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.


“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."

Closing Groceries: a symptom, problem, or sign of things to come?

Michelle Moskowitz Brown
Executive Director, Local Matters

Over the past few years, I have found myself saying that grocery stores are not coming back. As we watch stores close inside and outside of Columbus city limits, it has become increasingly clear that the razor-thin profit margins of the grocery industry make it difficult for a business to provide what we can all agree is a basic right – access to a variety of foods and other services that grocers provide (e.g. pharmacies, banking services, household essentials).

With the recent notice about the Northern Lights Kroger* in Linden closing, the issues of access to food, as well as financial and pharmacy services, is rightfully at the forefront of many conversations between residents, clergy, public officials, non-profits, and businesses who are affected and concerned.

At this point in my life, I am not personally affected by a lack of access and I would not claim to understand what losing this Kroger means for shoppers, workers, and the Linden community.  I do think there is a reality with which we must come to terms regarding how we currently meet needs and how rapidly it is changing.

I wonder if Kroger was even meeting the needs or wants of the Linden neighborhood. Are there people with grocery operation experience, New Americans or otherwise, that might be able to bring a different model to serve the residents?

This Kroger closing seems symptomatic of a city divided by race and class. Are there enough people in proximity to the store that could have spent their dollars at this Kroger but did not? Was it truly the type of store that the neighborhood wanted and needed? The discussions Local Matters hosted about food access and education in eight different neighborhoods from 2013-2016 confirmed our sense that store location does not correlate to where people shop. We found that even when people do not have access to their own car, people tend to shop based on their preferences and how stores feel to them. So, we cannot just talk about food deserts and try to solve it by wishing that a store would open or stay open.

So, what about Linden? At least for the next month, there will be shuttles running in a loop every 20 minutes from the closed Northern Lights plaza to the Morse Road Kroger. Additionally, I recently learned that Kroger pharmacies deliver to homes (though there must be someone present to sign for medications). I understand there are several ideas in the works to fill the gap in services that a store closing creates, but I cannot speak to their efficacy or reality at this point.

What are we committed to at Local Matters? We support the next generation in understanding where their food comes from (not the grocery store), how to cook it, and how to access it affordably. We help people use fresh, frozen, and canned food interchangeably.  We believe that a living wage and access to food is a basic right and that it is not elitist to cook good food at home. We help people meet their food goals and feed their families every day.

Food access in neighborhoods is ever changing. With new home delivery and pick up options, the potential for Amazon to accept SNAP (though certainly not a viable option for all), and changing demographics, we have to envision a better future for obtaining food. We host monthly community conversations and have one planned on this topic on February 22. We welcome you to join us.


*Disclosure: Local Matter receives $10 gift cards from Kroger that we utilize in our Cooking Matters program, which supports people with the skills and resources to eat well and feed their families. One week of the program takes place at grocery stores (we go wherever participants say they shop) and we help people stretch their dollar even further. 


Senator Sherrod Brown’s Office Visits Local Matters Program

(Columbus, OH - November 30, 2017) Columbus-based nonprofit Local Matters and NNEMAP Food Pantry welcomed Joe Gilligan, Central Ohio Regional Director with the office of US Senator Sherrod Brown, to a Cooking Matters class on November 30.

Cooking Matters is a nationally-recognized program developed by Share Our Strength that leads participants in learning about budget and health conscious cooking as a tool for increased food security and overall health. In a statement about Local Matters’ work with partners like NNEMAP, Senator Sherrod Brown shared: “All Ohioans deserve access to healthy, affordable foods. I’m proud to support efforts to give central Ohio families the tools they need to prepare nutritious meals.”

Senator Sherrod Brown is an active proponent of food education and access, aligning with Local Matters’ mission. This October, Senator Brown introduced the Local FARMS Act to the US Senate, where it currently awaits review. The bill advocates for local farmers, local economy, and an overall increase in access to healthy, local foods.

Reflecting on Local Matters programming, Sean Becker, Assistant Director with NNEMAP Food Pantry expressed: “Our partnership with Local Matters allows us to engage in a deeper way with our clients. … We can help people learn how to use different foods, learn how to prepare more nutritious foods … As a partnership, [working with Local Matters] works well for our staff, our volunteers, and our clients.” In addition to NNEMAP, Local Matters leads Cooking Matters programs in conjunction with partners such as Franklin Station, OhioHealth, Mount Carmel Healthy Living Center, and Columbus Public Health.


Local Matters’ mission is to create healthy communities through food education, access, and advocacy. Founded in 2008, Local matters works toward equitable access to a sustainable food system and a world free of food-related chronic disease. For up-to-date news and information on food education and Local Matters’ programming, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Healthy School Lunches Are Our Local Responsibility

By: Michelle Moskowitz Brown, Executive Director 

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue spoke at the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) annual conference last week, defending the freeze on implementing new school nutrition guidelines that would have capped sodium and added sugar levels, and required greater availability of whole grain options.

He nostalgically looked back at the beloved cinnamon rolls from his childhood lunchroom:

You know what? Back then, there was very little childhood obesity. Why’s that? Because we played outside all the time and there were nutritious meals at home,” Perdue said, to cheers. “But we know times have changed. Today you’re still responsible for providing, many times, the main meal for many children.
— Politico’s Morning Agriculture Report

Times have changed and with devastating effects on our kids. In America today,  one in three children is likely to develop diabetes – one in three! Currently, 50% of adults are diabetic or pre-diabetic. Diabetes is now the third largest cause of death in our country and the single most expensive condition to treat relative to total healthcare expenditures nationwide. We are experiencing an avoidable health epidemic. Now, Sonny Perdue is certainly right when he says our kids need more exercise, but exercise, and safe outdoor spaces are only part of the solution.

Which brings me back to those tasty cinnamon rolls. My kids eat pastries, they eat dessert. Hey, they are kids, and they enjoy an occasional cinnamon roll. But why do these need to be a part of everyday and a common breakfast option? As a mom and as Executive Director of Local Matters, I know how important it is to celebrate tasty food, but I’d prefer if the pastry was the exception, not the rule.

It is hard enough to keep our kids healthy, and even though it is challenging to do this for an entire school district, shouldn’t that be our goal, not something to mock or minimize? Currently, a school breakfast of yogurt and a cinnamon roll can have more than 31 grams of sugar. The recommended allowance for adults is just 25 grams. Why is this being normalized by the people responsible for feeding our children when they’re at school?

Despite my role at Local Matters, a food education, access and advocacy non-profit, I was not aware of how much sugar was allowable in a day until just a few years ago. If you find yourself in the same position, that isn’t your fault. This information is not on the nutritional facts label, and the move to make this more transparent is delayed as well. 

My point here is not that that eating well is easy or that the SNA is bad, or that Secretary Perdue has a fond memory for the Mayberry of his youth rather than the reality of America in 2017. Our kids’ futures are in peril in part from what they are eating and we’re being coaxed not to worry. Who is looking out for our children’s health?

I do remain optimistic. Columbus City Schools has recently invested in processing equipment that will enable it to serve sliced apples to the 55,000 students in their district (my two children included). They will not stop there – moving on to other veggies like carrots and cucumbers in the future, while also serving Ohio produced or processed food once a month to start. Even a seemingly small change like slicing apples locally instead of having a factory slice, package and deliver them –– makes kids much more likely to eat them. I know change must be well-planned and collaborative, and I applaud the district for taking this work up in earnest.

You can argue with me, but I ask you to consider: who is making the decisions about what your kids are eating and what do they care about? When did anybody ask you, the caregivers, what you want for your child when it comes to school food? There is nobody better than parents and concerned citizens to take up the charge in answering this question. Groups like Local Matters can and should be tasked with doing more in today’s world to bring healthy food education and training to our kids in Central Ohio and throughout the state.

Source: Politico’s Morning Agriculture Report

Thank you, ADAMH, for your support of Cooking Matters

Local Matters, through the generosity of the Alcohol Drug and Mental Health Board (ADAMH), is excited to partner with Southeast’s Medication Assisted Treatment program to offer Cooking Matters services to clients dealing with opiate addiction. The classes focus on teaching the participants about healthful food, nutrition, and wellness. Nutritional health is often not addressed in recovery programs; Local Matters and Southeast, Inc. are partnering to help change that with the support of ADAMH.

Located in downtown Columbus, Southeast is a provider of multiple healthcare services, including the treatment of chemical dependency. Southeast uses both medication and counseling, providing wrap-around services to support the client’s medical, physical and emotional needs. This, coupled with nine hours of sober support activities, helps to promote a drug-free lifestyle for their participants.

Those dealing with addictive illnesses often have trouble finding the means to access healthful foods. This is an area in which both Southeast and Local Matters hope to intervene. In addition to eating balanced meals, it is also important for patients to eat healthy snacks throughout the day, which help stabilize mood and prevent relapse. The necessity for healthful foods is one reason the Cooking Matters classes focuses on a Facilitated Dialogue approach to teaching. This approach allows participants to decide what works best for them and their needs. The adaptability in structuring classes for Southeast clients is crucial to teaching them about the importance of healthful foods, also to keeping them on track to recovery.

Local Matters would, again, like to extend our sincere gratitude to Southeast for their partnership and to ADAMH, for their generous support of this pilot project.

Local Matters on the Move

For Immediate Release     
September 17, 2015

Media Contact:
Renee LeGendre
Organization Contact:
Michelle Moskowitz Brown

Local Matters on the Move: Set to Relocate Central Ohio Headquarters

New south side facility will allow for expanded programming and services

Columbus, OH – Local Matters, a community leader and collaborator committed to increasing access to and education about healthful foods, today announced plans to relocate its headquarters to the south side of Columbus. The new location will provide increased capacity for the organization to double the number of people served, reaching 22,000 through programming by the end of 2018. The location will positively impact residents in Columbus, particularly on the south side, through free and sliding scale hands-on cooking and nutrition education classes, which do not currently exist in the area.

The new facility, located at the Village Pointe space on Parsons Avenue, will house both Local Matters’ office space as well as a culinary classroom for on-site classes, trainings and events. The relocation will enable the addition or expansion of valuable programs and services, including: weekly cooking and nutrition education classes to low-resourced individuals; expansion of a culinary medicine curriculum in partnership with local medical institutions to close the gap on nutrition and culinary medicine; and educational training to expand programs to communities outside Central Ohio. These activities align naturally with the existing food education programming at Local Matters and its current plans for growth.

“I cannot imagine a more significant opportunity for our organization. By moving to this space, we will dramatically increase the accessibility of our programs and be able to expand our services in a neighborhood where we have strong, existing partnerships,” said Michelle Moskowitz Brown, Executive Director, Local Matters. “It’s a critical step in supporting people with the skills and resources necessary to eat well and feed their families.”

The relocation decision comes as a result of rapid growth for the organization. Since 2010, Local Matters has more than quadrupled the number of individuals it serves. The new facility is made possible in part by a supportive developer, generous donations and grants from local supporters and community partners with similar wellness-centric visions and goals.

“We are pleased to support Local Matters because their community work and impact aligns with our mission to improve the health and well-being of consumers faced with life challenges,” said Cathy Ponitz, Executive Director, CareSource Foundation, and lead contributor to the new facility. “CareSource cultivates partnerships that enhance and improve the health care and life services for consumers, and Local Matters is a leader in providing the tools consumers need to develop a healthy lifestyle.”

Local Matters expects to move into the space, located at 633 Parsons Avenue, 43206, by the end of 2015, with programs beginning in the spring of 2016.


About Local Matters

Founded in 2008, this year Local Matters will impact over 11,000 children, adults and families, teaching them what healthy food is, where it comes from, how to grow it, and how to access it affordably.

For more information, follow us on Facebook or Twitter for updates on our organization, programs and community projects.