10 Years, 10 Stories: Local Matters Staff

In celebration of Local Matters' 10th anniversary, we are taking some time to reflect. Where have we come from? Who has nurtured our growth? Where are we now? What will the future hold? These are questions we have asked ten friends of Local Matters - ten people who have truly shaped the organization to be what it is today. Today's story comes from conversations with Local Matters staff – the team that comes into work each day to bring food education, access, and advocacy to Central Ohio.

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For the final installment of our “10 Years, 10 Stories” project celebrating Local Matters’ tenth anniversary, we turned to our team. With just twenty staff members and AmeriCorps volunteers, the Local Matters team is responsible for strategizing, planning, fundraising for, and delivering six different programs, coordinating with over 100 partners, organizing over 200 volunteers, and advocating for positive change in our community.

The team is a highly motivated, energized group of change-makers who are shaping the next stage of Local Matters’ impact. Below is an abridged collection of quotes from the team as they reflect on Local Matters’ work over the past 10 years.

“Local Matters continues to amaze me because we engage with such a broad range of folks in our work, throughout the diverse communities that make up the rich fabric of Central Ohio. After joining the Local Matters team, I quickly learned that our work extends beyond the foundational “Food Matters” program. We also reach folks living with diabetes, women in recovery, the elderly, and so many more. The sheer number of touch points and community partners we work with is a source of regular inspiration for me.

“With food, anyone can encounter obstacles in making the healthy choice. Access to good, whole food, and acquiring the knowledge to make that food taste delicious is difficult! But through Local Matters programming, we can break down the systemic barriers and we do. We do this with the utmost authenticity.

“We know that change is difficult – both on a systematic and individual level. However, our participants inspire me every day with their enthusiasm and dedication to creating change for themselves and for their families. It warms my heart to interact with participants who share with me that with the help of Local Matters, they now only eat whole-wheat brown bread, or substitute sour cream with Greek yogurt. It’s these small, real changes that make such a difference.

“Local Matters’ spirit also inspires me. It is a spirit that’s caring, welcoming, collaborative, inquisitive, and celebratory. Our team is tireless and committed. We meet people where they are and give them the tools, knowledge, and resources to make a positive change in their lives. We invite them to join us on our collective journey to take back control of our food system. Whether it is incorporating more fruits and vegetables into daily meals, growing food, or both, we equip people with the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to thrive. When I see people have that a-ha moment, it’s always inspiring.

“Local Matters is truly as wide-reaching and cohesive as our founders hoped and dreamed it could be. I always say Local Matters is a group of people - real people making real food, doing real work. Everyone here brings their passion, personality, and best effort to the table every day. When we all get together – Local Matters employees, interns, volunteers, and the community – we are a recipe for success!

“Oh, and I love moments when we spontaneously dance together, for joy, for celebration, or just for fun.”

-Maria Dellapina, Jack Farrell, Adam Fazio, Katie Hart, Jesse Hickman, Mary Hopmann, Monique McCoy, Sarah Miller, Michelle Moskowitz Brown, Will Petrik, Laura Robertson-Boyd, Korir Russell, Eli Sparks, Carrie Stratton, Tori Strickland, Jori Turner, Noreen Warnock, Diana Webster, Sarah Wharmby, Mark Zedella

10 Years, 10 Stories: Noreen Warnock and Michael Jones

In celebration of Local Matters' 10th anniversary, we are taking some time to reflect. Where have we come from? Who has nurtured our growth? Where are we now? What will the future hold? These are questions we have asked ten friends of Local Matters - ten people who have truly shaped the organization to be what it is today. Today's story comes from a conversation with the none other than Noreen Warnock and Michael Jones - the co-founders of Local Matters.

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The stories behind social movements, leaders, and organizations do not have singular beginnings. There is always a back-story, something that came before that created space for new growth. The story of Local Matters and co-founders Noreen Warnock and Michael Jones is no different. To honor Local Matters’ 10th anniversary, we look to tell three separate stories that lead to the founding and early years of this nonprofit.

 

Noreen Warnock

“I came from a very poor family. I know what it’s like to have to stretch dollars, to have to see the pain on my mother’s face when it was getting toward the end of the month and there wasn’t any more money, any more food. Each month, we would get a VA (Veteran’s Administration) check and go to the grocery. The car would be packed with us kids and the groceries. So, there was a lot of canned food, not much fresh food. The only fresh food came from our garden, but we moved a lot so we didn’t even always have a garden.

I know the world of not having, of stretching and feeling the emotional pain of it. So, for me, when I got to a place financially when I could afford any kind of food I wanted for myself and my family, I realized that I am not leaving this earth until I’ve done a lot to try to help every child have access to healthier food. That has been major driver for me ever since.”

 

Michael Jones

“For me, this journey has been a culmination of a lifetime interest in food - in one way or another. I grew up on a farm with my grandparents and we primarily existed on what we raised or grew. Later, I went to college and studied public health at UNC-Chapel Hill, and eventually drifted into the culinary world. Throughout my life, food has been a constant theme for me. All these experiences together have allowed me to keep looking at and thinking about food in many different ways.

But the event that inspired me to eventually co-found Local Matters began with the imminent birth of my daughter back in 2005. One evening my wife and I were sitting on the couch together reading. I was going through various books and magazines in hopes of not screwing up fatherhood – I was becoming a dad late in life and wanted to get it right. I remember reading an article that evening that talked about how my daughter’s generation was the first generation whose lifespan would be shorter than their parents. I just found that extremely jarring. The question I kept asking was: ‘Why? What is behind this?’ After talking to people in the community, I became more and more certain that this had something to do with food. Not just food itself, but the whole food system – from the farm all the way to the table. That’s really the impetus that sent me out on this journey of discovery that ultimately led to a serendipitous meeting with Noreen.”

 

Greater Columbus Foodshed Project

In 2002, long before Michael and Noreen met, a coalition formed to connect rural and the urban communities in Ohio’s food system. This group, which became the Greater Columbus Foodshed Project, included Ohio Citizen Action, Innovative Farmers of Ohio, Stratford Ecological Center, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, and Denison University - in partnership with Head Start, Perry Clutts of Pleasantview Farm, Franklin Park Conservatory, and The Ohio State University.

Reflecting on the Greater Columbus Foodshed Project, Noreen (who coordinated the project) shared that beyond the physical projects they carried out, the $200,000 USDA Community Food Security Grant they received enabled a lot of people who cared about the community having access to healthy, affordable food to come together. During the grant period, relationships formed and trust developed. When USDA funding ran out, the project needed to transition. In order to grow into something more, it was decided that the project would be housed under Simply Living until the next phase could be defined.

 

When paths intersect

Noreen and Michael met when they were both looking for answers to big questions about our food system – how we can change it to keep our children healthier, and ensure that everyone has access to healthy and affordable food. In Michael’s words, “the beginnings of Local Matters were very organic. There was an immediate click in our personalities, our understanding of food, and our hope for the future. We agreed that working with children as young as possible in healthful food education was where we wanted to plant our first flag.”

Noreen agrees, and emphasizes that Local Matters started operating under a set of values before it was ever really formed. “We thought we had identified a gap in terms of the need for food education to accompany people accessing food, and in early childhood education settings.” However, before they plowed forward with action, Michael and Noreen knew they had to ensure that their vision aligned with the community’s vision. Did the community agree that this was a need?

The answer to that question has turned out to be a resounding “yes.” The yes included a need to build strong community partnerships and encourage dialogue among players. These partnerships have remained a keystone of Local Matters’ work. Noreen and Michael take pride in the knowledge that they made sure to always meet with anyone interested in working together – whether something was to come of it or not. Because of this, and because of the hands-on, evidence-informed, and fun programming that Local Matters brings to the table, fellow nonprofits, corporations, and citizens have come to know Local Matters as a leader in food education.  

Over the past ten years, the partnerships Local Matters has formed are due, in no small part, to the values and trust on which Noreen and Michael created from day one. They nurtured key relationships like those with Child Development Council of Franklin County (CDCFC) Head Start, Godman Guild, Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities, Councilmember Priscilla Tyson, Columbus Public Health, OSU Extension, and the YMCA. These relationships have contributed to Local Matters’ ability to deliver meaningful programs to play a key role in transforming our food system.

Noreen and Michael co-founded Local Matters with a vision, a strong set of values, and a desire to collaborate with others. Ten years later, Local Matters continues to follow this same path to success. Noreen and Michael laid the groundwork for partnerships and programming that have touched over 78,000 of our neighbors in ten years. For that, and for so much more, we thank them.

10 Years, 10 Stories: Michelle Moskowitz Brown

In celebration of Local Matters' 10th anniversary, we are taking some time to reflect. Where have we come from? Who has nurtured our growth? Where are we now? What will the future hold? These are questions we have asked ten friends of Local Matters - ten people who have truly shaped the organization to be what it is today. Today's story comes from a conversation with the Michelle Moskowitz Brown, Executive Director at Local Matters.

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“An organization has the ability to generate social change.” Michelle Moskowitz Brown, Executive Director with Local Matters, leans on this knowledge to spur growth and strategic planning forward. For Michelle, food is a vehicle for personal change and community development. So, an organization like Local Matters that works in food education, access, and advocacy is the perfect place for her to combine her personal passions and professional vision.

After moving from her native Brooklyn, New York, Michelle first came to Local Matters in a way not uncommon among staff: as a volunteer. In 2011, when Local Matters was three years old, Michelle volunteered by creating the Local Matters staff handbook, re-working the budget to be more useful and transparent, and organizing the first annual staff retreat. This structure-oriented entry into the organization is fitting for Michelle; throughout her time with Local Matters, Michelle has led change, growth, and opportunity grounded in process and trust.

When Michelle transitioned into her role as Executive Director in 2014, she shared a note with Local Matters’ friends and partners:

It’s my first week on the job as Executive Director and I am excited to be off and running. 2014 will be a big year for Local Matters, which includes us growing our program work by at least 15%. We have a goal to reach 8,625 individuals in our community in 2014 with in-depth, life-changing educational programming, and to expand and deepen our community-engagement work in neighborhoods across the city to improve access to affordable, nutritious food. 

In some ways, it might seem like not much has changed since 2014. Local Matters still works to connect our community with ‘in-depth, life-changing education programming… [and] improve access to affordable, nutritious food.’ However, since 2014, Michelle has led the organization through increasing partnerships, growing programs, developing staff, and stabilizing budgets. She has helped shaped how Local Matters is recognized in the community – a reliable, resourceful, and fun partner. Because of the growth that Michelle has led, Local Matters now works with 100 partners throughout Central Ohio and reaches over 18,000 individuals with that in-depth, life-changing food education programming.

Staying focused on building structure and process can be difficult, but Michelle leads with a presence that makes you believe it’s second nature. She says: “I get up with passion every morning. If I don’t have it, I smile, put on some music, and then I have it.” Such energy is contagious, and it spreads to the whole team. Michelle would say that it’s a cycle of energy, and that “seeing our educators and team in action” helps her gather energy.

My favorite part of work is going to so many different community settings and seeing the work in action and just knowing that this is intensive work. It takes a lot of time to create change, but every day I see it in the classroom and I see a new generation of kids who do know where food grows, how it grows, and wants to eat it.

The change we are starting to see in how Central Ohio views food education and access is intentional. Children, families, residents, and doctors are learning about healthy, delicious food choices for a reason. It has been planned, strategized, and worked toward for years, and will be for years to come. Leaders like Michelle have made that possible.

10 Years, 10 Stories: Drs. Mary-Lynn Niland and Derek McClellan

In celebration of Local Matters' 10th anniversary, we are taking some time to reflect. Where have we come from? Who has nurtured our growth? Where are we now? What will the future hold? These are questions we have asked ten friends of Local Matters - ten people who have truly shaped the organization to be what it is today. Today's story comes from a conversation with Drs. Mary-Lynn Niland and Derek McClellan – two people who have helped shape Local Matters’ growth and understanding of the connection between food and medicine.

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When Mary-Lynn Niland and Derek McClellan sit down with their patients' families at their practice, Step by Step Pediatrics, they talk about the 80-20 rule. "Eighty percent healthy foods. Twenty percent not-as-healthy foods," Mary-Lynn summarizes.  As pediatricians, they know how hard it can be for parents to navigate the confusing misinformation about nutrition that is marketed to families. Part of their job is to not add stress or guilt to busy, well-intentioned parents. They strive to give their patients tools to work towards a whole food, minimally-processed diet.  

Nearly a decade ago, the couple met Michael Jones during an excursion to North Market. As often happens in meetings with Michael, they started talking about the connection between food and health. “[We talked about] how families don’t know how to feed their kids healthfully, and the role that pediatricians could play in remedying that,” shared Mary-Lynn. Ultimately, Mary-Lynn joined Local Matters’ Board of Directors to further the conversation.

During the early days of Local Matters, much of the organization’s success was the product of individual champions who understood the relationship between food and health and wanted to share it with others. Mary-Lynn and Derek saw this connection clearly and encouraged the organization to pursue more work within the healthcare sector. Because of that, the culinary medicine program took root. As Derek explains, “If everyone in the healthcare field had medically-based culinary education, then medicine would be more focused on prevention than treatment.”

Mary-Lynn agrees about the importance of culinary medicine education, noting that “two-thirds of morbidity, mortality, and chronic illness is related to diet. We're really good at trying to medicate these problems, but no treatment is as effective as prevention.” The problems exist across demographics, as Mary-Lynn and Derek witness every day. “When you see people who do have the resources to feed their kids properly struggling to do so, you can imagine how hard it is for the people who don’t have the resources. That’s why Local Matters’ work is so important.”

As doctors, Mary-Lynn and Derek are exploring ways to help prevention efforts and reverse trends of early-onset diet-related disease. They lead wellness workshops and classes through one arm of their practice, Step by Step Wellness, and operate a social media page that shares information and tips about making healthy family meals reach the table - “What’s McClellan Cooking.” They take what they know as doctors and as parents, and combine it into accessible wisdom for anyone trying to eat, cook, and live healthier. “It’s simple to cook at home and eat real food,” Derek shares. Mary-Lynn adds,

Let a carrot be a carrot. Simple food prepared simply is the best food.

Local Matters’ programming and philosophy around the connection between food and health is heavily influenced by Mary-Lynn Niland and Derek McClellan. They continue to demonstrate their dedication to Local Matters’ mission of creating healthy communities through food education, access, and advocacy – giving tirelessly their time, energy, and expertise. For that, and for so much more, we thank them.

10 Years, 10 Stories: Lauren Howard

In celebration of Local Matters' 10th anniversary, we are taking some time to reflect. Where have we come from? Who has nurtured our growth? Where are we now? What will the future hold? These are questions we have asked ten friends of Local Matters - ten people who have truly shaped the organization to be what it is today. Today's story comes from a conversation with Lauren Howard - a longtime volunteer with Local Matters.

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“Try your best to serve; in whatever capacity you can.” Lauren Howard lives by these words, having been an active volunteer with Local Matters since 2011. Throughout her time with the organization, Lauren has filled many different types of volunteer roles – from sorting produce and leading grocery store tours, to helping in classes. Her favorite volunteer role is as nutrition instructor with Cooking Matters. As a nutrition instructor, she sees first-hand how inspiring it is for participants to learn something new, and how impactful Local Matters can be in their lives. Most of all, she enjoys the connections she makes with the community through the program.

In addition to being an all-star volunteer, Lauren works at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and is a Masters of Public Health (MPH) student at The Ohio State University. She balances this diverse set of responsibilities with poise and focus. Having grown up on Columbus’ East side and being rooted in the city through church and volunteering, Lauren aims to live her life helping support the development of holistic wellness for her community.

That’s why Lauren believes Local Matters’ work is so important. She and other dedicated volunteers are helping to give people the resources and knowledge they need to feed themselves and their children healthy food. In Lauren’s words, “Local Matters has found a way to provide resources in ways that other programs cannot: by teaching classes, providing resources, and managing local learning gardens.”

Lauren recognizes that community-wide progress cannot happen in a silo. She appreciates that Local Matters works with a variety of other organizations throughout the Columbus community: “Local Matters is very collaborative...[the team] is very passionate and not slowing down any time soon." Looking toward the future, she hopes that Local Matters is able to expand even further to reach more people in and around Columbus.

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.

If Lauren could send a message to everyone in our community, it would be this. She truly believes that food can change lives. The expansion of food education and access efforts happening throughout Central Ohio suggest this to be true. As children, families, residents, and doctors learn more about healthy food and making conscious choices about what they eat, we are all beginning to heal.

10 Years, 10 Stories: Ellen Moss Williams and the Godman Guild

In celebration of Local Matters' 10th anniversary, we are taking some time to reflect. Where have we come from? Who has nurtured our growth? Where are we now? What will the future hold? These are questions we have asked ten friends of Local Matters - ten people who have truly shaped the organization to be what it is today. Today's story comes from a conversation with the Godman Guild's CEO, Ellen Moss Williams.

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Local Matters takes pride in our partnerships with other organizations. One of these partnerships is with the Godman Guild, a nonprofit in the Weinland Park neighborhood that “promotes strong families and strong communities in Columbus, Ohio.”

Ellen Moss Williams has been with the Godman Guild for twenty-one years and has served as CEO for the past seven. She has held just about every leadership position within the organization, which helps give her perspective on Godman Guild’s many partnerships – like that with Local Matters.

The Godman Guild focuses on helping individuals and families increase their social and economic mobility. They do this by offering adult education and employment programs and programs that help youth increase their social/emotional skills and prepare for the world of work as adults.

When speaking of their work with Local Matters, Ellen shared: “The Local Matters and Godman Guild connection focuses around both gardening and providing healthier options of food to the people that live in the neighborhood and those that attend Godman Guild programs.” Local Matters helps manage the Guild’s onsite garden and hoop house, which both offer families free, healthy fruit and vegetables.

Local Matters is the leader in this community in regards to local, healthier food options. People have to remain healthy in order to stay at work and school, and there is no other group doing what Local Matters does in Columbus.

Just like Local Matters, Godman Guild’s work and leadership are unique. Unique offerings demand strong leaders. For Ellen, her the most significant contribution to both organizations has been her ability to take calculated risks.

Failing gets you down the right path, and you should treasure the opportunity to take risks.

She compares the leadership of both organizations, saying that both have taken opportunities leading to future growth.

Having witnessed the work Local Matters and Godman Guild can do time and time again, Ellen says the most rewarding part is “actually seeing people progress and gain the insight needed to not only understand that there is a better way to be healthier, but also make the necessary personal and family life-style changes to realize the benefits of healthier eating. People become more aware of how food impacts our lives after interacting with Local Matters.”

Looking toward the future, Ellen hopes to increase collaborative work with Local Matters. Between classes, training, discussions around heathy food options, and cooking classes, both the need and the opportunities are endless.

Support Godman Guild’s work by volunteering or donating today.
https://www.godmanguild.org/

10 Years, 10 Stories: Laura Robertson-Boyd

In celebration of Local Matters' 10th anniversary, we are taking some time to reflect. Where have we come from? Who has nurtured our growth? Where are we now? What will the future hold? These are questions we have asked ten friends of Local Matters - ten people who have truly shaped the organization to be what it is today. Today's story comes from a conversation with Local Matters' Community Health Education Manager, Laura Robertson-Boyd.

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People. Food. Community. Health. These are the four words Laura Robertson-Boyd uses to describe Local Matters. As the Community Health Education Manager and a professional chef, Laura has been with Local Matters since 2010. Filling different roles throughout the years, she has been an incredible asset to the team.

Laura’s Local Matters story begins around the time she moved to Columbus with her husband. She had done some networking within Columbus’ food community, but had not found her niche. One day, Laura’s husband saw Local Matters at a neighborhood farmers market and thought the organization could be a great fit, so he took her a Local Matters sticker.

After some digging, Laura liked what she learned about Local Matters so signed up for her first volunteer shift: to help test out the new website. At the volunteer opportunity, Laura got to talking with Michael Jones, one of Local Matters’ co-founders, and one thing led to another: she was soon hired to work part time, helping with food prep for programs. Not long after, she was promoted to Executive Chef and helped expand Local Matters’ kitchen operations and program recipes.

Throughout her eight years at Local Matters, Laura has continued improving and innovating within each of her roles, from the kitchen, to culinary medicine, to Community Kitchen classes. Laura’s organization, thoughtfulness, and delicious recipes are reflected in every aspect of Local Matters’ programming.

Perhaps one of her most notable contributions to Local Matters’ mission and work is through the Culinary Medicine program. Laura is responsible for spearheading this work and growing it to be what it is today: a strong partnership with the medical students, residents, and doctors at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, Nationwide Children's Hospital, and Mount Carmel Health. This growth didn’t happen overnight, though. Laura spent years developing relationships with partners, refining the program, and demonstrating dedication and passion for thinking critically about how we can affect change in the health of our community.

In her current role with the Culinary Medicine program, Laura educates medical students and professionals on diet and lifestyle changes patients can make for disease prevention and management. She particularly loves that her students are so eager to learn:

They embrace the Culinary Medicine program wholeheartedly and see the relevance to the work that they do… and they realize that lifestyle choices can be a form of medicine. They just get it.

When asked about why she loves working with Local Matters, Laura shared that she values the fact that she learns something new every single day on the job. “I learn from participants and volunteers of all ages. We have conversations about everything from food prep, [to cooking, to baking] to anything else!” Beyond the content, however, for Laura the most rewarding part of the job is the relationships and connections made with people she never would have met if not for Local Matters.

 

When she made the switch from professional baking to teaching, Laura knew that this is what she was truly meant to do. “I feel that my life is very full from all the people brought to me from Local Matters. I am very lucky to be able to go home and say ‘I had the most amazing experience today and met these people and taught this class.’ We are more than friends - we are a “framily,” which means friends and family. It’s a privilege to have a job that you enjoy and … I love the work we do. This job allows me to directly work with my neighbors and see how I am personally impacting each one.

10 Years, 10 Stories: Jesse Hickman

In celebration of Local Matters' 10th anniversary, we are taking some time to reflect. Where have we come from? Who has nurtured our growth? Where are we now? What will the future hold? These are questions we have asked ten friends of Local Matters - ten people who have truly shaped the organization to be what it is today. Today's story comes from a conversation with Local Matters' Growing Matters Manager, Jesse Hickman.

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“Pinch me, is this my job?” Jesse Hickman enthusiastically says, as he talks about his time at Local Matters inspiring children, leading workshops, and managing gardens. As Growing Matters Program Manager, he is responsible for over twenty learning gardens across Columbus.

It’s cool to be able to do something for a living that you are proud of and that is meaningful to others while making a difference.

One aspect of Local Matters’ work that Jesse is especially proud of is how it can change people’s relationship with fruit and vegetables. He saw this first hand when his son Jack was able to attend one of the first Food Matters programs. Ever since, Jack has been much more interested and invested in eating fruits and vegetables. Naturally, Jesse likes to see how Local Matters programming affects all children, but he shares that it is extremely special when one of them is your own.

For Jesse, one of the most rewarding parts of his job is when he can inspire people who previously doubt that they can make positive changes in their life. A skeptic of the notion of “green thumbs,” he knows that anyone can grow their own healthy, delicious food if they have the right motivation and determination. He enjoys bonding with the people he meets through Local Matters, and helping them know that they can make a transformation in their life through food.

In the learning gardens that Jesse manages, he also leads education around growing, harvesting, and preparing fruits, vegetables, and herbs. One of Jesse’s favorite memories in a Local Matters learning garden was overhearing a young boy harvesting vegetables and saying “I am going to cook my mom the best meal when I get home!” That connection between gardening and cooking healthy meals with family – that’s the ultimate goal for Jesse in his work.

Throughout his time at Local Matters, Jesse has learned that people just need the right amount of information and encouragement in order to make healthy life choices. Knowing this motivates him to try his hardest to connect with every person he meets through Local Matters, whether they are volunteering or participating in the programs.

I like to help people find a starting point.

For Jesse, this is more than just a job – it’s his way of life. He has soil and plants filling his house, and a family vegetable garden. Looking to the future, Jesse hopes to make the Local Matters learning gardens a more organic place for people to connect. After all, it’s connection and community that can inspire change.

10 Years, 10 Stories: Monique Williams-McCoy

In celebration of Local Matters' 10th anniversary, we are taking some time to reflect. Where have we come from? Who has nurtured our growth? Where are we now? What will the future hold? These are questions we have asked ten friends of Local Matters - ten people who have truly shaped the organization to be what it is today. Today's story comes from a conversation with Local Matters' Lead Food Educator, Monique Williams-McCoy.

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Monique Williams-McCoy is the Lead Food Educator with Local Matters and spends her days in classrooms with Columbus youth. She educates students on how to take care of their bodies with affordable, grow-able, and healthier foods. Having been with Local Matters since its early years, Monique has witnessed a decade of the organization’s efforts to combat food disparities. She reflects, “We don’t all look the same, we’re not all going to be the same size, we’re not going to be the same height… [instead] it’s about what you’re doing to take care of your body... To make yourself feel good.”

In Monique's first years at Local Matters, her coworkers recognized her as hardworking, but also loving and full of humor. They quickly realized there was not much she couldn't do. With so few staff on the team (only 8 facilitating the entire organization), everyone took on multiple roles. Monique not only prepared healthy and delicious meals but did everything in between. From things as imperative as budgeting, down to easier but equally important things such as sourcing nut-free ingredients -- Monique was willing to serve. Now, thanks to an increase in budget and staff, she is able to focus more on what she loves: teaching. “I wouldn’t trade my job for the world. There is nothing like getting up every day and loving what you do." Coming from a background in both childcare and catering, this job is the “perfect marriage” for her. Monique has a way with children no matter age or the background. She insists that she never has a day she doesn’t want to go into work:

Sometimes when you’re physically tired, or mentally tired, or just kind of want to get through Friday, when you walk in a classroom and kids run up to you—it just gives you that energy and you know that you’re impacting young minds.

Monique has always been active in her community and has focused her efforts on youth. Monique's older sister recognized her love for serving her community and when she saw a job opening at Local Matters, she submitted Monique’s resume on her behalf. Though Monique protested, her sister insisted she was made for the position. Monique’s older sister has continued to support her and taught her one of the most valuable things you can do is:

Expect someone to do well. Even if they’re not doing well, train them to reach their full potential. Expect them to try, expect the best from them.

Monique urges others to truly know that no matter where someone is in their life, there is something that they can do to make a positive impact in this world. She applies this empathetic approach to her lessons and it has paid off. Monique led a pilot Cooking Matters course at the Dowd Center, teaching mothers and children to make easy and healthy meals with limited resources. Despite the fact that this class was many years ago, one mother of five recently saw Monique in the Community Kitchen and instantly remembered her. She shared her personal thoughts with Monique. "I remember everything you taught me—I still use that recipe, and the kids still remember you!"

Parents and children often recognize her outside of the classrooms. It is in moments like this that Monique understands the impact of simple recipes and kindness. The simplicity in some of these delicious recipes assure Monique and her team that participants will learn and remember how to prepare at least one healthy meal “and where there is one there will be another." Monique believes that everyone should have access to healthy foods and the ability to care for their loved ones. The community receives that concept and Local Matters’ participants soak up the lessons like sponges.

Monique has witnessed a lot over the past ten years and has high hopes for the years to come. She foresees Local Matters spreading its work to other large cities and beginning to impact Ohioans on a larger scale. She also has the desire to become more involved with the farm-to-school chain. For Columbus, she hopes for a time when there are no longer food deserts. She believes that we must hold ourselves accountable and continue to push for food access across our community and eventually our country. "It is extremely possible... It’s a big dream, but you have to dream big."

Monique’s life has changed drastically because of the organization. She feels like what she’s doing is not just a job but a way of life. What she does has given her the ability to impact the people in her community so they may have a better life and pass that on. Even with the success she has had with Local Matters, Monique shares, “I always feel like I haven’t done enough for Local Matters. I always feel like there’s more that I can do. More that WE can do. As soon as we get done with one thing, my mind is always trying to expand to another horizon as to where we can be, who we can be touching, how we can be more proactive, what more can we do.” Monique has hopes for a better Columbus, a better Ohio, a better nation. "One day, Local Matters will be global."