Are you crafting a conversation with all of your audiences?
On this episode of Relish This, I talked with Maya Brook, the Executive Director of Slow Food Denver, an organization that helps educate people about their food sources and encourages them to seek out food that is produced using sustainable practices and is available to everyone.
Their motto is “We believe in food that is good, clean, and fair for all.”
During our conversation, we discussed the different avenues that Slow Food has created to support and promote its mission including its kids program, Little Sprouts, that helps children learn how to cook and creates a passion for good food at an early age.
We also discussed Maya’s background in PR and how organizations can do a better job teeing up messaging and outreach to capture the attention of a wider audience and how to properly frame your story when sending out PR materials. The key is to ensure that you are creating the right content for the right audience in the right medium.
Finally, for those of you who are looking to move into an Executive Director role (or if you are searching for an ED), we finished our conversation about the ED hiring process and how Maya prepared herself to successfully land her new role as Executive Director of Slow Food Denver.
This was a fun episode. I hope you enjoy it.
Slow Food Denver
Ask questions, grow your own food, try new things!
Listen to the podcast here:
Sharing your Passion With A Wider Audience: PR and nonprofit outreach with Maya Brook From Slow Food Denver
My guest is Maya Brook. She is the Executive Director for Slow Food Denver. Slow Food Denver has this great program that is encouraging people to look for good food that is fair and clean in the way that it’s grown. They want this to be available for everybody. Their programs are great. They have a program for kids. It’s called Lil’ Sprouts, where they teach kids how to cook some of these fresh foods. It’s a neat program.
Maya comes from a PR background. We talked a little bit about PR and how organizations can tee things up well to take full advantage of a PR campaign. We also talked about this executive director hiring process since she has gone through it. There’s a lot in this episode for everybody. It’s so much fun to learn her passion for good, clean and fair food. I encourage you to read it. I hope you have fun.
Maya, how are you doing?
I’m good. How are you, Stu?
I’m doing well. It’s a beautiful day up here. I’m in the mountains of West of Denver. It’s pretty hot down the hill.
When you said beautiful day, it is pretty but it feels like 105. I don’t know what it is out there.
That’s a lot of heat to be bringing to the situation. I hope you are staying cool. I know you guys are doing some great things at Slow Food Denver. We would love to learn more about what you are up to.
Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to be on here. I started with Slow Food Denver back in April 2021. A lot of it is brand new to me. It has been exciting to learn more about how the organization is focused internationally, nationally and locally. We focus Slow Food Denver more on the Denver Metro Area. In a nutshell, our mission is, “Good, clean and fair food for all.” That encompasses quite a lot.
We work for food that is delicious and good for everyday life, and advocate for joyful connections with food to the community in place. The clean part of the mission goes into working to protect our natural resources for future generations and also promote food that’s local, seasonal and sustainably grown. The fair part of our mission is we work to build local cooperation and global collaboration. Also, I’m advocating for the dignity of labor all the way from the field to the fork. It’s all around.
Are you tackling food deserts and things of that nature? Is that part of your mission?
Yes, we also work for that. We have a program called Lil’ Sprouts. It’s cooking classes for young children in elementary school. We try to focus on areas of Denver that might be considered food deserts and areas where access to affordable, fresh and healthy food is not that easy. With our Lil’ Sprouts Program, we are able to teach kids about all the abundance of amazing fresh fruits and vegetables. They learn how to cook with different ingredients that are available to them too.
I’m excited to hear more about that program. Are you working in the schools? Is this something that you run independently of the public school system?
We work with the schools and are also independent. Lil’ Sprouts is also available. We started it during COVID as an online option as well. For example, my son loves their online cooking classes. They do it through Zoom with different instructors and menus. They work together in an age-appropriate way. He is able to do that from home. It’s a nice way for my son and young children to connect to the food they are eating. It’s menu items that the whole family can enjoy. It’s not like teaching the kids to make mac and cheese.
Our mission is good, clean and fair food for all.
The first time my son took the class, they were learning to make bruschetta. He doesn’t even like tomatoes, but once he took the time to make it, he ate some of it. I ate a lot of it. We also focus our Lil’ Sprouts Program on the K-5. We are going into Denver Area schools. A lot of times, our weekly classes will incorporate the school garden if they have one. We are planting, harvesting and preparing the food in a seasonal cooking class. The schools we work with are not required to have a garden in order to participate. With the food desert, we want to make sure that all schools and children have access to this curriculum.
It’s getting kids excited at an early age, particularly about that preparation piece and how you can transform something that you didn’t normally think was great into something amazing by adding a little heat and spicing it up a little bit. That’s a cool program to get kids interested in at an early age.
That was part of my interest in being involved with Slow Food Denver. It’s the aspect of making sure that children know where their food comes from. They are trying it straight from the garden with fresh fruits and vegetables. Nothing is wrong with applesauce, but you still want a child to see, touch and taste the crunch of the apple and, if possible, pull the carrot from the earth and eat it. We are making that connection to our land.
Denver is pretty fortunate that there are quite a few community gardens and urban farm-type opportunities to get everyone involved in that farm-to-table approach.
That’s one of our focuses too. For example, we partner with We Tend to Grow. We work at Civic Center Park together to create volunteer days with our volunteers. We Tend to Grow is fun. We do it all summer long every other Thursday. We are able to talk, laugh together and harvest good food. Through Grow Local Colorado’s garden beds at the Civic Center Park, then we are able to help people who are food insecure in our own community and have more access to the fresh local produce. We are making sure that the same wonderful, fresh food goes to everyone.
I like that you are bringing multiple agencies with similar goals together to supercharge those results that you are trying to achieve. How did those relationships develop? I know that sometimes nonprofit leaders and organizations have a tendency to combat those agreements or arrangements. How did some of those partnerships come together?
It comes back to the vision of Slow Food in general. All of the Slow Food is that we are helping to cultivate community and connection. In order to cultivate community and connection and help provide food that’s good for people who grow it, the planet, and the people who eat it, you need to be working with other organizations.
I like that it’s a component of your core values in your mission. It allows for that at the onset. It’s not a competitive piece. It’s, “How can we all do more good here in this space?”
We want to collaborate and work together. We reached out to organizations all over the Denver Metro Area. In turn, so many reached out to us. It’s a wonderful thing to see.
I noticed on the site that you have several stakeholder areas that you talk about in terms of people being able to get involved. You are a nonprofit. Donations are a key component of your revenue stream. You also have opportunities for volunteers and interns to join the program. What are you doing to get the word out for all of those different action items?
In the past, Slow Food Denver has not done a ton of PR outreach with communities. That’s one thing that I’m going to be focusing on because we do need to get the word out more about all the wonderful things that we do and how people can get involved, work with us and help us. We do have events every year. That helps get the word out.
We are having an event in the summer and planning a fall dinner event. In those types of events, people bring friends and then the friends are interested. That helps spread the word in our volunteer events too. We often see that somebody will come to one of our gardening volunteer opportunities and then they bring a friend. It builds a little bit with word of mouth too. That’s certainly one of the things we need to focus on and the challenge we have.
Have you engaged with a PR firm? Are you trying to handle that in-house? What are your plans on that piece of the pie?
My background is in Journalism and Public Relations. That was one of the items that were discussed during the hiring process. They are excited that I have that background. That’s going to be something that I can handle and focus on.
I won’t provide any recommendations in that area for you since you certainly have that covered. Could you share some ideas or things that other nonprofit leaders might want to avoid as they are trying to embark on a PR campaign?
There’s one thing because I was on the journalism side. Remember that journalists are people too and approach them individually. Being on the other side, you can tell when it’s this mass press release that is sent to 100 people. Instead, I found it to be successful in having a specific email. Make sure that you have read the editor and reporters’ work so you can say, “For your column on X, Y, Z, this would be perfect.” It goes such a long way if you can be specific with them that they know that you read their work or paper.
A good old-fashioned phone call is so successful. We forget that sometimes with all of our emails. It’s amazing what a phone call can do as well. The other piece is inviting the media out. If you are a nonprofit that does work locally, invite the media out so that they can see firsthand what you do. You don’t need to sell the story. When they see it firsthand, they will do all the selling and talking that you need to for them to be there and witness the change that’s happening.
I love that as advice. We all too often feel like we have to pitch something. Maybe it’s easier to get someone out there to check it out for themselves. That’s a fantastic insight there. Any other tips that you would have for an agency or organization that’s looking to try and get their story out into the press?
Whether we like it or not, social media is here. Especially depending on who your target audience is, it’s important. We are excited we brought on a new communications coordinator. She is pretty new out of college. The reason I’m excited about that is that she has all these different ideas and insights into social media that I don’t have and be a little older.
She right away said, “We need to join TikTok. We need to be doing Reels.” She came up with these ideas I wasn’t thinking of. It’s great to listen to the younger generation when it comes to social media. Things that I have noticed myself that’s great is interactive social media. It’s having contests, whether it’s a poetry contest or giveaway of some merchandise you might have or tickets to an event. Creating a community on social media is important too.
I know that’s an area that a lot of us who didn’t grow up with social media are a little challenged to figure out, particularly as new platforms keep rolling in. Depending upon who your audience is, being involved in those more youthful social media channels could be important. As you guys are engaging a much younger audience in the Lil’ Sprouts Program, making sure that they have a place that they feel comfortable going to access that social media stuff is important.
We have such a big mission of good, clean and fair food for all. It’s important for us to look at the audience and make sure there’s a certain audience who is going to be interested in coming to a farm dinner and excited about volunteering in the gardens. Some audiences are going to be much more excited to be conversing with us on social media in that aspect. It’s important for us to stay aware and build for each audience because there are so many in the Denver Metro Area.
Everyone has their own way of getting and sharing information. Being a part of as many of those that you can handle is key. When you are engaging volunteers, are you finding that email is one of the better ways to get engaged? How are you bringing people into your programs on a volunteer basis?
One neat thing is even though Slow Food Denver is a small organization because it’s part of Slow Food USA and Slow Food International, people do come to us a lot, and that’s one lucky thing. We have people who might move here. They were involved with a different Slow Food in a different city and then they reached out to us. They have lived abroad. They come back, find they are in Denver and look us up. That’s one way. That’s a fortunate situation that we had to be part of something that’s so big. The other way is people coming to events. A friend of a friend comes to an event and they get excited. Maybe somebody’s child takes a Lil’ Sprouts class at their school. There are all these different channels and ways that we tend to reach people.
We work on supporting anti-racist slow food community and society.
The multi-channel approach is super effective. Social media, as it started, everyone was on Myspace and then that went by the wayside. If you have put all of your proverbial eggs in one basket there, you can get into trouble. Creating a variety of ways for people to engage is important. Keeping in mind, you need to be able to do those things well. That is one of the balancing acts that is a big challenge for any organization out there.
I’m new to Slow Food Denver. What they are saying is that their biggest challenge is, “How can we better engage the community that they do have a community?” We would like to expand it. It’s better to engage the community we have and share our calls to action because our mission is so broad.
Are donations and grants your primary revenue streams? Do you have other mechanisms by which you get revenue into your programs?
It’s mostly donations and grants. Grants are big for us. Donations, whether it’s individual donations around Colorado Gives Day, we have events and donations there. Also, in Lil’ Sprouts, we offer a ton of scholarships for our Lil’ Sprouts. Any school that requests scholarships, we donate all of our services and time. In other school districts with families who are able to afford our program, they do pay for it. That is also partly a revenue-generating stream.
You mentioned that you were able to transition that from exclusively in-person to more of a virtual scenario. It sounds like you are going back to either a blend or at least partial in-person.
A blend seems to be a good way to do it because we have people who are busy parents like me. Honestly, an online class is easier for some people. We saw that it works. We are going to keep up with that. There are also a lot of people who want to be back in person. We are also going to honor that as well and do a mix. In the fall, we have in-person classes at schools again. That will be nice.
The Slow Food organization is worldwide. I’m thinking about the Lil’ Sprouts Program in particular. Scaling to be able to provide to a worldwide audience might not necessarily be part of your mission or plan as you don’t want to stomp on other Slow Food organizations. Do you feel like the move to online has enabled you to grow in the state? Are there other Slow Food divisions or entities that are operated elsewhere in the state?
We still try to be heavily Denver Metro Area-focused. For example, there’s Slow Food Boulder. There are a couple of Slow Foods down the South Area too. Colorado is pretty well covered, which is amazing. I haven’t heard about a lot of collaboration with Lil’ Sprouts in other areas. That’s a great idea. I’m going to bring that up to our board because I love that.
We have spoken with a number of organizations on the show who had a very in-person approach to the way that they interacted with the general public. Some of them have done a remarkable job, both transitioning and achieving that awareness that they got. This enabled them to scale rapidly and reach audiences that they might not normally be able to reach.
For example, one of my guests on the show is part of an organization. They instruct teachers on how to better engage and be better teachers. In the past, they had been brought in by school districts to do those trainings in person. A lot of the time, the cost associated with that was so high that they weren’t able to go to more rural areas. With the pandemic, they quickly shifted to virtual.
They were doing these trainings virtually to the same school districts that they normally didn’t. They said, “This is saving us a ton of money because we don’t have to send anyone there. We can now open this up to a lot more people based upon the fact that we can do it virtually and keep the costs down.” It was a remarkable shift. I could see how you could increase your visibility and benefit statewide, for example, by being able to do some of these things virtually.
We were able to expand who we reached with our Lil’ Sprouts Program. We found quite a lot of moms who were looking for something during COVID, for example. It was a different audience than we have worked with in the past. That was exciting because before, it was more heavily focused on classrooms. There were some afterschool programs too. It was neat to see that we were able to be reaching more people. We could keep going with that and then expand further.
The one neat thing is I know of one young student in particular that the mother had lived in Denver. They had since moved to Kansas, but she still was receiving our emails. She was still able to have her son do the Lil’ Sprouts Program that he loves so much in person. Now, he is virtual in Kansas. We weren’t specifically trying to do that, but that was a neat story. I know the mom had told me she was so thrilled that he was still able to be in Lil’ Sprouts.
Do you have any similar programs for adults?
We don’t but it’s something that has been discussed. I would love that. Over the years, there has been a one-off cooking class here and there but not a specific program. We need to have a Big Sprouts cooking class with a much better name. We had talked about that. Some of it is the capacity with staff. Maybe it’s down the road because I could see that being a popular thing.
We were chatting a bit about the opportunities to pivot into some other service lines or the ability to get revenue through maybe adult classes or things of that nature. It sounds like that’s something you have considered. It might be something that we can look forward to in the future.
I was brought on in late April and then our communications coordinator in June 2021. There have been a lot of staff changes. We are growing. I love the idea once we all get caught up to expand. I know that we have talked about it before. I would sign up. It would be fun.
What events do you put on? What does a Slow Food Denver event look like?
With COVID, we had one virtual event in the fall of 2020. Instead of doing an in-person dinner, we had people pick up their dinner. It’s similar to some other organizations. That was successful. Part of Slow Food is connecting with other people through food. We were missing that. The first event was on June 21 in-person to show everybody our new office space at McGregor Square, mix and mingle again, and enjoy slow wine.
There’s a bunch of wine that has been classified as slow wine. We have people make sure that it’s certified, sustainable, fair for the farmers who grow it and clean. We have a whole book on Slow Wine. People are able to enjoy slow wine and see our new space at McGregor Square. In September 2021, it was farm dinner. We are eating fresh food right from the farm with local chefs. We try to focus on good food for our events.
I had never heard of slow wine before. Tell me a little bit more about that.
It’s almost like a certification program through Slow Food. It’s the same idea. Slow Food believes that wine, like food, has to be good, clean and fair for all. Rather than tasting wine and saying if it’s good, it needs to also be clean and fair for farmers all the way through and sustainably grown.
When you mentioned slow, clean and fair, tell us a little more about the fair piece. What is Slow Food Denver doing in that arena? How do you get that message out there to farmers or even workers who might want to find a place to work that is aligned with your practices?
Mostly what we try to do is build local cooperation and then also global collaboration while respecting workers’ rights and laws. We are also advocating for the dignity of labor from field to fork. It depends on what bills are up, where you are living and how we are able to support that. It varies from year to year. It’s also looking at the food that is grown, farmers, restaurants and local CSA. You mentioned you were a member of a CSA. It’s looking towards that, knowing where your food comes from and helping advocate that to our members.
You can’t lobby because you are a 501(c)(3). Do you have action items in terms of your membership to support certain bills that are going through their local governments to rally support for things that you like and maybe have the members express their concern for things that aren’t aligned?
When communities can grow their own food, when they have access to fresh and healthy food, it also means a stronger, healthier, happier community.
On our social media, even if it’s not just local Colorado, we will post different action items for our followers. Slow Food International and Slow Food USA will come out with different stances on different items and ways that you can support, whether it’s signing something. Whatever those types of action items are, we always share them with our members.
What are some of the ways that you stay in touch with your membership? Is it email or social? Are there any other ways that you found are particularly effective in getting people to take action or donate more?
We have such a big mission to fulfill. We have to be clear about what we do, how we do it and why people should get involved in a way that is easy for everybody to understand. It’s such a broad mission through our events. Whether it’s in-person events, like dinners, wine events or having people come out to the garden with us, we try to explain what good food is. Farmers need to have the support necessary to pay living wages and offer employees benefits. They need to be empowered with knowledge and resource to choose healthy soil and utilize practices that place emphasis on long-term results versus short-term productivity sustainable farming.
We are explaining that to people so that we create members, volunteers and supporters who understand where their food comes from and why it’s important. If you go and buy organic food, it stops there. You are not focusing on local or understanding beyond, “It tastes good and it’s organic, but why is sustainable and local food important?” We try to build those connections through our events.
There are many moving parts and components to the food ecosystem. Everything from how seeds are sourced to how they are fertilized, I don’t think most of us probably think and consider the soil as part of that process and then what fair labor practice is being put in place. You are starting to see a lot more fair-trade stuff. Organic is a term that everyone is very familiar with at this point. It’s great to see how you are tackling that entire production system all the way from the seed to the end-user in terms of the person that it’s going to feed.
It’s about becoming more aware of what you are eating, why it’s important and from everything to our environment to the people who grow it, to your own health, eating it.
Are there parts of that system that are more challenging to address than others? I know cost tends to be one of the factors, particularly when we spoke a bit about food deserts where there’s no access to either fresh or food sources that meet the Slow Food criteria. What are some of those other challenges that you see that disrupt that system?
It’s making sure that it’s accessible to everybody. Organic isn’t this label that is a privileged type of label or type of food to get. It’s beyond organic. It’s sustainable and local. It doesn’t need to have the organic seal, but it’s focusing on food that is sustainable and those other people who might not even think that they can access it in an affordable way actually can.
Part of that too is our partnership with Grow Local Colorado. We are trying to help them with our group of volunteers to promote local food, community and economy. For example, Grow Local Colorado has eleven gardens throughout Denver. They are fully volunteer-driven. We value our partnership with them. They deliver produce to over a dozen organizations that serve those in need. That goes to our mission of fresh and healthy food for all.
It’s collaborating with people who are at least aligned in order to spread that effect to reach as many people as possible.
There’s one thing that you see too. When communities can grow their own food, when they have access to fresh and healthy food, it also means a stronger, healthier and happier community.
We go to the Nederland Farmers Market. That’s where we pick up our CSA. In years past, they have held it away from town. It’s still pretty much in town, but it’s out by the reservoir. They have moved it right downtown. It’s amazing to see the engagement and community aspect that comes into this. Certainly, there’s more stuff there than food.
People are selling candles. There’s usually a band and people talking about organization stuff. The fact that food is bringing all of these people together and seeing that happen in this smaller space right in the middle of this community has been fun to see. Food does start those conversations and bring people together. It’s cool how you guys are doing that.
The farmer’s markets are so amazing. I love that the pickup for CSA is a more central location because you are right. Where I pick up my CSA is in this parking lot. Only people who are picking up their CSA are going to see it. That’s a nice model.
They are tying all that stuff together. It’s effective and fun to see. People are there with their dogs and food trucks. What are some of the ways that you are hoping to expand your program? You are a new ED. You probably have some big ambitious goals here over the next couple of years. What are some of the things that are on tap for Slow Food Denver upcoming?
It goes back to our biggest challenge being, “How can we better engage our community and clearly share our calls-to-action around our very broad mission?” For me, it means getting the word out more. It’s more PR and focused on the local media, knowing who we are and that we are around. More events and consistent communication with the donors that we have are going to be important. It’s more face-to-face.
Slow Food Denver has been doing a great job at this already with partnerships, but you can always grow and reach more people and communities. Slow Food USA created its equity, inclusion and justice manifesto. It was right around the Black Lives Matter that was happening in May or June of 2020. They made a commitment, not just Slow Food Denver but all of Slow Food USA, to have a commitment to equity, inclusion and justice.
That’s another goal that we have as an organization and me as an Executive Director of Slow Food Denver as well. It’s taking the time to listen, learn and reflect, “What are the best steps towards action moving forward? How can we continue to create a good, clean and fair food system for all?” Start in our own community and work on supporting the anti-racist Slow Food community and society. That’s also a big mission when you think about that. It’s looking and understanding the role that we bring to racial equity and how we can break that cycle that has allowed a lot of racism to live within our food system.
It’s interesting how many places that negativity can affect and get in there. That’s great that you have made that part of the international mission to focus on that and be able to start to improve the way that we all interact with one another.
Listening and learning are important from the communities that are affected themselves to ask the leaders within the community what they need and how we can work together. It’s making an effort to make sure that the partnerships that we have are broad. We are not just working with one type of organization, but we are out in the community and looking at all areas of the Denver Metro Area.
It’s interesting how many times we tend to jump to conclusions that we have a solution. One of my guests does work in Haiti post the earthquake that happened. What his organization does is do research, get on the ground and spend time with the people in the community to get an understanding of what the needs are as opposed to going in with the assumption that they know what the needs are.
One of the things that he used to see was sending tons of bottles of water or something to someplace. People get pretty excited about that. They think this is something that would be helpful, but if it’s not needed, then that goes to waste. It can contribute to additional challenges if you have got all this stuff in the way of the things that you need. It’s listening and taking the time to ask, “What is it that you need?” It’s making sure that you are talking to everyone to get a good understanding of that as opposed to one person who has declared themselves the leader of the pack. Taking that one extra step to help you can be valuable.
We try to focus on surveys and asking the parents and students at the schools that we work with lots of questions after our Lil’ Sprouts Program, “What worked? What didn’t? What can we improve?” We always get wonderful ideas. On a very small level is our way of asking and not just telling. Even with new menu items, we want to respect different cultures and the food.
When the children are cooking meals that are important to their own culture, it’s how important that is for them rather than our instructors coming up with menus that they are familiar with. It’s within different cultures and menu items that we might not personally have ever heard of. It’s making sure that we are open, listening and communicating that.
From getting the children’s hands dirty from tasting food right from the earth, it’s pretty neat to see.
That’s one of the things I love about the CSA stuff. Back to that piece, you are always getting something new that you have never even heard of before. We’ve got garlic scapes. I have never even seen this before. I was like, “What do we do with this?”
Kohlrabi was in our CSA. I had to look it up and even understand what it was. It reminds me of children when I show my kids something they are not familiar with, a new vegetable or fruit. That was how I felt when I saw that kohlrabi. I’m like, “What is this? I don’t know what this is.” I was tempted to put them in the compost. I’m doing my research and figuring it out. It’s the same with thinking about that aspect with my children too, like giving them time to taste it. Maybe they are more comfortable if you put a little olive oil and salt on their pumpers because it brings out the flavor more. It’s being patient with children too when you remember that a lot of this food for them is granted.
We take that for granted as adults. I look back and think about all the things that I used to dislike. Part of it was that I grew up in the ’70s. That was an era where a lot of things were being delivered canned because that was how you did things. I remember very distinctly disliking tomatoes. Beets are another one. As an adult, I loved both of those things. It was probably weird. I’m sure my tastes changed as I grew older.
Kohlrabi is a great example because I remember my wife and I got a CSA that had that in it. We were like, “What is this thing?” She looked it up, found out a bunch of different ways to cook it and made something delicious out of it. It’s always fun. Encouraging and engaging people to be able to explore food is such a powerful tool. It’s great to see how you are doing that.
It’s a big challenge, our mission of good, clean and fair food for all. When you take it in your local community step-by-step and audience-to-audience in different ways for people to get involved, you see the joy on volunteers’ faces after you spend a day harvesting vegetables. They know that it’s going to go towards communities that might not have access to fresh fruit and veggies. We try to end a lot of our volunteer days with a simple salad brunch type of event afterward. It’s that connection between food and people. The joy that people have from getting their hands dirty and tasting food right from the earth is pretty neat to see. Little children all the way to older adults, it’s that common joy of food.
It’s also good to demonstrate how the food that we get in the supermarket, be it organic or not, is very curated in terms of its look and feel. You most likely won’t find a two-legged carrot in the supermarket, but in your garden, you are probably going to see some of that stuff and demonstrate how different things can be and still be good.
I still remember I’m always buying baby carrots. They are dipped in bleach, even the organic ones. They have no flavor. When you grow carrots or get them with the stems on from your farmer’s market or CSA, they are sweet and delicious. My kids pick them. They don’t wash them off. They dust off some of the dirt and dive right in. They love the carrots. If you gave them a baby carrot, they might eat one. Even from a young age, you can taste that difference. What I was drawn to by Slow Food Denver is how they want everybody to be able to have that fresh, amazing carrot. It’s not just going to be a focus on a privileged thing to have fresh food access.
I want to ask one more quick question about the process and your experiences being hired as an Executive Director. I know that there are a lot of nonprofits out there that are looking for people to fill those roles. I’m on the board of an organization that’s looking for an ED. My understanding is it’s a little tough out there. There are not a lot of people who are either ready or available to fill those roles. What were some of the things that, as a hire that you might recommend to nonprofits who are looking for a new executive director?
For me, the work has to be part of the draw. Making sure as you are in your search that it’s somebody who has a passion for your cause is going to go a long way. Also, it’s being able to pivot if you need. Slow Food Denver, for a little while, was focused on finding a full-time executive director and then changed their mind when they saw that there were difficulties. They thought, “If we make this into a part-time position and then can also hire a coordinator at the same time, we would still be getting everything that we need, but it would be from two people instead of one.”
For Slow Food Denver, it has worked out well in having people. I’m so happy to have a coordinator to collaborate and work with. It brings more vision and eyes to the organization. That was a neat way that Slow Food Denver was able to pivot. It also opened the doors for somebody like me. I also have three young children. For me, part-time was what I was focused on. The mission is connecting and making sure. You could get somebody that had a passion for something completely different, but if they don’t have a passion for the work that you do, it might end up feeling more like a job rather than working on something that gives meaning to you.
I had been an Executive Director before this for an organization that worked with children with cleft lip and palate. Before that, it’s with children on education in Africa. For me, the connection has always been a passion that I have had for organizations that work with children. It makes me feel like my job is not just a job, but I’m making some very small difference in the world. Having an organization, make sure that they find somebody with that passion and drive.
It’s a cultural fit and mission fit. Be flexible and think outside of the box in terms of what you are looking for. That should open things up a little bit more. How can people find out more about Slow Food Denver?
We want people to become members of Slow Food Denver and support the work we are doing to transform the food system. One of the best ways to get involved in starting with would be to visit our website, SlowFoodDenver.org. On our website, you will see events coming up and different opportunities to volunteer and get involved. Also, the Lil’ Sprouts Program will be up there and all of our social media links, which are very active. We are on there every day. There are lots of ways to see.
People need to get out there, cook and eat with friends and family. Try growing your own food. Even if you are in a tiny little apartment, you could get a very small little container tomato plant or grow some fresh basil or herbs. It’s supporting restaurants that are supporting local farmers. Ask questions about where your food is coming from.
Normally, I ask my guests at the end of the show. I say, “I love having conversations and talking about things. If they were to have the audience do one thing after reading, what would it be?” You beat me to the punch there. It’s like, “Grow your own food and ask questions.”
The thing with Slow Food Denver is that our mission is not just about Slow Food Denver. It’s this wide array of support. That’s why I had to get that in there about our farmers, restaurants and food systems.
I love that you beat me to the punch on that action item. Thank you so much, Maya, for being on the show. I had a great time talking with you. I’m very appreciative of you helping stay patient during our technical challenges. I look forward to hearing more about how Slow Food Denver is changing the way that people approach their relationship to food.
Thank you so much, Stu, for having us on. I’m honored I was able to tell more people about Slow Food Denver.
About Maya Brook
Experienced Executive Director with a demonstrated history of working in the non-profit industry. Strong business development professional skilled in Nonprofit Organizations, Public Relations, Event Management, Editing, and Journalism.