Meaghan Jarchow, coordinator of USD’s sustainability program, has spent much of her life trying to reduce the animal suffering that occurs in the agricultural system.
After graduating high school in Brandon, South Dakota, Jarchow completed her undergraduate and masters degrees in plant ecology from Ripon College and Minnesota State University, respectively, and later on went on to complete her Ph.D. in sustainable agriculture from Iowa State University. After completing her masters, Jarchow said she took two years off to take a teaching job at a liberal arts college to figure out how she wanted to make a difference in the agricultural system.
“I had known that I’d like to reduce animal suffering and be able to do things about confined animal agriculture from a young age, but I wasn’t exactly sure how to do it,” she said.
Jarchow accepted her current position and moved to Vermillion in July 2012, and said her position at USD makes her research a little different than she originally planned.
“Iowa State is a land grant university so they do agriculture, similarly to SDSU, whereas here we don’t,” Jarchow said. “So in terms of my research, my research has shifted a little. Now as the Sustainability Coordinator, my breadth in sustainability has broadened. I still really am interested in making animal agriculture more compassionate, but then I have kind of become increasingly interested in social justice, privilege types of issues and conservation.”
The research Jarchow is completing at USD falls into two categories. Jarchow said one area of research she is very passionate about is prairie conservation.
“We live in what used to be tall grass prairie and now there’s almost none of it left, because it is just so great for agriculture,” Jarchow said. “It’s almost all been converted into agriculture and so I do research on how our management of prairies affects what they turn into, and also how we might get them back to the landscape.”
The other research work Jarchow is engaged in involves sustainability itself. She said this aspect of research focuses on a vision for the future of sustainability. This helps to ensure the future of sustainability is bright.
Some students involved in this research take part in what Jarchow said is her favorite class to teach, the capstone.
“They have to take this course that I teach, they also have to do an internship for undergraduate research which I work with them on coordinating and I am also their academic adviser,” Jarchow said. “The reason why I think I like the class so much is because in capstone, the class gets together and does a project with community organizations to help the community.”
Alexa Kruse, a junior majoring in biology and sustainability, said Jarchow has impacted her life in many ways.
“I decided to double major because of her encouragement and the things I have learned in her classes have caused me to positively change many things about my life and become a ‘greener’ person — more sustainable, and especially more socially aware,” she said.
One of the things Kruse said she enjoys most about Jarchow is her minimum-lecture, maximum team-based learning teaching style.
“I disliked it at first, but now I understand why we do it the way we do,” Kruse said. “There are many group projects, but unlike other courses where professors put you in a group and expect you to figure things out, Dr. Jarchow asks each student about themselves at the beginning of the semester and makes sure that each group has a mixture of different people.”
Along with her research, community work and impact on her students, Jarchow made a life change long ago that she feels has reduced animal suffering.
“I’ve been vegetarian since I was nine and vegan since I was 19,” Jarchow said. “My grandpa on my dad’s side was a butcher. My grandpa on my mom’s side was a meat inspector at John Morrell in Sioux Falls and so he was very proud of it, it was a federal job, and he would bring people on tours of Morrell, including my mom.”
Despite a meat-friendly family history, Jarchow chose to stop eating meat when she had an epiphany.
“So one evening at dinner, she was talking about how she thought it was sad that they would use electric prods to get them (animals) off the trucks into the ramps to be slaughtered,” Jarchow said. “Well, I had never put it together that the animals we were eating didn’t want to be eaten and so then it was really clear that if they don’t want to be killed, we shouldn’t be eating them. So for me, vegetarianism was really easy.”
The same concern for animals would later inspire Jarchow to completely renounce animal products from her diet.
“Then, I hadn’t put it together that there’s not much different on how we treat other animals in the agricultural system,” she said. “Egg-laying hens are treated horribly in factory farms and dairy cows are not treated very well and their calves are not treated well, so reproductive products aren’t any better. So it took me a little while longer to pick that up, but the same idea applies.”
Jarchow said her husband and two children also live a vegan lifestyle. She said the goal with raising her children with vegan ideals is to ensure that veganism isn’t restrictive.
“I’ve become more flexible with my veganism to make it seem not so horrible,” Jarchow said. “I’m trying to get the idea across, to reduce animal suffering, but not to tell small children that they can’t eat cupcakes at a birthday party.”
Besides having flexibility in her veganism, Jarchow said she also likes having flexibility in her work.
“I really love my job,” Jarchow said. “I had taught biology before, mostly introductory courses, but a lot of students have to take those and it turns out that sometimes they act like you’re torturing them. They don’t want to be there and you can get that sense, but now I’m teaching sustainability classes and the students really want to be there. I also get to coordinate the program and then get to still do my research. I like that my position varies and that there is a lot of flexibility. There’s a lot of opportunity for me to pick what I would really like to do.”