Farewell from a Fellow: Moving On In the Food Ecosystem

Caroline Ferguson standing behind food food stand, handing out pickles

Fellow Caroline Ferguson sharing quick pickles with Emory University students in Atlanta

Editor’s Note: The Bon Appétit headquarters team is bidding a sad but proud farewell to two of our Fellows after two years. (Read Claire Kelloway’s last post.) Caroline Ferguson (below) has spent the last two years immersing herself in Bon Appétit culture and bringing her love of food and baking to our guests around the country. She became a Healthy Kids educator, conducted research on the Farm to Fork program, worked with many of our West Coast campuses as they grappled with issues of food insecurity, developed a guide to help our teams host cooking classes for students, and led many of those classes herself during campus visits.

Two years ago, I woke up to a call from Bon Appétit Management Company’s strategic initiatives manager, Nicole Tocco Cardwell. I was enjoying a rare morning sleeping in — this was back in my baking days, when starting work at 4 a.m. was the norm — and was barely awake when she asked me if I wanted to join Bon Appétit’s Fellows team.

It took me a while to realize I wasn’t dreaming. Bon Appétit wanted to expand the team by one person, Nicole explained, and they wanted that person to be me. My mind was racing as she apologized for the short notice: I’d have to wrap up my current job and be on a cross-country flight in just a few weeks.

It wasn’t even a question for me. The fellowship was my dream job — I accepted, and have never looked back.

For my first day at work, I flew to Maine to help with an opening at Colby College; I feel like I haven’t come back down to Earth since. Like any job, the fellowship has had its challenges, but I still constantly pinch myself at what an amazing opportunity it has been. The West Coast’s vibrant, eclectic foodsheds have blown me away, from the incredible team at Huerta del Valle in Ontario, CA (a Pitzer College supplier), who are working to provide gardening space to Latino immigrants in the Inland Empire, to Port Townsend, WA’s Cape Cleare Fishery, which delivers their sustainably caught salmon to many Seattle-area teams and the community via a human-powered SalmonCycle. I have felt privileged to travel around the country talking to the wonderful people who are doing the slow, incremental, dedicated work it takes to reform our food system.

One of the greatest gifts of this job is the confidence it has instilled in me to participate knowledgeably in these conversations and to trust in what I know. Though I started the fellowship with a bad case of impostor syndrome and a fear of tough questions from students, before long I found myself savoring challenging conversations. Now when I give a guest lecture to a class, I have to rein myself in from trying to share every single thing I’ve learned with students — to their occasional chagrin, I’m sure.

I’ve also become more comfortable with admitting when I don’t know something. That’s the beauty of the food world: It’s literally and figuratively an ecosystem. Nobody knows everything there is to know about food, but every single person has their own personal connection to food and is, in their own way, an expert. It’s one of the only things we all have in common — and still, two years later, the most inherently interesting topic I can think of.

Nobody knows everything there is to know about food, but every single person has their own personal connection to food and is, in their own way, an expert.

Perhaps the best thing about this job, though, is that it has helped me uncover new dreams. In many ways being a Fellow provides a bird’s-eye view of the food system. We never know what we’re going to encounter on a campus, so we have to educate ourselves broadly about many different issues, from food waste to food insecurity to farmworker justice. I can’t think of a better way to dive into an industry and figure out what you’re really passionate about.

First and foremost, this job has affirmed that working in food is my calling, and that the young field of food systems reform is thriving and full of potential. I’ve also felt myself drawn to food education, as I have experienced time and time again the power of connecting people to the food they eat and empowering their food choices. I’ve also never quite shaken my love of the culinary world and working hands on with food. So now, two years after that fateful phone call, I’m taking everything I’ve learned and starting a new dream job: manager of communications at the Healdsburg SHED, a modern grange in California’s wine country that’s designed to bring us closer to the way we grow, prepare, and share our food.

I couldn’t be more excited to start my new chapter, or more grateful to Bon Appétit for teaching me so much over the past two years.