Michael Pollan Names 10 Food and Farming Journalism Fellows at J-School

Promising journalists with a passion for food and agriculture have a chance to pursue those interests–and those of us who care about what we eat may see that in a new light–thanks to The 11th Hour Project, a program of The Schmidt Family Foundation created by Journalism School alumna Wendy Schmidt (’81).

The 11th Hour Project funds 10 Food and Farming Journalism fellowships of $10,000 each. They are part of an endowment set up in 2013 with five years of funding and a handful of spots reserved for UC Berkeley J-School graduates.

“This is a specialty area that we’re especially proud has flourished at the School, since it responds to a growing conviction that the food industry can and must be made a force for environmental enhancement, rather than harm,” said Dean Edward Wasserman. “We’re grateful to Wendy for her unwavering support.”

The fellows are all young and mid-career journalists who produce ambitious long-form stories about agriculture and food. Michael Pollan, the School’s John S. and James L. Knight Professor of Journalism, established the program and edits the fellows’ work, along with lecturer and New York Times Magazine writer Malia Wollan.

The 2016 fellows are Sam Brasch, a radio reporter living in Austin, Texas; Audrey Dilling, a radio producer from San Francisco; Wes Enzinna, of Brooklyn, a writer, alum of the J-School and an editor at Vice Magazine; Eloise Gibson, a freelance writer from New Zealand; Tienlon Ho, a writer and antitrust lawyer from San Francisco; Lisa Morehouse, a radio reporter from San Francisco; Alex Park, a J-School alum, a writer living in Los Angeles; Drew Philp, a writer from Detroit; Wudan Yan, a science writer from Seattle; and Irina Zhorov, a radio reporter living in Philadelphia.

The fellowship is as broadly defined as its recipients are curious. They are invited to report on subjects ranging from nutritional policy to global supply chains, from food science to urban farming and agriculture in an era of climate change.

Fellows’ stories have appeared in major national outlets, including three in The New York Times Magazine. Their stories have also been published in, or aired on, NPR, Slate, Newsweek, New York Magazine, PBS’s NovaNext, PRI’s The World, Orion, Mother Jones, Virginia Quarterly Review, High Country News, Pacific Standard, Vice Magazine and Marketplace among others. They’ve won awards and reached millions of readers and listeners. Our 2013 fellow Lisa Hamilton’s story on open-source seeds was included in Best American Science & Nature Writing 2015.

The fellowship support has enabled fellows to develop real expertise in their fields, and numerous fellows now have contracts with major publishers to write books on their fellowship topics. Among the comments on a fellow’s New York Times Magazine story about the growth of cold storage in China was this from a reader: “At a time when less and less time, money, and effort is being spent on truly deep, long-form reporting, stories like these remind us all why good journalism is irreplaceable, inimitable, and worth paying for.”

Strong bonds develop within each year’s cohort. Two 2013 fellows, Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley, launched a podcast about food, science and history called Gastropod. They’ve had over a million downloads, and one episode, based on Cynthia’s fellowship story on the microbiome of soil, won a 2015 Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Audio Documentary.

“We’re beginning to see how, after three years, this fellowship is helping to establish a new generation of food journalists very unlike the kind of journalist traditionally associated with that beat: These journalists approach the subject with an unusual degree of sophistication, managing to put these stories in rich political, economic and cultural contexts,” said Prof. Michael Pollan.

“Without pushing the point,” Pollan continued, “these journalists are demonstrating to readers and viewers that food is more than a diversion, but rather is the product of a complex web of social and economic relationships that connects it to everything from the natural world to the political order.”

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