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Food Hero FOOD LITERACY CENTER FOUNDER EMBRACES THE FARM-TO-FORK ETHOS

BY SENA CHRISTIAN

When Stott first shopped at a farmers market in Sacramento, she couldn’t believe the diversity of produce. Farms around her childhood home grew mostly corn and soy crops. “I was blown away by it,” she says. “It also shocked me that so few people were taking advantage of it.”

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n a recent Saturday, Amber Stott sat at the desk in her home in River Park writing a grant proposal. She had no clue that evening had already arrived until two friends— the founders of Chocolate Fish Coffee—knocked on the front door and urged her to take a break, hop on her bike and join them at Twelve Rounds Brewing nearby. “I didn’t even realize it was 6 o’clock!” Stott says, laughing loudly, as she often does. The 38-year-old tells this story while wearing a black dress covered in bright yellow lemons. She also owns a pair of shoes accented with a pineapple design. On that weekend evening, Stott had been, as usual, completely immersed in her work. “I created a job out of all the things I’m passionate about,” explains Stott, who founded the Food Literacy Center in 2011 to teach low-income elementary schoolchildren about cooking and nutrition and inspire them to eat their vegetables. The program targets kids because of their pliability in changing their behavior for the better. “Before, the only influence I could have on the food system was my personal diet,” Stott says. “Now, I can influence 5,000 kids a year.” Growing up on 2 acres in rural Illinois, Stott ate food canned by her mother and homemade applesauce that was pink because the skins had been left on. She didn’t realize that eating locally grown, freshly prepared food wasn’t the norm for

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“I created a job out of all the things I’m passionate about.”

Amber Stott and chef Jay Veregge of Ten22 at an event at Leataata Floyd Elementary

many American children. Her family’s property had fruit trees, grapevines, raspberry bushes and a large garden. “I never understood why I hated salads at school, with iceberg lettuce, but when my mom would pick fresh rhubarb from the garden, I would crave it,” she says. When she was 16, Stott studied in Denmark for a year. Thirty pounds of pork and potatoes later, she fibbed to her host parents, telling them her religion forbade her from eating meat

during that time of the year, except for fish: “Vegetables entered my life! Sausages left it!” She remains a pescatarian today. Stott earned a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature and women’s studies, and later a master’s degree in African studies and women’s studies at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She and her now-husband, Brendan Belby (a river scientist), headed out west for their careers.

She started a blog, Awake at the Whisk, to chronicle her experience “living la vida locavore” and hungrily consumed nonfiction books about food, like Jane Goodall’s “Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating.” As she learned about the food system, she recognized a big problem not being addressed: an education gap. “We were throwing tomatoes at the problem of obesity,” she says, but failing to teach people how to actually eat better. If all you’ve ever known is how to take a bag of veggies out of the freezer and warm it up in the microwave, then what happens if someone hands you a raw eggplant? “I was like, why isn’t anyone doing this?” Stott recalls. “And then I was like, hey, why don’t I do this?” Equipped with several years of experience working in nonprofit fund development, management and marketing, she embarked on the journey of starting the Food Literacy Center. Now the nonprofit organization has a $400,000 operating

East sacramento jan 2016