Interview by: Sophie Davis, September 25, 2015
Q: So the first question I wanted to ask was what work are you engaged in that relates to helping the environment, the local economy, and other aspects of people’s well being?
"Oberlin Project has a bold goal of 70% local food utilization in the community by 2050."
A: I would say that the project that’s currently taking most of my time and that I’m most excited about is the development of a local food hub. The Oberlin Project has a bold goal of 70% local food utilization in the community by 2050. So, obviously, to do that in a climate such as ours is a pretty aggressive goal. We need a lot of ways to get local food into local mouths during the winter and off-season times. Over the course of the last four years we’ve done a lot of thinking and a lot of research into the local food scene, and we’ve discovered that there is a lot of food being grown, and a lot of demand from local buyers that want it. What’s missing is the transportation and the sort of logistics side. If you think about it right now, if you’re a restaurant or you’re Oberlin college, or you're another large wholesale buyer and you want local food, for the most part that means that you need to work individually with farmers. You may work with 10-15 different farmers to get 10-15 different products. So you may be working with the local person that has chickens to get eggs, you might be working with someone else to get honey, and maybe there’s one person who can aggregate some of it, go to different farms… but in general it’s a very labor intensive process. So what we have been working on is the development of a hub… there’s a lot of different iterations of what a hub is, but ours will be an aggregation and distribution warehouse where local buyers can buy from. One stop shopping. There’ll be an online ordering system. It’ll say everything that’s available that week that’s in season or that we have stored, and then farmers have one place to sell to. We’ll be buying in bulk from farmers so we can get a better price than if the Feve were to go and get one bushel of apples versus where we’ll be buying ten bushels or twenty or thirty and then reselling it to all the wholesale buyers.
Q: Wow, that’s really exciting.
A: Yeah, it is exciting.
Q: Do you know where it will be located?
A: Yep. So we will be located on Artino Street, which is in the Industrial Park. If you know where IGA is, sort of across the street and just down a little bit is the industrial park in Oberlin. So there’s an empty warehouse out there and we will be using the warehouse space for obviously the repacking of vegetables and fruits and there will be a walk-in cooler and freezer and there will also be an incubator kitchen. So this will be a shared-use commercial kitchen for both the hub to use to do some light processing – so a lot of school districts for example want carrots but they want them peeled and diced for example, or they want green beans but they want the ends chopped off or something… some very light processing and you can only do that in a certified kitchen. The hub will use it to do value-added processing, but it will also be open for rent for any entrepreneur in town that wants to work on a food-based business. So if you make an amazing jelly and you want to make that and sell it to grocery stores or the farmer’s market you can now do that in a certified kitchen.
Q: That’s very cool.
A: Yeah, so we’ll start operations this month with sort of a just-in-time model, so not the full scale, sort of a pilot, and then starting next spring when all the food is back it will be all products for all buyers.
Q: That’s exciting
Q: Do you feel that Oberlin has a strong identity, and how would you describe it?
A: Oberlin the community?
A: Well, it’s a really amazing place to live. I moved here from the San Francisco Bay area and there are a lot of similarities, I think, in the passion people have for things and the innovativeness, is that a word? It’s a really involved community. I’ve always been really inspired by places whose citizens want to be involved with the day to do life. And you watch city council meetings on TV or you go to commission meetings, citizens are there and they’re involved and that’s really inspiring to me.
Q: Do you feel that Oberlin has a strong identity and how would you describe it?
A: Yeah, I think the city’s motto “live, learn, lead” is pretty powerful. I think that the citizens, including students here, really make this an amazing place to be.
Q: How do you think attitudes towards the environment have changed over time in Oberlin, and has your own attitude changed since you moved here?
A: I’ve only lived here for four and a half years so I feel like I really came in the prime of all of this. You know, the city council had passed the Climate Action Plan right around that same time, the Oberlin Project came to be right around that time, and since then I would say that the general populous understanding of the environment or sustainability has grown, particularly with recent awards to the city, or recognitions... I don’t remember what it was called, some sort of climate action champion for lack of a better word. And the Georgetown Energy Prize, we’re a finalist in that, and the city passed a zero waste plan last year and got new hybrid recycling trucks, so it’s an exciting time to be here.
Q: Yeah, great! So, what do you think the younger generation can learn from the history of this community?
"I’m kind of blown away by the history of Oberlin"
A: I’m kind of blown away by the history of Oberlin, Oberlin College, and the community. I don’t know if you’ve read the book, “How One Town Started the Civil War” or something, but it was all about the Oberlin/Wellington rescue of a gentleman who had escaped slavery and come here and was living here and I just started reading it and it’s really powerful so I think there is a lot to learn in that and in how Oberlin College was one of the first, or the first universities to accept women and minorities. So I think we need to remember that, particularly when there are differences between town and gown and all this stuff, it’s like we’re all here for the right reasons.
Q: Is there anything you would like to tell other community members regarding care of the environment and sustainable living?
A: Just to get involved, to be informed. I know this phrase is overused a lot, the 'never doubt that one,' I’m not going to paraphrase that well, but you know the one I’m talking about.
Q: Oh yes, the 'never doubt,' I know exactly what you mean.
A: Never doubt that. Is it Margaret Mead that said that?
"I really do believe that one person can make a difference, particularly in a small community like this"
A: I know I border on cheesy when I get talking about this stuff, but I really do believe that one person can make a difference, particularly in a small community like this. You know, if you feel passionately about something and come in and are excited about it and ready to work, things can happen. You know when I started I joined, or I was appointed by city council, to be on the city's Resource Conservation Recovery Commission, which is a group of volunteer citizens that help the city think about recycling, composting, waste management. I joined that committee about four years ago, right after I moved here, and we were talking about zero waste and how we could get that happening. It was a new concept for some and some had heard of it, but three years later we have a zero-waste plan. I believe we're the first in the state of Ohio to have a plan like that.
Q: That’s amazing.
A: So you know, we can all do stuff like that, as corny as it sounds, and I guess I would just want people to realize that – that they all have power and a voice here.
Q: That’s really powerful. Thank you so much.