Thanks for joining us for another episode of Patrons & Partnerships, presented by the Library Partnership Branch of the Alachua County Library District.
Our guest today is Meg Thelosen, Board President of Working Food, a nonprofit which works to cultivate and sustain a resilient local food community in North Central Florida through collaboration, economic opportunity, education, and seed stewardship. In this episode, we touch on how Working Food handled COVID, their upcoming events for the spring and summer, and what you can do to get involved.
The first half of this episode was published on March 24th.
Working Food: https://workingfood.org/
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You can view a transcript of this podcast on ACLD's YouTube Channel.
Hi, thanks for joining us for another episode of Patrons & Partnerships. Today we spoke with Meg Thelosen, one of the cofounders of First Magnitude Brewing Company and Working Food, a local nonprofit that works to cultivate and sustain a resilient local food community in North Central Florida. This episode has been edited for length and clarity and has been split into two parts. The first half of this episode was posted on March 24th and can be found anywhere you listen to podcasts. [music]Eleanore:
How - how has Working Food handled COVID?Meg:
So the one area that was actually able to keep going and actually like experienced kind of an increase in activity was the seeds. In her area, sales of seeds - she was kind of inundated with requests for purchasing seeds. And then youth gardens, the team pivoted to a kit-based approach. The other neat thing during COVID related to youth programs is Alachua County worked with us on a grant that ended up being a major funder for a pilot youth culinary program. And that was wonderful because this focuses on older students, so middle and high school aged students. We developed through that funding a pilot program with some amazing partners - again, still Greater Duvall Neighborhood Association, but also Chef Carl, who runs Chef Empowerment Program and Underground Kitchen and is an amazingly talented chef who worked with us to develop the curriculum. And then it had to go to Zoom, which was not how that was originally planned. But it actually ended up being amazing because, number one, Chef Carl and Andrew Miles at Greater Duvall are amazing facilitators. So you had these students in their own kitchens at home come on, I think it was twice a month. Like it wasn't just like a one or two time thing, it was 18 months plus of program, of continuous work with them. And they cooked and plated these absolutely amazing three course, beautiful meals thanks to Chef Carl and Andrew being able to be, just so talented and patient. Managing that through Zoom, as you can imagine - and each student in their own kitchen - was incredible. And the nice unintended benefit of that was that their families, they were all coming through at times too. It was a shared experience. And then we also through Jesse Wilson who runs our, who's our program lead, and Jenna with Working Food, they worked with Carl to develop the the plans, the menus, and then they would go and source all the ingredients and they would prep it at Working Foods kitchens, and then deliver it to each student's house. All of, almost all of the food was locally sourced. So she worked with farmers and local providers. And it was just beautiful food. And it was just amazing programming, a pilot, we learned a lot. And we're still working with the county to figure out what's next. The kitchen, though, did slow down. We pretty much had to pause our kitchen culinary for entrepreneur program because first of all, we didn't even know if it was safe at first to have a shared environment. The only other thing I wanted to mention during COVID which was very innovative - I had nothing to do with it, but I'm just in awe at the folks at Working Food that pulled it off - was they spun up first a drive-thru farmers market that came through the plaza where we're located on 10th Avenue during that time when farmers markets were shut down, everything else. It was amazing. I don't remember the statistics on how many people took advantage of that. But farmers were able to still sell through, at least in that environment. Folks for many, many months, were able to come through and get their local food. We also did a meal relief program. We worked with Community Foundation of North Central Florida, again with partners including Family Promise and others in the community who were struggling to meet the needs. And actually, Bert Gill of Mildred’s and Blue Gill, he worked with us, and his team actually prepared the meals. It was family meals and we delivered… It was like 25,000 meals or something that we were able to prepare and deliver through partners like Family Promise and others in the communities. Back to the kitchen, I'm really excited again to report that like, we're back online and we're certainly - you know, we're bringing in new clients as we're able. Staffing for us is a challenge because it does take a lot and we are a small nonprofit with limited funds. So, you know, staffing and doing right by the entrepreneurs by not just providing the facilities, but managing the ins and outs and answering their questions and needs is a challenge. So we are, we have slowly been opening back up and bringing on new clients. And it's been really exhilarating to see and help where we can. So again, we're up to about 17 clients right now, I think.Eleanore:
That's a huge improvement from the kitchens being shut down completely, so.. Meg: Yeah. [laughs] Yeah. Here's hoping that can go forward in 2022. What else was Working Food planning for 2022?Meg:
So we just had our - and I’ll touch on events, because I appreciate you asking specifically about that. We had our first event last November, early December, called the Pumpkin Pop Up. And so it was the first time we felt comfortable, we have an open outdoor courtyard at our location that's quite large. And so we had an amazing event. The theme was pumpkins, and we had pumpkin tasting. And we had, I can't remember how many local food entrepreneurs and aficionados that - they cooked with pumpkin, and they provided samples. And then there was a, you know, a competition. It was amazing. It was a beautiful day in the courtyard, people were able to come out and socialize safely. So that was kind of our test. We're hoping depending on how things go next, as hopefully Omicron fades, we're hoping and working on what are going to be the next events. So we anticipate, hopefully, folks will stay tuned. You can go to workingfood.org. And there's a newsletter option if you are inclined to sign up for our newsletter. But hopefully, you can stay tuned if anyone's interested because we are going to either have a series of similar events - maybe smaller, but similar type - in our courtyard to feature local food and entrepreneurs. Or our marquee event had been something we call the local food award. So pre-COVID, every May, we would host and we would honor somebody in the local food system that's been a real, you know, cultural champion or important in the, in the local food systems scene. So we may or may not also revisit that and see if it's possible to bring the local food awards back in some form or fashion. So we anticipate planning and announcing either a series of smaller or a big event starting… The earliest would probably be, you know, late March at this point all the way through late May, early June, when things get too warm to comfortably do it out in our courtyards.Eleanore:
What were you most looking forward to for 2022?Meg:
So because I've always been closest to it, my biggest area of excitement is the kitchen. You know, it's a lot of moving parts. Number one for me is to keep fundraising around that kitchen. I call it a restabilization. We're not quite there yet, but we're pretty close to being sort of restabilized and getting that operation up and running again. We have an amazing part-time community kitchen coordinator that started with us in September. His name's Robert. So I'm really, number one most excited to hopefully keep that running and carefully growing. The next would be… Since the first county grant for the pilot of the youth culinary program has ended, through our own funding, we've created a bridge with the same group of students - because we really, our approach is to try and establish continuity as much as possible, and keep with them as much as they want to keep with us. And so my next biggest excitement slash concern is to try and make sure we find the funding so that come the summer and fall, we can keep that programming going in a high quality way. The city and county have a lot of American Rescue Plan funds that they're about to figure out how they're going to disburse. And we believe that kitchen and working with students fits that COVID Relief Area big time in terms of local impact. The city and county are hopefully very literally about to start disbursing that money. For us, again, a smaller nonprofit who’s always watching our budget carefully, depending on how that plays out, that will give us the ability to do a little bit more forward planning with higher confidence. And then lastly, the other event I just want to mention because it supports all local nonprofits and um, it's amazing, is the Amazing Give, which is late April. I don't know the exact date. But it's a huge local fundraising event in the community run by the Community Foundation of North Central Florida that is just - I can't speak highly enough of it. It's an amazing way to engage our local citizens and learn about all the amazing nonprofit work going on. In years past it was a combination of hosting like, in-person things as part of that Amazing Give. Obviously, that hasn't happened the last couple years, but there's a good chance hopefully like by late April that if things are still looking better that it'll be back to that format. So we will be hosting events associated with the Amazing Give, and lots of other great organizations as well.Eleanore:
So hopefully ‘22 will be a really exciting, busy year for you guys, that won't be as stressful or if it is stressful, it's stressful in a good way. Meg: Yeah, exactly. [laughing] And other than the website, how can the community get involved with Working Food? I know you have the seed store, what else can people do to help out?Meg:
So yeah, thank you very much for asking. So we... Volunteering, definitely. So, same thing on our website, or just by emailing us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. We do keep a running list of volunteers. And I think that our volunteer events, they're fun. We have a great team that preps really well so we don't throw volunteers sort of like, into it. And they just end up being really fun events. So volunteering, for sure. And then, really just I think spreading the word is huge. You know, like anything. Working Food, because it's a little bit complex and multifaceted, sharing our story can be a little challenging. But if there's a particular area, whether it's seeds, or youth culinary or youth gardens programs, or kitchen and entrepreneurs, if there's a particular area that appeals to someone, please just reach out directly to us and ask questions, because we love to share more information about what it's really all about. And then that can definitely open up more opportunities to be involved.Eleanore:
Was there anything else you wanted to talk about today? Anything we missed?Meg:
No, I don't think so. I really appreciate you guys reaching out and doing this programming. It's all important to let folks that tune in in various places in different, various ways. Not always on Instagram and Facebook, right? [laughs] Eleanore: Yeah. Nothing against that. But for sure. I, we're grateful for the opportunity. And hopefully I didn't ramble too much.Eleanore:
No, that all sounded great. Any way we can reach people is great. Meg, thank you so much for making time for this today. We really appreciate the ability to interview you.Meg:
Thank you very much. My pleasure. And nice to meet you, Eleanore. Have a great rest of your weekend.Eleanore:
Nice to meet you, too, Meg. Have a good day. Meg: Thanks. Bye! [music] Thanks for listening to Patrons and Partnerships! If you know of an individual or organization you’d like to recommend for an interview, email us at email@example.com. To listen to more episodes, find us on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or Spotify. and be sure to check out the Alachua County Library on Spotify while you’re there for chill playlists to read to, hand-picked by our librarians. The Spring Teen Art Show is open for submissions! Teens aged 16 to 19 are encouraged to submit their work up until April 15th for the chance to see their art displayed on our website or hung on the HQ Gallery Wall. More information, including entry forms, can be found online at aclib.us/events. Have you heard the news? Your library card now grants you access to Hoopla, a music and video streaming service with thousands of albums, comics, and movies you can enjoy on any device with the Hoopla app. There's no need to place a hold- all of the content is available on demand at any time. To check it out, go to aclib.us/hoopla. Storytime on the Green is back for the new year starting January 11th. Visit our site at aclib.us/storytimeonthegreen for a list of times and locations for all branches. Partnership staff hold Storytimes at Smokey Bear Parkoff of 15th every Thursday at 10:
30am, weather permitting, and we have a representative from the Dolly Parton Imagination Library to help you sign up. The Dolly Parton Imagination Library provides preschool children with a free book every month until age 5. If you have a child under age 5 in your household, it’s a great opportunity to encourage their love of reading. Looking to encourage your child’s love of science and technology? Place a hold on one of ACLD’s STEM kits, courtesy of the Rotary Club of Gainesville. Each kit includes hands-on educational exploration of a STEM topic, with an interactive toy, book, and DVD on topics ranging from electricity to physics. Check out the full listing of kits at aclib.us/stem-kits!