Lynne Fessenden is stepping down from her decade-long position as the executive director of the Willamette Farm and Food Coalition, a nonprofit focused on developing a sustainable food system in Lane County. But she says her passion for educating the community about local foods is still as strong as ever. “It’s been ten years, and that’s long enough,” she says.
Fessenden has a doctorate in oceanography from Oregon State University, is a self-taught nutritionist and says that while she enjoys gardening, “I mostly buy from local farmers because I like supporting them.”
Fessenden has done a lot more for local farmers than just buying her groceries from them. With Fessenden at the helm, the WFFC has helped develop the local food industry by convincing farmers that they can grow hard red wheat, which is ground into flour so that people can eat locally farmed wheat products.
Under Fessenden WFFC convinced schools to buy food from local farms with its Farm to School program.
WFFC also implemented a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program match program that has helped make local fresh food affordable to those who don’t have that much money to spend. SNAP beneficiaries who spend $10 on food at the Lane County Farmers Market get an additional $10 worth of “Food Bucks” to spend there on fruits and vegetables.
While attending OSU, Fessenden says she was more community-focused than her peers. “In graduate school I proposed a course to our dean that would teach grad students how to tell the general public why their research mattered, in three lines or less, and he laughed me out of the room.”
She later worked as the associate director of a national nonprofit, the Science and Environmental Health Network. “I loved the work but felt strange after a while that I was helping communities all around the country but was not connected to what was going on in my own,” she says.
Since Fessenden’s sister was already an organic farmer, Fessenden was familiar with agriculture, and that influenced her decision to take the position at WFFC.
Fessenden is going to keep working with WFFC to publish the 2017 edition of the Locally Grown Guide, an informational booklet on local farmers and where to find their food.
She will also be working with the Willamette Valley Sustainable Foods Alliance to launch a regional foods brand. After that, she says, she won’t know until she gets there.
“Everyone eats. Everyone has a food story. That is what makes this work so powerful. There is no one who is not touched by food,” Fessenden says. “Working in support of our farmers and our food economy has been the most gratifying work of my life.”