Sara Morris, President of The Beecher’s Foundation, will be speaking at the Inaugural Seattle Food Tank Summit, titled “Growing Food Policy,” which will be held in partnership with the Environmental Working Group, Food Action, Garden-Raised Bounty (GRuB), the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Seattle University’s Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability on March 17, 2018.
Sara joined The Beecher’s Foundation in March of 2017, bringing 25 years of experience as an organizational leader in the for-profit and non-profit sectors, and a passion for food, kids, education, and community. Prior to joining the foundation, Sara was President and CEO of the Alliance for Education. The Alliance is Seattle’s local education fund and one of the city’s largest education non-profits. In this role, Sara reported to a 30-member Board of Directors and managed a 15-member staff and US$5 million annual budget. Bringing together the charitable resources of Seattle’s business and philanthropic community to support more than 53,000 students in Seattle’s public schools, Sara stewarded the organization as an independent voice and external catalyst for change in urban public education. Sara was also a Co-Founder of the nationally recognized Seattle Teacher Residency, a unique partnership between labor, academia, schools, and community, supporting the selective recruitment and preparation of exceptional teachers dedicated to serving Seattle’s highest poverty students.
Sara began her career as a communications aide in the White House during the Clinton Administration and subsequently held leadership positions in the public and private sectors, including Group Marketing Manager at Amazon.com, Director of Marketing at OVP Venture Partners, and Executive Director of TechNet Northwest. Sara received her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University in 1993, and her MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management in 1999. She was named one of Seattle’s “40 Under 40” by the Puget Sound Business Journal in 2003. She sat on the Board of Directors of the Technology Access Foundation, including serving as Board President. In 2017 she became a founding board member of Impact Public Schools, a charter management organization serving high-poverty students in Washington State.
Food Tank had the opportunity to sit down with Sara to talk about her work at The Beecher’s Foundation, nutrition, and the power of consumers.
Food Tank (FT): What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?
Sara Morris (SM): My parents were educators, and we spoke often at the dinner table of the value of public service. We weren’t wealthy but I was made to feel that we were privileged. That privilege carried a responsibility to give back. Non-profit management became an obvious career choice for me, enabling me to make contributions to my community while also putting to use my education, including my MBA.
FT: How are you helping to build a better food system?
SM: The Beecher’s Foundation directly operates programs that educate tens of thousands of people each year, youth and adults, about food, nutrition, cooking, and consumer power. We focus on the demand side of the food system equation, educating and empowering people to make better choices for themselves, their families, and their community as a whole.
FT: What’s the most pressing issue in food and agriculture that you’d like to see solved?
SM: Materially reducing the toxic stew of overly processed, highly sugared, additive-laden products that glut our food system. 58 percent of Americans get the majority of their calories every day from overly processed food. We’ve been conditioned to prioritize cheap convenience and have become addicted to salt and sugar. It’s killing us, and it’s killing those in low-income communities faster. Life expectancy in Puget Sound varies by as much as 14 years for women and 18 years for men, based on what zip code you live in. Those disparities are driven largely by diet-related disease.
FT: What innovations in food and agriculture are you most excited about?
SM: Major food companies and grocers are becoming more responsive to shifts in consumer demand. Kraft removed artificial preservatives, flavors, and dyes from its mac and cheese. Andronico’s put quotes from Michael Pollan around its store, including the cereal aisle, until Cocoa Puffs’ diminishing sales pushed it to the bottom shelf. In most cases, there is a leader involved who is willing to think differently and act courageously.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
SM: Read food labels and reject products with excessive sugar.
FT: What is the best opportunity for young or aspiring farmers and entrepreneurs to get a foothold in America’s agricultural future?
SM: There is a critical shortage of young farmers. To inspire a new generation of farm leadership, there are local organizations providing internship opportunities and a network of people who own farmland and will rent it out. Locally, Tilth Alliance and PCC Farmland Trust are places to check for more resources and inspiration to connect people to farmland.
FT: How can we best stimulate young people’s curiosity about food and agriculture and encourage their participation in building healthier food systems?
SM: Our youth program educates fourth and fifth graders to become “Food Detectives,” equipped to read labels, understand how ingredient lists are ordered, see through marketing messages, and cook from scratch. Educating kids in a fun, interactive, engaging way is the single best way to spark curiosity about food. We’ve put over 122,000 kids through our youth program over the last 12 years, and 8 in 10 leave more curious about the food they eat. One year later, 36 percent report having made lasting changes to the food they and their family eat.