NAFSN MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: LAURA RIDENOUR
Interviewed and profiled by NAFSN member Erin Allgood
Laura Ridenour, a founding member of NAFSN, is changing the food system from her home in Bellingham, Washington. Her contemplative, systems-thinking nature resonated with me throughout our conversation and I quickly came to admire her long history of work in this field and her dedication to positive social change.
Laura has spent her whole life working for and with farmers via nonprofit organizations and businesses. Her expertise is developing strategy and communications plans, increasing group and organizational capacities, and laying the groundwork for measurable change within the food system, which she does through her business, LMR Consulting.
When I asked her how she got involved in food systems work, she laughed warmly and shared how her family was part of the natural foods movement in the “back to lander” hippie days. Her mother lived on a farming commune in Tennessee and her dad developed an organic foods business in Santa Cruz, California. She spent most of her childhood and young adulthood visiting natural foods trade shows, talking to fellow social entrepreneurs, and pitching in with the business as needed.
Growing up between the rural commune and the urban food business culture gave Laura a natural inclination toward understanding the intersection of land, community economies, and the place-based culture of agriculture. After meeting organic pioneer Mark Lipson and working farmers markets with him, she decided to attend the farming training program at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. She then worked at Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) and at the Organic Farming Research Foundation. Those experiences prompted her to return to college to gain leadership skills to serve the sustainable agriculture nonprofit sector. Laura went on to create her own degree in food systems and social change from University of California at Santa Cruz, and later, a master’s degree in sociology from Colorado State University, with a focus on the rise of local food movement. Over the course of her career, Laura has worked on farms and at farmers markets, helped launch the Buy Fresh Buy Local and the Eat Local First marketing campaigns, breathed life into food policy councils and food assessments, and lobbied for farm- to-school food policy in Washington, DC, for the Community Food Security Coalition. Laura is also pragmatic and interested in how societal-level problems intersect with food system issues. She co-created projects to address known small-farmer barriers such as The Farm Fund’s revolving micro-loan program, offering nontraditional loans and matching grants for scaling up to compete in the wholesale market. Without a doubt, the breadth of experience and skills in her toolbox make Laura one of the most dynamic food system consultants I have ever met.
Throughout our conversation, Laura transitioned seamlessly between discussing her personal history doing food systems work to her 30,000 foot view of the change needed to propel the food movement forward. As a food systems scholar, she is passionate about developing ways for more of us in this field to be aware of and use the best practices gleaned from the 30+ years of the alternative food movement. Mentioning Donella Meadow’s work, Laura said she believes systems thinking is required to assess which leverage points will generate the biggest impact.
As we were ending our conversation, Laura mentioned that she is excited to be working with organic farmers again and has transitioned most her focus from her consulting business to a remote position with The Organic Farming Research Foundation. As OFRF senior development officer, she will increase revenue for their research grants fund, their important policy work representing the needs of organic farmers, and farmer outreach and education about organic research. Be on the lookout for thought leadership coming from Laura through her new position at OFRF, and via the various hats she often wears while operating LMR Consulting. Connect with Laura on LinkedIn or at www.lauramridenour.com.