Thank you Jen Colby for your Service on the Food Policy Task Force!
Welcome to SLCgreen Connections, an occasional series highlighting SLCgreen’s fantastic local partners—the people and organizations with whom we work closely to make Salt Lake City a greener, more vibrant, and sustainable city!
For this edition, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Jen Colby, who was a volunteer on our Food Policy Task Force (FPTF) for over 10 years and just concluded her term. She also served as co-chair for the group from 2017-2018. She also helped establish the Office of Sustainability at the University of Utah. Jen has worked to address issues ranging from food systems and campus gardens to air quality and climate change– she is truly a persevering agent for change!
What is the Food Policy Task Force?
The Food Policy Task Force (FPTF) is a group of individuals from diverse sectors of the local food system. They are constantly on the look-out for how Salt Lake City can catalyze opportunities to create an accessible, sustainable, low carbon, and equitable food system that provides healthy and culturally appropriate food for the community. In particular, the Task Force members advocate for policies and programs that support and protect urban agriculture, increase access to fresh, local produce, eliminate food waste, and drive community and economic activity within the local food system.
Jen has witnessed many positive changes over her decade of service on the Food Policy Task Force and has been a leader in bringing many of them to fruition. We wanted to take this opportunity to hear her reflections on the state of our local food system, and to thank her for all she does to contribute to a more sustainable community!
In addition to her work on local food, Jen just completed her graduate studies with honors (congratulations!) at the University of Utah’s Master of Public Administration Program, as well as the Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Sustainability. She volunteers with Slow Food Utah and is a member of the board of the Community Animal Welfare Society (CAWS). Finally, her volunteer work extends to her local community council, where she is on the executive committee for the East Central Community Council. Whew!
Here is our interview:
What drives your commitment to your community?
Jen: I would say that my parents are my biggest inspiration when it comes to advocacy and activism. My father was a Vietnam Vet who got involved in anti-war movements when he returned to the States. I grew up in a household that worked hard to create change in the community. I have always wanted to help make the world a better place, and I have some measured idealism tempered with pragmatism that helps get things done.
How do you keep up your momentum?
Jen: I think once you start being active, it becomes something you fit in your day. There are probably other things that people do that I don’t do – so it just becomes a priority, and once people figure out that you are willing to serve, you get asked to do a lot of things, and I have a hard time saying no.
What would you say to people that didn’t know that food is an important part of a city’s sustainability program focus?
Jen: Food is fundamental to our lives. It is hard to separate food by itself because it is connected on so many levels to other issues. It may not be obvious at first, but once you start looking, there are a lot of different aspects where the City supports and influences our food systems. Everything from community gardens to people’s own interest in gardening, food procurement, food-related zoning regulations, and food safety and health are big components.
What made you decide to volunteer with the FPTF?
Jen: I got involved in the FPTF either through the University of Utah Sustainability Office or Slow Food or a combination of both. Everything weaves together. I met the Slow Foodies at a table the Downtown Farmers Market, went to one of their events, and ended up serving on the board. I also worked at the U and helped start their Sustainability Office. A lot of the projects I ended up working on had to do with campus food systems.
Did you have a favorite project/accomplishment with the FPTF?
Jen: The Salt Lake Community Food Assessment was a very important piece of the work that we were a part of. It was a deep dive into the scope of Salt Lake City’s local food systems that gave us some guideposts to start looking at so that we can start to move things forward. It was really nice to get into a room with people from different aspects of the food system and work together on a plan.
What was the biggest change you saw in your 10 years of volunteering with FPTF?
Jen: I think the programs that were just coming off the ground have solidified and become part of the fabric of the community.
Part of the complexity of our food systems is that there is no boundary, around Salt Lake City or the FPTF, that we can say is just the ‘City food system.’ There are so many global connections from how food moves, to distribution, and policy. Many of the goals of the task force are to support other people’s work.
What do you think is the next big project that the FPTF should focus on?
Jen: Unfortunately, I feel like one of the changes that isn’t so positive, more broadly in Utah, is the increasing pressure on what is left of our agriculture and farmland in the greater Wasatch Front. Our local agricultural base continues to erode and there are not enough creative ways to support local farmers at the state level. For example, the LeRay McCallister Conservation Program, that was meant to preserve working agricultural land and open space, hasn’t been sufficiently funded for years.
How do you stay grounded to what’s important to you with difficult issues?
Jen: I think . . . literally the ground. Right now I have three different gardens areas: my own backyard, a plot in a neighborhood community garden through the East Central Community Council, and a friend’s private garden in our neighborhood. If I find myself carrying the burdens of the world and I need to unburden a bit, I go weed one of them.
Our fundamentally optimistic narrative of “you can change things” and “individuals can make a difference” can sometimes mean that people take on too much responsibility and feel personally responsible beyond what we can handle. I personally suffer from that regularly. We are an incredibly creative and adaptable species and I try to stay optimistic that the good parts of our nature will pull through.
You just finished your Master’s degree and also volunteer with the Board of Community Animal Welfare Society and as well as with Slow Food Utah. What else is on your horizon?
Jen: I have so many different things I am looking forward to spending time on. I have a little cottage that needs a focused effort on restoration. If work opportunities come up, I’ll probably jump into those. Self-focus, some self-care, and getting caught up on things that have been waiting in the sidelines. I’ll still be taking care of the cats in the community that need help and some of my friends are convinced I will be spending all my time catching strays.
I just finished my Master’s in Public Administration, so organizational culture and management is something I am very interested in. Especially, with work being done right now with the FPTF– reevaluating the future of the task force, its structure, who’s involved, and how to keep it healthy and growing as an organization– is really important. I think that will be exciting to see how that evolves.
**Any advice on how to have a successful group project?
In any group or project, there is always tension between continuity and innovation; growth and change. Balancing those things is really important while leaving space for people to grow, especially with new members. Sustainability from a community systems perspective is about new members being able to pick up and run with the programs when you move on.
It takes a lot of different people and different perspectives to make a project or program work. I had a great time!
Thank you Jen! We appreciate your service to SLCgreen, and all you do for our community!
If you would like more information on the Food Policy Task Force and its members visit our website. Follow the link if you would like information on the Salt Lake Community Food Assessment or you can read the report here.