Jacquelyn Evers | C-U Women Outdoors

Our C-U Women Outdoors series is all about highlighting the women in our local RuggedOutdoors community who are passionate about the outdoors. Meet Jacquelyn Evers, Director of The Land Connection, a local non-profit that focuses on healthy food, healthy farms, and healthy communities.

Name: Jacquelyn Evers

Occupation: Executive Director, The Land Connection

Jacquelyn joined The Land Connection team in May 2018 from her previous position as Executive Director for Sangamon Valley Youth Symphony, a non-profit based in Springfield. It was in this position that Jacquelyn found her path in nonprofit management. During her tenure with Sangamon Valley Youth Symphony (SVYS), the organization underwent substantial change with operations to improve efficiency and productivity; experienced increased enrollment in ensembles; acquired stronger, more secure funding sources; and developed an engaged Board of Directors working to expand the organization’s footprint in Springfield. Jacquelyn holds both a Bachelor and Master degree in Music Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In addition to her role as Executive Director at The Land Connection, Jacquelyn maintains an active piano studio in the Champaign-Urbana community. When she’s not working, Jacquelyn enjoys spending time with her pets, cooking, and all things outdoors.

What does the “outdoors” mean to you?
Outdoors is my opportunity to reset physically and mentally. Even though my office has a window with a lovely view of downtown Champaign, there is nothing that replaces being outside and active in nature. I find that during times of stress at work or when we are extremely busy, taking time to hike or camp offers me a moment to disconnect and explore the sights and sounds of our environment that I don’t get to experience on an average day. It is truly remarkable how many different landscapes exist on our planet and being able to challenge yourself with a hike to see those views is a feeling that can’t be replicated elsewhere.

If the weather is nice on a Saturday, what can we find you doing?
I hope you find me hiking at one of my favorite Indiana parks or camping.

What got your started with The Land Connection? Have you always been involved with the local food system?
I have always actively participated in farmers markets and been interested in locally grown and raised foods, but only from the consumer side of the food system. I also love organizational management and fundraising. When The Land Connection opened the position of Executive Director, I thought this was an opportunity for me to bring those two interests together and, so far, it has been a great experience for me professionally and personally.

The Land Connection is all about healthy farms, healthy foods, and healthy communities. What is something everyone can do to get involved in making a healthy community?
I think the biggest change everyone can make in working towards building a healthy, resilient local food system is committing to buying local food and farm products as much as you are able. Our local food producers that sell through area farmers markets, at Common Ground Co-Op, and direct from their farm are great stewards of the land. Purchasing from them not only promotes healthy farming, but it also puts money directly into the hands of our community producers and, ultimately, back into our local economy. It means that your food is being picked or produced when it is the most optimally nutritious because it does not have to travel, on average, 1,500 miles to your dinner plate. In fact, it is probably traveling 150 miles or less. Healthy farms lead to the production of healthy grown, raised, and produced foods, which means healthier communities for those eating local foods.

What do you see as one of the biggest issues facing local foods today?
I think one of the biggest issues facing our food system today is that, even though it plays an important role economically and has a tremendous impact on our health and environment, it is not equitable. Throughout the United States a large number of corporations are consolidating land to create oversize operations that use industrial farming practices. Not only is this dangerous for our environment, but this practice leaves no space for small producers to start a business and succeed. On the worker side of the food system, there has been overwhelming concern for the safety of food and farm workers, as well as the wages they are being paid. Many are being forced to work in unsafe and unhealthy environments while also being underpaid and not offered benefits such as health insurance. And finally, in consideration of consumers, our grocery stores are overflowing with food, but nearly 10% of the US population is struggling with hunger each day.

Despite all of these challenges, though, we have the opportunity to better serve our communities. An equitable food system would make healthy food available to all people, provide good jobs with livable wages, leave space for big and small agricultural operations, and foster strong local economies. Everyone can be a part of the solution by supporting local food production and advocating for policies that protect food assistance programs and workers rights.

If you had to choose just one, what is your favorite vegetable?
This is hard for me because I love so many vegetables and the situation really makes a difference. This summer I have been obsessing over okra. I ate it raw for the first time, which was a gamechanger because I realized it is not as slimy as everyone suggests. I stir-fried it, added it to salads, put it on pizza, and had it for snacks. I am grateful that okra has had a long season this year because I didn’t have to stop eating it!

The Champaign Farmers market seems to always have something going on. What are your favorite community programs there?
I think my favorite community program has been our work with Champaign Center Partnership on their featured business tent. Even though I have lived in Champaign for 15 years, I still do not know all the wonderful businesses that exist in our community. Having a business featured each week at the Market has been an opportunity for The Land Connection to promote those small businesses to our network and for those same businesses to connect with new audiences at the Market. As a Market shopper, it helps me learn more about what is happening in Champaign-Urbana. We also enjoy the support Champaign Center Partnership gives us outside of their featured business tent. One way they have contributed to the success of the Market is by helping us elevate the Champaign Farmers Market to our community through projects like a trick-or-treat event the last Tuesday in October.

Do you have any tips or advice for anyone wanting to work in the non-profit world?
Volunteer for non-profits in your community! If you did not set out into the work world of non-profit, it is important that you build your resume with relevant and applicable skills. This is something that I spent several summers doing before taking the plunge and it really helped prepare me for the change in work environment and culture. It also helped me connect to people in my community and figure out exactly what elements of non-profit work I enjoyed.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I have received is to take the word “should” out of my vocabulary. I often find myself analyzing a situation (I can’t be the only one that does this) and saying something like “I should have done this” or “It should have went this way.” The reality is that I can’t go back in time to change outcomes, so rather than having a mindset of how I failed, I find it much better for me to use that experience as a lesson learned for what I will do or say in the future. Taking away the burden of “should” makes me spend more time looking forward and less time looking back.

What’s at the top of your bucket list?
Ooooh. My personal bucket list #1 is probably doing an extreme hiking/camping trip abroad. My partner and I have spent a lot of time hiking in parks and nature preserves that are a one-day trip distance from Champaign-Urbana. We love the landscapes here, but it is also fun to see other views. In recent years we have started experimenting with longer trips and how traveling with gear works. I think we still have a long way to go, but hopefully we will figure it out one day soon!

Is there anything you're working on/a project that you are a part of that you're most excited about right now?
Last year I connected with a nonprofit in Champaign-Urbana called Healthy Champaign County. At first it was a space for me to learn more about community groups working in health and human services and how they might connect to TLC’s local food system work and the Champaign Farmers Market. In recent months, though, several new people and organizations have become involved in the work and there has been more motion towards ways we can strengthen our local food system. It is really exciting to be a part of the conversations and to learn, each week, about work happening in our community. The year ahead is looking quite bright.