Christine James, The John Merck Fund

TITLE: Program Officer

FUNDING AREAS: Environmental health, clean energy, food systems, and developmental disabilities

CONTACT: cjames@jmfund.org, 617-556-4120

IP TAKE: James is the only program officer at The John Merck Fund, and the foundation is trying to scale down its operations and spend its assets. Although she works within all of Merck's program areas, she is most passionate about sustainable agriculture and local food sourcing.

PROFILE: The John Merck Fund is run by a very small staff, and Christine James is the one and only program officer. That's a lot of responsibility for one woman, and she's been doing it since 2008.

The John Merck Fund has a handful of program focus areas. It's now in its third generation of family leadership, and in 2011 the fund announced that all of its assets will be spent over the next 10 years. The foundation funds grants for clean energy initiatives, sustainably grown agriculture, and programs that encourage transitioning away from unhealthy petroleum-based chemicals. Merck also provides funding for developmental disabilities programs, the fund's original grantmaking focus, although that's not exactly James' area of expertise.

James' background is in environmental policy, which for the most part makes her a great fit for Merck. She graduated from Bowdoin College with a bachelor's in art history and earned a master's degree in urban and environmental policy from Tufts University. According to her statement in the Vermont Food System Atlas, one of her primary duties is running the Merck's regional food systems programs. In this program, she investigates grant and investment opportunities for sustainable agriculture throughout the New England state.

Although she is the sole program officer for Merck across all of their program areas, James has been more devoted to sustainable agriculture than anything else. She's been a featured speaker at the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group and a moderator for Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems Funders. She's also a member of the Health and Environmental Funders Network, which is mostly concerned with human rights, civic engagement, and job opportunities.

Merck's sustainable agriculture program is all about strengthening entrepreneurship in New England and expanding the market for sustainably grown food. Even though Merck is based in Boston, its funding is not restricted to the city itself. James is looking for programs that expand regional food chains and channel growing demand for responsibly sourced food. She's also looking to connect sustainable agriculture with the education, government, and military sector.

Although not a great deal is publicly known about James' prior work history, her current passions are certainly evident. We'll all be watching to see where James takes her environmental expertise once The John Merck Fund closes its doors.