Allison Gail Lilly at the UMD Terp Farm.
Allison Gail Lilly, MPH

Allison Lilly received her Master of Public Health in Environmental Health in 2012 from the University of Maryland School of Public Health’s Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health (MIAEH). She’s currently the Sustainability and Wellness Coordinator for UMD Dining Services. As a student, Allison was a leader in starting the Public Health Garden; in her role with the university, she supports many programs such as the Sustainable Food Commitment, Terp Farm, Campus Pantry, and Green Tidings Food Truck, and Farmer’s Market at Maryland. She also serves as council member and Local Food Production Workgroup Chair for the Prince George’s County Food Equity Program, and is co-owner of Batty Batches, LLC, which sells unique, small-batch jellies and jams. 

In one sentence, what is public health to you?

The pursuit of public health is very broad: the promotion of health and wellness through collective action. However, I view public health through a specific lens: the intersection between human health, environment, agriculture, and food.    

What do you think is the biggest challenge that the public health field should be focusing on?

It is hard to say what is the single greatest challenge for the public health field – I look at it as a series of complex, interconnected issues. We are each working on our slice of it. Since I look at the world through food, I believe that it is critical to transform our food system locally, nationally, and globally. This transformation needs to include many things, such as increased access to healthy food, reduction of environmental degradation, and rejuvenation of our environment. I believe we can fight for public health through the promotion and celebration of healthy, sustainable, accessible, and safe food.  

What inspired you to study public health?

I am passionate about how human health, environmental health, agriculture and food production are interconnected. I read about how the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health is committed to these issues and thought: “Wow! I want to learn more about how I become a part of these efforts.”

Why did you choose to study public health at UMD?

I was interested in the great work of MIAEH faculty and eager to stay close to D.C., where I was already living and working. The proximity to so many amazing opportunities to promote public health and work near our nation’s capital was a big draw for me. I was also interested in studying at the University of Maryland, the land-grant institution for the State of Maryland. Given my interest in food and agriculture, I was eager to connect with people studying and working in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.  

What’s a favorite memory, professor, or learning experience that stays with you from your degree program?

In one of my classes with Dr. Amy Sapkota, we got to visit drinking water and waste water treatment plants. These visits really emphasized the lessons we were learning in the classroom about food safety and public health. Those concrete lessons stuck with me, and I really learned the value of getting to see the behind-the-scenes process for yourself. Understanding the process and the steps involved in preserving our health – no matter how big or small – is invaluable for anyone who wants to be a champion of public health.    

How did your MPH prepare you for your broad range of work focusing on health, the environment and food?

While pursuing my MPH, I was able to really network and spend time learning about best practices on campuses and communities to promote sustainable food systems. Through my work at the Public Health Garden and in my MPH Capstone, I got to dig in (literally and figuratively) to these types of ideas and projects. These experiences were foundational to the work I continue today, both at the University of Maryland and in the community.  

As an MPH student, you were a leader in starting the public health garden. What inspired you to work on that project, and what do you see as the role of community gardens in facilitating public health?

Community gardening is an important way for people to connect with each other, the environment and the story of where their food comes from. Even for those of us who have no idea about how a squash or carrot grows, a community garden is a spectacular way to explore how the environment, our food, and our health are all connected. Gardening teaches us how we can take action to improve our food system even if only by providing basil to our friends and community. Community gardens, like the Public Health Garden, can exemplify the values of environmental stewardship, agricultural sustainability, physical activity, balanced diets, and environmental health. Plus, it’s tons of fun!     

In what ways are SPH students already involved with these initiatives? Do you see possibilities for more integration and collaboration between the SPH and campus food programs?

There are tons of ways to connect with campus food programs! Students should get involved in the campus community gardens (including the Public Health Garden), apply to intern or volunteer with the Green Dining Programs (or other campus sustainability initiatives), and/or join the Sustainable Food Committee. Additionally, I always encourage students to explore these topics in their classes as well and come up with ways to work on projects that might be able to make an impact on campus. Another easy way: shop at the Farmers Market or participate in an activity on campus celebrating local and sustainable food.  

Talk to us about your work in food preservation — specifically, jams and jellies! What led you to start Batty Batches, LLC, and how does this work tie into your passion for food sustainability?

In my job, I talk a lot about local food. I also have a passion for growing and making food myself. Plus, I have always been interested in starting my own food business. With those ideas in mind and after working hard on preserving two bushels of tomatoes, my friend Danielle and I decided we should give it a shot. We take local ingredients from vendors at the Greenbelt Farmers Market (where we sell our products monthly) and other farmers we know, and turn it into unusual jams and jellies. We often purchase items at the end of the market that might otherwise go to waste. Our celebration of local food and having fun is in great example of how anyone can take small actions to support sustainable, local (and delicious!) food.   

Published July 2, 2015.