Alumni Spotlight: Jena Brooker ’19

Jena Brooker | Alumni Spotlight

Date: April 19, 2021

Freelance journalist, Detroit

A combination of coursework in journalism and experience at the Campus Farm has led Brooker to her current role as a freelance journalist. Currently, Brooker is a Midwest fellow for Grist writing about the environment, environmental justice, and food/agriculture. You can read her work here

Did any of your experiences on campus lead you to your current role?

My senior year I took Environmental Journalism 320. That class was the foundation for my path in journalism, both inspirationally and logistically. One of our assignments in that class was to work on a feature news piece over the course of the semester and it was through that experience I realized how much I enjoyed the process of reporting, and that story ended up being one of the first pieces I ever had published in a newspaper.

My plethora of experiences in food systems at UofM has given me an advantage within journalism to report on food, agriculture, and food justice.  At UofM I did research on bees in [SFSI affiliate] Dr. Ivette Perfecto’s lab, conducted original research at Matthaei Botanical Gardens on nutrients in lettuce, worked at the Campus Farm for several years, and did a study abroad in Costa Rica to study food, energy, and water systems among other UofM food systems classes I took on campus. 

Having this background in food systems inspired me to make food and agriculture a central part of my reporting, and it also gave me the background knowledge to know what the general public might not know about food systems that they should, be able to identify good stories, ask the right questions, and make important connections for readers. Additionally, some of these experiences at UofM were helpful in showing me what I *didn’t* want to do within food systems as a career, which I think is just as helpful in leading you to a role that is a good fit. Working at the Campus Farm was the best part of my entire college experience. I left wanting to continue engaging with those food communities and excited about continuing to explore all of the possibilities within food systems, and share that with the wider community.

What is one piece of advice you would give students interested in pursuing a career in food systems?

Food systems as a field is beautiful in that there’s so many different routes or roles you could take with your career. Try as many routes of these as you can while you’re in school — farming, research, education, policy, work at a local grocery store/food hub, etc. This will be helpful in figuring out what role resonates, you will gain a better understanding of how these systems work, having worked in different roles within the system, and you’ll have a breadth of experience that will increase the likelihood of finding a job post-grad and getting started. Food systems is a holistic framework, and gaining experience in different facets of the framework can only benefit your understanding of the work, and thus benefit your career.