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Kristina Shiroka
Apprentice
Quail Hill Farm
November 14, 2017

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

The office where I worked for a few years was a block from the Union Square Farmer's market, and on stressful days I would often plan to escape for a walk through the market, even if I barely had 10 minutes to spare. Seeing the beautiful produce made me slow down and feel so present - I was transported out of the bubble of my job and suddenly aware of something so much bigger, in awe of the magic of the seasons and the bounty that the earth can produce. I loved imagining the daily lives of the farmers and being in the presence of people so committed to real food and land stewardship. On those walks I would often think to myself, 'I should really be working in food!'

How did you get your current good food job?

I had been dreaming of taking a break from my fashion career and applying for a farm internship for quite some time - every year I'd plan on "next year", but something would always keep me here, whether a promotion at work or just being wrapped up in my New York life. In July I accepted a new job in fashion that ended up falling through, and found myself unemployed. I immediately saw it as an opportunity to finally chase my farm dream. Coincidentally, I had two connections to Quail Hill Farm, which was one of the first CSA farms in the country - my best high school friend had worked there for a summer 10 years ago, and another close friend's wonderful sibling, Layton, is the manager there. I had visited the farm a couple times in the past, and the memory of how beautiful and peaceful it was would often pop into my mind when thinking about farming. Luckily for me, Quail Hill was in need of an extra set of hands during the peak of the season, and I'm so grateful that Layton and Scott took a chance on me despite my totally irrelevant resume!

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

I majored in Environmental Policy in college, so the seeds of a strong sustainable food ethic were planted long ago for me. This along with a growing passion for food and cooking ultimately led to a desire to work in sustainable food. My buying career definitely prepared me in many ways, even though it may seem totally unrelated on the surface; buying is made up of so many vastly different skills - financial analysis, business acumen, efficiency and problem solving, but also communication skills, negotiation, and relationship building are all critical elements. It was pretty cool to see how these skills became useful to me on the farm, from fitting into a team that had already been working together for most of a season to understanding the risks and opportunities of the farm as a business. I know they'll definitely come in handy wherever I end up next.

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

I made the big change after losing my job, so the universe gave me a bit of help on this one, but I think kissing a steady salary goodbye is definitely one of the biggest obstacles. New York has really become my home over the years, so choosing to go somewhere new and quite different was scary. But I was constantly walking around with this farm daydream, and knew I needed to pursue it. Now the season is over and I'm working on finding a more permanent job in sustainable food, which has its own set of challenges, but there's so much exciting and important work being done in that world right now, I am constantly inspired during my hunt. That keeps me going!

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

It's tough to choose just one thing! If I had to roll it up into one all-encompassing lesson, the most important thing that my longest-standing boss (who is still a great friend and mentor) taught me is to think creatively in every situation, be innovative even in day-to-day tasks, and always ask yourself what the important issue at hand is. This could mean completely changing the agenda of a meeting to discuss a deeper underlying issue, or having your most important interaction of the day happen on a 5 minute elevator ride. Businesses are constantly evolving, the world around us is never stagnant, and it's a mistake to ever think you've got it all figured out - but that's the exciting part!

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

Right now there's a ton of opportunity in indoor/urban agriculture - it's exciting to be back in New York where there's so much happening in that world. Growing in a controlled environment means having the ability to increase efficiency, which is critical to getting real food onto the plates of more people, especially in cities. While I wish that just having more small traditional organic farms could save the food system and eliminate food insecurity, the sad reality is that we're way past that point.

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

More hours in the day! It would be so ideal if I could somehow work an exciting and fulfilling job and still have time to grow all my own food and spend hours cooking beautiful meals every day.

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