Five Questions with Lilly Simmering, Food Economy Program Manager, Department of Natural Resources and Parks

0314LillySimmering001a1. What does your role as food economy program manager involve? My main job duty is to shepherd King County’s new Local Food Economy Initiative. Part of that involves creating awareness of the initiative and its goals throughout King County and assembling a prestigious group of private, public, and non-profit stakeholders to form the Kitchen Cabinet, an advisory panel to the Executive on how we can achieve the goals under the initiative. I will also complete any necessary research and help put into action processes that are essential to moving the initiative forward.

2. Why has Executive Constantine launched a Local Food Initiative? The initiative is driven by the fact that King County is the largest food market in Washington valued at an estimated $6 billion dollars, and yet less than 2 percent of that goes back to King County farms. As Executive Constantine said in launching his initiative at Pike Place Market recently, getting more local food to more local tables will mean more jobs and an improved local farm and food economy, better access to healthy, affordable food in low-income communities, and a more resilient local food system to threats like climate change. We want to tap into this economic opportunity and do an array of things that will support our local farmers and food businesses so that they can grow and meet the demand of an area that is recognized nationally as a strong supporter of local foods and local eating.

3. What do you like most about your job? I like many things about this job but some of the highlights include meeting all the various stakeholders involved in our food system. Seeing how our food gets from farm to fork is a remarkable process and it really changes how you view food. Another highlight is just the overall education about eating. Coming from a farming family and one that has also run a restaurant, it makes you appreciate food and food preparation. A big perk is the necessity of research, which consists primarily of visiting all the farmers markets, farms, and food establishments here in King County. And finally, I like that I can play a role in helping King County catalyze efforts to improve the local food economy and address equity and climate change concerns at the same time.

4. What is the biggest challenge in your job? The biggest challenge is that this is a complex issue due to the enormity of the food system. Every sector has its own unique issues, and finding common ground and a clear path to how all can benefit isn’t always easy. Coming from USDA in Washington D.C., where I spent most of my time strategizing on how to help U.S. agriculture break into overseas markets and the enormity of that task, it is really challenging at times to resist wanting to see change on a much larger scale. However, I’ve realized that change or assistance, at any scale makes a difference and it is that realization that keeps me focused on what it is we have to achieve under this initiative.

5. What can employees do to support the Local Food Initiative? Support your local farms and food businesses! Every dollar you spend on locally produced food or a locally owned food business means more money coming back into the local economy. That dollar impacts more than just jobs, it’s impacting climate change and the health of the community. Learn about the food you’re eating even if it’s simple taste-testing. Go to a farmer’s market, or a farm tour, and talk to the person growing your food. Talk to your local restaurant or grocery store about where they’re getting their food from. These people may just have a new food or recipe for you to try out.