Asta Garmon is a nutrition analyst who is coordinating a district wide Farm-to-School program in Weston, Massachusetts. She is a 2010 graduate of the Friedman School’s AFE program and kept very busy during her time here. She was a founder and chair of our Slow Food Friedman, a research assistant under Tim Griffin, an agriculture resource training coordinator for the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, and a member of the Water and Agriculture Affinity Group. Not only does Asta promote fresh, healthy food in schools, she has brought it to the Boston masses. You may well have seen the popular food truck she co-founded, Bon Me, around town. Established in 2011, this mobile approach to Vietnamese street food uses bright and bold ingredients that keep Bostonians coming back.
What inspired you to work in the field of community nutrition and farm to school programming?
I was interested in working on projects that incorporate farming/agriculture all the way through to human nutrition. In my current job, I love that I get to meet with farmers and talk about crop plans, problem-solve the distribution and processing issues, and work with K- 12 students to encourage healthy eating behaviors and an appreciation for the environment.
What is your job as a farm-to-school coordinator like? As a nutrition analyst?
As the job title indicates, my job is sort of a mish-mash of things. I spend time planning menus and making sure we are complying with state and federal regulations, working with staff to develop and standardize recipes, connecting with teachers and administrators to support school gardens, developing and nurturing relationships with farmers, and coordinating with the nursing staff to provide for students with special needs.
What do you think is in store for school nutrition in Massachusetts? In the country?
School nutrition is at a huge turning point with the passage of the Healthier Hunger Free Kids Act. This is the first time in 15 years that the National School Lunch/School Breakfast program has been dramatically changed. It is proving to feel like too much too fast for many. However, the intent of the legislation is incredibly ambitious and indicates a serious commitment from Congress to reverse childhood obesity. Additionally, more and more young professionals are getting into the field and elevating the status of food service workers and bringing new skills and ideas to the table.
Opening a food truck is like starting a restaurant. How did you manage this? What inspired you?
The truck was started by three of us. Basically, my business partners and I divided and conquered the start-up phase of the company. One of us handled the truck operations, one the finance and permitting, and the third managed the cooking and commissary. Being from Portland, Oregon, a city exploding with food carts, I was excited to get into the burgeoning food truck scene in Boston.
Why Vietnamese street food?
Vietnamese street food incorporates fresh vegetables, bright flavors, and is incredibly portable. With Chinese, Thai, French, and Indian influences on the cuisine, Vietnamese food is a great taste platform to explore a variety of flavors.
Which program did you attend at Friedman and why?
I was in the Agriculture, Food, and Environment program because I like how the program connects the strands of the web between food policy, agricultural science, and human nutrition. Very few graduate level programs cover that breadth – yet an understanding of how all of these pieces are connected is increasingly important for developing and implementing effective food policy and programs.
How did your time at Friedman prepare you for your field?
I rely heavily on the two nutrition science classes I took as well as the policy courses. Project management skills gained through course work and generally just being a student have proven to be invaluable.
Which classes were of the most benefit to you?
I got a lot out of Determinants of U.S. Food Policy, Monitoring and Evaluation, and Non-Profit Management.
What are your favorite memories of your time as a student at Friedman?
At the risk of sounding like a total nerd, I really liked some of the study group sessions for Kathleen Merrigan’s policy class and Park Wilde’s Determinants of U.S. Food Policy. I also really enjoyed the Slow Food Tufts Trivia events. People brought such amazing food and it was great to talk about things other than readings, papers, or internships.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
If you told me five years ago that I would be living in Boston, an owner of a food truck company, and working in schools, I would have thought you were crazy! It is too hard to say where my path will lead me at this point. There are so many interesting changes taking place right now.
Do you have a foodie idol?
One of my idols is Novella Carpenter, an urban farmer and writer in Oakland, CA. She is realistic about the challenges our country faces as we try to reexamine our food system and she is very funny! I love her book Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer.
Do you have any advice for current Friedman students looking to get involved in community nutrition and the farm-to-school movement?
The world of food is all about relationships so it is very important that you get your name out there and demonstrate your value as worker. Volunteering or doing internships is a great way to get hands on experience and can often lead to interesting and new job opportunities.
Amy Elvidge is a first year AFE student who looks forward to a career as full of fresh, delicious food as Garmon’s.