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Cheryl Brown

Cheryl Brown


I worked on research in local food systems. Anything from the producer issues like marketing or production economics to consumer issues. I looked at some health impacts of the food system. I worked with West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition. I had a project for a number of years, the Appalachian Food Shed project, with Virginia Tech and Carolina State. We looked at the development of local food systems to reduce food insecurity. That was probably the biggest, coolest project I worked on.

It’s complex and ongoing, but we did learn there is a role for local producers to produce and sell locally and to provide some produce to food pantries.

As an undergraduate coordinator, I oversee the scheduling and advising. I make sure the students are getting everything they need to graduate and making sure they have an advisor. And I advise quite a few students. Though, my number is going down because I’m about to retire and they’re graduating. It’s exciting!

If you weren’t working at WVU, what’s the most likely alternative?

I started as a professor when I was 43, so I did have a life before. What I did was I managed a consumer food cooperative. I think I would have stayed in the alternative grocery industry like cooperatives and health food stores. That was back before there was such a thing as Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s; food co-ops were really the only place to get that kind of food. I was a back to the land person. West Virginia University Press has a book called Hippie Homesteaders - that was my life, but I didn’t become an artist. When I first got out of high school, I grew my own food and built a house, heated it with wood. Then I decided to go to college. I got so interested in food issues and this whole alternative food system that was developing back then as the manager of the coop.

Moment you knew what you wanted to study?

I knew what I wanted to study when I left the food co-op and that was policies related to agriculture and I wanted to study economics because economics is what drives everything. I didn’t know there was such a thing as agricultural economics back then, but through some serendipity of running into the dean of students at the University of Massachusetts, I learned there was a discipline called agricultural and resource economics. And I was, “Oh! That’s it! That’s what I want to study!”

Moment you knew what your current role was right for you?

When I left graduate school, I knew I wanted to teach. I went to Southeast Missouri State and my appointment was teaching and 10 percent research. I liked doing research, but I also wanted to teach. So WVU had a position open and it was teaching and research.

Eventually, I got to where I wanted to do more teaching and I was doing a lot of advising. When Gee came in and said, “People should be doing what you’re good at,” and you could change your appointment, I thought it was time for me to do that.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

I think I would live in probably western Massachusetts. It would have to be a college town, wherever it was. I mean I love it here, and I have no intention to move. I always thought I was meant to live in West Virginia. I always felt I need to live in the hills. It’s home and I like it. I don’t know what I’ll do in retirement as far as contributing to the world, but I feel like I can do a lot here.

Favorite part of social distancing?

I can run outside in the middle of the day and go work in the garden. Not be on campus all day long - I appreciate that if the weather is nice. And I don’t have to dress up. I did have a call yesterday with a guest speaker, so I put on a really nice top. I looked professional from the waist up.

Least favorite part of social distancing?

Oh, I miss the students. I have 35 advisees. So many of them are going to graduate and they’d all be stopping by my office and telling me about their lives. I don’t know what they’re doing and I hate that. I always sat there with my door open and they could see me and I could see them and they’d always stop by. I just really miss that. It’s very sad for me that my last semester is sitting here at home in my office.

Just for Fun

Favorite Book: Braiding Sweetgrass

Favorite movie/tv show: Black Panther

Favorite Spotify playlist/band/song: Michael Franti, Trevor Hall, Rhiannon Giddens

Favorite local restaurant: Hill & Hollow

Favorite local activity: Hiking at Tom’s Run Preserve, Cooper’s Rock, Snake Hill