Featured Leader, Angel Mendez

In this month’s Featured Leader, we have the chance to learn more about Angel Mendez, FSLN mentor and Executive Director of Red Tomato in Providence, Rhode Island.

About Angel:

Angel Mendez is an Executive Director who works with Red Tomato, a small Food Hub Based 60 minutes south of Boston in Providence, Rhode Island.  Hence, working with Red Tomato for 20 years from the startup phase, Angel has profound knowledge of strategic planning, finance/metrics, non-asset-based distribution systems & ERP software. 
Angel holds a BS in Finance and Accounting from Northeastern University in Massachusetts.  Angel enjoys his family and summer mornings in his garden, which he calls his farm. In addition to his leadership at Red Tomato, Angel also serves on the Boards of Farm Fresh Rhode Island, Equal Exchange Bananas, and the Urban Farming Institute of Boston, MA.

On Leadership & Learning

Who are you? (Beyond the job title!)

I’m a loving, caring leader who leads from the heart.  I was raised by a single mom who taught us always to help others who are less fortunate, to share, and to lift people up.

My leadership style is rooted in kindness and understanding. I lead by example, constantly extending a helping hand to those in need. Whether it’s volunteering at local charities or organizing community events, I actively seek out ways to make a difference.

What is something not many of your colleagues know about you or that we wouldn’t expect?

I love cooking, fishing, boating, wilderness, and quality time with family and loved ones; this rejuvenates me!

What’s your greatest leadership challenge now? What support would be meaningful from the FSLN?

One of my most significant challenges is new staff development, facilitating and coaching staff to move from task managers to project managers. The FSLN can help us more by facilitating and hosting more of the outstanding leadership and systems training that they have provided in the past years for upcoming Food Systems Leaders across many sectors in the Good Food Movement (GFM).

Is there someone who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you, or someone you look up to. Why and how has this person impacted your life?

Michael Rozyne, the founder of Red Tomato, has significantly influenced my leadership journey. I often refer to him as my sensei because of the valuable guidance and teachings he has provided me throughout my career.

From the moment I started working under Michael’s leadership, it was evident that he possessed a unique approach to leading and managing others. His visionary thinking and dedication to sustainable agriculture made him an exceptional leader in the industry.

One of the most impactful lessons I learned from Michael is his emphasis on collaboration and teamwork. He believed everyone had something valuable to contribute, regardless of position or experience level. This mindset encouraged open communication, trust-building, and practical problem-solving within our team.

Michael also taught me the importance of maintaining ethical business practices while striving for success. He emphasized integrity in all aspects of our work and advocated for transparency with customers, suppliers, and partners. By setting such high standards for himself and those around him, he instilled in us a strong sense of responsibility towards our community and environment.

Furthermore, Michael’s ability to see opportunities where others saw challenges was truly inspiring. He pushed us to think creatively when faced with obstacles or setbacks. Through his mentorship, I learned how important it is for leaders to foster an innovative team mindset by encouraging risk-taking and embracing failure as learning experiences.

Overall, Michael Rozyne has played a crucial role in shaping me into the leader I am today. His guidance helped me develop practical skills and instilled a deep passion for sustainability-driven leadership rooted in collaboration, ethics, and innovation.

You have served as a mentor since 2018, 5 years and 18 mentees! What inspired you to serve as a mentor? Why did you answer the call?

In my 17 years at Red Tomato, I experienced numerous ups and downs, faced countless challenges, and learned valuable lessons along the way. The journey was not always easy, but it shaped me into who I am today.

As someone who had grown up in a similar environment to what many of my mentees might have experienced, I understood their struggles. It became clear that sharing my knowledge and experiences could be incredibly beneficial for those who may have gone through similar situations.

I believed that by stepping out of my comfort zone at Red Tomato and opening up about my story, I could support and guide others. Whether it was offering advice on overcoming adversity or simply being an empathetic ear for their concerns, I wanted to positively impact their lives.

With this newfound purpose in mind, I began actively seeking opportunities within Red Tomato where I could mentor or coach individuals facing difficulties. By sharing what worked for me during tough times or providing alternative perspectives on various challenges, I aimed to empower them with the tools necessary to overcome obstacles.

Additionally, outside of Red Tomato’s walls, I started participating in community events targeted toward helping individuals from similar backgrounds as mine. This allowed me to reach beyond our organization and extend support to those who needed it most.

Through these efforts of sharing what I had learned over 17 years at Red Tomato–perseverance in the face of challenges, adapting strategies for success, embracing personal growth–my goal was not only to assist others but also create a more inclusive work environment where everyone felt supported regardless of their background or upbringing.

By 2018, although still dedicated to contributing at Red Tomato professionally, supporting others became an equally important aspect of my life’s mission.

What are some highlights of that experience?

Stepping out of the box and mentoring others has been great!  Also, the mentorship experience has helped me improve at teaching and communicating my ideas effectively. It has allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter as I have had to break it down and explain it in simpler terms for others to grasp.

Mentoring has also pushed me to stay updated on new developments and research in my field to provide the most accurate and up-to-date information to those I mentor. This continuous learning process has not only benefited those whom I mentor but has also helped me grow professionally.

Furthermore, mentoring others has given me a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. Seeing individuals progress and succeed due to my guidance is incredibly rewarding. It gives me a sense of purpose, knowing that I have positively impacted someone’s life or career.

Moreover, mentoring allows for personal growth as well. Through interacting with mentees from diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, I have gained valuable insights into different ways of thinking and problem-solving approaches. This exposure has broadened my horizons and enhanced my own creativity.

Lastly, being a mentor has provided networking opportunities within both professional circles and broader communities where mutual support is encouraged. Building relationships with mentees often leads to connections with peers or other professionals with similar interests or goals. These connections can open doors for future collaborations, partnerships, or even job opportunities.

Overall, stepping out of the box by becoming a mentor has been an enriching experience that benefits both myself and those I mentor. It improves teaching skills while fostering personal growth, creating fulfilling relationships, expanding the knowledge base through continuous learning, providing networking opportunities, and positively impacting others’ lives.

How has serving as a mentor impacted you as a leader? Have you changed your approach to leadership? How have you collaborated with people you met through mentorship?

Serving as a mentor has impacted me as a leader by helping me develop my communication and interpersonal skills. As a mentor, I have had to effectively communicate with my mentees in order to understand their needs and provide guidance. This has improved my ability to listen actively, ask questions, and offer constructive feedback.

Additionally, mentoring has helped me enhance my problem-solving skills. As a leader, I often face challenges that require creative solutions. Through working with mentees who may be facing various issues or obstacles, I have learned how to think critically and develop innovative strategies for overcoming these challenges.

Furthermore, serving as a mentor has given me the opportunity to practice empathy and understanding. By putting myself in the shoes of my mentees and trying to see things from their perspective, I have become more compassionate and considerate towards others’ experiences.

Lastly, being a mentor has boosted my confidence as a leader. Seeing the positive impact that my guidance can have on someone else’s personal growth and development gives me reassurance in my abilities as a leader. It reminds me of the importance of leading by example and proactively supporting others’ success.

Serving as a mentor has shaped me into a more effective leader by improving my communication skills, problem-solving abilities, empathy, and confidence in leading others toward growth and success.

Dreams for a new way forward:

When you imagine an equitable and anti-racist food system, what do you envision?

When I imagine an equitable and anti-racist food system, I envision a world where everyone has equal access to nutritious and culturally appropriate food, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. In this system, no discrimination or systemic barriers prevent individuals from obtaining healthy food options.

I envision a food system that celebrates diversity and values the knowledge and expertise of all communities. It would prioritize local and sustainable farming practices that protect the environment while ensuring farmers receive fair wages for their labor.

In an equitable and anti-racist food system, policies would be in place to address historical injustices such as land dispossession and exploitation of marginalized communities. This could involve reparations for those affected by these injustices and initiatives to support small-scale farmers from underrepresented backgrounds.

Education would play a crucial role in this vision, with comprehensive programs teaching people about nutrition, cooking skills, gardening techniques, and traditional farming methods. These educational opportunities would be accessible to all communities without racial or economic disparities.

Moreover, I imagine partnerships between government agencies, non-profit organizations, community groups, businesses, and the entire supply chain working together to create an inclusive food system. Efforts should also be made to reduce food waste through better distribution networks and innovative technologies.

My vision reflects a society where food justice is at the forefront; it’s not just about providing sustenance but recognizing everyone’s right to nourishment while addressing systemic inequalities within our current systems.

What role do you think mentorship can play in reaching this vision?

The role that mentorship could take in reaching this vision is critical. Mentorship can play a crucial role in guiding individuals towards their goals and helping them navigate the challenges they may encounter along the way.

In reaching this vision, mentorship can provide invaluable support and guidance to aspiring individuals who are looking to make a difference in their chosen field or community. Mentors can share their knowledge, expertise, and experiences with mentees, providing them with valuable insights and advice.

Mentorship can also help foster personal growth and development for mentees by providing them with opportunities for learning and skill-building. Mentors can help mentees identify their strengths and weaknesses, set goals, develop action plans, and offer constructive feedback on their progress.

Furthermore, mentorship can facilitate networking opportunities for mentees by connecting them with professionals in relevant industries or sectors. Mentors often have established networks that they can tap into to introduce mentees to potential collaborators or employers.

Moreover, mentorship emotionally supports mentees throughout their journey toward achieving the vision. Someone who believes in them listens to their concerns, offers encouragement during setbacks, and celebrates successes can motivate individuals to strive towards a goal.

Overall, mentorship has the potential to accelerate progress toward this vision by offering guidance, support systems, and access to resources that would otherwise be difficult for individuals to obtain on their own. It creates a collaborative environment where experienced mentors empower aspiring individuals through knowledge-sharing personalized coaching approaches.

What are some creative or inspiring ways you have seen mentees working towards a more just and equitable food system?

Some of the creative and inspiring ways that I have seen mentees working towards a just food system are:

Community-led gardens: Mentees have started community gardens in their neighborhoods to address food insecurity and promote access to fresh, healthy produce. These gardens provide nutritious food and create a sense of community and empowerment.

Food rescue initiatives: Some mentees have created networks or organizations that collect surplus food from supermarkets, restaurants, and farms that would otherwise go to waste. They distribute this rescued food to needy individuals or organizations, reducing both hunger and food waste.

Sustainable farming practices: Many mentees implement sustainable farming techniques such as organic agriculture, permaculture, or regenerative farming. These approaches prioritize soil health, biodiversity, and water conservation while producing nutritious crops.

Advocacy campaigns: Mentees have organized advocacy campaigns to raise awareness about issues related to the food system, such as pesticide use, factory farming practices, or unfair labor conditions for farmworkers. Through education and public pressure on policymakers and corporations, they seek systemic change toward a more just food system.

Food education programs: Some mentees work with schools or community centers to develop educational programs that teach children and adults about nutrition, cooking skills, gardening basics, and the importance of sustainable agriculture. By empowering individuals with knowledge about healthy eating choices and where their food comes from, they contribute to building healthier communities.

Collaborative platforms: Certain mentees have built online platforms connecting local farmers directly with consumers seeking fresh produce through direct sales models like CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). These platforms facilitate transparent transactions while supporting small-scale farmers by eliminating intermediaries in the supply chain.

Youth empowerment projects: Several young mentors are engaging their peers in youth-led initiatives focused on addressing issues within the global agri-food system, such as climate change resilience strategies for farmers or promoting equitable land distribution policies.

These examples demonstrate how creative problem-solving and passion can lead mentees to develop innovative solutions for a more just and sustainable food system.

Keeping it real

Let’s talk burnout, it’s a thing – and social change is a long game. How do you encourage mentees to take care of themselves in balance with commitments to work, family and community?

Great question! Burnout is a genuine concern, especially for those committed to creating social change. It’s important to remember that taking care of oneself is not selfish, but rather essential to maintaining the energy, passion, and dedication needed to make a positive impact in the long run. Here are some ways to encourage mentees to prioritize self-care:

Model healthy habits: As a mentor, it’s important to model healthy habits yourself. Share with your mentees how you manage your stress and self-care, and be open about your struggles. This will help them feel more comfortable prioritizing their own well-being.

Set realistic expectations: Encourage mentees to set realistic goals and expectations for themselves professionally and personally. This includes being mindful of their workload, avoiding over-committing, and taking breaks when needed.

Encourage self-reflection: Help mentees develop self-reflection practices, such as journaling or meditation, better to understand their own needs, strengths, and weaknesses. This will enable them to make informed decisions about their own well-being and boundaries.

Foster a support network: Encourage mentees to build a network of peers, friends, and family members who can provide emotional support, advice, and help when needed.

Emphasize the importance of downtime: Remind mentees that taking time off, engaging in hobbies, and doing things they enjoy are essential to recharging and avoiding burnout. Please encourage them to schedule downtime and prioritize activities that bring them joy and relaxation.

Provide resources: Share resources on self-care, stress management, and mindfulness with your mentees. This might include books, articles, podcasts, or local workshops and events.

Celebrate milestones and successes: Encourage mentees to celebrate their achievements, no matter how small. This will help them stay motivated and recognize the value of their contributions, which can help prevent burnout.

Offer guidance: Help mentees establish healthy boundaries with work, family, and community commitments. Encourage them to say “no” when necessary and prioritize their needs.

Encourage self-compassion: Remind mentees to be kind to themselves when they experience setbacks or make mistakes. Please encourage them to practice self-compassion, recognize that everyone makes mistakes and that it’s an opportunity to learn and grow.

Lead by example: Share your experiences of prioritizing self-care, and how it has positively impacted your life and work. This will help mentees see the value in prioritizing their own well-being and encourage them to do the same.

Following these tips can help mentees maintain their energy, passion, and dedication to creating positive social change while avoiding burnout. Remember, taking care of oneself is not selfish, but rather essential to making a sustainable impact in the long run.

Reflecting on your time at Red Tomato, what is one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you started out?

Reflecting on my time at Red Tomato, the one thing I know now that I wish I had known when I started out was how vital brain real estate is to one’s continued success.

Managing “brain real estate” or cognitive resources is crucial for continued success in any career or endeavor. Here are a few key takeaways and tips:

Prioritization: Understanding the importance of prioritizing tasks and responsibilities is essential. Not everything deserves the same amount of attention and mental energy. Identifying high-impact tasks and focusing on them can help you maximize your productivity.

Time Management: Effective time management is closely related to managing brain real estate. Learning to allocate your time efficiently, avoiding distractions, and setting clear goals can help free up mental space for more critical tasks.

Learning and Adaptation: Continuous learning and adaptability are critical. As you gain experience and knowledge, you’ll better recognize which information and skills are most valuable for your role. Staying open to new ideas and updating your knowledge can prevent cognitive overload.

Stress Management: Stress and burnout can quickly deplete your cognitive resources. It’s essential to have strategies for managing stress, such as regular breaks, exercise, and mindfulness techniques.

Delegation: Recognize when it’s appropriate to delegate tasks to others. This lightens your cognitive load, empowers your team members, and fosters collaboration.

Mental Health: Pay attention to your mental health and well-being. A healthy mind is more resilient and better equipped to manage the demands of work and life. Seek support when needed and practice self-care.

Reflect and Adapt: Periodically reflect on your priorities and assess how you allocate your cognitive resources. Be willing to adapt and make changes as your responsibilities and goals evolve.

In essence, managing brain real estate is about optimizing your cognitive abilities to achieve your goals while maintaining a healthy work-life balance. It’s a skill that evolves over time, and your awareness of its importance is a valuable step toward continued success.

Thank you Angel for all you’ve done in your community and for the FSLN, and for sharing your lessons with the network in this way!

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