CASFS researcher Mark Lipson wins sustainability champion award

Mark Lipson
UC Santa Cruz alumnus and current CASFS researcher Mark Lipson was honored for his years of service to the organic and sustainable agriculture movement. (Photo by Melissa De Witte)

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has given its “Sustainability Champion” award to UC Santa Cruz alumnus Mark Lipson, currently a researcher with UCSC’s Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.

Lipson (Merrill, ‘81, environmental studies) served as organic and sustainable agriculture policy advisor for the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture until last year when he joined CASFS as a research associate.  NSAC said the award, given at its annual meeting in Davis, was made to honor Lipson’s years of service to the organic and sustainable agriculture movement, and his “groundbreaking work on Capitol Hill shepherding historic changes, such as the much-celebrated five-fold increase in funding for organic research secured in the 2008 Farm Bill.”

“Mark is a magnificent pioneer, forging a path for organic agriculture to be a more fully respected force within the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” said Ferd Hoefner, policy director at NSAC.

“Mark Lipson has worn many hats over the years: farmer, activist, USDA employee. Through it all, from Santa Cruz to Capitol Hill and back, he has remained a champion of and thought leader for the organic farming movement,” said Brise Tencer, executive director, Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF).

Lipson has been a partner at the Davenport-based Molino Creek Farming Collective for the last 30 years. During much of that time he has also had a second career off the farm, working on state and federal policy for organic agriculture. He started his advocacy career as the first paid staff member at the California Certified Organic Farmers (now the nation’s largest certification organization), later he worked as the policy director at the Organic Farming Research Foundation, and eventually made his way to the USDA, where he helped lead the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative and chaired the agency’s organic working group from 2010-2014.

“The tendency in movements is to be provincial, to only understand the part of the elephant that you’re standing next to,” Lipson said.

“Working with the Agroecology Center at UCSC is me coming full circle,” said Lipson. “I’m trying to integrate policy components, and that kind of understanding and training, into the great work the center is already doing, because there’s a lot of different ways to be an active stakeholder. We need to make a better bridge between the grassroots, the implementers in the agencies, and the legislators. Part of that is projecting ourselves and parts of our movement into new roles within the larger policy structure–we need to be prepared, credible, and willing to do those tours of duty.”

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities.