Farming and policy, though seemingly different, actually go hand in hand, Mueller said. Policy decisions made decades ago are affecting farmers across Texas — small and midsized ones especially. During the freeze, they were hit hardest yet also lacked the support needed the most.
Mueller believes Texas’ prioritization of large-scale industrial agriculture over others means the state is not prepared when extreme climate events shut these systems down.
“There is a quote from Wendell Berry that says, ‘eating is an agricultural act.’ But, I would say even more than that — eating is a political act,” she said. “The ways our food systems are set up currently and the ways that governments decide on what to invest or what not to invest in lead to huge health and environmental outcomes.”
Even while transitioning to Zoom courses amid her studies, Mueller continues to learn all about the world and its relationship with agriculture and food. She notes how COVID-19 has really highlighted the value and flexibility of more regionalized food systems.
“When we had people making runs on grocery stores and the shelves were empty, people who were able to, pivoted to the local farmers,” she said. “We saw people who were selling weekly veggie boxes or community-supported agriculture selling out suddenly. This happened during the freeze also.” This showed her that there are some really distinctive strengths in regional markets, Mueller said, and she will remember these experiences and take them with her as she advocates for better policies in food systems and food system infrastructure.
Mueller is graduating with her Master of Public Affairs this May. When asked about what’s next for her, she said, “The thing about food systems change is that it’s going to take beyond my lifetime because we have a lot of systems to uproot.”
It may be a lifetime of work, but today, Mueller is ready and eager to take on those challenges in order to create resilient, accessible food systems where people feel connected to what they eat.