Team member spotlight: Courtney Long

October 4, 2019

We hope you’ll enjoy getting to know our awesome staff members a little bit better through this monthly spotlight Q & A!


Please tell us your name and job title.

Courtney Long, Food Systems Team program manager.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Breakfast and coffee 🙂 — just kidding… I get excited to work with different people and work creatively on projects. It’s energizing to problem-solve and think of new ideas for similar issues/concerns that many communities and organizations face. I also really enjoy this work and continual learning, as well as the people I get to work with.

Courtney and her dad on Father’s Day.

How would you describe your job to a child?

I get to talk with a lot of amazing people and create ideas for projects that help people eat more healthy foods, get outdoors and play, and create pretty places for people to live…. (this might be more 8 year old talk :)) I am also really excited to get to work around the nation with different groups of people and learn about new ways of doing things and seeing the world. In particular we get to learn new ways of producing or harvesting the food we eat, how we use the food, and how we make the least amount of waste. We also get to learn how this work impacts our communities we live in with jobs, relationships, how we feel, and our environment.

What is your biggest achievement to date, personal or professional?

Personally, I am very proud to have finished my course work for my PhD while working full time—just the research proposal and, as they say, ABD at this point 🙂 Professionally, I feel incredibly humbled to see how much the Community Food Systems program has grown. The Agricultural Urbanism Toolkit was sort of my “baby” when it was developed in 2014, and has evolved into a full program within extension. After this last 18 months of AgMRC funding, I’ve had the fortune of traveling to amazing places and collaborating nationally through the Local Food Leader and Community Food Systems certifications; this has led to exciting opportunities both in and out of Iowa, including a partnership with FEMA on a food systems assessment in the Virgin Islands territory.

What does a typical day look like for you? What are you currently working on?

Honestly, every day is pretty different. Some days look like me on my computer at home in sweatpants working on reports, or design updates, or multiple phone calls. Others are in the office working on team projects. And, this has been the most likely as of late, it’s been traveling on the road or plane to different communities for project research, Local Food Leader and Community Food Systems workshops, or conference support. Overall, I get to support an awesome food systems team that includes Breanna Miller, Chelsea Krist, and Kaley Hohenshell, all of whom do great work within different areas of the food system. We also get to partner with different units and programs both internal and external to Iowa State.

Projects that I am most involved with include:

Community Food Systems and Local Food Leader workshops offered nationally. We offer around 10 workshops a year at this point, and are excited to have new trainers for Local Food Leader that can begin teaching this in their own regions.

I currently help support and coordinate a USDA AMS project for understanding food systems core competencies needed for food systems practitioners. This project goes through the end of the year and partners with around 30 national partners with expertise in food systems work.

We are working with FEMA and Virgin Islands Good Food on a Community Food Systems Assessment in the territory of the Virgin Islands. We conduct our public input sessions this fall and will have an updated assessment and snapshot for each island.

We are wrapping up our final project with Pleasant Hill, Iowa, including an assessment of existing kitchen location for food entrepreneurs, as well as a potential agrihood site with a private landowner.

We have a unique Scaling Up Processing Project that is researching best practices for small food businesses to scale up their operations to include value-added products. Our team is comprised of many different extension staff and faculty, as well as partnerships with organizations and businesses for outreach and implementation.

Group of people talking at tables.
Courtney (right) facilitating a table discussion at a CFS annual event.

What are your biggest professional challenges?

My current challenge is the grind between research and outreach and where that falls in our work. Also, time (but who has enough time??)

What three words would you use to describe your role?

Connector, Innovator, Collaborator.

If you could choose anyone, who would you pick as your mentor?

Oh man… this is hard. I feel like I have lots of mentors for different areas in my life. I think the area I want to work on right now is my ability to stay grounded and know my purpose. Max Lucado would be an awesome mentor. His books and readings seem to always reflect how to keep positive in any situation and remind us why we are here and what our passions are.

What do you like most about your job?

Getting to work with groups of people to create unique projects—typically that are solutions, or potential solutions, to larger systemic issues.

What is your motto or favorite quote?

“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” —Brene Brown
“Dream more than others think practical, expect more than others think possible, care more than others think wise.” —Howard Shultz

What’s your favorite blog or website?

Is it bad that I don’t have one? I like Pinterest 🙂

Given a chance, who would you like to be for a day?

What if we could do two: a day in the life of someone powerful, matched by a day in the life of someone that has no power. The two that came to mind was a president followed by someone who doesn’t know where their next meal will come from.

What is your guilty pleasure?

NAPS!