When I began working for Illinois Stewardship Alliance in 2006, I came with passion and enthusiasm to share. Little did I know that I would remain with the organization for over 10 years and play varying roles over time– from intern to serving as Executive Director for 5 of those years. Working in the field of local food systems and sustainable agriculture has brought together many of my personal values which has inspired me during my time with the Stewardship Alliance.
My family has always been health conscious. My sister and I swam competitively in high school and both of my parents and my two aunts were runners involved in Springfield Road Runners Club. To fuel our athletic adventures, my mom cooked from-scratch meals all throughout my childhood which prompted me to take an interest in cooking at a young age. I remember mastering the simple dish of Chicken Piccata around age 12 and the sense of accomplishment that the act of self-sufficiency brought. In college, I snuck a toaster oven into my dorm room so that I could prepare food with something beyond the microwave with which our rooms were supplied. I was hooked on real food.
In addition to honing my cooking skills, I also spent time in college exploring both my interest in nature and a budding curiosity in farming. I spent free weekends hiking and camping in the desert of Arizona and worked part-time jobs at two different farms. I was introduced to the world of direct-market farming on a diverse vegetable farm in Phoenix. Even though my family has a small farm in Sangamon County where my uncle lives, I never connected it to our food supply. Here though, my eyes were opened to the huge variety of food available beyond the grocery store produce section. Pretty chioggia beets, edible flowers, spicy arugula and so much more. For someone who enjoyed cooking, it seemed there was a whole world of food that had been kept secret. I also discovered the challenges of farming and competing in an increasingly global marketplace.
Illinois Stewardship Alliance has given me the opportunity to work on issues around health, environment, and agriculture through supporting the development of local food systems and promoting conservation practices on Illinois farmland. I’m grateful for this work and proud of our accomplishments over the years. When I took on the Executive Director position in 2008, we had only 1 full time and 2 part-time staff. Together with the board, we hired good people, worked hard, and with the support of our farmers and other members, we grew the organization. As our organization, budget and programming grew, we were able to provide greater support for local food systems and sustainable agriculture as well. Now we have 4 full-time, 4 part-time and 2 seasonal staff. This small but mighty crew uses partnerships as a crucial way to expand our reach across the state. Our talented staff will continue to push for fair food policies, increased use of conservation practices, and greater local food access for all.
As I prepare to leave this position, I know it won’t really be goodbye. This organization, the people, and the issues will always be close to my heart as I move from staff to supporter. I’ll still be a regular at my local farmers market and doing what I can to support farmers– from following the next Farm Bill to being a member of a CSA. I will also be coming full circle and getting my hands in the dirt again. I came to this work after spending time on organic vegetable farms but I’ll be tending a much smaller plot through community gardening with Grow Springfield. If there is one thing that has come into clearer focus after my time at Illinois Stewardship Alliance, it is the interconnectedness of our food system and that all of us – from farmers large and small, to eaters – have a role to play in shaping that system. The food we choose to buy, how we steward whatever piece of land we have from backyard to big farm, or how we use our voices to speak out about what’s important to us – all can impact our health, economy, environment, and community. We’re all in this together and can build a better food and farm system no matter where our lives may take us.