The origins of the Wallace Center date back to 1983, when Garth Youngberg, a former USDA employee and early proponent of organic farming, started what was originally called the Institute for Alternative Agriculture. The Institute’s mission was to advance the then nascent field of alternative agriculture through on-farm research, educational work, policy outreach, and the publication of the American Journal of Alternative Agriculture. In an article titled “Why another journal” in the journal’s first issue, Youngberg writes that transforming American agriculture would require a “systems-oriented, interdisciplinary approach,” a directive that has shaped the Wallace Center’s work for over 40 years.
In 1992, the Institute for Alternative Agriculture became the Henry A. Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture (HAWIAA) in recognition of the achievements of the former Secretary of Agriculture and 33rd Vice President of the United States.
In 2000, Youngberg started contemplating next steps for HAWIAA, as his retirement was on the horizon. With the help of Ms. Douglas, they found a permanent home within Winrock International and HAWIAA was renamed the Henry A. Wallace Center for Agriculture and Environmental Policy.
In 2005, Dr. John Fisk joined as Executive Director with a directive to transition the organization to a new mission focused on market-based change within sustainable agriculture and food systems. With support from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and the Wallace Genetic Foundation, Dr. Fisk then implemented a strategy to achieve this mission.
In 2008—its 25th anniversary—the organization became the Wallace Center at Winrock International.
The following decade saw the Wallace Center launch several commitments and initiatives, most notably the Pasture Project (2011), the National Food Hub Collaboration (2008), and the Food Systems Leadership Network (2018).
In 2021, the Wallace Center documented its Journey Toward Becoming an Anti-Racist and Multicultural Organization, sharing it broadly via an open letter to partners, funders, and publicly on its web site. The process started in earnest five years prior, when the Wallace Center team decided to reexamine the organization’s core values and change strategies.
Later in 2021, the Center shifted to a co-director model and launched the Wallace Advisory Group (WAG), a multi-racial group of esteemed farm and food systems leaders who hold the Center accountable to its racial equity commitments, mission and values and offer strategic guidance and subject matter expertise to the team.
Today, the Wallace Center responds to the needs of individuals and organizations on the ground, building trusted relationships with partner organizations in pursuit of meaningful change. In this way, we proudly emulate our namesake, who questioned the status quo and strove to redistribute power to the people; Wallace’s tenet to integrate rather than work in silos remains true to this organization’s core.
Through its programming and communities of practice, the Wallace Center strives to remain a power-shifting intermediary, stepping in where there’s an invitation to serve, and urging others toward a more diverse and connected food system where sustainable farming is vibrant and thriving.