Saturday Series: An Interview with Sara Zoë Patterson

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By Seyyada A Burney

In our new Saturday Series, we interview inspiring people that our readers have nominated. These people are working on the frontlines to improve the global food and agricultural systems. Want to nominate someone?  E-mail your suggestions to Danielle Nierenberg!

Sara Zoë Patterson, Coordinator and Board Chair of Seacoast Eat Local (Photo Credit: Sara Zoë Patterson)

Name: Sara Zoë Patterson

Location/Affiliation: Seacoast Eat Local.

Bio: Sara Zoë is an elementary school librarian and technology integrator for the Portsmouth School District. A social justice advocate for the last 15 years, Sara Zoë volunteers for several local organic farms during the summer. In 2009 she was awarded the Andrew L. Felker Memorial Award for leadership in the growth and prosperity of New Hampshire agriculture and was also named one of the Union Leader’s “40 under 40” young leaders of New Hampshire. She is currently the Coordinator and Board Chair of Seacoast Eat Local, an organization that promotes the local food movement in New Hampshire.

What inspired you to start Seacoast Eat Local?

We started Seacoast Eat Local as a way to make a positive impact on our world. Many of the people in our community are blessed to eat three times a day and have the power and the potential to make a very positive impact on our world through food choices. Agriculture can be the root of a lot of environmental, human health, and social justice problems or it can be a powerful part of the solution to many of these same problems. The only real way to understand the impact your dollars have is to spend them locally with farmers and fishermen that can tell you their practices and with whom you can share your values. The farmers, in turn, can share their values and their delicious food with our community. Seacoast Eat Local serves as a connection for community members, whether they are individual consumers, businesses, or other organizations, to create relationships that are the foundation of positive change.

What are your organization’s key goals?

Our primary goal is to see everyone eating locally all year long. Through eating locally grown foods, we will see an improvement in the health of our environment, community and individuals, culture, and economy. And when we say everyone, we very much mean everyone. A new food economy includes people of all income levels, and it opens up many possibilities for people to grow their own food as well as participate on many different levels. We want to support the model of communities feeding themselves and being self-reliant into the future.

What are some of Seacoast Eat Local’s proudest achievements?

We are extraordinarily proud of our annual publication, Seacoast Harvest. Every year, we contact all the farmers who sell directly to consumers in our region and publish a guide with this information. We’re also really proud of our Winter Farmers’ Markets. Although there are many winter markets now, when we started we hadn’t ever heard of the idea before. Now we have a region filled with farmers growing food for many different winter markets and it’s easy to eat local food all year long here.

Did you face any unexpected challenges while launching Seacoast Eat Local or expanding your organization? How did you overcome them? What kept you motivated? 

We’re a group of people who really like to get things done. Being a grassroots group suited us well—all action, not much administration, but we reached a point where our structure of being a grassroots group with a fiscal agent no longer let us do everything we wanted to do. So we incorporated ourselves as our own 501c3, which meant taking on that administrative work we had managed to minimize in our ‘full steam ahead’ strategy. The ultimate goal is being able to accomplish the work without limitations while keeping our sights on our commitment to making a difference in our community and in the lives of farmers and eaters.

The environment and local agriculture often take a back seat to people’s jobs and families these days. How does Seacoast Eat Local try to engage local communities in its mission?

One of the great things about connecting people to local agriculture and the environment is that everybody eats. We believe that the food that is being produced on local farms is genuinely superior to the industrial counterpart and when you genuinely believe in the product it is a joy to talk about it early and often. Everyone has a relationship to food. We find ourselves making food choices all the time, whether they are for pleasure, health, feeding your family in a complex world, making positive changes in our world, tradition, or for building community. We don’t have to get every choice right—this isn’t the kind of choice made once every 8 years (such as buying a Prius or a less expensive car), these are choices made many times a day. Everyday we can make positive choices. Luckily for us, those choices happen to be the most delicious, too!

2011 was a big year for Seacoast Eat Local, with your Winter Farmers Market and SNAP initiative, among other successes. What’s next?

One next thing already in the works is assisting other markets in being able to accept SNAP as well as expanding our own SNAP program to additional farmers’ markets. We’re also continuing and expanding our workshops for farmers and consumers. There are a few other projects in the pipelines that we hope will help more and more people eat locally.

What advice can you offer for aspiring local food activists?

Volunteerism pays in many different ways! Think food from farms ;)

Seyyada Burney is a Research Intern with Nourishing the Planet.

Read some of our other Saturday Series interviews: Mary McLaughlin, Bruce Melton, and Sarah Alexander.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

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