SFC issues its Golden Trowel Award to staff members who "dig deep" to make the mission happen, going above and beyond, exceeding a goal, meeting extreme challenges, or demonstrating our core values in an exemplary way. Ronda Rutledge, SFC Executive Director, first received this award from our Board of Directors for her work on the Capital Campaign, and is proud to pass it along this month to Molly Costigan, The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre Program Coordinator. Molly is deserving of this very special recognition because of her initiative, hard work, attention to detail, and leadership that made our summer field trips a huge success. This was no solo effort, but Molly modeled SFC's core values of resourcefulness and collaboration while helping SFC reach two important strategic goals: maximizing the usefulness of the new space and reaching more children through summer programming.
After receiving the award, she took a break from her busy schedule to share with us her inspiration for the work she does at SFC and a behind-the-scenes look into what it takes to build a healthier local food community
Tell us about the journey that led you to SFC.
I grew up on a cattle farm in Kentucky, so I’ve always had a strong connection to where my food comes from and I’ve also always loved to talk about food, to cook, and to eat. After college, I spent a year in Spain, and when I decided to move back to the U.S., I was looking for jobs within the AmeriCorps program. The posting for the AmeriCorps VISTA position with SFC jumped out at me in part because of that connection to food, but primarily because of the community organizing approach. I liked that SFC wanted me to talk with community members about what they wanted for health and wellness in their community and about how they would accomplish those goals themselves, instead of just sending me to build a garden or offer cooking tips. The job was as much fun as it sounded, so I ended up spending two years as an AmeriCorps VISTA for SFC before joining The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre® as a program coordinator last year.
What is your job at SFC and what does a “day in the life” look like for you?
The biggest part of my job is coordinating our six-week community cooking classes, so when we’re planning those classes, my days are filled with meetings with host sites, making flyers to promote the classes, and registering participants. After that, I find facilitators for classes and gather materials for them, and I observe at least one class in each series. Once the classes wrap up, I meet with the facilitators to discuss the class and do a lot of survey and data entry. That’s probably 70-80% of what I do, but one thing I’ve loved about being at SFC is that there’s always something new (or new to me) to get involved with. This past spring, I facilitated a new six-week series that was themed around a CSA box and, this summer, I got to coordinate the 12 field trips that we hosted from local camps.
What inspires you?
Hearing stories from people’s lives is the best part of my job. I get to work with THK’s network of about 40 community facilitators for our cooking classes, and I love hearing about what brought them to SFC and what they’re doing for their own health, for their families, and for their communities. And even though it’s a less exciting way to get stories, I also enjoy doing the data entry from the surveys that class participants complete because I get to read about what they learned and the changes that they’re making.
What do you wish everyone knew about the work SFC is engaged in?
I think SFC has something for everyone in Austin. I live in an apartment without enough sunlight for indoor plants, so I garden at a community garden that has received a lot of support from SFC. The cooking classes in our new teaching kitchen start at $30 and cover a variety of topics, and the markets have great produce and prepared foods, and are a fun place to hang out. Everybody eats, so even for those who don’t think of themselves as cooks or gardeners, we’re doing a lot of work to increase access to good, healthy food, and definitely have lots of options for people who may want to explore cooking and gardening for the first time.
Ten years from now: where are you and what are you doing?
Almost all of my family is back in Kentucky, so as much as I love Austin, there’s a good chance that I’ll be back there by 2024. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was doing similar work there, or branching out into something in education. I love working with kids, and I had a lot of fun hosting our summer field trips this year. Definitely still cooking, gardening, shopping at farmers’ markets, and talking constantly about food.