3/24/13

Welcome Arcadia's New Executive Director, Pam Hess


We are very happy to introduce Pam Hess as Arcadia’s new Executive Director. Pam brings incredible talent, experience, and energy to Arcadia, and she has a great reputation in the Sustainable Food community. We're really excited to have her join the team, and as you learn more about her, we’re sure you’ll share our enthusiasm for what lies ahead.


What experiences have prepared you for this position?

I come to Arcadia with kind of a weird background -- I was a journalist who covered national security for 20 years, and I spent a fair amount of time in Iraq and Afghanistan. Between my trips overseas, I found myself drawn to the then-burgeoning world of sustainable agriculture. I had grown up with my mother feeding us from a garden (and picking blackberries in a really vicious bramble to make jam and ice cream all summer), so I was predisposed. But like many people, my "entry drug" was Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma." It changed the way I ate and shopped and cooked, and I became an amateur evangelist for a local, sustainable food system.

From writing about the wars, I went to Capitol Hill. It was a brief legislative career, but it taught me a great deal about government... and also that I'm better suited to affecting change from the outside than I am trying to shepherd it from the inside. I then became the editor of a beautiful and important local food and wine magazine, Flavor, that celebrated local sustainable farmers and the chefs and businesses who served their food. That's how I learned about Arcadia (OK, I fell in love with it). Flavor became Foodshed in 2012, which is both a local food magazine and a non-profit. My work with Foodshed, while brief, was fruitful: I connected many small farmers with many willing chefs; I helped landowners find young sustainable farmers to make their acres productive; and I was able to give many talks extolling the genius that is sustainable ag to folks who had not yet explored the topic. My favorite fact: on a pasture-based farm, if you raise both cattle and sheep and rotate them through the same fields, they deworm each other without the use of medicine! Email me for the details. They aren't exactly pretty (that’s why I am being oblique here) but they are fascinating. Mother Nature has a lot of this stuff figured out for us, if we are only humble enough to listen. (Farmers call it "biomimickry.')

I'll be drawing on all of my experiences to help Arcadia grow in its resources and mission. I'm not afraid of much (once you've had an AK-47 in your face after curfew in Kabul, and you don't know the password, other stuff doesn't seem very menacing.) I'm willing to ask anyone for just about anything (journalism!). I'm steeped in and am dedicated to the subject matter, and I have a pretty large network that has proven to be willing to open whatever doors they can for me. I am working with a fantastic team, so I feel confident we are going to do great things.

I'm particularly excited to be reaching out to my military network to begin making a place for recent veterans who want to learn to farm at Arcadia. It's a great field (no pun intended) -- entrepreneurial, problem-solving, independent, physically challenging. It is exactly the environment in which our service members excel. In fact, I did a story at Flavor on three local veterans who have taken up farming, which is what got me thinking on this. And Arcadia has already been exploring the idea, as the farm backs right up to the Army's Fort Belvoir. It's going to happen, and I am pumped.

What is most exciting to you about becoming Arcadia's Executive Director?

Arcadia is an incredible organization with great people doing important work that has an immediate impact on a problem that affects all of us -- the public health crisis engendered by a food system that has evolved over the last 30 years to shovel calorie-dense, nutrition-free food into us. People without much money are especially vulnerable. They have fewer options to find healthy food – fewer well-stocked grocery stores, fewer farmers markets. Many rely on neighborhood corner stores for the bulk of their groceries, and those generally are not bastions of fresh food. Arcadia's Mobile Market brings the farmers market into these neighborhoods, and doubles the face value of food assistance benefits, making it possible for our customers to eat healthier diets on a tight budget. The Arcadia staff gives samples, has recipes, and shows people how to prepare and serve sometimes unfamiliar ingredients (honestly, what do you do with kohlrabi?). It's a pretty cool thing, and you should volunteer to go out on the bus with Benajmin and Juju and see for yourself Arcadia's impact.

I'm most excited about giving other people the chance to be a part of Arcadia, and the great work we are doing. You can donate, volunteer (please! I have big plans for volunteers!), donate, attend our educational events (or send your kids to our farm camp, which is awesome), go to our fundraising dinners, or, I don't know, donate. Did I mention I am soliciting donations?
I'm also really excited about our sourcing. Arcadia isn't just about bringing fresh, local, healthy, real foods to people with otherwise limited access. We also buy our food from local farmers. We pay them a fair price for the incredible food they raise. If we want a vibrant, healthy food system, we need great farmers who can pay their bills. Not one of them is getting rich. They do it because they love farming and know their work is a public service. They should be paid fairly for it, if only for your own selfish reasons: so delicious food is there when you want it.

What are some of your goals for 2013?

I'll just lay it out: money. I am looking to raise a couple of hundred thousand dollars, in addition to the federal, state, local, and private grants we are going after. With enough money, we can expand our Mobile Market program, bringing more healthy, locally grown food to people who really need it. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease -- these are endemic in low-income areas. It's not that people just like to eat Twinkies (guilty!), it's that many don't have an affordable alternative. If you have a couple of hungry kids and not much money, you're probably going to pick whatever delivers the most calories for your buck. That's a completely rational decision. But if you make healthy, delicious, in season, well-raised food both accessible and affordable? You've changed the equation. Multiple studies of "bonus bucks" programs show that if you double the value of food assistance benefits, the beneficiaries respond by MORE than doubling the amount of fresh food they eat. You know how amazing a just-picked heirloom tomato tastes in the height of summer, especially when it's still warm from the sun? That's a universal experience. But some people can't afford it. We put that experience within reach.

With more money we can bring children to farm camp whose families would not otherwise be able to afford it. They'll get their hands dirty, pick veggies straight from the garden, make delicious food, run around in the grass, learn about biology and botany, and how to make their own gardens.

I'll make my pitch here: sponsor a kid for camp this summer. It's about $300 per child, per week. If you're sending one of yours and have some extra cash, make a gift so another child can enjoy the same experience, and enrich your own child's social network.

What’s your favorite healthy recipe?

I make kale chips all the time. They are more satisfying to me than potato chips -- thinner, crunchier. Wash and dry kale leaves really well. You can pull out the ribs or not, as you wish. I usually do. Toss them with the tiniest smidge of cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil (really good for your heart) and shake a bit of coarse sea salt over them. Bake them for about 20 minutes at 275 on a baking sheet until they are shatteringly crisp. (Make sure they are not touching, or they won't get as crisp.) Consume while watching "The Bachelor."

I also make tabouleh during the summer but use quinoa (a super grain) instead of Bulgar wheat, with really good tomatoes, cukes, and a ton of fresh flat leaf parsley and a little lemon. Gazpacho. I always have that in the fridge during torrid summers. Another summer dish: watermelon-feta salad, with black olives and pickled red onions, a la Nigella. I just made Morgan, our education coordinator, a really healthy but delicious and vaguely Moroccan chickpea-and-diced tomato stew with cumin, garlic, a little fennel seed and smoked paprika, and some hot red chili flakes. It's good when the weather is cold. I love whole roasted fish stuffed with herbs and lemon, but you have to be okay with its eye lookin' at you while you eat it. Just about any veggie, roasted till it's brown and all the sugars have caramelized, is fantastic.

Seriously, if anyone wants these recipes email me! Be warned (or better, be excited!) that I will be asking you to volunteer when you do.

If you were a vegetable, what would you be?

Another recipe opportunity! I would be a roasted red beet, and hopefully whoever roasted me would peel me, slice me thinly, layer me with thinly sliced Granny Smith apples, and grate some fresh horseradish over my head. Add a little square of feta cheese on top, a dollop of unsweetened Greek yogurt on the side and a sprinkle of fresh dill or a few thyme leaves...that's a good eating.

4 comments:

  1. Vegan food recipes for beginners, don’t under estimate the importance of preparation. MC. Donalds and other fast food chains don’t. They’re prepared to take your order in less than five minutes. They know that if they make their food super convenient,you will have no choice but to shop with them when hunger comes calling and requires an immediate answer.

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  2. Congratulations on your new position with Arcadia, Pam! Really enjoyed reading this interview, and hope your work with Arcadia is fruitful and inspiring to others. Btw, I also make tabbouleh with quinoa - great minds think alike!

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  3. Pam, you are amazing. Look forward to seeing you and Arcadia doing all of the things you put your mind to. Hope I can find time to volunteer!

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  4. Pam,

    I really enjoyed working with you in Iraq when I was a new public affairs officer. You taught me a valuable lesson on selling a "good news story" Well this is certainly a good news story and I wish you all the best.

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