When you think about all the roles a chef plays in the kitchen, from the prep work and planning to overseeing and executing a vision, you could consider Kimberly LaMendola one of the chefs for Food Future Western New York (FFWNY). Given that some of her earliest memories were in a kitchen cooking with her grandparents, it should come as no surprise that she took on a co-facilitator role in launching the collective work of FFWNY to build the sustainable food system we all aspire to have in our region.
"I grew up spending time with both sets of grandparents and watched how they harvested their food whether through growing or hunting. They were very resourceful. The meals we shared together around the table meant a lot to me. To this day, I take the time to prepare a meal and sit down to enjoy it," said Kimberly LaMendola, Regional Food Systems Manager at New York Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NYSAWG).
Kimberly manages her backyard farm with 12 raised beds that produced over 20 different varieties of veggies last year.
In 2023, she and her wife are adding a flock of laying hens to their homestead.
Her road to the FFWNY work took a few turns along the way. Originally working in the health and human services field, she felt a calling back to her agricultural roots, specifically understanding all that goes into growing food for a group of people. However, that major didn't exist at the time, so she created her own degree in community and rural development at Empire State College and then earned a certificate from Colorado State in sustainable food systems. She launched her new career in the planning department at the Seneca Nation of Indians and then joined Southern Tier West Regional Planning and Development Board 11 years ago.
When the WNY COVID-19 Community Response Fund decided to address the food system challenges, Kimberly's name kept coming up as an important person to talk to about how to lift the effort off the ground.
The Western New York Regional Food System Initiative, now known as Food Future WNY, launched in January 2021 and Kimberly's first task as co-facilitator was participating in interviews with potential consulting partners for the effort and SCALE, a four-person national team was hired for the collective effort. Over the next 18 months, SCALE engaged more than 70 regional food system leaders in a Regional Advisory Council and five issue-specific Working Groups to create a report that detailed actionable ideas to move the regional food system effort forward.
With the comprehensive report now complete and funding in place, the New York Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NYSAWG) is charting the course forward to see through the recommendations. To learn more, visit FoodFutureWNY.org.
This storytelling project was made possible through funding from the WNY Foundation