Kathleen Merrigan, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and a leader in sustainable food systems, is the first executive director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University. Merrigan also holds the position of the Kelly and Brian Swette Professor of Practice in Sustainable Food Systems with appointments in the School of Sustainability, College of Health Solutions and School of Public Affairs.
Merrigan was executive director of Sustainability at George Washington University (GW), where she led the GW Sustainability Collaborative, GW Food Institute, and served as professor of public policy. GW sustainability accolades include a “Gold” rating by the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education and designation by the U.S. Department of Education as a “Green Ribbon” higher education institution. Merrigan serves as a co-chair for AGree, board director for the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture and FoodCorps, a member of the Harvard Pilgrim Healthy Food Fund Advisory Committee, senior advisor at the Kendall Foundation, and steering committee member of the Council of Environmental Deans and Directors of the National Council for Science and the Environment and the United Nations Environment Programme led initiative TEEB for Agriculture & Food.
From 2009-2013, Merrigan was U.S. Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a $150 billion, 110,000 employee institution. As Deputy Secretary, she created and led the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative to support local food systems; was a key architect of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign; and made history as the first woman to chair the Ministerial Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. Before joining the USDA, Merrigan held a variety of agriculture policy positions, including faculty member at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, Administrator of the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, and senior staff on the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, where she wrote the law establishing national standards for organic food.
Recognizing the history and scope of her work, Time Magazine named Merrigan among the “100 most influential people in the world” in 2010.