ILFMA President Natalie Kenny Marquez gets to know one of ILFMA’s newest board members, Lauren Woodbridge. Her background and education in food and nutrition, coupled with her career work in food access brings so much to ILFMA. Not to mention, she recently co-opened a bagel company with products available for order, at events around Chicago, and at the Independence Park Farmer’s Market. Let’s get to know Lauren:
Q & A With Lauren
Tell us about your background and what brought you joining the Illinois Farmers Market Association?
I grew up in Virginia cooking with my family, enjoying simple and delicious meals around the dinner table. I love the way recipes from both sides of my family have stuck around for years! I went to Johnson & Wales University for culinary nutrition and developed a passion for seeing where my food came from and watching the power it has in the human body. My goal was never to be a chef, I want to become a dietitian and surround myself with food in whatever ways I can. I have always loved wandering around farmers markets, tasting the seasonal produce, talking to vendors and supporting creative individuals throughout the neighborhood.
My girlfriend and I moved here last August and we were finding our place in Chicago. I was thrilled when I found ILFMA. I loved the sound of being a part of a group that worked so hard to share this information with the community and support the folks already doing it. I had always thought about being a vendor and this was a way to meet some incredibly passionate people and stay as close to the markets as possible!
You’re passionate about food security and food access. What kind of work have you done around those topics and what role do you play now in your current position with the food depository?
I think that nutrition and food access tend to go hand in hand. The education portion plays a huge role in pointing people in the right direction. Often times, food insecure individuals aren’t aware of the services offered around town or the benefits of growing their own food. One of my first experiences out in the community was with Renew Richmond last summer. I was assisting them with work in the garden, harvesting produce, teaching kids about the benefits of fruits and veggies and operating pop-up farmers markets around the city. The idea was, you work in the garden for a couple hours and then leave with bags of food. They reminded me how special and exciting it felt to pick my own carrot (at least half the size of ones in the store) out of the dirt, wipe it on my shirt and eat it right away. It was inspiring to see such kind and dedicated people working to bring neighborhoods together and supply them with food.
I am now in the middle of a one-year term as an AmeriCorps VISTA Health and Nutrition Coordinator at the Greater Chicago Food Depository. One of our biggest projects is the Fresh Truck, a partnership with health clinics where we share fresh produce and nutrition education with various food insecure neighborhoods around Chicago. I have gotten exposure to parts of Chicago I may not have otherwise and felt the impact of handing someone their next meal. If we’re lucky, clients will return and tell us how much their family loved the recipe we gave them or the beets they decided to try for the first time!
In addition to these two experiences, I developed my own dinner concept, Phyte for Food, that took place on May 20th based off OXFAM hunger banquets. Phyte is defined by plant or plant-like organism. Phyte is also my take on phytochemicals/phytonutrients to reflect the colors of nutritious fruits and vegetables and the power of food to bring people together and help them to thrive. My goal was to teach guests about the struggles of those living with hunger and food insecurity, while supporting a local urban farming organization (The Urban Canopy) in their efforts to solve the issue. I believe that eating healthy food is a basic human right and I want to give everyone the skills and knowledge necessary to create access on their own!
You’re tapping into your culinary background by launching your own bagel business! What is the name of the business, what are your products, where do you sell, who else is involved?
The Kitchen Sink Chicago is co-owned by Lauren Woodbridge and Jeanine Lamadieu. Just a two woman show right now! Our bagels are made with 70% whole grain flour, both plain and everything variety, hence the name. As for schmears, we offer a flavored cream cheese, plain cream cheese, seasonal jam, and house-made cultured butter. It was very important for us to build a product from scratch using mostly nutritious, local and organic ingredients. We are currently vendors out of the Independence Park Farmer’s Market every 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month from 9-1pm – as well as, online catering for pick up and special events around Chicago.
Why did you choose to rent commercial kitchen space for your business as opposed to operating as a Cottage Food vendor?
It was an opportunity for us to network with other people who have started small businesses and see how they run their operations before we went off and did our own thing. We also really needed the fridge, freezer and oven space.
Do you have any words of wisdom for potential or current vendors navigating the farmer’s market world as a value-added food vendor?
Jeanine: If you have a product, that you put your time into and you believe in, get it out into the world, and let other’s try it! Share your creations, and let the world celebrate and discover what you put your time into!
Lauren: Ask a lot of questions and don’t be afraid to look silly! Presentation does matter. Stay honest about where your product comes from and stick to your mission no matter how busy or difficult it may be.