Edwards resident assumes director position of food equity nonprofit
Rita Mary Hennigan, former sustainability coordinator for Eagle Valley Community Foundation, becomes new co-director of UpRoot Colorado
For years, Edwards resident Rita Mary Hennigan supported the work of the valley’s main food bank, The Community Market, as its sustainability coordinator. Now, she has been named as co-director of a nonprofit that aims to uproot the local food system as we know it.
Hennigan has been named as co-director of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization called UpRoot Colorado, which supports farmers and people experiencing nutritional insecurity by harvesting leftover produce from farms and giving it to local hunger relief organizations, according to a recent release.
The collection of surplus goods from farms is a process known as “gleaning,” Hennigan said, and UpRoot is particularly interested in gleaning “protective foods” or nutrient-dense foods that significantly lower the risk of disease.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to join such a passionate team working to address problems in our food system in a multifaceted and compassionate way,” Hennigan said in the release.
In working with The Community Market for three years, Hennigan said she spent a lot of time thinking about the underlying issues that cause food insecurity in Eagle County and across the country.
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“I think it’s really important to think about who has access to what food and why,” she said in an interview Friday. “There is a somewhat common misperception that Vail is just folks who are wealthy … But there are systemic problems and inequalities that exist in our community.”
Some such systemic issues are income inequality and a lack of affordable housing and transportation, all of which make it more difficult to afford and access local, nutritious produce, she said.
Hennigan now oversees UpRoot Colorado’s operations in communities across the Western Slope.
“I am excited to learn more of the nuances of the challenges that those communities experience,” she said. “I’m excited to get tapped into that, but I think that I’m set up for success in that I, over my three years working with The Community Market, was able to get to know this community and I think there are a lot of parallels.”
The organization also works with farmers and volunteers on the Front Range in the northern part of the state.
Hennigan worked for The Community Market first as a sustainability coordinator through AmeriCorps VISTA and, later, as the organization’s sustainability and partner relations coordinator. She earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from Wellesley College and a sustainability certificate from Babson, Olin, and Wellesley Colleges, according to the release.
“We are excited that someone of [Hennigan’s] qualifications and clear commitment to equity in our food system has joined UpRoot,” UpRoot board member John Brett said in the release.
“As UpRoot enters a new phase of growth and development, she will be an invaluable member of the leadership team, nicely complementing co-director Dave Laskarzewski,” Brett said.
UpRoot typically operates in agricultural areas with more produce farms, but Hennigan said she is interested in learning more about how she might bring UpRoot’s work to Eagle County.
Gleaning is just one of the programs UpRoot focuses on in striving toward its goal of creating a world where people are more connected to where their food comes from. This goal, Hennigan said, is key to creating a more localized, equitable and sustainable food system that promotes the health of both our people and our planet.
The organization supports small and family-owned farms through a mobile workforce program, helping farms scale up their staff during harvest season. UpRoot also engages in education, coalition building and legislative advocacy work to further support local farmers and a healthy food system.
UpRoot was one of the founding members of a coalition called the Safe and Abundant Nutrition Alliance, which is made up of representatives from governmental and nonprofit entities as well as community members who want to “address issues of equity and food access in Garfield, Pitkin and western Eagle counties,” Hennigan said.
Hennigan’s predecessor, Ciara Low, was a founding member of the organization and leaves the legacy of its work with Hennigan as she transition into serving as a member of the UpRoot board of directors.
Low worked with The Community Market in 2018 to help the organization establish a local food sourcing program, bringing Colorado produce to Eagle County residents experiencing food insecurity, Hennigan said. She said she feels honored to follow in Low’s footsteps.
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