meet jazz: alternative agriculture advocate in columbus

Whenever new friends discover our blog for the first time, they invariably ask: How do you find these people?

Jazz Planting a Tree

How does Jazz stay disciplined being back in school full time? “Being my own supervisor, all my time is my own, and I pretty much work during the day like a normal person,” she says. “I work from home, so I’m eating constantly.” I feel ya, Jazz.

Here’s one story: Back in 2012, I was working for Reader’s Digest as a copy editor. I loved my team (like Deb!), but I was trying to figure out how to unite my passions for the environment, health, animal welfare, social justice and community into the next step of my career. The food system was the place I thought I could blend all those things and use my skills to make a difference, so I reached out to Jazz Glastra about Victory Garden Initiative’s (VGI) Food Leader Certificate Program. On a chilly winter night, she met me in the Saint’s Snug at County Clare Irish Pub in Milwaukee, which will forever hold a special place in my heart. Jazz told me all about how I’d learn to grow food, organize groups of people, and make a difference starting in my own community. I signed up for the program the next day.

Two and a half years later, I’m now working full-time at VGI, and Jazz has moved on to pursue her Master’s of Science in Environment and Natural Resources with a specialization in Rural Sociology at the Ohio State University. I miss her more or less constantly, so I’m so glad to share part of her story with you.

Jazz went to high school in an agricultural area of Washington state and hated it—the FFA kids in their big trucks blared country music and made it seem like farming was about not caring. After graduation, she went off to Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, planning to get into environmental action or law—until she arrived. At Kenyon, Jazz totally fell in love with religious studies and became disillusioned with the policy world. Before she veered too far, though, she started her first farming internship at an organic farm in Ohio during her sophomore year. It was there that she became intrigued with agriculture and the local food movement.

People with Panache: How did you end up in Milwaukee after college?

JG: I went into college thinking policy and law, and I came out wanting to do more grassroots action on sustainable food. At graduation time, my now-husband and I were looking for a place to move together. He was looking at law schools—oddly enough, he had majored in political science—and I was looking for organizations working on urban agriculture. We have to feed 9.5 billion people by 2050, so we have to grow food where people are eating it, which is increasingly in the cities.

Then, we discovered Milwaukee—Marquette University for Jeremy and a hub of urban agriculture for me.

“Is this what we should be doing? Does this make sense for actually changing the food system the way I want to?”

PWP: So that’s when you started interning at VGI, building communities that grow their own food, right?

JG: I went from intern to program coordinator to program manager, and I learned so much from that experience—from grassroots organizing to creating programs to attending and helping lead initiatives such as the Food Leader Certificate Program. But eventually I realized I wanted to go back to school, because I didn’t get to fully sink my teeth into bigger agricultural issues in college.

I’m excited to be back in Ohio learning about agriculture, the food system, and how policy and society intersect with those things.

PWP: Where do groups like VGI fit in, either just in general, or on your path?

Jazz in Columbus

Something Jazz and I wholeheartedly agree on: It’s important to be part of a community that believes in change. Have you found your community yet?

JG: I’m going through another about-face realizing I can maybe be more effective looking at the bigger picture, working for policy organizations or doing research that can inform policy. I’m figuring out where that path is going to lead me next.

PWP: How do you think you can make the biggest difference in your career going forward?

JG: I really got in on the ground floor at VGI and developed some of the programs that exist now. A lot of those programs felt like my baby, and I had been working in the trenches for almost three years. It was becoming almost tunnel vision; I was having a hard time pulling back and thinking more broadly: Is this what we should be doing? Does this make sense for actually changing the food system the way I want to? That stuff is very necessary, but policy and higher-level system change are now what I think will make a bigger, faster difference. Then again, you have to have grassroots infrastructure in place before things can happen, so it’s two sides of the same coin.

PWP: Do you have a new dream job?

JG: I’m still forming an idea of it. But I think what I’d really love to do is use academic-style research, maybe not original but pulling out current science, and make that accessible to the public or usable for policy.

I recently read this article that made me uncomfortable at first. It was about community garden efforts in Milwaukee, written by an academic woman I know there. It was basically accusing nonprofits of reinforcing the system that keeps people of color down, even through their efforts to bring healthy food to the city—not challenging the system. If you bring a community garden into a community with a lot of need, that’s awesome, but why not focus your efforts on figuring out why these people are facing these problems in the first place?

It’s a critique that a lot of popular movements get right now. For example, academics critique food banks for not providing a solution to bigger problems. Through grad school, this is where my attention is turning. Community-based nonprofits teach people job skills, how to grow food, and other things. That is all awesome and super important. But they’re working within the system—not working to change it.

Jazz in Milwaukee

“My parents recently accused Jeremy and me of being really depressing,” Jazz says (and I know I’m that person sometimes, too). “No one is going to fix the food system, but it doesn’t mean I’m not going to try.”

PWP: And there are two levels to that: Meeting the immediate need of hunger, then meeting those greater community needs.

JG: Right. The local, sustainable food movement has addressed some of those bigger, tangible needs. But right now, it isn’t doing as much as it could about policy. Currently, food isn’t really an issue we can vote on. Less than 2 percent of people in America are farmers, while the dominant agricultural industry spends gajillions lobbying Congress for policies that suit them. The alternative food movement is saying we can build gardens, and sure we can, but we can also lobby Congress! Two can play at that game.

PWP: Hell yeah! I went to an event a few weeks ago all about women running for office—we need one of those for the food movement. I’m excited to see where this takes us both next, Jazz. Besides this work, what are some of the things that make you happiest?

JG: My husband, my pets, my friends, mostly people—but food is right up there. That’s kind of why I started on this track. I always wanted to work on environmental issues in some way. It was too big and too scary when I got to college—just too much. But then I learned more about the local food movement. I thought: I can eat delicious things and do stuff for the environment at the same time?! I get so much joy from food—eating, making, baking it. It’s amazing how you can transform something! Flour and water mixed together? That’s disgusting. But all you need to do is let yeast do its thing and bake for awhile and it becomes bread—this amazing, magical food.

Over and over, we see the transformation a single person can make in her community, and we love sharing those women’s stories. Jazz just finished her first year of grad school and will graduate in May 2016, when I will promptly try to coerce her back to work with us in Milwaukee. (Jazz, you have been warned.)

[Photos by Alysse.]

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the best boss ever

Kate and I were talking this week, and she said, “It’s not always easy to be a human who has to deal with other humans.” She is hilarious—and right. After all, she has to meet with ME every Monday night! But this applies to all of the humans in your life: friends, family, co-workers, bosses…

Best Boss

Duncan Ferguson’s “Best Boss” study kept finding five pervasive themes. Looks like they align with what we’re hearing, too!

We’re all a little crazy, messy and unpredictable, but when you’re a manager, somehow it seems like it gets even more complicated. Kate and I think about this so much, interviewing entrepreneurs and women taking leading roles in their careers all over the Midwest. You get a promotion for being great at your job and, all of a sudden, you’re a boss. Or you start a company and have to hire a bunch of people you don’t quite trust yet. Or maybe you always wanted to be a great people developer, but didn’t realize how hard it really is. Kate’s mom always says: “Leadership would be easy if it weren’t for the people.” I’m in a pretty fantastic situation, because Kate (and her mom) work in leadership development and culture transformation, so not only do we talk about this all the time, but she actually knows things.

We thought it would be interesting, empowering and inspiring to hear what some of our friends, loved ones, and even my last supervisor thought of the best bosses they’ve experienced. The answers weren’t quite as diverse as I expected—a few even said they hadn’t had that great of bosses yet—so I’ll share four of the core tips I distilled from everyone’s comments that seem to add up to the Best Bosses Ever.

May we know them, may we work for them, and may we be them. Continue reading

gold at goldplaited

Remember Goldplaited from this week? Mal and Corinna not only offer finishing salon services, hold Dabble classes and sell their own make up line, they also sell jewelry by SeeSong Designs and Three Hearts Jewelry boutique. The Chicago necklace, however, is exclusive to Goldplaited and was designed by Corinna!

Remember Goldplaited from this week? Mal and Corinna not only offer finishing salon services, hold Dabble classes and sell their own make up line, they also sell jewelry by SeeSong Designs and Three Hearts Jewelry boutique. The Chicago necklace, however, is exclusive to Goldplaited and was designed by Corinna!

meet mal and corinna: the golden girls of chicago beauty

It’s officially wedding season.

Over the last few years, I’ve been really challenging myself: How many weddings can I get invited to in one year?

Me and Jim

Me and Jim at wedding No. 2 of 2015

In 2013, it was 2. Last year, I took a huge jump to 9 (and attended all of them). 2015 is a sad year, trailing behind at 3. But next year might be a record breaker—the unofficial 2016 total right now is 9 weddings!! So fingers crossed that they all happen plus a surprise bonus wedding, so that I can break my record.

Having just spent the last two weekends in Chicagoland celebrating the weddings of close friends, it’s safe to say the wedding season is well underway. Last weekend, my dress was one-shouldered with a HUGE bow on the right side. So I thought it would be a fun change to put my hair in a low updo to balance out the bow. It wasn’t a terrible idea, but I tried to do this side-pony-bun-updo-thing that I made up on the spot… and the results were mediocre at best. If I’d been a bit more prepared, I would definitely have made time to go to Goldplaited finishing salon in Lincoln Park. Continue reading

Farewell to Forget Me Knodt

One of the most joyful parts of writing this blog has been watching the women we meet grow and change and follow their dreams. For example, Lisa of Sister Pie in Detroit just celebrated her first full week as proud owner of her very own brick-and-mortar pie shop! Moriah in Milwaukee recently got her dream job where, in her words, “IT’S MY JOB TO LISTEN TO OUR COMMUNITY AND MAKE CHANGE!” (High five these two when you see them next!)

Others surprise us. This is the week Janessa, formerly and forever of Forget Me Knodt, turns from boss lady into Employee of the Month. (Fleur Inc., you’re going to have your hands full… of flowers!)

With no further ado:
“A Fond Farewell”
by Janessa Ambrosio

fmk_closing Continue reading

meet beth: milwaukee river adventurer

Beth Handle at MKC

“Once you get someone on the river, they just stop thinking about whatever they were worrying about,” Beth says.

I spend most of my days in the Milwaukee Environmental Consortium. Yeah, it’s still the fluorescent-lighted cubeland so many of us try to avoid, but Victory Garden Initiative (where I work) is situated in the middle of Milwaukee Riverkeeper, Milwaukee Water Commons, Alliance for the Great Lakes, the Midwest Renewable Energy Association and a bunch more—all small groups making a big difference for southeastern Wisconsin’s environmental movement. The MEC houses all of us.

Just imagine a group of like-minded people all working on behalf of something you really, really love. Yeah. The MEC is the best.

Through this wonderful office of earth-loving people, I heard about Beth Handle, owner of Milwaukee Kayak Company. She worked with the county parks, did graphic design and, right before launching Milwaukee Kayak Co., she was marketing manager for outdoor adventure company Laacke and Joy’s for six years. Beth organized kayaking events, worked with community organizations and writers, and got people to experience Milwaukee’s rivers. Like many people, she always thought: Wouldn’t it be cool to open my own little business like this someday? She launched MKC in May 2013 and will start her third season in a month: Friday, May 22!
Continue reading

Turn Your Dreams into Actions

People with Panache

Our first PWP business card! We can’t wait for our new ones to be ready very soon!

Alysse: On Tuesday night, an HDMI cord almost ruined my plans. (And I’m still not entirely sure what an HDMI cord is, but anyway…)

Eight friends were coming over to watch The Empowerment Project, and I didn’t have quite the right technology going on… so we crammed onto my two couches, put my laptop on a kitchen chair, passed around some popcorn and my favorite apple-Brie cheese deliciousness and watched The Empowerment Project! WAY more special than using a TV, right?

Kate: About 90 miles south, a few nights later, I gathered a bunch of friends and a couple bottles of vino and nuzzled up (probably a little less close together) for The Empowerment Project. We teared up at the pilot’s story, laughed at the mathematician, and had one of those nights where you talk so much that all of a sudden it’s 11:30, and you feel like you’ve only gotten started. Continue reading

Wake Up Call

“Great people do things before they’re ready. They do things before they know they can do it. Doing what you’re afraid of, getting out of your comfort zone, taking risks like that—that is what life is.” There’s more to this Amy Poehler quote here, but this is exactly what we’ve been talking about all day!

Quote: She believed she could, so she did.We have been interviewing and talking and getting all out of our comfort zones (more on that later) for a couple months now to bring People with Panache back to you.

(Okay, okay, since September.)

But, contrary to all we’ve learned from interviewing 84 people across the Midwest since we launched in 2013, we were waiting for the “right” time. We wanted to have our new business cards ready, our new website design totally perfect, new photos, and all these things—that we are still working on—but we could. NOT. wait to come back! Continue reading

meet jessy: sustainability champion in milwaukee

Jessy Servi,

“Integration is important to career success—when your work becomes a living breathing extension of yourself,” Jessy says. “I want my work in the world and my family to be an extension of who I am.”

Jessy Servi and I started our conversation talking about fearlessness. We talked about a thought I heard recently from Ai Weiwei, China’s most famous international artist and domestic critic: He took risks not because he wasn’t afraid, but because he was actually more afraid of what would happen if he didn’t. He had to act. Have you ever had this experience? This feeling? Continue reading