Foraging for Careers in the Locavore Economy

From left to right: Sean Sullivan ’08, Jay Espy ’79, Sara Holby ’08, and Lucy Van Hook ’06

From left to right: Sean Sullivan ’08, Jay Espy ’79, Sara Holby ’08, and Lucy Van Hook ’06

The locavore economy doesn’t just offer artisanal cheeses, craft brews, and other delicious food to please palates — it makes jobs, jobs that Bowdoin students might want to consider. Career Planning recently invited to campus four graduates who are building careers from people’s increasing interest in eating local food. The panelists, who work in a range of sectors, told their stories to a group of students gathered in Moulton Union.

Craft beer movement: Sean Sullivan, ’08, executive director, Maine Brewers’ Guild; Co-founder, Buoy Local

When Sean Sullivan was a senior at Bowdoin, he had no idea what kind of job he wanted. This is how he decided: he traipsed into Moulton during a Career Planning event. On the left was J.P. Morgan, and on the right, L.L. Bean. “I took a look around and saw that everybody heading to the left was wearing a suit and tie, and everyone heading right was sporting Birkenstocks and flannel shirts,” Sullivan said. “That [on the right] was my crowd.”

Sullivan followed his passion for the Maine community and outdoors into the job market. He is now executive director of the Maine Brewers’ Guild, a nonprofit that promotes local craft beer companies. Much of his work is hoisting small businesses onto their feet, Sullivan explained. “These are people with dreams, and it’s my job to make those dreams reality.” Maine Brewers’ Guild lobbies the Maine Legislature to pass laws that will allow small businesses to flourish. Today, the large versus small business industry is polarized in favor of bigger corporations, according to Sullivan. But, he added, the importance of buying local is huge. Economically and environmentally, local markets are much more efficient. Plus, the sense of community built around a great product and a combination of mutual dreams is priceless. “It’s so freaking good to live in Maine,” Sullivan said, “and we have to grow the local economy to keep Maine the type of place you want to live.”

Philanthropy: Jay Espy, ’79 executive director of Elmina B. Sewall Foundation

Like Sullivan, Jay Espy didn’t have a job in mind when he finished college. “I just wanted to be outside as much as possible,” he remembers, and recounts the following years that he spent identifying bird populations in Casco Bay. Although he ventured to Washington D.C. and Boston to complete his masters degree in Environmental Conservation, Espy says he had a “deep desire to stay in Maine.” When given a choice of jobs between a Boston consulting group or the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, he happily chose the latter. He worked for MCHT for 23 years, during which he helped the amount of protected land in Maine grow from 5 to 15 percent. Espy now leads the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, a philanthropic organization based in Brunswick, that sponsors animal welfare, environmental conservation and human wellbeing around Maine. The Foundation recently awarded a major grant to Bowdoin for the fisheries research of professor John Lichter.

ajiriteaImported tea: Sara Holby ’08, founder of Ajiri Tea, Kenya

Sara Holby graduated from Bowdoin with a degree in history and environmental studies. With a Global Citizens Grant from the McKeen Center, she volunteered the summer after graduating with a nonprofit in Kenya that turned out to be poorly managed. So she decided to take social services into her own hands. With her mother and sister, she launched a tea company in Kisii, a village in western Kenya. “I knew nothing about tea. Absolutely nothing,” Holby said, laughing. But she knew there had to be something she could do for this small Kenyan community. “We wanted to focus on getting women employed, and sending the village’s orphans to school,” she explained. Holby and her family knocked on the gates of local tea factories until they found a sympathetic owner. The female business owner now supplies the tea and women in Kisii create boxes and labels from banana tree bark. The tea is shipped to Pennsylvania — Holby’s home state — where it is bagged, and then Holby sells it in about 500 stores along the East Coast and in Austrailia. Ajiri employs 63 Kenyan women and has sent 29 orphans to school. Holby looked up at the students and paused, in seeming amazement at her own story. “It just started with our passion for these orphans,” she said. “And now this tea business has really taken on a life of its own.”

Fishing industry: Lucy Van Hook ’06, fisheries program coordinator, Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association

Lucy Van Hook works with a staff of two for Brunswick-based Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, a nonprofit that is trying to restore the fisheries in the Gulf of Maine and build a sustainable groundfish economy. About 90 percent of seafood here is imported from other countries, and 90 percent of the fish caught in Maine is shipped to other states. How does this make sense? “It doesn’t,” Van Hook said. “Which is why my job is to promote conservation-minded fishing policies in Maine.” In addition, the number of fishing vessels has decreased from 188 in 1996 to 52 shops today that catch groundfish — once the foundation of Maine’s fishing economy.

Van Hook brings groundfish fishermen together to curry strength and strategies against governmental policies that she says endanger local fishing businesses. “It’s fulfilling because typically fishermen are fiercely independent,” Van Hook reflected. “And now they are working together,” making headway on protecting their livelihoods and one of Maine’s most valuable natural resources.

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