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Emily Melvin
Farm Manager & Sustainable Farming Educator
May 10, 2016

What probably isn't immediately obvious about Emily is that she's preparing to start Law School this fall at Wake Forest University, where she's been accepted as a candidate for a combined JD/MA degree in Sustainability. Once you get to know her better, you might be inspired to cast your vote for Emily's short essay submission for the One Lawyer Can Change the World scholarship. And if you're interested in other great educational opportunities, check out our Education page at goodfoodjobs.com/education.

When did you know that you wanted to work in food?

I always loved the dirt. And I always loved to eat. Growing up on 500 acres in rural Pennsylvania , my cousin Regina and I spent our summers unearthing fascinating bugs and scavenging for blackberries. Somewhere along the line this passion for the natural world was pushed aside as I attended college for International Affairs and tried to put on my "grownup hat." The hat did not fit quite right. As I was strolling down the streets of DC one day during my senior year, I stumbled upon the GW urban garden, GrOW Garden. It was bursting with a fall bounty of pumpkins, kale, and more. Right then and there, I felt the connection rekindle. I started volunteering every week - planting, weeding, and harvesting. It felt like going home. Coupled with a wonderful volunteer position at the Dupont Farmers Market with FRESHFARM Markets and an intense appreciation for the writings of Wendell Berry and Michael Pollan, I was a goner for the good food movement. I realized that working in food was not only deeply satisfying, but also deeply necessary.

How did you get your current good food job?

A wonderful market manager with FRESHFARM Markets told me about Good Food Jobs after I expressed my desire to work on a farm after graduation. It was a pivotal moment. I subscribed to the Tuesday Newsletter and soon found an incredible apprenticeship at Black Dog Farm in East Sound, WA. After that soul-satisfying experience, I consulted GFJ for the next three farming positions I occupied: as an apprentice at a teaching farm in Petaluma, California, Green String Farm and Institute, a farming fellowship with the nonprofit Allegheny Mountain Institute in Virginia, and a farm manager position with Raptor Creek Farm, a nonprofit food bank farm in Southern Oregon.

This fall, I'll be attending law school in the hopes of improving Food Law and Agricultural Policy in this country. I made this decision after witnessing firsthand the giant hurdles presented to small and medium sized farms and food producers. As much as I adore farming and getting my hands dirty, I see the need to make a hospitable business environment for others who want to work in food as a viable occupation on a local scale.

How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?

Since college, I have worked in the good food industry. All the wonderful food and farming jobs I've occupied have given me not only a solid foundation, but also first-hand understanding of the issues and opportunities facing food today. I know just how much compost it took to grow that tomato at your local farmers' market, and just how many hours it takes to harvest, clean, dry, and package that bag of lettuce. I understand how the regulations change immensely from simply harvesting a bunch of carrots to cleaning, slicing, and bagging them. With regulations and policies geared toward large producers and big industry, there are very real challenges and expenses presented to those who wish to produce primarily on the local level. I'm ready to jump into these issues on the legal level and make lasting improvements to our food system.

What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream? 

One of the most exciting and challenging experiences in my career was creating an educational farm from an old soccer field turned construction site at the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind. Along with two other Farming Fellows from the Allegheny Mountain Institute, I was tasked with the challenge to create something from nothing. My team and I spent weeks breaking up the severely compacted ground, adding nutrients and compost in the process. We built fencing, developed garden beds, garnered community support and donations, and cultivated thousands of pounds of food. Together we created the AMI Urban Farm, which continues to thrive today under the expert care of the next round of Farming Fellows. The farm provides educational workshops for the community, classes to the students at the Virginia school for the Deaf and the Blind, and a bounty of produce for the school cafeteria and local markets.

However, law school will most likely be the biggest challenge to date. Not only the workload, but the cost of school these days! While a JD/ MA in Sustainability from the Wake Forest University School of Law will be instrumental in the next phase of my good food career, it will also be infinitely expensive. That's why I need the help of the Good Food Jobs community! Specifically, I need your votes! I've been selected as a finalist in the BARBRI Law Preview "ONE LAWYER CAN CHANGE THE WORLD" $10K scholarship opportunity. Only 20 future law students made it to the final round, and I am one of them. Please read my short essay submission, and cast a vote on my behalf, from now until June 1, 2016. If you're feeling particularly inspired, you can spread the message to your friends and networks: http://ow.ly/4naNE8

Name one positive thing that a former employer taught you that you continue to appreciate?

The most valuable thing I learned from a manager was "checking in." Checking-in goes beyond the standard meeting for updates and task-delegation, and delves into personal job satisfaction. It's an open conversation. Trevor Piersol, my supervisor at the AMI Urban Farm (formerly the VSDB Educational Farm), was a huge proponent of checking-in. The team would meet to discuss the daily requirements of running a farm, and Trevor would ask us if we had any concerns, questions, dissatisfaction, or great ideas we'd like to see implemented. It truly made us feel valued and appreciated, which in turn made us love our work despite the challenges.

What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?

Right now is an excellent opportunity to join the local food movement as a specialized producer or food business. Consumers' education and understanding of the dangers of the conventional "big food industry" is growing. More and more people are seeking not only local hormone-free milk, grass-fed beef, or organic lettuce, but also value-added products from local businesses. For example, an organic bee-keeper in my hometown is having tremendous success expanding her business into homemade beeswax and honey items like soaps and body care products. Where I worked in California, the whole community had fallen in love with a local yogurt maker.

If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be? 

Endless vacation time to spend with my family! I currently have three nieces in need of a proper gardening education, which I thoroughly plan to give them.

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