As I approach my final days at Local Food Hub, I find myself reflecting on how I came to join this organization six years ago. I had recently relocated to Charlottesville, and had fallen deep into the world of food system advocates like Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle. I was fired up about the power of local food systems, and wanted to do something about it. A quick google search revealed Local Food Hub to me, and I immediately emailed the executive director at the time, asking if we could talk about how I might get engaged in food systems work.
The day of our meeting, I was looking through the site, and saw a job posting – Associate Director of Philanthropy. It felt almost unreal – a job that matched my skills perfectly, at an organization doing the type of work I felt so passionately about. And just like that, my casual chat with the ED turned into a first-round interview, and a month later, I was setting up my desk in a wood-paneled office in Ivy, Virginia; learning more about safe food handling than I had ever expected. From that first email, it felt meant to be.
My six years at Local Food Hub have been busy – we sold our distribution, moved offices three times, expanded our existing programming and created new programming. During the pandemic, our food access work exploded and we launched a drive-through market that we wrongly thought would last two months (spoiler: it lasted two years). Over the last few years, we began to grapple meaningfully with the legacy of racism in agriculture, and what that means for our work.
Working in a small nonprofit, you hear (and make) a lot of jokes about wearing multiple hats, and I have to say – those jokes aren’t wrong. At LFH, I had the opportunity to manage our Fresh Farmacy program directly on two separate occasions, and put hundreds of hours into standing in a parking lot with market vendors and my co-market manager, Stasia. I learned how to direct traffic and open every different type of trunk, how to run a focus group, how to throw a stellar party, and how to wordsmith a mission statement. Not to mention, I deepened my understanding of and experience with successful fundraising. Wearing all those hats provided the invaluable opportunity to learn about our work and our constituents on a deeper level, and I am truly grateful for that.
After our first drive through market, I had a vendor pull me aside and ask if we planned to continue them, as it might be their only hope of surviving the pandemic. At Fresh Farmacy focus groups, I met residents who said the program gives them access to produce they hadn’t eaten since growing up on their grandmother’s farm. In Eastern Food Hub Collaborative meetings, I have heard from food hubs across the East Coast who are literally reshaping our food system one pallet at a time. And, just this past weekend, I saw the power of food bringing community together at a partner farm’s annual farm-to-table dinner.
Six years later, I believe more strongly than ever in the importance of healthy and robust local and regional food systems. I have seen the power of small organizations to invoke powerful change, and am confident that the nonprofits, community advocacy organizations and food hubs working in this space are the key to a better, more equitable and more resilient food system. I have been continually impressed with Local Food Hub’s ability to be forward-thinking and adaptable, without losing sight of its core mission, and am grateful to have been a part of its organizational journey. I look forward to following Local Food Hub’s future successes as a lifelong advocate of the organization and its mission.