meet our director
Kathleen Merrigan, Executive Director
Kathleen Merrigan is Executive Director of Sustainability at the George Washington University, where she leads the GW Sustainability Collaborative and serves as Professor of Public Policy in addition to her role as Director of the Food Institute. Concurrently, Merrigan serves as Co-Chair for AGree, a multi-year consensus-building project of the Meridian Institute to transform food and agricultural policy. Other activities include: Board Director for the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture and Food Corps, member of the Harvard Pilgrim Healthy Food Fund Advisory Committee, Senior Advisor at the Kendall Foundation, Executive Board member of the Council of Environmental Deans and Directors of the National Council for Science and steering committee member of the Environment and the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture, a global initiative of the United Nations Environment Program.
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, Merrigan 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. Other food-related awards include: James Beard Foundation Leadership Award, 2012; Rodale Organic Pioneer Award, 2012; Steward of Sustainable Agriculture “Sustie” Award, 2010; and Organic Trade Association Leadership Award, 2000.
Merrigan holds a Ph.D. in environmental planning and policy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a Master of Public Affairs from the University of Texas, and a B.A. from Williams College.