Being a part of a community that values learning, listening to others and supporting communities throughout the state is what drew Caitlin Szymanski to Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Szymanski joined the organization in May 2016 and is working to find solutions to the food system needs of communities across Iowa.
What do you do for ISU Extension and Outreach?
I’m a program coordinator for the Local Foods program. Everyone in the team wears many hats, but my two primary areas of focus are providing direct support for county staff and supporting special projects and conversations that help build more racially, economically and socially equitable food systems in Iowa.
What is the best part of working for ISU Extension and Outreach?
Previously I’ve worked for community based organizations, so being able to work on such a broad scale across the state and being able to listen and learn from diverse stakeholders is great.
Do you have any big upcoming projects or events?
We are launching the second year of our peer local food coordinator mentorship program in December after a really successful first year.
I am also working with Julie Stevens, assistant professor in landscape architecture, on a case study publication into how the production garden at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville has been developed. The produce grown goes back into the prison, so we are trying to figure out what worked and what didn’t with the project. We are also sharing what we’ve learned with other states who are working on similar projects.
What is one thing you would like to accomplish in this position?
My work is constantly shifting and is guided by the emerging needs of Iowa communities working for sustainable local food systems development. I hope that I can look back on my time with ISU Extension and Outreach and say – no matter how small or large the project, resource development or individual support I provide to a community member – that I was unwavering in my committed to have my work be grounded in equity, quality, innovation and thoughtfulness.
Name one fun thing about yourself that not many people know.
I really like to cook and so every week I make it my goal to try at least three new recipes. I just got a new cookbook filled with Burmese recipes so it’s been fun to try new flavors and spices.
What do you do in your free time?
I love being outdoors, cooking, live music and doing things that center around art. I also do a lot of woodworking and welding so I like being able to be creative outside of work.
How do you create a #StrongIowa?
By using the privilege of working at Iowa State to lift up voices around the state who are working to build more equitable food systems that nourish all Iowans.