Growing up in a small New Hampshire town, Chantal Mullen had one goal – to become an artist. But when she received early admittance to the Art Institute in Boston, she realized that her family could not afford the six-figure tuition. Suddenly, she was at a loss about what to do with her life.
She tried a number of things, but nothing stuck until she relocated to Winston-Salem, where she began asking herself, “What do I enjoy doing?” One of her fondest memories was planting a garden with green beans and other vegetables and watching them grow. “I was amazed that something so small could grow big and that you could eat it,” she says.
So she took a horticulture class at Forsyth Tech, then another, until she decided to pursue an AAS degree in Horticulture Technology. “Staff and faculty were extremely supportive, all the while pushing me to do better,” recalls Chantal. “Thanks to them, I was able to gain a strong foundation in horticulture that better prepared me for jobs and allowed me to build upon that knowledge as I continued my education.”
After graduating, she transferred to North Carolina A&T State University to pursue a BS in Agricultural Education. “You have to understand the history of agriculture and food systems to avoid repeating past mistakes,” she maintains.
Once she’d completed her degree, she moved to Roanoke, Virginia. There, she created an organization called SEED2SEED, teaching local residents to practice Back to Eating gardening, a form of sustainable gardening that requires no watering and very little weeding. “We use a covering of wood chips and fertilize with horse manure. We don’t use chemicals or pesticides, and we disturb the soil as little as possible.”
A recent three-week immersive trip to Vermont introduced her to dairy farming and how farmers turn a commodity like milk into a value-added product, such as cheese or ice cream, to make a better living. She also admired the collaboration among Vermonters.
Now in Kernersville, where she and her husband, a woodworker and blacksmith, have settled, Chantal is pursuing a distance learning master’s program to earn a Master’s in Sustainable Food Systems from Green Mountain College in Vermont. “I looked at other institutions, but I didn’t want to end up in a lab practicing crop science,” she explains. “God has directed me to where I am now and will continue to lay my path ahead of me. Whatever I do, I want to connect with the public and be at the crossroads between food policy and agricultural production.”