Director, Food and Agriculture Institute; Canada Research Chair, Food Security and Environment
PhD in Environmental Studies 2004
Master in Environmental Studies 1999
“I was also drawn to the welcoming environment and faculty at York. As a queer woman in a male-dominated field, I had the opportunity to meet people that taught me how to occupy my space, where at that time, I might have been one of the few LGBTQ+ people in the space. York was a leader that helped instill me with confidence and leadership.”
About Lenore Newman
Lenore Newman is the director of the Food and Agriculture Institute at the University of the Fraser Valley where she holds a research chair in food and agriculture innovation. She is an Associate Professor in the School of Land Use and Environmental Change, and is an emeritus member of the Royal Society of Canada's New College. Lenore researches agricultural land use policy, agricultural technology, and bioengineering in the food system. Lenore was a member of the BC Premier’s Food Security Task Force, sat on the BC Minister of Agriculture’s Advisory Committee, and consults widely on the future of food. She has published over sixty academic journal articles and book chapters, and her opinion pieces have been published in the Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Sun, and the Georgia Straight. She holds a BSc in Physics from the University of British Columbia and a PhD in Environmental Studies from Toronto’s York University. Lenore lives in Vancouver, Canada.
Tell me about your career path and journey.
I grew up with a fishing family – we owned a fishing company here out west. I did my undergraduate in Physics at the University of British Columbia and did some work in the industry after I graduated. When I decided I wanted to do my masters, I wanted to take a program that was centered around ‘making a difference’ which is why I pursued my MES, which was a transformative part of my life. I looked at ecological systems, systems theory and how we as humans interact with the natural world. I consider myself an accidental PhD because, at first, I didn’t intend to do my PhD. I always loved business, entrepreneurism, and start-up environments, and I’m grateful to have been involved in these areas throughout my career. After I completed my masters, I knew that I wasn’t finished yet with academia. The PhD naturally came to me after my MES. I had a few more questions to answer about big system thinking and I was fortunate to be able to pursue my PhD.
After my PhD, food started to become integrated with my career along with writing. Although I was born into the food industry and have been a writer since I was a teenager, these two areas blended after I graduated. I was offered a post-doc after my defense, and I had to opportunity to develop a case study relating to food and food systems. This really took over my academic thinking . My application of the interactions between nature and culture, which really came through this lens of food and agriculture, has defined my entire career. I worked on this project for a couple of years until I moved back out West to work as an Assistant Professor at Royal Roads University. Following that role, I took an exciting opportunity to build my research program in food and agriculture innovation at the University of Fraser Valley.
I continue to do research and write as an author. My first book, Speaking in Cod Tongues, was published to wide acclaim in January, 2017. My second book, Lost Feast, was published by ECW Press in 2019. It was awarded silver in the 2019 Forward INDIES and was the winner of a Canadian Science Writers Award. I have a new book that I co-authored with Evan Fraser (from University of Guelph) coming out in October 2022 called Dinner on Mars, which I highly recommend for futurists, sci-fi geeks, tech nuts, business leaders, and anyone interested in the future of food! Dinner on Mars puts sustainability and adaptability on the menu in the face of our climate crisis.
What made you choose your program and the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change at York?
I chose the MES program at the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change because, when I was looking at beginning a masters, one of my mentors suggested that I reach out to some faculty members to learn more about the program and offerings to see if it would be a good fit. I really enjoyed the conversations and connections I made and thus decided to enroll in the program. I’m glad that I did because I really enjoyed the cohort-based structure and I’m still friends with some of the people that I met during my time as a student today! The MES program encouraged me to think strategically but also in terms of the big picture, which was something that I wanted to experience more than I had in my undergrad.
I was also drawn to the welcoming environment and faculty at York. As a queer woman in a male-dominated field, I had the opportunity to meet people that taught me how to occupy my space, where at that time, I might have been one of the few LGBTQ+ person in the space. York was a leader that helped instill me with confidence and leadership.
Through my Masters and PhD at EUC, I had many positive influences from the faculty, such as Cate Sandilands, Roger Keil, and the late Wayne Roberts, who was a food systems thinker who started the Food Policy Network. Wayne taught a sessional course on green entrepreneurship that spoke to my entrepreneurial nature. We continued to stay in touch and became good friends after the course.
What is a typical day like for you?
My day to day varies. There are some days where I am just at home writing, however there are also days when I get to travel and do research. For example, I’m excited to travel to Italy shortly to wander through lemon groves looking at soil erosion and speaking to farmers. I head a research institute working in three main areas, so when I’m not travelling, I’m often busy working with my team. On an average day I touch base with my each of my team leads on the status of our core research areas, then I may take meetings with donors to discuss potential involvement, take calls with a start-up to help mentor them through their incubator/accelerator programs, or sit in a government meeting about policy. Each day is a bit different and I love the diversity of my role! It provides me with a balance to be in the office but also in the field!
If you could leave current students with a piece of advice, what would it be?
My advice is to be flexible. Don’t assume your career has to look a certain way to be successful. I built an amazing and fulfilling career at a smaller institution. I think you should be open-minded and remember that if you are interested in a career in academia it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to become a professor. There are so many exciting opportunities and you never know where your path will take you. I also recommend you take risks.If someone offers you the opportunity to join a start-up – just do it! There will be skills that you can take from your experience that will help you in your career journey. My MES taught me and my colleagues to take risks and not to follow just one path. Some of us ran for office, worked for new companies, started organizations, etc. Life gives you opportunities and if you are too set on one path, you’ll miss them. These experiences help make your life much richer!
My second piece of advice is to go see the world. The most valuable thing I did was not live in one place. I would recommend students take the opportunity to go see the world and experience new things. I have been fortunate to work in many different cities such as San Francisco, Ottawa, Toronto etc. I believe my career is as rich as it is because of the experiences I gained from travelling and being in the field.
What interests do you pursue in your spare time? What are some of your passion projects or hobbies?
In my spare time, I enjoy cooking and spending time outdoors. I often go hiking or surfing. I have a side gig as a fruit hunter, where I research and source exotic fruit and vegetables for clients. Right now, I’m doing a lot of this research in libraries, but I would love to take this outdoors and run an expedition down the road. I would love to seek out and taste exotic fruits from around the world.