Meet the Management Team: Graduate Research Assistants

Jessica Crum, West Virginia University

I grew up on a dairy farm in Frederick, Maryland.  I completed my undergrad at West Virginia University in Agribusiness Management and Rural Development.  After graduation I worked as a government contractor, but returned a year later to West Virginia to start a masters degree in Agricultural Economics.

I find the research/work that is being done very rewarding.  It’s a good feeling to know that the end product will help the Appalachia community tremendously.  

Mary Oldham, West Virginia University

Mary Oldham is a M.S. candidate in Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics at WVU. Her research with Dr. Cheryl Brown focuses on identifying the factors that impact producers’ decisions in local food markets. She aspires to work to support agriculture as a business opportunity for rural families.


Phil D’Adamo-Damery, Virginia Tech

I grew up in central Illinois in a family with a history of farming. My parents got out of farming in the early 80’s when my dad took job with the USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Looking back now, I think I was so surrounded by agriculture that I hardly noticed its existence. But, as I thought about career options with a B.S. degree in secondary (high school) social science education, I realized that I missed having a connection to the land. Pulling pieces together from conversations with friends, family, some books and music, I decided to pursue work related to sustainable agriculture. It was then in conversations with new friends, colleagues, and faculty, as a student in Iowa State University’s Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture, that I really began to make connections between issues of spirituality, social justice, food and agriculture. It is at this confluence that I find possibility for a food system that is more ecologically and socially just, and that compels me to be involved with this work. I am currently working on a PhD in Agricultural and Extension Education and am looking at the degree to which market and consumer-based approaches to community food security may or may not lead to more resilient and socially just food systems.

Sarah Misyak, Virginia Tech

Sarah Misyak is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods & Exercise. Her work is focused on barriers to local food access for low-income populations and the impact of local foods on dietary quality.  She is originally from Northern Virginia but has lived in Southwest Virginia for the past 10 years.  Sarah began with food systems work through a partnership with the Blacksburg Farmers Market.  She is a board member for the non-profit organization The Friends of the Farmers Market, which provides support for the Blacksburg Farmers Market.  The Market has a strong social justice focus.

Margaret Smith, Virginia Tech

I was born in Richmond, VA and am currently a graduate student in the Crop and Soil Environmental Science department at Virginia Tech.  My area of study includes using geospatial mapping and modeling of soils to describe the spatial distribution of Appalachian farmland and changes in land use change over time.  I was driven to this work because of the powerful way that food brings us all together and to learn more about specific links between the health of our diets and the health of our land.  I’ve been involved with many exciting environmental and food campaigns over the years based in my own communities and jumped at the opportunity to take a broader, more regional focus to food systems work.  I like the challenge and the hope of working on this project that puts a passion for sustainable farming and compassion for the hungry at the forefront.  I hope to create useful simulations to inform regional food and agricultural policy and to learn more about working with communities for democratic change.  Things that make me happy include sustainability, cooking, science fiction, and my dog.

Angel Cruz, North Carolina State University

Growing up in rural NC, watching families transition from tobacco and then working for several years in community gardens and agricultural education in rural El Salvador, I became passionate about sustainable agriculture education. Currently, I am Master’s student at NCSU where my research and work consist of two dynamic components. First, I am looking at how different farming systems impact mycorrhizae and rhizobia soil communities. Second, I am part of the Appalachian Foodshed Project (AFP), a USDA project that aims to enhance food security and economic viability through local and regional food system development in the Southern Appalachian region. These two unique research and work experiences will prepare me to work across disciplines and at multiple scales. I hope to not only learn how our agro-ecosystems function but also how to engage communities in conversations about making changes in the food system.