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Kathleen Yetman grew up knowing where her food came from. She says it was “a magical place,” her grandmother’s quarter-acre backyard garden in the community of Prescott, 100 miles north of Phoenix.
“I spent my childhood roaming the garden, discovering worms, feasting on raspberries, climbing the apple tree and helping my grandmother with tasks like cutting the heads off grasshoppers, sifting compost or harvesting sugar snap peas,” she recalls.
Today, Yetman is one of 20 Arizona State University graduate students in the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems’ inaugural Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership class. This cohort of changemakers representing the future of food is the recipient of funding support from one of the world’s leading natural and organic food retailers.
On Dec. 4, Yetman will join fellow leadership classmates at the new Whole Foods Market at 750 S. Ash Ave. in Tempe as beneficiaries of the company’s 5% Community Giving Day. On that day, as part of a longstanding commitment to its communities, Whole Foods Market will donate 5% of net sales from the store to support the class in an upcoming hands-on “field trip” across Arizona.
“The 5% Community Giving Day funding from Whole Foods Market will help us connect our food policy students with local practitioners. We will meet with farmers, ranchers, tribal leaders, policymakers, restaurateurs, food processors and advocates for the hungry and absorb their no-nonsense, real-life advice on how to solve challenges for the future of food,” said Kathleen Merrigan, executive director of the Swette Center and former U.S. deputy secretary of agriculture under President Barack Obama. “The connection is a vital one, so these leaders and policymakers of tomorrow may understand firsthand what it means to run a dairy, grow alfalfa, raise beef cattle, produce vegetables, bring product to market and more.”
During the Community Giving Day, students in the leadership class will be on hand to thank customers for their support and to answer questions about the Swette Center, food sustainability degree programs and current policy issues in food system transformation.
Yetman, a former FoodCorps service member on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in eastern Arizona, is now the executive director of the nonprofit Prescott Farmers Market. She says the opportunities afforded by her participation in the leadership class and the lessons learned through what she calls the “Swette Center investment” are important cornerstones in her career path.
“To be a part of this program is an honor and a privilege. From my perspective, this program is an extension of the community of support, relationships and connections I was able to forge with FoodCorps. Dr. Merrigan can connect us directly to leaders across the country, building our capacity to make real change in our communities,” said Yetman, who holds a BA in history from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Policy’s not my thing,’ and assume that someone else will step up to do the work. But the reality is that to face the daunting challenges of agriculture, both current and imminent, we need to step up our comfort zones and make policy ‘our thing.’ I am so grateful the Swette Center invests in leaders who are already doing the work on the ground and equips us with the knowledge we need to tackle urgent issues,” she added.
The Dec. 4 Whole Foods Market 5% Community Giving Day serves another purpose, above and beyond the 5% donation, according to Merrigan, who serves as the Kelly and Brian Swette Professor of Sustainable Food Systems at ASU’s School of Sustainability.
“This is a valuable chance to share Swette Center goals with the community,” she said. “Not only is the center producing the next generation of leaders who will stand tall in ability, knowledge, passion and experience, but it is at the forefront of food systems knowledge development. From grounding science around organic production, to working with chefs and food entrepreneurs to make the sustainable food choice the most delicious choice, to improving policy by revealing the true costs of food production, our faculty and staff are engaged in a broad range of meaningful, impactful research.”
Meanwhile, Yetman is just one of many leadership fellows who are thankful for the impact the Swette Center and its programs have had on their futures.
“Earlier this year, I was grappling with issues that felt bigger than me. The leadership program appeared at exactly the right time — I could become the knowledgeable person and help small farmers and ranchers with overwhelming issues,” said Yetman, who has guided the Prescott Farmers Market for five years.
“The trip we will be taking through Arizona is critical in that it offers us the opportunity to apply what we’ve been learning throughout the semester, to put it to the test on the ground. And it provides our group in-depth, uninterrupted time to share our experiences and knowledge with each other so that we become forever resources for one another.”
Written by Steve Des Georges
Whole Foods Market 5% Community Giving Day
When: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4.
Where: Whole Foods, 750 S. Ash Ave., Tempe.