Growing up, Desire Smith’s closest connection to the land was shopping for produce at Wal-Mart. Born and raised in a food desert in inner city Milwaukee, she became interested in agriculture as a high school student on a visit to the school’s greenhouse and was able to get an after-school job working there.
But the more familiar Smith became with plants and farming, the more confused she felt about how to reconcile her urban background and her interest in studying agriculture. Realizing that other students have had the same experiences and concerns, Smith is focusing on making the path to agriculture clearer for young people of similar backgrounds.
Smith has worked with PEOPLE — a program that brings socioeconomically diverse young people to UW–Madison’s campus each summer — to create and coordinate urban agriculture-focused sessions for high school. An alumna of PEOPLE, Smith also works with the Community and Regional Food Systems project, a multiyear effort to analyze and strengthen food systems in a number of cities.
After graduating, Smith plans to get hands-on farm experience through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, a nonprofit that links volunteers with farmers. And after that she plans to complete her graduate studies with a focus on urban agriculture, uniting her past and her future—and the future of our food system.