Ashley Fent, AGRA Watch Research Coordinator
Ashley initially volunteered with CAGJ while living in Seattle from 2006 to 2010, and is now a research consultant for AGRA Watch. She holds a BA in Geography from University of Washington, an MA in Anthropology and African Studies from Columbia University, and a PhD in Geography from UCLA. She has spent over ten years doing research and building connections in West Africa, and is passionate about using applied and strategic research to advance food sovereignty and environmental justice. She also enjoys experimenting with creative artistic, visual, and textual approaches in activism and communications. She currently teaches at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY, and is originally from Puyallup, WA. In her free time, she enjoys gardening, reading, dancing, being outside, doing karaoke, and spending time with her husband, son, and cat.
What led you to working with CAGJ? I initially got involved in CAGJ as an undergrad at UW, while taking a course on Geographies of Global Inequality. I wanted to find some way of actively addressing the issues we were learning about in class, and CAGJ was suggested to me by my TA. I began as a volunteer in 2007 or so, helping with the first SLEE dinner, and later helped develop the AGRA Watch campaign and was a member of the Steering Committee. I began working with CAGJ / AGRA Watch again from 2021 to 2022 because after many years of working in academia, I missed activism and wanted to do more applied and campaign-based research.
What does food sovereignty mean to you? To me the most important aspect of food sovereignty is that it is a collective right to define food and agricultural systems. It implies that we as communities have to come together to develop, protect, and advance more decentralized food and agricultural systems that serve people (rather than corporations) and that are more just and equitable than the system we currently have.
Where do you see CAGJ in 5-10 years? I would love to see CAGJ continuing to bridge local, national, and international silos in how food issues are often thought about, discussed, and acted upon. I see making these connections as central to CAGJ’s work, both historically and now, and I think it’s only becoming more urgent to focus on the points where policies being advanced at these different scales overlap and influence each other.
Can you tell us one favorite aspect of your work with CAGJ? Back in the day (before the pandemic), we used to often have AGRA Watch meetings in people’s homes. I think my favorite memories center around being in community together in those spaces. I also love the creative, theatrical, and artistic elements that infuse CAGJ actions and events.
What is one growing edge you think CAGJ can work on? CAGJ partners with a lot of BIPOC-led organizations, but internally is not as diverse as it could be. I’d love to see more internal diversity within the organization, as well as more overall organizational capacity that would allow for even more amazing movement-building work to happen.
This month we are launching a new section of our monthly E-News, to introduce CAGJ staff, activists and interns to our members. Each activist will reply to these questions: What led you to working with CAGJ? What does food sovereignty mean to you? Where do you see CAGJ in 5-10 years? Can you tell us one favorite aspect of your work with CAGJ? What is one growing edge you think CAGJ can work on?
Our first three profiles will feature CAGJ’s staff, starting this month with AGRA Watch Research Coordinator Ashley Fent. CAGJ has been privileged to work with Ashley since July 2021, and we wish her well as she soon starts maternity leave!