Every Tuesday and Friday from June to October, Dara Olmsted ’00 sat wedged between fresh apples and lettuce, green beans and honey.
Stationed just outside Harvard’s Science Center or across the Charles River in Allston, Olmsted was awash in her own seasonal, local, sustainable, artisanal version of heaven, working the weekly Harvard farmers markets.
The Florida native said she has found her “dream job” as the newest Food Literacy Project administrator at Harvard University Hospitality & Dining Services (HUHDS).
“It’s easy to become disconnected from the environmental and nutritional implications of your food,” said Olmsted, who touts sustainability and the importance of educating people about what they eat and the increasingly negative effects of industrial agriculture on the environment.
Founded in 2005, the Food Literacy Project “cultivates an understanding of food from the ground up,” its website states. Focusing its education efforts around the four pillars of sustainability, nutrition, food preparation, and community, its goal is to “promote enduring knowledge, enabling consumers to make informed food choices.”
For Olmsted, that means planning and implementing food-based outreach programs and special events for a Harvard audience. Her seasonal work involves organizing the popular weekly farmers markets that run through the summer and fall outside the Science Center and in Allston.
Promoting local, sustainable food from nearby farms is critical, said the Harvard graduate. “By shopping at the farmers market, you are voting with your dollar. You are investing in sustainable growing methods and preserving farmland from development.”
You also get food that was picked that morning and can meet the farmer who grew it, said Olmsted. “It has made me become more connected to my food, and appreciate it more.”
In addition, Olmsted oversees 17 undergraduate and graduate students who act as Food Literacy Project representatives in each of the College’s 12 Houses, Annenberg Hall, and the Divinity School, helping them to coordinate events such as cooking classes, food tastings, and volunteer opportunities in local community gardens.
As an undergraduate, Olmsted concentrated in social anthropology. She earned her master’s degree in environmental policy and urban planning from Tufts University. While in graduate school, she reconnected with Harvard, serving as a teaching assistant for some classes and volunteering for Harvard’s Green Campus Initiative. From 2006 to 2010, she worked full time in what is now Harvard’s Office for Sustainability, involved with several Schools.
But when an opportunity to connect to food opened up earlier this year, she jumped.
Olmsted became a vegetarian at age 13 in response to reports of a fast-food chain raising its beef on rainforest land and after reading some “very graphic” books about slaughterhouses. Over the past few years, she has been drawn to the slow-food movement that links enjoying food to commitments to community and the environment. An avid reader of food-related books and articles, she also writes for the Boston Globe’s green blog. Her posts, unsurprisingly, are often food oriented.
Olmsted said she loves teaching about biodiversity, species preservation, and sustainability. Her eyes widen when recalling the luminaries of the culinary world that she has worked with at Harvard, including famed chef and author Mollie Katzen and the founder of the slow-food movement, Carlo Petrini.
“I have the perfect job,” she said with a smile. “I get to work with students and staff and learn about food.”
For the past four years Olmsted has also been at Mather House working as a tutor and sophomore adviser. She has helped to organize international cooking classes, ran the House masters’ open houses, planned food-based study breaks for seniors, and taught students how to make her famous sock monkeys.