CUESA Behind the Mask: Christine Farren | CUESA

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June 26, 2020

CUESA Behind the Mask: Christine Farren

In these times of social distancing, we would love for you to get to know our team better. Each week, we’re going to take you “behind the mask” with a different CUESA staff member, so that, even when our faces are covered, we won’t be strangers at the farmers market. This week, meet our Executive Director, Christine Farren. 

Tell us a bit about you and your role and history at CUESA.

I’m the Executive Director for CUESA, but as I’ve been with the organization since 2003 (17 years!). I’ve had many different roles, including administrative, marketing, and fundraising. The latter had been my primary focus for the last nine years, before accepting the ED position. The work has always been dynamic and interesting, and I love the balance of active/physical labor and desk time. Communicating directly with our community at the farmers market, at events, and in our education programs is my jam. I love all the people!

How has your work changed since the pandemic?

Oh, dear, where do we begin? I became the ED at the start of the pandemic, so the new role dovetailed with our rapid adaptation to the shelter-in-place rules. I feel an incredible gratitude to the whole CUESA team, but at the same time I feel an even more consequential sense of responsibility to steward us out of this challenging time. We had to lay off some staff members, and many education programs like Foodwise Kids had to take a pause or transition online. Plus, we have not been able to hold any of our formerly fun and engaging fundraising events. The mission of our work—building healthy communities through the power and joy of local food—has become all the more critical, but how we actually do this, and how we are going to fund this important work, has changed dramatically for the foreseeable future. Every day feels very full.

What’s a difficult or challenging part of your job?

Honestly, it’s not the job that is challenging as much as my response to the challenges that is what I’m working on. Growth in management and leadership does not come without discomfort, and I’m trying to get more accustomed to that discomfort. So instead of avoiding it, it’s more like “Hi, Old Friend, nice to see you again. You are reminding me that this is a growth situation. We will get through this.” 

What inspires or motivates you about your work at CUESA? 

So many things bring me joy about the work at CUESA: seeing kids light up in a cooking class and dive into the vegetable-centric dishes they have created; knowing some of the regular shoppers and interacting with them year after year; and of course, having access to the best tasting produce. I’m always motivated when I get to work at 6:30 am on a market day and then realize that my farmer friends have been up since 3 am. Working with farmers calibrates my internal complaints every time. And as I said before, I am always inspired by the dedication and commitment of the CUESA staff. There is so much heart in this work, and everyone on this team puts their all into it.

What do you do to recharge outside of work? 

Right now, sleep is my go-to practice for recharging, and frankly, shutting down when the weight of the world has been enough for the day. I’m a social extrovert, so I usually recharge by being around people. This time of physical isolation has not been easy, which is why the markets are often the highlight of my week. Also, my two kids and immediate family bring me a lot of joy and comfort, so in many ways taking care of them also takes care of me. 

Do you have any favorite farmers market foods or tips you can share?

This is the time of year when I eat fruits at every meal and could subsist on apricots for weeks and not tire of them. My sincere tip for farmers market shopping is to make time when you get home to re-package or prep foods in a way that will make it easy for you to see them in the fridge and therefore use them. I don’t do this enough, but when I do, it translates into easier meals and less food waste. Whether that means transferring those strawberries from the basket into a clear sealed container so they last longer, or pepping some grains for meals for the week, that extra time you give to organizing your market goodies means you have something exciting and easy to greet you every time you open the fridge.

Is there anything else you would like our shoppers and market community to know?

I cherish and believe in this community, and we also have much work to do if we are going to be serious about racial and economic equality in farming and for all eaters. For so long the focus of the good food movement has been on seemingly more “neutral” aspects of sustainability—water quality, soil health, organic production, etc. The fact that large swaths of this movement haven’t tackled the people aspect—the social justice aspect—with the same vigor, speaks directly to a complicity and looking away that is shameful and can no longer be tolerated. I’ve been a part of this complicity, and am working to actively undo it. Being the Executive Director allows me the opportunity to effect change with our internal and external policies more rapidly. This is ongoing work, so I’m rolling up my sleeves and getting comfortable with the uncomfortability. Come join me, so we can do this work together! And please know that if you ever want to talk or learn more, we can meet at the market or you can send me an email: [email protected].

Listen to an interview with Christine on the tablehopper “On the Fly” podcast.


About CUESA

CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) is dedicated to growing thriving communities through the power and joy of local food. Learn More »