The Oberlin Stories Project

On starting an agency to help inner city Milwaukee residents eat fresh, local food

Young Kim ’85

“Oberlin gave me the balanced education and multi-disciplinary vision that makes this work possible...I learned to be confident, curious, tenacious, generous, and inclusive.”

A woman asks a question at a fruits & vegetables stand.

My agency, the Fondy Food Center, is working to change how residents in inner city Milwaukee feed themselves. Our neighborhood has too many corner convenience stores, food pantries and fast food restaurants, and not enough quality food retailers. And when coupled with a lack of transportation and income, this environment fuels the alarming increases in diet-related health problems that we’ve all been reading about.

My organization runs the Fondy Farmers’ Market - Milwaukee’s oldest and largest open-air market. Open 5 days a week during the growing season, it’s home to thirty local farmers, food producers, and artisans. But we also know that bringing fresh produce into the inner city is only half the battle. We work with farmers to help them find affordable farm lands that will allow them to increase their profits and improve the quality of their product.

We also have cooking programs that arm the community with recipes and new cooking techniques. Our Girls Chef Academy provides culinary education to middle school-aged girls, right at the age when they are learning to cook for their families. This coming Spring we will create Cooking Clubs, where four to six families gather once a week to cook wholesome foods and build community.

What does all of this have to do with Oberlin? Well, as I try to change the food system in Milwaukee, I’ve had to work with an astonishing variety of professionals - academics, dietitians, urban planners, agriculture scientists, physicians, and community organizers, to name a few. Oberlin gave me the balanced education and multi-disciplinary vision that makes this work possible.

Most importantly, at Oberlin I learned to be confident, curious, tenacious, generous, and inclusive. Unlike that t-shirt I saw at the Oberlin Co-op a few years ago, I don’t think that one person can truly change the world. But a group of people, when infused with Oberlin values, can. Twenty-three years after graduating, I still miss the optimism and possibility thinking that permeates Oberlin. My time there gave me a taste of how the world can be, and I’ve been trying to recreate that same feeling ever since.