Meet the Value Added Project

Right now, I'm in full support of the advice given to anyone who hates their day job: find something you love and make it your career. They should add, however, that it takes years of cultivating that interest, of volunteering for organizations you believe in who do that work, sacrificing social experiences in order to accommodate that effort, and a willingness to take roles that don't at first seem to be as glossy as you might have imagined.

Allow me to explain: along with a transition to contracting as Kitchen Manager for the Latino Economic Development Center this September, I was asked to join a team of collaborators working together to create a product that can utilize the large amount of produce that goes unsold from local minority farmers. Specifically, Latino owned and Hmong farmers who are represented by organizations who partner along with the LEDC for multiple projects including the creation of Shared Ground Farmers Cooperative and the Hmong American Farmers Association. The goal for this business is to eventually be managed by someone whose heritage and experience represents these farmers.

I joined this project as the business plan and feasibility study researcher and writer and unofficially as the largest local food fan. If there ever was a point in my life where my previous nerd status about frozen and canned food finally met up with my career, this has been it. I say this with full knowledge that my former dream job of managing farmers markets felt the same way at the time. Weekly meetings between team members have drawn on my experience with eating locally year round and my knowledge of small batch value added producers in Chicago and the Midwest. It's been really lovely to feel like a major interest of mine can come back to positively shape a new solution for local farmers and consumers.

Updates for this project may not be as detailed as interested parties may hope due some proprietary information though I am confident there will be resources and findings available in the future. That said, the information I find that is open to share publicly and literature I come across that is useful will be made available.

To start, I highly recommend you read the several resources written by JoAnne Berkenkamp on the opportunities and challenges of cosmetically imperfect produce.

Working with JoAnne has been another "you've got to be kidding me" moment since joining this team. Her report for the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy on local schools freezing local produce to use for school lunches came across my desk as I was developing my senior project at DePaul University when I went back to school while in Chicago and it was a revelation of information.  I'm beyond excited (get it?) about working with JoAnne and being part of such an ambitious project.  

(My nerdiness is stronger than ever, it seems.)