Jesse Rye is managing director of Farm Fresh Rhode Island, a Pawtucket-based nonprofit that seeks to connect local consumers to locally grown and raised food.
Using 11 farmer’s markets across the state and a host of other entrepreneurial programs that deliver food from farms to schools and businesses, Farm Fresh hopes to make both Rhode Island eaters and the state’s farming and fishing industries healthier.
PBN: How did your upbringing in Wisconsin help determine your career path?
RYE: I’m from Algoma, a small town on Lake Michigan with a big focus on agriculture and fishing. Both of those industries were going through big changes while I was growing up, and many of the core industries in Algoma were closing shop, so our town looked very different to my generation than it did to my parents. I come from a family with a lot of small business owners, so the ideas of entrepreneurship and supporting local business are very much in my blood. I have been inspired by the opportunities that exist in my childhood community and my career to date has tried to focus on how places like Algoma can work to support themselves economically while preserving a unique sense of place, cultural traditions and environmental integrity.
PBN: How did you come to Farm Fresh RI and what attracted you to the opportunity?
RYE: I moved to Rhode Island for two reasons: I was in love, and I wanted to change my career focus to sustainable agriculture and social enterprise development. My partner Emily was getting her master’s degree in design from RISD and after graduation planned on opening a business in Pawtucket. I was living in Baltimore working as a program officer for the state arts council and helping communities develop a robust arts and cultural infrastructure and support systems.
On paper my career felt right for my graduate degree – public policy and arts administration — but my heart kept coming back to the importance of food in building community. I couldn’t stop thinking about how something was missing, both in my life and work. So I quit my job, moved to Rhode Island and started freelancing. When the opportunity to work at Farm Fresh came up, it seemed like the perfect fit. It gave me the chance to get my hands dirty, use a lot of the experience I had already developed and also feel like I was making a difference. It’s the type of job that if you get things right you can really feel like you will be leaving a corner of the world better than you found it.
PBN: What is the biggest challenge Farm Fresh RI faces in its mission to connect farm fresh food with people who want and need it?
RYE: There is a lot of optimism and investment in developing local food systems right now. Consumers are very interested in where their food is coming from and how it is grown. Farmers need to capitalize on this goodwill and capital influx to build infrastructure and position their farms for the long term. In agriculture that can mean years of development, whether considering planting new crops or building structures that will extend the production calendar.