Ann Steensland leads the GAP Report Initiative for CALS Global at the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. In this role, she serves as the lead author of the Global Agricultural Productivity Report, or GAP Report, an annual analysis of global progress toward productive sustainable food and agricultural systems. Her research areas include sustainable approaches for increasing the productivity of small-scale agriculture, improving livelihoods for small-scale farmers, and connecting small-scale and emerging farmers to markets. Prior to joining Virginia Tech, Ms. Steensland was the Deputy Director of the Global Harvest Initiative and the Chief of Staff of the Alliance to End Hunger. Ms. Steensland has a B.A. in International Relations and an M.A. in African History. She was awarded the Lawrence Levine Prize for her M.A. thesis exploring racial, political, and environmental aspects of the commercialization of agriculture in South Africa.
Virginia Tech GAP interns plant the seeds of productivity growth
April 26, 2022
The GAP Initiative creates opportunities for Virginia Tech students to engage in the global agricultural and food security communities through our internship program. In this blog, hear from our two current interns on their personal journeys and how working with the GAP Report has impacted their understanding of agriculture.
Megan: Hello, everyone! My name is Megan Pollok and I have been working with the GAP Initiative since January 2022. I am currently a sophomore at Virginia Tech and I am excited to share a little bit about my background and experiences so far with the GAP Report, as well as share about my collaboration with a fellow intern, Tessa Naughton-Rockwell.
Tessa: Hi there! My name is Tessa Naughton-Rockwell and I have been working at the GAP Initiative since March 2021. As a GAP intern, I have had the chance to make creative content, research global health and food security, and help compile information for the 2021 GAP Report. Now we are going to share a little about how we started working together!
Both: Working with the GAP Initiative has given us both a better understanding of global food security and the importance of seeing agriculture as the solution and not the problem.
As young people starting our careers in agriculture, we feel a strong need to preserve our forests, soils, biodiversity, and water resources. Productivity-driven research is the key to making these advancements. Whether it is developing Integrated Pest Management methods for farmers around the world or improving weather prediction services for farmers in underfunded areas, we can utilize productivity to increase environmental resilience and food security.
Sowing the seeds of productivity growth
Both: Just as a farmer prepares the soil before planting a seed: our journey working together started before the GAP Initiative. We first had the opportunity to meet one another while attending the Virginia Summer Residential Governor’s School for Agriculture hosted at Virginia Tech in 2018. The Governor’s School for Agriculture provides an opportunity for students to learn about the importance of the agriculture industry and promote careers in agriculture.
Needless to say the program did its job. Following that summer both of us were inspired to pursue a degree in Crop and Soil Environmental Science with an option in Agronomy and a minor in Global Food Security and Health. Through our shared studies, we were able to connect again with a course focusing on agricultural studies within the United States. With funding from the Virginia Crop Improvement Association, we visited Arkansas to learn more about rice cultivation, poultry production, aquaculture, and other industries in Arkansas. Starting this semester, we both began working together collaboratively as interns for the GAP Initiative Report.
Tessa: Obsessed with soils
Tessa: Whether it is looking at soils, growing plants, researching agriculture, or engaging in discussion, learning goes beyond the classroom. This is certainly true for my activities outside of working with the GAP Report. As a member of the soil judging team- a club devoted to investigating soil description and assessment- I have had the chance to compete with a winning team at several competitions and have gained a better appreciation for the complexity that is the soil we stand on. This experience has made me passionate about the importance of empowering farmers with information about their soil and soil fertility. Not that I am obsessed with soil… well I might be, I am also working with researchers at Virginia Tech to complete a survey of Ecuadorian farmers on soil conservation methods. In the future, I am interested in working on soil conservation and expanding international cooperative extension efforts. Equipping farmers with the tools and resources needed to preserve soil will improve environmental sustainability and food security resilience.
Megan: Row crop researcher
Megan: I have been immersed in production agriculture since I was a small child, so it seems fitting that even now I continue to work and study agriculture. When I’m not dedicating my time to the GAP Report, I primarily focus on studies with row crops. I am currently involved in the crop evaluation course, which focuses on plant identification, seed analysis, grain grading, and production practices. Through my prior research with beneficial plant bacteria and learning about production practices, I have learned more about how agriculture productivity plays a role in cropping systems. Proceeding the crop evaluation class, I will participate in the crops judging team, which will visit Australia to compete and participate in a study abroad program in September 2022. While visiting Australia, I look forward to integrating my work with the GAP Report into my trip and exploring the country’s agricultural productivity.