Faculty Profile

Kristyn Achilich, M.S.

Academic Program Coordinator for the Farm at St. Michael’s College; Instructor of Environmental Studies & Sciences

M.S. University of Vermont
M.Ed. St. Michael’s College (candidate)
B.S. St. Michael’s College ‘05

Areas of Expertise:

Food Systems, Sustainable Agriculture, Experiential Education, Environmental Education

Courses I Teach:

  • Food Systems & Sustainable Agriculture
  • Environmental Education
  • On-Farm Internship Supervisor

The courses I teach highlight the need for liberal arts trained citizens to contend for some of the largest social issues of our time – equitable food and engaged education.  For instance, Food Systems & Sustainable Ag grounds systemic issues in the food system in the agriculture that supports our livelihoods.  It covers knowledge and theory of sustainable practices in the classroom and technical skills in agroecology on the farm. Environmental Education: prepares the students to see cross-disciplinary, thorough and rigorous learning opportunities in an outdoor setting and create curriculum that supports the learning opportunity whilst keeping and often building intrinsic student engagement.

 
Most recently I have spearheaded campus efforts to investigate a growing issue in higher education: Campus Food Security.  I am currently working on this with one student researcher.  I support a number of other faculty to conduct applied field research on the Farm from soil chemistry to plant biology to entomology. 
 

Can you summarize your position and what you do here?

My formal title is Academic Program Coordinator for the Farm at St. Michael’s College.  I manage all aspects of the farm, from production & maintainence, to staffing, to the enterprises we support - retail and wholesale of the farm produce, community programs, and outreach and collaboration with other faculty on campus. In addition, I teach two courses for the Environmental Studies & Sciences Department: Environmental Education, and Food Systems and Sustainable Agriculture. In the summer, I am the primary supervisor for about twenty student employees that work on the farm over the course of a year. I also supervise one or two independent research projects each year.

What made you choose to work in this path? How did you come to be in your current profession?

I came to St. Michael’s with the intention to go to medical school.  I chose to pair biology major with a chemistry minor to prepare for the course work of medical school but also because I love the discovery of the natural world. Part of that experience included independent research. Captivated by the process and learning, I was engaged in research for three full years here at St. Michael’s. I investigated plant peptide transporters under the guidance of Mark Lubkowitz.  At the time, I worked at the molecular level of plant biology.  I had crafted the skills and knowledge to go to on to the field of medicine. However, I also had to understand plant biology and the application of what I was doing within the larger agricultural system. I loved that back and forth between the smaller micro-level, and the bigger picture of why this area was important to study. 

Though I loved doing research, I didn’t love being inside at the lab bench, so after college I decided to take a year or two and do something completely different. I worked in the outdoor industry in that time, and found a knack for teaching. I worked at a local ski shop, and found that what I educating my customers on the gear that they needed to be the most successful in their own outdoor pursuits. I began doing a lot of instruction in women’s mountain biking and back country skiing. I fell in love with that modality as a career. But, I began to really miss the sciences, and the natural answer to bringing together those two worlds for me was to become a science teacher. I came back to St. Michael’s and obtained my teaching license and Master’s in Education.  I went on to teach high school science for several years. I loved it, but at the same time, the ground swell of local food systems captivated my attention. 

As an undergraduate, I was interested in the root causes of illness or injury.  That led me to the field of natural preventative medicine rather than traditional western medicine. A natural outcome of that was looking at nutrition, which meant looking at food, which meant looking at growing practices, which led me back to plant biology and to the outdoors. I realized that I could teach science by growing food with my students, which I fell in love with doing.  My current career just evolved from that point. 

In 2012 I once again returned to graduate school, this time at the University of Vermont.  I earned a Master’s of Science in Food Systems. In the first seven years of the garden program here, we had a small 0.25 acre site below the View.  Student interest in a campus farm and the study of agriculture and food systems grew from there.  The Sustainability Coordinator at the time reached out to me to see if I was interested in a position if one were ever to materialize. The worlds really aligned for me at that point, and here I am.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

Working with the students. I work very closely with the students, and I work in a very different way with them than most other staff or faculty members do. Most staff and faculty work with students either in a position where they’re supporting them in their student life, or in their individual ideas and academic programs. I get to do both of those things. I teach tangible skills, much like you would learn in a lab, but I get to do it outside on the farm, in a way that’s inquiry and student driven. Sometimes there are difficult days when we are working together, sweating, crying, and dirty, and that’s really real. It is motivating, and creates a sense of mentor-ship that students might not get with another staff or faculty member. Our work is about growing food for our campus, so it has a very authentic mission-driven outcome that creates community.  That vibe, if you will, is palpable on the farm during our community days. Additionally, students each have individual projects during their tenure on the farm, and whatever they accomplish in their semester seeds the next semester’s worth of student’s projects. Because the students are working from the work of another student project, they are continually deepening their learning and doing so in an engaged and authentic manner.  You can see that in their work. You can see where every student has left their mark when you walk around the farm. That creates a unique sense of place.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I find inspiration and respite in nature. My husband, my son and I and our two dogs live in Underhill right at the base of Mount Mansfield, and we are outside all the time. We hike, mountain bike, ski, or just walk around our property and the local trails. We all thrive outside, and are always looking for our next mini adventure. Other than that, we grow, cook and enjoy good food.

How would you summarize your St. Mike’s experience?

It’s full, it’s rich and it’s dynamic. It’s definitely a busy job, a big job, but I work with faculty and staff from all over campus and with students from all different academic disciplines. It’s very rich, and I think it’s that way because it’s steeped in the idea and act that of growing food together.

What advice would you give to current students?

Actually, in the signature of my email is my favorite quote by my favorite agricultural author, Wendell Barry, an amazing agriculturalist and writer. Often, we hear about the doom and gloom of human impact on the environment in our academic classes.  However, we often don’t dedicate a lot of time to solutions to these problems, and there’s certainly very limited opportunity to actually engage in one of these solutions in the classroom. Barry’s quote says: ‘To be interested in food, but not food production, is absurd”. We can talk about the doom and gloom aspects of the environment, but not without engaging in that experience in and of itself and the initiative to do better for the environment through agriculture. I give all of my students that quote to remind them to talk about the solutions to problems and not just the problems, and to make sure they’re contributing to those solutions.  

 

Kristyn returned to St. Michael’s, her alma mater, in 2015 to share her passion for experiential education, farming and food security as the Academic Program Coordinator for the Farm.  In this role, she supports students, faculty, and community members who utilize the Farm at Saint Michael’s for educational and research purposes and carries on the Edmundite tradition of social justice and service as it relates to food issues in our surrounding community. She serves as a resource for faculty as they plan their own lessons in the outdoor classroom, and models skills that students need to be proficient in ecological farming practices and individual and community food security. She is responsible for the overall management and design of the Farm in an effort to maximize the use of the space for research, teaching and community-engaged learning on campus.  She also teaches courses in Food Systems, Sustainable Agriculture and Environmental Education for the Environmental Studies & Science department.

 

For seven years Kristyn has worked at the nexus of food systems and education. Her roles include a teaching for the Governor’s Institute of Vermont’s Food, Farms and Your Future Institute; Market Garden Assistant at Trillium Hill Farm; research student and teaching assistant in UVM’s Food Systems program; and more recently she was the curriculum coordinator for the Farm at the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps. Currently, she serves as the co-chair of the Education & Workforce Development Working Group of the state’s Farm to Plate Network.  Prior to these endeavors, she taught high school science. Kristyn received a Bachelor of Science in biology from Saint Michael’s College, holds a Master’s of Science from the University of Vermont in Food Systems, and is a Master’s of Education candidate at Saint Michael’s. Kristyn lives in Underhill with her husband, young son and two dogs.  When not teaching on the farm, you can find her skiing, hiking or mountain biking in her backyard at the base of our magnificent Mt. Mansfield!

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