A portrait of our Executive Director, as interviewed by her husband :)
How long have you been at PFP?
I started in February 2014. Before that I had been at the YMCA of Kingston and Ulster County for 16 years, overseeing the organization’s satellite aquatics, childcare and camping programs in New Paltz, Highland, Marlboro, and Ellenville. While I was at the Y, I became involved with community and school gardens in New Paltz, as well as healthier food-in-school initiatives. My mentor in the early 200s was Ann Guenther (Wife of Dan Guenther who was the founding farmer of PFP) and I actually arranged a few field trips to PFP for years before I started working here.
What’s your farm and community garden background?
Perhaps it’s in my blood. My paternal great-great-great grandfather came over from Scotland and domesticated the production of strawberries and celery in South Florida, and my immediate paternal grandparents were hybridists specifically of camellias. My immediate maternal grandparents started a WPA town in North Florida with a concentration in sustainable agriculture and a local economy. I mostly grew up in Miami, Florida, though I spent family summers in North Carolina occasionally “working” at a small neighboring farm, milking cows, picking string beans and “turning silage.”
In Miami, we had our own little backyard garden that produced a lot, though one of my favorite things was visiting an urban U-pick farm. It was a family thing to do most Sundays after church. My parents were friends with the farmer and we did many of the same things that members do at PFP—we weeded, we picked and washed produce for their farm stand, and in barter fashion received our own vegetables to take home. It was a community around food. If you live in a city, no matter your economic status, you don’t necessarily have access to fresh food or the ability to understand where food comes from, to grow it, to pull something out of the ground and eat it.
In keeping with the mind/body/spirit ethos of the YMCA, I’ve always concentrated on including gardening and nature programming as part of after-school and camping programs.
I had my eye on this back parcel at the YMCA since 2000, a vacant urban space in Midtown Kingston, and beginning in 2008 worked with several community members and organizations to which the parcel now provides space for a 30-plot raised-bed community garden.
Kismet and Serendipity introduced me to Jesica Clark(former PFP Assistant Farm Manager) who started her own urban farm in Kingston, and connected me to KayCee Wimbish, with years of farming and ESL experience. And now KayCee runs a successful ¼ acre urban farm at the YMCA with a bicycle-led mobile farm market in Midtown, a food desert, that accepts WIC and SNAP!
What gets you jazzed the most about being PFP’s ED?
I have one of the best jobs on Earth, and I’ve acquired at least 500 new like-minded friends and regular acquaintances. I have to admit it was, and is continuing to be quite the learning curve. I stepped into one of the most impressive organizations whose foundation is a continued visionary and solid mission-driven trajectory towards food justice and I believe that the present team is honoring and building upon it. When I first started at PFP, I started most of my days saying, “We do what?!!” We have one of the best farmer training programs, we were a part of one of the USDA’s first Farm to School Initiatives and are now a leader in that national realm, we provide comprehensive education and outreach internships, we provide training to professional educators based on federal and NYS curricula mandates, we grow our own heirloom seeds, we make our own lip balms and salves, we’ve been working with other organizations on best practices for integrated pest management, and there truly is so much more.
I stepped into a strong foundation ready to continue growing into a larger impact. It’s the “Pebble in the water” metaphor. We’ve experienced growth while adhering to our core principles of providing local produce to members, while our education and outreach is regional and statewide.
One of the things that drew me to this job…Having run child care and camping programs, the goofiness—singing songs about a turnip or a beet… You get to pretend to be a bee that pollinates a berry, which then you actually get to eat. You get to pretend to be an important part of the whole system.
What are you focusing on currently?
Jamie and Ellie in the education department are still working in the schools, while continuing to develop curriculum. Germinating testing and seed viability is also being handled by our education department with our Vassar interns.
Leon and the farm-crew are working on next year’s crop-planning and management while managing this new Winter Share option.
For the admin crew it’s mostly champagne and bon bons in our cozy warm dorm-room office at Oakwood Friends School, though Kate spends a lot of time keeping our books in order and general customer service stuff, and I’m focusing largely on grant writing and fund seeking.
Winter is also a time where the staff get together and review our goals and mission for the upcoming year, looking back at what we’ve done and looking forward to where we want to be in 2017. Possibilities are endless, but we do want to be thoughtful and pragmatic to ensure success.
Where do you want to be in 2017?
In 2016, we focused on grant writing for our education and outreach programs as well as promoting and providing sustainable positions for staff members. In 2017 we’re hoping to focus on improved infrastructure and GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) specified improvements. We’re of course hoping to also continue growing our education and outreach programs both on the farm and out in the community to expand our food justice impact.