problems that distract us from the real work at hand.

I am committing my life to strengthening movements, building transparency and accountability and contributing to a shift in the way we address inequality and uneven power from field to fork. In part, changing the food system is a nested set of issues representing larger inequities and structurally reinforced racism and classism. We like the popular stories within the food movement about locavorism, urban garden efforts and super sustainable urban chefs. But social change is more complex and nuanced than that.

The FSS program challenges us to look between the lines and step back to really observe and critically think about the movements many of us are working within. That is what makes this program so important. It's not just the stepping back from action, but, the returning to active work with an incredible tool kit of peers and academic perspectives that we can apply to our ever-evolving work of weaving social change into food system transformation efforts.

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