For someone whose Italian ancestors grew vegetables, cooked from scratch, and treated dinner as a family gathering, my love affair with really good food started in my Nona’s kitchen. This love has been interwoven into my life and experiences ever since.
I believe that our food system is broken and we need to fix it. This is not only for us, but also for those that will follow in our footsteps. It is our responsibility to identify why it is broken and provide solutions on how we can fix it. This requires change: in how food is produced, stored, prepared, and consumed. As our food system improves, we will be healthier, happier, and be rewarded with an improved society. As Executive Director of Spence Farm Foundation, that is my mission and passion.
My journey to create a healthier food system started in my family’s kitchen–I just didn’t realize it at the time. I am a wife, mother, chef, registered dietitian, and food advocate. My experiences range from working at St. Francis Medical Center as a Certified Diabetes Educator to owning Basil’s Harvest, a culinary kitchen where farmer/chef collaborations were developed through strategic planning and implementation. Over the last 27 years I have immersed myself into the local food scene as a University of Illinois Cooperative Extension board member, entrepreneur, educator, public speaker, and part of a team that created a multi-farm CSA. To further my understanding of sustainable food systems, I have made it my life’s mission to further my education. Currently I am completing my master’s degree in Sustainable Food Systems at Green Mountain College in Vermont.
My heritage, passion, and experience have given me the opportunity to be a part of the Spence Farm Foundation. We are working to build a healthy food system through the education of farmers, chefs, institutions, and people who are interested in improving the health of their environment and their community.
I grew up watching my mother gardening and cooking everything from scratch, influenced by Californian cuisine. This has given me familiarity with a plant based lifestyle and an appreciation for healthy food. As a former culinary professional, and now as a nutrition student, it is so exciting to see all my passions brought together by Erin and Spence Farm Foundation.
I believe that every person should have the sense of ownership to make choices over the quality and quantity of food, his or her food sovereignty. We speak frequently in all my nutrition classes about finding an answer to food security, but I feel that approach is not enough, and people should have sovereignty over the systems that bring food to their tables.
To me, being an engaged professional means being dynamic in my work. I have never been one for sitting all day, working in front of a computer. To me, that is not living. I want to be engaged, making changes, and influencing my environment. That is why, in addition to getting my degree in nutrition and dietetics, I plan on pursuing my master’s in public health. This will allow me to follow my passion for environmental justice.
I was drawn to volunteering with Spence Farm Foundation because their purpose is to examine how they can move forward in educating the public on sustainable food systems. This relates to my concentration on food sovereignty because it allows people greater control over their food choices and the way their food is grown. Volunteering with Spence Farm Foundation is introducing me to the practical applications of diversified farming practices and allows me the ability to channel my abstract principles into concrete, constructive application.
A 2000 Michigan State University graduate, Ben has spent time in Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota. Since moving back to Fairbury in 2014, Ben has been very active in the central Illinois local growing community. Ben grows his own produce for market, and has served as a volunteer on a variety of local church and community projects. He is an independent painting contractor, backyard gardener, and Vice President of Stewards of the Land.