This month’s FSLN Featured Leader is Eva Agudelo who has been an integral part of the FSLN’s Farm to Food Assistance work, including facilitating the F2FA Community of Practice. We’ve enjoyed learning from and with Eva so without further ado…
Eva (she/her/hers) has worked with beginning farmers, restaurants, retailers, farmers markets, nonprofits, and hunger relief agencies to improve community food security and bring about a food system that works for everyone. Eva started the National Incubator Farm Training Initiative through the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project; served as a FINI (now GusNIP) program officer at Wholesome Wave, supporting incentive programs at farmers markets across the US; and was the Assistant Director of Programs at the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, administering federal nutrition programs and supporting Rhode Island’s statewide network of food pantries and meal sites. She holds an M.S. from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and is the former Vice-Chair of the Rhode Island Food Policy Council (RIFPC).
Eva founded Hope’s Harvest in 2018 to mobilize volunteers to harvest and distribute surplus food from local farms to hunger relief agencies. As of 2022, Hope’s Harvest is a program of Farm Fresh RI and includes farm-based food recovery, contracting with growers, and surplus purchasing — all for the purpose of serving the emergency food system.
On Leadership & Learning
Who are you? (beyond the job title!)
I’m a deeply nerdy, neurodivergent queerdo witch/dirt worshipper who refuses to choose between idealism and pragmatism.
What inspired you to get involved in food systems work?
I experienced food insecurity as a child. When I moved to VT in my early twenties and became part of a community that was growing, raising, and preparing delicious food, I learned that the closer you are to food production the more power you have over your quality of life. I was interested in how this dynamic – in part because it has pleasure as a core characteristic – could both improve people’s lives in an immediate and tangible way and also have a transformative economic and political impact. I also love how food touches on and provides an entry point to literally every political issue, from healthcare to labor rights to the climate crisis and everything in between.
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?
When I started the Hope’s Harvest program, I was assigned a mentor through a food enterprise accelerator program. She had unflagging faith in me and in addition to helping me think and act strategically, was also incredibly loving and generous with her time and care. She modeled how to be a leader while being deeply kind, which is a lesson I treasure and try to live every day.
Something not many of your colleagues know about you or that we wouldn’t expect?
I have an AAS degree in fashion design from the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC! I don’t have a lot of time to make clothes these days, but I still do really love to sew.
What does food systems leadership mean to you?
It means both recognizing and consistently articulating that food, as an essential component of human life, is at the foreground of the existential threats humanity is currently facing. And it means being courageous and uncompromising on insisting that anti-capitalism and anti-racism are foundational to solving any of our collective challenges.
What’s your greatest leadership challenge now? What support would be meaningful from this network?
We all need to be more honest about the real costs of doing the work we do. It undermines everyone when we allow the externalization of people’s physical and mental health. At the end of the day, this is all about taking care of each other and we have to prioritize that.
What are you most excited about in your work?
I love collaboration and partnerships. Rhode Island is a small state filled with a lot of dedicated, hardworking people motivated by doing good. Working together towards common goals makes us all stronger.
We’d love to hear about your involvement with the FSLN! What’s been one experience that sticks out to you, and how has this impacted you?
It was delightful hanging out with FSLN friends at the recent Farm to Institution New England conference in Rhode Island. Love that feeling of kindred spirits having a good time while plotting to change the world!
Dreams for a new way forward
When you imagine an equitable and anti-racist food system, what do you envision?
Strong and connected communities where farmers are honored, valued, and compensated for their contributions, neighbors get their hands dirty and have fun helping each other, and everyone enjoys an abundance of fresh, healthy food.
What is one action step food systems leaders can take to work towards a more just and equitable food system?
Publicly recognize and value ALL people for their intellectual, physical, emotional, and spiritual labor.
Keeping it real
Let’s talk burnout, it’s a thing – and social change is a long game. How do you balance taking care of yourself with your working commitments?
When I’m done with my work, I let myself be done with my work. I used to think I had to be constantly going, and then after I became a mom that just wasn’t sustainable anymore. I also know enough people doing amazing things that I can remind myself I’m not holding the whole world on my shoulders – it’s easier to work hard when you’re working with friends.
Reflecting on your time in food systems development, what is one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you started out?
It’s possible to retain a sense of urgency while still allowing more space around how much time it takes to get things done. Sometimes, taking more time in the short run is more efficient in the long term – especially when it comes to nurturing relationships.
Any words of encouragement or advice to share with your fellow food systems leaders?
What we do matters. Not everyone gets to say that when they go to work every day. Amid the chaos, we’re taking care of people now, and for the future, and there’s nothing more important than that.