Marjorie Murphy Hale ’68, president of the GCU Alumni Association (left), and Constance Anne Reymann ’77, ’00 of the Alumni Association’s Professional Development Committee (right) present Melissa Miller (center) with a certificate honoring her as a GCU Alumna Sage.
Melissa Miller ’10, ’14 is the first honoree of the GCU Alumni Association’s new Sage program, an initiative of the Alumni Board of Directors’ Professional Development Committee to recognize those who have shown exemplary career and volunteer accomplishments that are directly related to their GCU student experiences. The Sage Program distinguishes these alumni as “Sages” and invites them to speak to selected alumni and students to assist with career building and leadership and to foster opportunities for mentoring and re-engagement with GCU.
Melissa Miller has no problem getting her hands dirty, and in her line of work, that’s a good thing.
As education coordinator for the National Farm Union (NFU) in Washington, D.C., it’s her job to advocate for small and family farms, promote wellness and healthy eating, and push congressional leaders to adopt farm-friendly policies.
So to hear Melissa talk about sustainable farming practices, co-ops and community supported agriculture, or working with “totally rad” women farmers (and yes, even when she tells the story of her NFU interview just minutes after harvesting okra and squash, shedding her Carhartt overalls in a portable restroom) is to know this: Melissa was born for farming.
Dinner, Dialogue, and Inspiration
On April 8, 2016, the Alumni Association hosted Melissa for dinner in Georgian Court’s historic Mansion, where she shared her inspiring story with nearly two dozen faculty, current students, and alumni in fields like biology, Integrative Health, education, nutrition, psychology, law, and biochemistry.
In addition to connecting with alumni, Melissa shared openly about her original post-graduation plans to teach high school English. But shortly after she started graduate school, Melissa lost her father and her brother—six weeks apart—to diabetes and heart disease. In her grief, she knew she had to do something that would make a difference—for herself and for others.
“Their deaths changed me. I looked at the way people were eating and knew there were changes that could be made to change lives. I knew I wanted to study whole foods and food programs,” she said. “I didn’t want what happened to my family to happen to someone else. I didn’t want someone to tell me about our food. I wanted to see for myself.”
She left the education master’s program for Integrative Health and went to work on her degree with associate professor Sachiko Komagata, Ph.D. Together, they identified a thesis project where Melissa would work with students at a local high school and introduce them to kitchen gardens and the power of whole foods.
“Initially, they knew nothing, absolutely nothing, about how their food was grown. I remember students saying, ‘You mean this doesn’t just come from the grocery store?’ In the end, we saw dramatic before-and-after shifts,” Melissa recalled.
For the past six years, her work as an urban farmer and farm advocate has taken Melissa from Vermont to Puerto Rico and many points in between. She meets with family farmers struggling with economies of scale and organizes national conferences to address topics like food access and community building. And she recently served as the farm manager at Common Good City Farm (CGCF) in downtown Washington, D.C. Through CGCF, Melissa helped low-income neighbors meet their food needs, growing 5,000 pounds of food a year and feeding dozens of families.
“There is no better feeling than growing fresh food for people who otherwise wouldn’t have it,” Melissa said. “My career path hasn’t been conventional, but it is rewarding. I can geek out and talk about food forever.”
Additional photos can be found on the GCU Alumni Facebook page.
Contributed by Gail H. Towns.