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Student Member Spotlight—Aliça Diehl

With the kickoff of the Organic Trade Association’s new Student Member program, The Organic Report spoke with one of the association’s newest members Aliça Diehl (22), a Master’s of Business Administration candidate at the University of Oregon’s Lundquist College of Business Center for Sustainable Business Practices, to learn more about her perspectives and goals.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a nerdy nature-lover who gets excited for every mealtime. I studied neuroscience in college, but decided to pursue the more relatable and visceral passion for food I’ve had since I was a kid. At first, I approached that through a personal and community-health lens. More recently, I’ve pivoted to an environmental focus (although the two are certainly interconnected). I’m currently studying the intersection of business and sustainability through an MBA at the University of Oregon. I’m building up business acumen in preparation to be a better change agent for a food system that supports a healthy planet.

When did you first become interested in organic and why?

I became fascinated by nutrition one summer while supporting my father in managing his Type I Diabetes. At first, my approach was all numbers and macronutrients. As I learned more, the importance of sourcing achieved greater significance. Taking such care to make food choices that would help me thrive, it only made sense to make sure that that food wasn’t coming with synthetic inputs that would hamper that goal. In time I recognized that sourcing that’s better for me is also better for the planet. Organic practices and certification help me make decisions that align with that win-win scenario.

How will you apply what you have learned about business and sustainability once you graduate?

When I finish my MBA in June, I’m excited to dive back into the food system, and a role with “sustainability” in the title really appeals to me. I want my professional time to be devoted to transforming our food system into one that’s viable to sustain. Once I complete my MBA program, I’d like to work with existing food businesses, internally or as a consultant, to help guide their transformation to practices that are better for our planet and its people. That can take a lot of different forms, and the inherent variety and need for creativity will get me going.

What do you see as the biggest opportunity for organic?

Organic feels to me like the ‘big sister’ of sustainability in the food system. She’s worked hard to build the success she has, and now I’d love to see her leverage that success and experience to support some of her younger siblings. Mitigating the planetary crisis we’ve gotten ourselves into will take unprecedented collective action. Working together and offering our different strengths towards our common goal are organic’s biggest opportunity.

What is holding us back?

Accessibility—on the eater side and the grower side. Before I stepped into the food business world, I spent several years with non-profits as a healthy-eating educator in communities facing disproportionate barriers to healthy food access. The role wore me down because the best I could do was help people navigate a food system that wasn’t built for them or the planet to thrive. I wanted to talk to them about things like organic, but that kind of food was so inaccessible that the point felt moot. There are parallel struggles on the grower side—farmers for whom the transition to organic certification is prohibitively expensive. This is one symptom of larger ailing systems more than it’s an error of organic, but this lack of accessibility holds us back.

Who or what do you look to for inspiration, and why?

I’ve always been inspired by the sensory experiences that our planet offers—the vibrancy of a sunset, the smell of forest air, the feel of an ocean wave washing over me. More recently, I’m inspired by the interconnectivity and brilliance of our planet’s systems. There are amazing frameworks there for us to emulate and so much wisdom for us to learn from.

What fuels you? What are your passions outside work and study?

Play and time outdoors fuel me (bonus points for both at the same time). I wish I could play beach volleyball every single day, and I’m starting to learn to play tennis. I love swimming in the ocean and feel serenely centered after a hike. Cooking is a favorite hobby too, when I have time to relax and really enjoy it. I’m always looking for opportunities to exercise creative expression, and of late, I’ve done that through dance, drawing, and fiber arts.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2022 Organic Report, you can view the full magazine here.