By Kari Kempf
A 2005 graduate of the AFE program at Friedman, Hilde has been working for nearly five years as program director at Farm Aid, a national nonprofit based in Cambridge, MA, that works to keep family farmers on their land and thriving.
What are some of your favorite memories from your time as a Friedman student?
The people stand out the most. I loved the community at Friedman. From students to staff to professors, it felt like a big family, and I miss that. I stay in touch with so many people still, and think the relationships formed during my time at Friedman are invaluable. Many of my fellow students are now fellow colleagues, and we continue to work together to effect social change and ensure a better future for our farm and food system. There were many good times and late nights in the computer room and library, and being a part of that collective commitment and energy was both inspiring and activating.
I also loved being a Gershoff scholar and participating in the annual symposium. I appreciated the chance to work with students from the other programs to put together an event that would interest the entire school. There was one funny meeting during which we were brainstorming ideas for that years’ symposium when I started talking about organics. Coming from the AFE program, I was referring to organic agriculture, but there was a small moment of confusion when some of the other more bench-science folks thought I was talking about “carbon-containing compounds”. It made me laugh, and really appreciate the wide spectrum of food study, from cell to society, being covered under the Friedman roof.
So, what exactly is your current role?
As program director I serve as Farm Aid’s principle issue analyst and program liaison, ensuring that the perspective of family farmers and farm advocates, as well as their needs and issues, are reflected in how we go about our work. I oversee our farmer resource programming, policy and advocacy work and strategic partnerships with farm organizations and sustainable agriculture efforts across the country working to advance a family-farm centered food system that benefits all. Farm Aid is a very collaborative place, and I work closely with an incredible team of folks to make this work happen. In addition to our year-round farmer programming and educational outreach efforts, we host an annual benefit concert to raise funds and awareness for our cause. Each of us on the office takes on an active role in making the concert a success. I’m lucky enough to work with farmers and farm leaders wherever the concert is held, getting their stories told and organizing events to showcase their many valuable contributions to the well being of our health, our land and our communities.
How has your Friedman education helped you to get where you are today?
I first got connected to Farm Aid through a US Food Policy class assignment that involved interviewing an organization in the field on a research topic. I was interested in learning more about the impact of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and Farm Aid was involved in a state-wide GMO moratorium at the time. I was so impressed with how the staff welcomed me and took my interests seriously, that I stayed in touch and continued to volunteer with the organization. When a position opened up, they reached out to me, and for a while there I was constantly pinching myself that I actually had landed my dream job at Farm Aid! They were similarly excited to have someone on staff with all that the AFE degree offers. (And now there are two of us, as Alicia Harvie joined the staff in 2009). It certainly is one of those wonderful grad school success stories.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Again, it’s the people. Farm Aid’s deep relationships formed over its 27+ year history are remarkable, and I feel so grateful to be able to work for an organization with such a strong commitment to social justice and a better food and farm system for both farmers and eaters. Farm Aid is a very inclusive place, and we welcome all to the table to be a part of the change we know needs to occur to get our food system on track for long term resiliency and health. As a result of our “big tent” approach, we interact with an incredible swath of people, and I am continually in awe of the values and passion and dedication that tie us all together.
What advice do you have for current Friedman students, both those graduating this spring and those gearing up for summer internships?
My advice is to focus on and value relationships – with other Friedman students and alumni, with faculty and staff, with professionals at organizations or companies in your field. Networking is important for professional growth, but also for making the most out of your Friedman degree and your work to come. Take time to enjoy your fellow students, learn about their interests, reach out to professors, stay connected as best you can. We have so much to gain from one another.
Kari Kempf is a first-year Friedman student in the Nutrition Communication program.