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Kathleen Merrigan

Kathleen Merrigan

Executive Director, Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems

Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems
1800 I Street NW
Washington, DC 20006


  • Senior Sustainability Scientist, Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation
  • Executive Director, Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems
  • Kelly and Brian Swette Professor of Practice in Sustainable Food Systems, School of Sustainability/College of Health Solutions/School of Public Affairs


Kathleen Merrigan is the inaugural Executive Director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University and the Kelly and Brian Swette Professor of Sustainable Food Systems, with appointments in the School of Sustainability, College of Health Solutions, and School of Public Affairs. She came to ASU after four years as Executive Director of Sustainability at George Washington University, where she led the GW Sustainability Collaborative, GW Food Institute, and was Professor of Public Policy, with appointments in the schools of public policy and public health.

From 2009-2013, Dr. Merrigan served as 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, Dr. 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, Dr. Merrigan was a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University where she directed the M.S./PhD Agriculture, Food and Environment Program. Her prior career includes a variety of agriculture policy positions, including 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.

Currently, Dr. Merrigan serves as Co-Chair for AGree, Board Director for the World Agroforestry Centre, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, FoodCorps, and Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) as well as Steering Committee member for the United Nations Environment Programme-led initiative TEEB AgriFood. Dr. Merrigan is a partner in Astanor Ventures and an advisor to S2G Ventures, two firms investing in ag-tech innovations.

Recognizing the history and scope of her work, Time Magazine named Dr. Merrigan among the “100 most influential people in the world” in 2010.


  • PhD, Environmental Planning and Policy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Masters of Public Affairs, LBJ School, University of Texas
  • BA, English and Political Science, Williams College


Journal Articles

In Press

Colon-Ramos, U., A. A. Roess, K. Robien, P. D. Marghella, R. J. Waldman and K. A. Merrigan. Food distributed during federal disaster relief response in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria did not fully meet federal nutrition recommendations. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics DOI: 10.1016/j.jand.2019.03.015. (link )

Sandhu, H., A. Müller, P. Sukhdev, K. A. Merrigan, A. Tenkouano, P. Kumar, S. S. Hussain, W. Zhang, W. Pengue, B. Gemmill-Herren, M. W. Hamm, M. Tirado von der Pahlen, C. Obst, K. Sharma, H. Gundimeda, A. Markandya, P. May, G. Platais and J. Weigelt. The future of agriculture and food: Evaluating the holistic costs and benefits. The Anthropocene Review DOI: 10.1177/2053019619872808. (link )


Benton-Short, L. and K. A. Merrigan. 2016. Beyond interdisciplinary: How sustainability creates opportunities for pan-university efforts. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences 6(2):387-398. DOI: 10.1007/s13412-015-0341-x. (link )


Merrigan, K., T. Griffin, P. Wilde, K. Robien, J. Goldberg and W. H. Dietz. 2015. Designing a sustainable diet. Science 350(6257):165-166. DOI: 10.1126/science.aab2031. (link )

Neff, R. A., K. A. Merrigan and D. Wallinga. 2015. A food systems approach to healthy food and agriculture policy. Health Affairs 34(11): 1908–1915. DOI: 10.1377/hlthaff.2015.0926. (link )

Book Chapters


Dietz, W. H., R. C. Brownson, C. E. Douglas, J. J. Dreyschuer, R. Z. Goetzel, S. L. Gortmaker, J. S. Marks, K. A. Merrigan, R. R. Pate, L. M. Powell and M. Story. 2017. Chronic disease prevention: Tobacco, physical activity, and nutrition for a healthy start. Pp. 111-134 In: Dzau, V. J., M. B. McClellan, J. M. McGinnis and E. M. Finkelman eds., Vital Directors for Health & Health Care: An Initiative of the National Academy of Medicine. National Academy of Medicine. Washington, DC. ISBN: 9781947103016. (link )

Kagan, A. and K. A. Merrigan. 2017. Advancing food equity through local and regional food systems. Pp. 79-92 In: Dumont, A., D. Davis, J. Wascalus, T. Cheeks Wilson, J. Barham and D. Tropp eds., Harvesting Opportunity: The Power of Regional Food System Investments. Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. St Louis, MO. (link )

Conference Papers


Merrigan, K. A. 2015. Thinking over time: A 20-year perspective on biotech policy. Pp. 15-24 In: Thompson, G. A., S. E. Lipari and R. W. Hardy eds., NABC Report 27 -- Stewardship for the Sustainability of Genetically Engineering Crops: The Way Forward in Pest Management, Coexistence, and Trade. 27th Annual Conference of the North American Agricultural Biotechnology Council. Ithaca, NY. (link )



Schlosser, P., D. White, K. Merrigan, K. Lackner, G. Dirks, R. Aggarwal, N. Berman, C. Boone, H. Eakin, M. Laubichler, B. Sarda and S. van der Leeuw. 2019. Recognizing the urgency of our climate crisis: ASU Global Futures Laboratory response to the IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land [Editorial]. Retrieved from link


Merrigan, K. and E. Starmer. 2017. The making of a food movement [Editorial]. Retrieved from link


Glickman, D., J. Moseley, K. Merrigan and E. Simmons. 2016. Opinion: Elevate agriculture, food to a national priority [Editorial]. Retrieved from link

Glickman, D., J. Moseley, K. Merrigan and E. Simmons. 2016. We need a legal, stable agriculture workforce: How do we get there? [Editorial]. Retrieved from link


Merrigan, K. A. and T. Griffin. 2015. Building a case, over time, for adding sustainability to nutritional guidelines [Editorial]. Retrieved from link