Welcome to HECUA’s Alumni Profile series. Each month we’ll catch up with a HECUA alumni, and see how their time in a HECUA classroom influenced their career goals, their life in the community, and their pursuit of continued education. If you or a friend would like to participate in this series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. This month we’re delighted to feature Emily Lund. Emily is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, and completed the Environment and Agriculture program in 2010. That program has since been replaced by a similar, semester-long program: Environmental Sustainability.
Emily Lund enrolled in HECUA’s Environment and Agriculture (E&A) summer term program just before her senior year at the University of Minnesota. A philosophy major with a particular interest in food systems, Emily felt that the E&A program would offer a whirlwind tour through the intersection of her varied academic interests.
She was right. “We had about 40 field trips,” she says, laughing. “It was really rapid fire. The program mapped out all the ways that soil science is connected to nutrition policy, which is connected to academic institutions, which is connected to food justice, which is connected to you.” This multi-disciplinary approach was reflected in the classroom composition as well as the course material. “There was a great mix of people in the program,” Emily tells us. In addition to students from the majors you’d expect to find in a program titled Environment and Agriculture, there were students majoring in gender studies, history, architecture, and economics. That disciplinary overlap allowed students to make connections and offer insights that might be missing from a typical upper-level course discussion.
Environment and Agriculture Program Director Julia Nerbonne explains the dangers of mono-cropping.
Emily found the program’s breadth to be particularly helpful as she considered future career paths. “It really helped me get a sense of job landscape, because I got to see a number of people working to support local food systems from a variety of angles.” As the program drew to a close, she asked herself, “How can I be one of those rad people working with food in Minnesota?”
Diane Wilson, “rad food person” and Executive Co-Director of Dream of Wild Health farm, speaking with HECUA Environment and Agriculture students.
Emily decided that her entry into the job market would take its inspiration from then-HECUA Program Director Julia Nerbonne’s exuberant approach to program coordination. She would design her own post-grad HECUA experience, connecting with farmers, attending conferences, researching and making connections.
She followed the threads of her passion for food, agriculture, science, and philosophy. She worked at the Eastside Co-op, and then moved to Meals on Wheels. She enrolled in HECUA’s Central Corridor Internship Program (CCIP), spending a summer working with Frogtown Green, a network of community gardens and parkland in one of St. Paul’s most diverse neighborhoods. She launched the Whittier Farmer’s Market in 2016, and worked as a summer chef at local nonprofit YouthFarm.
Emily demonstrating her enthusiasm for local foods.
All the while, Emily kept her focus on food systems. In 2016, she accepted a position at Waite House as their Urban Agriculture Coordinator. The position was offered in partnership with Americorps Public Allies, described on the Americorps website as a “dynamic pipeline for talented young people to emerge as leaders and to strengthen the capacity of community organizations.”
During the ten-month term at Waite House (part of the Pillsbury United Communities organization), Emily built partnerships with neighborhood organizations, worked with volunteers, and coordinated ongoing projects connecting the Urban Agriculture department with Pillsbury’s food shelf, Community Café, employment and youth programs. When she graduated from Public Allies and left the position, she carefully considered what role she wanted to play in local food production and markets. “I was trying to decide whether or not I wanted to be a producer or someone supporting producers,” she explains. “I had applied to the Horticulture program at the University of Minnesota, and had a couple of job applications out.” When she saw a listing for a position as Executive Director at Neighborhood Roots, the organization that coordinates the Kingfield, Fulton, and Nokomis farmers’ markets, it seemed too good to be true.
A bit of foreshadowing in the form of a photo from the Midtown Farmers’ Market, taken when Emily was an Environment and Agriculture student.
“I thought, that would be hitting too many points for me!” Emily ticks off the benefits. “The office is six blocks away from my house. I’m directly supporting local farmers. It’s a full-time, year round local foods position, which I didn’t think was feasible.”
Spoiler alert: she got the job. “Something in this position that I can’t get over is that I get to show up as myself,” she says.
As Emily settles into her leadership role at Neighborhood Roots, she’s looking forward to applying the lessons she learned at HECUA to the workplace. The organization is hiring a seasonal assistant market manager position soon, and she’d like to create a HECUA-inspired teaching and learning culture within the office. “I want to create an office culture that’s all about life-long learning and experimentation,” she tell us.
We ask if there’s any advice she’d give to a current HECUA student (and potential future colleague). There is. “If you’re really interested in something, go for it,” she says. “Even if you think that nobody else is studying it or interested. There are communities for everything. You just need to get out there so that you can find your people! Don’t be afraid. If one person isn’t interested, it doesn’t matter, because there are so many other people who will be.”