On May 12, six colleagues leading work in the food system, working for greater food security throughout our region during COVID-19 joined a Facebook Live panel I hosted. We discussed their work, the challenges they’re facing, different ways to expand SNAP and HIP benefits, services for the elderly, how to better drive food security work forward within an equitable context, and much more.
Thank you to wonderful panelists who shared their knowledge and expertise during this online conversation. Their full bios are listed below.
Jessica O’Neill, Executive Director, Just Roots
Jessica O’Neill is the Executive Director of Just Roots, a non profit organization in Greenfield, MA, located in Franklin County. Jessica helped to form the organization and took over as Executive Director in 2016. Just Roots is a food access and health equity organization established in 2010 and operating on the old Poor Farm site owned by the City of Greenfield. They operate a community garden and diverse produce production farm, growing for a CSA farm share program, most notably known for serving low income populations. A minimum of 50% of their members live 130% or greater below the poverty level making Just Roots the largest SNAP enrolled CSA farm share program in MA. Just Roots has leveraged the CSA model as a health intervention program since its inception and prides itself on addressing constituent identified barriers to accessing fresh, healthy, local food. Just Roots, with its partners completed and published findings from their scientific research study titled (Im) Proving the CSA Model, funded by USDA and Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation. The findings were published in the American Journal of Public Health and the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. The study was centered around understanding the impact on health and health expenditures associated with CSA participation. Findings proved the subsidized CSA model improves health, decreases food insecurity and saves society dollars. This study was a collaboration between Just Roots, the Community Health Center of Franklin County and Dr. Seth Berkowitz of UNC – Chapel Hill. Just Roots is eager to leverage findings to help mainstream CSAs into health care and the workplace. 2020 brings new challenges and opportunities, most notably a partnership with Boston Children’s Hospital through Flexible Services, Just Roots will operate Farm to Family, offering their proved CSA program to patients of three clinics located in Hampshire and Hampden Counties. Jessica sits as a steering committee member of Food Is Medicine Massachusetts (FIMMA) and on the Community Benefits Organization task force, as a member of the Coalition to end Hunger, the Franklin County Hunger Task Force and chairs the Food Council of Franklin County.
Phil Korman, Executive Director, CISA
Phil leads CISA in its mission to strengthen farms and engage the community to build the local food economy. During his 12 years as ED, CISA has worked with partners statewide to establish, fund and expand the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP), engage farmers markets in welcoming customers using their SNAP benefits and expanded the Senior Farmshare program which provides a slice of the summer harvest to over 400 low-income elders in the 3 counties. He has over 25 years’ experience in management and raising resources at nonprofits, including six years as Executive Director of the Western Mass. Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health and seven years as the Director of Development for the National Priorities Project.
Liz Wills-O’Gilvie, Chair and Director, Springfield Food Policy Council; Board Chair, Gardening The Community
Liz serves as board chair of the urban agriculture organization, Gardening the Community and Chair/Director of the Springfield Food Policy Council. The SFPC applies a popular education framework to efforts to engage marginalized residents in the food system and environmental justice campaigns. Liz also serves on the advisory boards of the Mass Food System Collaborative, Mass Farm to School and was an organizing member of the Northeast Farmers of Color land trust. A critical thinker about issues relating to class, race, gender, culture and privilege. She is comfortable with the discomfort attached to conversations about race equating it to exercise, “a requirement for good health and something that gets easier the more we do it.”
Deb Habib, Executive Director, Seeds of Solidarity
Deb Habib. Ed.D is the director of Seeds of Solidarity Education Center in Orange, a locally grown, nationally known organization that transforms hunger to health, and inspires resilient lives and communities. Their programs for families, youth, farmers, and people who are incarcerated teach practical methods to ‘Grow Food Everywhere.’ She and her husband Ricky Baruch transformed abandoned land in Orange into Seeds of Solidarity Farm, a solar powered oasis that uses no-till methods to build healthy soil, reduce climate change, and produce abundant, nourishing food for their community. They are authors of the book Making Love While Farming: A Field Guide to a Life of Passion and Purpose, and co-founders, with their neighbors, of the North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival.
Christina Maxwell, Director of Programs, The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts
Christina oversees all programs including Nutrition, member agency Capacity Building, SNAP Outreach & Enrollment, and member Agency Relations. Before coming to The Food Bank, Christina ran a small community-based nonprofit in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and was an international affairs associate at the American Federation of Teachers in Washington, DC.
Alisa Klein, Executive Director, Grow Food Northampton
Alisa Klein became Grow Food Northampton’s third Executive Director in January of 2020. Helming GFN allows Alisa to bring her extensive background in program management, policy analysis and advocacy, strategic planning, and fundraising to work that is near and dear to her heart. Prior to joining the organization, Alisa served as the Director of NEARI Press, a specialty publishing house and training center, and was the principal in her own consulting firm specializing in organizational development, public health prevention of interpersonal violence, international conflict resolution, and social justice advocacy. Her clients included the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the International Women’s Peace Service, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, and several other local, national, and international organizations. Alisa also served as the Officer for Partnerships at Proteus Fund, as the Director of Public Policy for a national organization working to end child sexual abuse, as the Jerusalem-based editor of an online journal of alternative analysis of the Palestine-Israel conflict, and as the Director of Education and Prevention for an AIDS service organization.
Alisa is a long-time activist and community organizer working on issues as diverse, yet interconnected, as the climate emergency, peace and justice in Palestine and Israel, and prison abolition. She has been deeply involved in bringing restorative and transformative justice models to addressing harm in communities. Among other pursuits, Alisa produced and DJed shows on a local community radio station; founded and organized a Palestinian film festival; and served on the board of directors of Voices from Inside, an organization that conducts writing and leadership workshops for incarcerated women. Alisa also served as a Northampton, MA city councilor for three terms, retiring in early 2020. She has a bachelor’s degree from Smith College and a Master’s in International Policy from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.