By Dorothy Neagle
Good Food Jobs
Admittedly, we are biased, but we can’t think of a better place to spend a summer weekend than the beautiful city of Burlington, Vermont. This June 14-15 brings the University of Vermont’s annual Food Systems Summit on the shores of Lake Champlain. Nija Rivera will be presenting at this year’s conference, among many other advocates for “good food.” What are you waiting for? The deadline to register is June 6th.
Good Food Jobs talked to Nija about her job at The Food Trust in Philadelphia.
When did you know that you wanted to work in food?
I knew that I wanted to work in food (and public health) when I realized there was an actual term for what I had known existed in Philadelphia all my life. I grew up in Philadelphia, but unlike many residents, I had the fortune of growing up near a supermarket. It was located in a suburb that bordered my neighborhood in Northwest Philly, a section called Cedarbrook. As a child, I remember my mother pointing out that in other sections of the city, residents did not have access to a supermarket. Fast forward about 15 years, when in graduate school I learned that there was an epidemic of chronic disease in communities with limited access to healthy, affordable food. These places were called “food deserts.” I remember having an ‘aha’ moment and thinking to myself, “You mean to tell me this thing has a name??!!” Access to healthy, affordable (and delicious) food seems like common sense to me–a very simple concept. That’s why focusing my work on food access, especially in under served communities, just makes sense to me…why shouldn’t everyone have access to healthy food? (Also, I love to eat. LOVE IT.)
How did you get your current good food job?
About five years ago, I interned at The Food Trust during graduate school and worked as a market associate at one of our farmers’ markets. About a year ago, I was actually working in community oral health when I was contacted by The Food Trust’s Deputy Executive Director. He let me know that The Food Trust had some new employment opportunities and encouraged me to apply.
How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?
My previous work experience has prepared me for my current position because it helped me learn not to sweat the small stuff and to appreciate the great people who work around me. The Food Trust has an awesome staff and we all work collectively towards our mission of providing access to healthy, affordable food and nutrition education to folks in Philadelphia and around the country. However, we also like to have a lot of fun and we always make sure to celebrate each other. This type of collaborative and supportive environment is essential to doing great work and I think this is why The Food Trust has been so successful.
I also waited tables for years, which prepares you for a lot of things. I think everyone should be a waiter at least once. It makes you hustle, if you really want to make money, and it also makes you appreciate good tippers.
What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?
Leaving my last position was a big hurdle. I am the type of person who, when I commit to something, I am in it for the long haul. It’s always difficult to leave a job where you feel you have invested a lot of hard work and time. However, my current position was too good of an opportunity to pass up, so I put on my big-girl high heels (as Carrie Bradshaw might do–though I don’t wear heels, they were more like comfortable flats) and came on over to The Food Trust.
Name one positive thing that a former employer taught you that you continue to appreciate?
The most positive thing that a former manager taught me was to always make sure to celebrate people and to let them know that they are appreciated. I had a professor in graduate school that really took a liking to me and gave me the opportunity to be a research assistant. She always let me know how good of a job she thought I was doing and that she appreciated my work. She made me feel like I had something important to contribute and ultimately this gave me a lot confidence. It’s always nice to be around strong, self-assured women who somehow, through their own awesomeness, uplift others.
What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?
Just celebrating food in general. We are seeing a lot of grassroots work that focuses on reconnecting communities to the food they consume, especially on a cultural level. It’s a beautiful thing. Also, looking at alternative ways to provide access to affordable food, particularly through incentives.
If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?
1. Unlimited, all expenses paid trips to anywhere in the world that is sunny, safe, and has a beach, resorts, and shopping (Greece is number one on my list) and the ability to take my Mom and Grandma (Mom-Mom) with me. 2. Forgive ALL of my student loans 3. A bangin’ penthouse apartment in downtown of a city of my choice (probably San Francisco) 4. Unlimited dance and yoga classes 5. A lifetime supply of any and all products from Sephora.
Nija Rivera will present at the UVM Food Systems Summit on June 14-15 at the UVM Davis Center. For more information or to register, visit uvm.edu/foodsystemssummit.
This piece was first published on GoodFoodJobs.com.