Featured Leader: Shawn Peterson

In this Featured Leader piece we hear from FSLN Network Weaver and systems thinker Shawn Peterson. Shawn is a 6th generation farmer who has worked in many different aspects of the food system; a waiter, dishwasher, wholesale food distributor, farmers’ market manager, baker, restaurant owner, and of course, a farmer.

Thank you, Shawn, for bringing a network lens to this work and for always connecting the dots across seemingly disparate parts. We’re excited to read more about who you are and what you’re thinking about in this piece!

Shawn’s work in Food Justice and Health Equity started when he founded the Green Urban Lunch Box, a multi-faceted urban agriculture program based in Salt Lake City. Shawn’s work in the gleaning space started in 2013 through a Green Urban Lunch Box program called FruitShare. He’s a founding member of the International Gleaning Symposium and the Association of Gleaning Organizations.
When he is not growing food, Shawn loves to spend time exploring nature and the planet with his wife and 3 small children.

Your Leadership Journey

Who are you? (Beyond the job title!)
I am a passionate adventure who likes to try new things. I am constantly eating new things,
going to new places, pushing my beliefs, and exploring. I have three young kids 5,2, and 1, and it is fun to watch them discover the world. I like helping people discover things and push limits. 

What inspired you to get involved in food systems work?
I have been involved in food from a young age. Food has always been a part of my life. But I got involved in food system work after spending some time in the south pacific and witnessing firsthand how intact food systems make or break community and cultural connections.

Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader?
I worked for someone named Shane Gallager in my early 20s and he pushed me to think differently about leadership and influence. He introduced me to Taoism, taught me to lead by doing and never expect anyone to follow. He taught me two mantras I still use today: He always said, “I don’t know how usually means I don’t want to” and “If you can’t see, close your eyes,” I think about these lessons every day.

What does food systems leadership mean to you?
It really means helping people reach their potential and lead the system. If I do my job right, at the end of the day they will think they did it all by themselves.

What’s your greatest leadership challenge now, and what are you looking for support for?
Explaining the value of networks to funders. I could really use some coaching ad training on this.

What are you most excited about in your work?
Seeing people connect and make friends across the country with people who think differently than them.

What’s something about you (a fun fact!) that not many of your colleagues know or that we wouldn’t expect from you?
I sailed a 36-foot motorless sailboat across the pacific.

Reflections on the Network Weaver Role

What is your network weaving superpower that you’re bringing with you in this role and that you’re excited to share with this network?
I see connections and how systems fit together and how they could fit together. I am good at looking at parts and seeing how they can be used to meet a common goal.

What is one thing you hope to take with you from your weaving experience?
New friends, new connections, new ideas.

Reflections on 2020

A lot happened in 2020. What is one lesson that you’ll carry with you or a piece of advice you’d like to send forward? 
The world can change overnight and we should expect it to. And that we should focus on what matters, not all the old social rules. Turns out it was not the end of the world to have a kid interrupt a meeting, or to hold a baby while talking work. We can and should mesh our worlds and it is fine to be less professional.

COVID is impacting the food system in a number of ways, and in some cases, one can argue that more attention is being paid to the value and resiliency of local and regional food systems. What is one change you’re hoping to see to the US food system and how do you think we can get there?
Covid showed us that our systems are fragile because of how “lean they are” but it was a dress rehearsal for climate change. I hope that coming out of this we relive the value of food and start to honor that value. You can’t build resilience, redundancy, or creativity into a system that only has a few cents of profit to spare. If we want systems that can adapt then there has to be more than a few cents a pound profit for farmers, shippers or retails.

Time for some real talk …

Burn out. It’s a thing, and social change is a long game. Have you found ways to balance taking care of yourself with your commitment to creating more equitable food and social systems?
I am always on the verge of burnout and do a poor job with self-care. I have really young kids and I am trying really hard to be very involved in their lives. I often spend 6 or 7 hours with my kids each day. They just need a lot of attention right now and combine that with full-time work, time for my wife, there is not a lot of me-time left. Lately, I have been trying to work less and only do things that matter when I work but it’s hard, I hope to get better at it as my kids get older.

What is one change would you like to see that might encourage more folks to enter and stay in this work for the long haul?
Less grind culture. Too often working long days and burning ourselves into the ground is glorified. If we don’t, people think we don’t care. We need to call each other out when we are working too much, praise people who tell us no, and take time for the self.

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