Winning the NRDC Growing Green Young Food Leader award last May was an honor that moved me beyond words. I still think back to that unexpected “you won” phone call (after which I promptly burst into tears of happiness!). The awards ceremony in San Francisco last spring was a fairytale journey filled with wonderful people, great conversations, and good food. I’ll fondly remember the appreciation, exposure and praise I received from this award for the rest of my life.
Soon after winning the Growing Green Award, I moved from Washington, DC (average winter temperature: 38 degrees) to Minneapolis, MN (average winter temperature = 13 degrees). What may seem like a ridiculous move from a climate perspective was actually a logical next-step along my school food reform path. I began in the nonprofit sector connecting Washington, DC school foodservice professionals with growers in the mid-Atlantic region. Now I work for a school district -- Minneapolis Public Schools -- to source local food for school meals and coordinate food, nutrition and agricultural education for the District’s 32,000 students.
I won the NRDC Young Food Leader award for my work founding the D.C. Farm to School Network in 2008, at the ripe, old age of 22, and directing the Network for the next four years. Over the course of my tenure there, the Network grew into a robust and effective program. Our goals were to increase the amount of fresh, locally-grown foods in Washington, DC schools, and to engage DC schoolchildren in the farm to table experience. We helped pass a groundbreaking Health Schools Act that gave schools more money to serve local food; established workshops and trainings for foodservice professionals; set-up annual educational events like D.C. Farm to School Week and Strawberries & Salad Greens; developed farm education and local food taste test programs; and built a network of thousands of farm to school stakeholders. Check out last year’s GGA materials for more!
The nonprofit sector was incredible, but I wanted to be closer to the action. I now work directly for Minneapolis Public Schools, which affords me the opportunity to help plan seasonal menus, source local products, work with growers to plan for upcoming seasons, and familiarize thousands of students with the concept of local, seasonal food. It’s truly because of Bertrand Weber, the visionary new Director of Minneapolis’ school nutrition program, that I am able to do this work. He was hired at the start of 2012 to transform MPS’s school meal program, and knew that farm to school had to be a part of it. Just as other school districts (like in Boston, Oakland, and others) realized, Bertrand knew that local procurement and educational programming requires a dedicated farm to school staffperson. So he hired me.
NRDC’s honor is one success that helped catapult me into this next exciting chapter of my career. Things are just getting started at MPS, but do look for news and updates about the exciting changes we’re making! I can’t wait to hear about the local heroes who are honored during this next round of Growing Green Awards. Be sure to nominate someone you know for Food Producer, Business Leader, Food Justice Leader or Young Food Leader!
Photo: Blue Cross Blue Shield Minnesota.