Monday, April 29, 2019

An Interview with Doreen Pollack, Sustainable Food Systems Adjunct Faculty

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With efforts towards sustainability on the rise, learning how to create sustainable food systems is more important than ever.

Food waste has reached staggering numbers, and over-consumption has created many problems for our environment that must be eradicated in order to create a sustainable future. Here to provide insights on solving this problem is Doreen Pollack, an adjunct instructor here at Rio Salado College within the Sustainable Foods Systems program. Check out our exclusive interview with her below to learn more about our program and discover ways to support local, sustainable food!

Q.   Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Doreen Pollack, and I am an adjunct instructor for Rio Salado College. I have been teaching with Rio Salado for five years, but have been teaching people how to garden for nearly ten years as a Master Gardener. I received the Master Gardener certificate in 2007. I have been sharing my love of gardening and specializing in growing food, all through the Master Gardener program, Home and Garden shows, garden clubs, and workshops and classes through both Tempe and Phoenix. I have also been on local T.V. news shows to discuss topics like growing fruit trees and composting. I have also studied Permaculture, which is defined as an agricultural system or method that seeks to integrate human activity with natural surroundings with the goal of creating highly efficient self-sustaining ecosystems. I was on the board of and the executive director of the Valley Permaculture Alliance, a non-profit whose mission was to teach and inspire people to create a sustainable life-style. I also held a board member position with the American Community Gardening Association.
 Q.   What kind of courses do you teach? What can students expect to learn in your classes? 
I teach AGS 182, Gardening Practice and Techniques. This is a hybrid course, which means we meet both online and in person. There are two labs in the 8-week course where we meet in person at the Rio Salado campus in Tempe. During the labs, we work in the garden, applying the principles covered in the lessons. It is great way to see first-hand how to plant seeds, prepare the soil for planting, identifying plants and pests, and working with compost. Students also share their personal experiences as well.
Photo of tree in Rio Salado College garden Q. What made you decide to teach for Rio’s Sustainable Food Systems program? 
I met the former program director when we were on a committee to put on a Community Garden Conference at Rio Salado several years ago. He and I connected well, and when he was moving on to another college, he asked me if I would like to teach the course. I jumped at the chance!
 Q.   How did you get into the sustainable foods industry? 
My focus is in producing food. This really blossomed after I learned the basic principles and the right time to plant in the Phoenix area. Once I had the rules down, the rest came with practice. We learn all these rules in the AGS 182 course. 
 Q.   If you could tell someone considering enrolling in this program one thing, what would you tell them? 
Speaking for my class, many of the students have told me they really enjoyed the course because of the labs - getting their hands dirty, digging in the dirt, actually seeing compost. It gave them the confidence to garden at home.
 Q.   What steps can we take to make our food systems more sustainable?
We often speak of a carbon foot print, but we need to also consider a food-print. How far does your food travel for you to eat? Grow your own. Buy from local farmers, eat foods in season. No waste. Learn to can or put up what you grow. Share your excess with your neighbors. As consumers, our dollars help drive what is made and sold.
 Q.   What do you think is the greatest detriment to sustainability that we commit as a society? What can we do to solve this? 
Photo of plant growing in Rio Salado College garden
Mass consumerism and the way we easily dispose of items we no longer want or need. The more we buy, the more the companies make. Everything becomes so disposable, and we do not dispose of things properly. Buy less, reuse more. Just simply recycling is not a solution.  
 Q.   What are some ways we can support local food systems? 
Buy from the small farmers. Seek them out at farmers markets, purchase CSA baskets. You usually pay for the season in advance, which provides the money farmers need to get the crop in the ground and harvested for you.
 Q.   Is there anything else you would like to add or other insights you can provide? 
Grow something. When you grow a garden of food, you will learn to appreciate the cost of food at the markets or stores. You will see how long it takes a seed to become a plant to provide you food. All of that takes human involvement, water, and time.
To learn more about the Sustainable Food Systems program and how you can start your sustainability career, please visit