My name is Gillian Giudice and I am a senior. I am interested in environmental careers about the food systems. I have worked in a couple different environmental systems that were technically food systems issues. I think my first job directly in this field in Fair Food International in Amsterdam, an international advocacy group. We worked to address legal issues about the food system. We worked with worker’s rights along the food systems.
The way the organization was set up there were different geographic and social areas of concern. I worked with Latin American sugarcane industry’s worker’s rights. So we had some advocacy research looking at how some of those situations affected the workers and I worked specifically in the fundraising department.
I was working with a couple of people to raise money and awareness of a kidney disease that the people in the industry was experiencing.
What was your experience with that like?
It was really really marvelous. It was my first big project completely on my own. Something I just talked about when I was interviewing in a position, I very offhandedly mentioned maybe doing a benefit concert. And I actually had to make that happen.
From that standpoint, it was definitely very challenging to see how I personally could create this project. Working in fundraising is challenging because you are not directly connected with the mission and goal. I mean you are because you are working with the mission and goal by telling it to people that have the finances and the resources to actually do the work. But since it was not a direct engagement work, I think I would have preferred to do more of that direct engagement work.
Were you aware or connected to this issue beforehand?
I wasn’t. I mean in class and doing personal research we talked about how the food system is very, very unsustainable and we have very very egregious worker’s rights violations: where those are not getting fair wages, where farm workers are being exploited, there are instances of sexual harassment, and there are just very egregious violations of human rights. I mean I knew about all that. But this particular issue, about sugarcane workers in Nicaragua and how that was linked to this kidney disease was new to me.
What was it like working abroad in Amsterdam? I imagine it must have been a really amazing cultural and immersive experience.
Yeah! It really was. It was a really multicultural office. So I worked with many Latin American women in a Dutch international organization, all working together in different regions. It was an amazing experience.
How do you find such opportunities?
I have always found amazing postings on the website Idealist. You can put in any location in the world and find a posting on Idealist. The posting said that you had to speak Dutch to do the job, but I obviously didn’t and it was a volunteer position not a paid position. But I sent the lady an email and I was given the opportunity to do it anyway. On the surface it seemed like it wouldn’t work, but I always encourage people to contact people they are interested in working for if they think they are doing great work.
Definitely reach out to people. They are interested in sharing their work and they are interested in how you want to share what you care about with them.
Do you think you have been able to express the things you care about through what you are doing?
Yes. I have always had the absolute luxury and privilege to be able to do work that I feel really connected to. Obviously it is a huge luxury to work for free and to choose what organizations you work for, and because of that privilege I have really been choosing the most comprehensive work, the problems of hunger of not just feeding people, but doing that in the most sustainable way and in every part of the food system.
Have you had other experiences related to this?
I worked at the Williamsburg Farmers Market when I am here and when I am home in Illinois I worked for the Liberty Prayer Foundation, which was awesome. And that was a posting I found in Idealist. It was called a community food systems intern my sophomore year, and I didn’t get it, but when I applied again my junior year I got the position. And that organization is just phenomenal. And they do a great job of considering the entire food system. They do a good job of considering nutrition and purchasing power and who has access to fruits and vegetables. But they also do a lot of work with farms and how to get more people into organic farming and get people to think about how we grow our food.
What was it like working for that organization?
It was a really really marvelous organization. I lived on the farm. I took a twenty or thirty minutes train ride from my house I lived in for the summer with this girl named Marina who is now one of my closest friends. We set up these subsidized farmers markets in these different areas. It was super fun. We would run a gleaning program because she was a sustainable agriculture. It was where we had a farm on site where we would have a farm on site that would allow us to come into gather some of the food they knew they were going to till into the earth and donate the food to us. We would then donate to a food bank or community center. The food wouldn’t necessarily have gone to waste because it could be recycled to the Earth or reharvested to sell, but we appreciated it.
I really like when programs have dual goals. The gleaning program was fantastic because we were able to get all that produce to people who were hungry who wouldn’t otherwise get to eat that, but you are also solving a waste issue.
There is a dual mission of reducing waste and using that to feed people. A major way food insecure people get food is by going to food pantries. By having gleaning programs you are able to take it directly from the farm, to food pantries so they are not just able to have shelf items for their clientele but have fresh organic sustainable produce.
What was the most rewarding and challenging thing about setting up and managing the farmer’s markets?
The whole thing was so immensely rewarding, it was just such an excellent experience. I really loved with my partner because we got along perfectly, we had the most fantastic set of strengths. So we had very varied set of skills. I came from an economics background so I would do lots of the financial planning side of things and my friend Marina was an agriculture and food systems student, but she has all of the scientific knowledge of how to grow food and how to grow food. She really understood how the food would grow and how to get edible produce. She was a brilliant person for that. I liked that we able to compliment that.
How did you get involved in the issues of food sustainability? Were there any experiences at William & Mary that were particularly influenced you?
I am also a sociology major. The class that really made me understand the depth and breadth of the food system and all the components and issues was a class called Food and Society with Professor Quark my sophomore year. That was the first time I learned so much about the food system. I hadn’t really heard about food justice. I knew and understood that we had to feed people, but I didn’t understand that whole systems approach of understanding that not only do people need to receive food, but we need to think about what food justice looks like for people that serve food, people working in the food system, and feeding people not to just get people fed, but giving people the means of production to produce their own food, but understanding food sovereignty.
But that was also the first time I heard about antiracism, that food has a disproportionate impact on race, on gender, on socioeconomic statuses and how they interact with eachother. It was the first time I ever heard that, which made my mind blown. Your organization has to be integrated of understanding these different social justice perspectives together.
I think it is acknowledging that there are disproportionate effects on people of color (ex: black people, Hispanic, etc) are more likely to have limited access to food and more likely to be in food deserts. If your organization isn’t going to acknowledge that then you cant really be able to serve the population.
If you have the idea that everyone is equally affected by food insecurity, you aren’t able to have the best effect on your population. You can’t just market everything the same, you really have to engage and go into those communities from an egalitarian perspective. You have to understand communities and communities of color. Asking yourself “How do you get different organizations to work together on food insecurity and food sovereignty” The food sovereignty part is really important because we have to recognize the means to production of the means to grow food are primarily in white farmer’s hands.
Traditionally people of color and native people’s food sovereignty was stripped away from them. How do you shift that back so that everyone has the power to grow their own food?
What does food insecurity and food security look like in Williamsburg?
Our market is quite a leader. We accept SNAP at the market (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) for anyone that has an electronic benefits cards what people use instead of food stamps now, people can get tokens to use at the farmer’s market anonymously. Which for me it is important that people feel like they belong in the market.
At the farmer’s market, it is a well-funded program, we have a couple of grants that help flesh out the budget. I think our goal is to increase the number of people that use this. We do a one to one match, so if you spend thirty dollars at the farmers market, you also get 30 tokens to use at the farmer’s market in addition to the 30 dollars you have spent. So, it essentially doubles your SNAP benefits and it does not expire.
What are the main barriers for people achieving access to food?
Transportation and Price. Those are the two largest barriers. And at least on our end knowledge that these programs exist. We can do better for having a central mechanism for disseminating information. I did a research project for my sociology project that people relate to each other on a word of mouth basis. When I was explaining the SNAP program people, they were like “Oh my god! You match? I didn’t know that.” So I think directly communicating that to people.
But then it is challenging because of the time constraints of the organization. I would love to be able to scout, communicate, and give people vouchers right there. It is challenging because everything has a time constraint.
What advice would you give to W&M students who are looking for similar type of experiences?
Talk to Tracy Herner from the farmers market, the market manager. I first met her through a 7 generations farmers market trip. She gave our group a tour and she was so energetic, so smart, and so committed. I was so impressed and inspired to her, and I wanted to learn more about what she was doing. Just trying to find those people that inspire you and reach out to them.
The great thing about working in the non profit sector is that people are really really committed to this mission, they really want to talk about their mission. Find those people that inspire you and send them an email. Talk and share it with someone else that cares about it too.
I just sent Tracy an email randomly in December to learn more about what she was doing because I thought it was so magnificent. I went to her office because we all cared about the same thing right, and then she just offered me a job, which was I feel like the most random thing. I signed the paperwork that day. And then I got class credit with, and that was the greatest thing.
Just communicating people that inspire you, I think that is key.
How do your strengths connect to this?
I am still trying to figure out what is the best way to be an honest, authentic contributor in a meaningful way that is more like a community partner not an infiltrator. I would love to be a non profit consultant to help people solve problems. They are not terribly efficient all the time. They don’t have consultants in their organizations, they have lots of data, but don’t do lots with it. I would love to serve more people, solve different problems, and other things.
Any last parting words of advice?
Go to Wendy at the career center. Since I applied to the liberty prairie job, I really really went hard with Wendy, I went to four meetings with the career center about how to best represent my experience, using language from the job posting, and putting that in my resume, making cover letters that articulate my personal voice. They rented me a suit to do my skype interview in and Wendy is just the best. I did an interview with her over the summer, and as soon as I got the job, she was really job available. Asking for help is the best you can do. You can’t do it all alone, there is always something you work with.