Hailing from rural western Massachusetts, and having lived in Washington and California, Zoë Plakias is familiar with a number of agricultural regions in the United States. However, with her recent appointment to assistant professor with a focus on agribusiness at the Ohio State University, she now has the opportunity to immerse herself in yet another agricultural powerhouse in our nation’s food system.
“This is a new region for me and that’s exciting in terms of agriculture, as every region has its own character and climate,” she says.
Plakias, who joins Ohio State’s Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics as a recent graduate of the Agricultural and Resource Economics doctoral program at the University of California, Davis, studies domestic agricultural economics and agricultural policy. Thus far, her research has focused on agricultural producer organizations, technology adoption, and intellectual property rights in the agricultural arena.
“I am interested in all aspects of our contemporary food system. The diversity of producers and consumers within our food system, especially as we think about crafting policy and programs, is very important to me,” Plakias notes.
During her undergraduate studies, Plakias spent a period of time studying environmental studies and geology. She eventually landed in an economics course and fell in love with the discipline. “I find it valuable that I have studied environmental issues. I think all of these things together make me who I am in terms of a researcher and a person,” she says.
Arriving in California’s Central Valley to pursue her PhD, Plakias did not know that she would end those years having earned the title of agricultural economist. However, landing in the heart of America’s food system, where more than two-thirds of fruit and one-third of the vegetables grown in the U.S are produced, ignited a variety of questions for Plakias. These questions would become the foundation for her graduate program research. She also had the opportunity to work with several prominent agricultural economists at UC Davis who sparked her interest in the field.
With her recent move to the Ohio State University and Columbus, Plakias sees nothing but opportunity. “I am excited to be at Ohio State due to its amazing reputation in terms of research. It’s fabulous to be here with thousands of other scholars – that’s just such a cool opportunity – I want to pursue all of these connections and interact with so many people. I am really excited about the diversity in the city and at the university – diversity of ideas, economic diversity, racial and ethnic diversity, and religious diversity.”
Plakias also looks forward to interacting with students in the Agribusiness and Applied Economics program as she begins to take on teaching responsibilities. In addition to her research experience, she hopes to bring her previous experience as a board and committee member of several consumer-owned retail food cooperatives to the classroom.
Of note, she also has the interesting distinction of (most likely) being the only person in the department’s history of having listed “deckhand” on their CV, a talking point brought up in her interview by the department’s inquisitive faculty.
“For several years, I worked as a crew member on tall ships. I’ve sailed along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and in the Caribbean. On those boats we were doing education programs focused on leadership, marine science and environmental issues. I still love to sail,” she says, while reflecting on her diverse background.