Blueberries, Business Cards, and Books

May 18, 2011 | Comments Off on Blueberries, Business Cards, and Books | Social Media & Marketing

One of my clients, Chautauqua Hills Farm, is nearing their blueberry picking season. We recently sent out an email update showing pictures of the early fruiting bushes, and let customers know that they could sign up to be on a list to be notified when the “Nickel-Size Blueberries” are ready to harvest. Eager, swift replies showed a definite pent-up demand for the tasty, naturally grown berries.

What’s exciting for me is not only seeing the word spread through email, in-person, and social media avenues, but the fact that I get to promote products and services I believe in. In this case, I absolutely love blueberries, and I also appreciate the use of healthy, natural growing methods.

Early Fruiting Variety - Growing Blueberries!

So it was a win-win for me when Lance, the owner, spoke as a guest speaker in one of my classes last fall, and I was able to approach him about developing Chautauqua Hill’s use of social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and an email newsletter.

I’ve really enjoyed working with CHF. Not only have they been patient with my busy school schedule, but they bring lots of ideas to the table for content and marketing with their values and style in mind.

I’ve continued to develop my WordPress skills, worked back and forth with another freelancer who set up their website and is currently developing the e-commerce side, and learned a lot about blueberries and healthy food in the process.

Blueberries aren’t grown to a great extent in KS, and besides being pretty, tasty, and fun to eat, there’s a certain delight in picking and eating food yourself. But enough about blueberries. My takeaways for you today are simple, but sometimes simple things are the most important to implement.

I think the reminder Chautauqua Hills Farm provides is to provide something of value, something people want. If that happens, people will talk it up for you. Once you’ve earned that trust and interest, the marketing of a quality niche product almost takes care of itself.

And if you feel you have a great product, but people haven’t caught on yet, hang in there…with consistent and relevant communication, you’ll eventually get through.

The other two “B’s” in my post today are business cards and books. I had the occasion to hand out a few more of my business cards this evening after attending a meeting, and one person really liked my card. The background is the same as this website, and I have a number of ways of contacting me listed on the front. I kept the back clear for writing notes (e.g. offers for free initial consults, etc…).

Already they’re a little outdated, as I now have an page and am working on my Facebook Page behind the scenes, the links for both of which I’ll probably put on my next printing of business cards, but I’m so glad I got them done when I did. Many times prior I’d wished I had one to give out, and finally had resorted to at least giving out small strips of paper printed with a color version of my avatar and a few links, to at least have something.

My takeaway here is to not always wait till something’s perfect before you move forward on it. Too often as perfectionists or procrastinators or both, it’s easy to put something on the back burner till we feel it’s completely ready. But even though I knew I’d probably eventually have more links, a P.O. Box, and more to put on business cards, I also knew I had enough to get started with for now. And you do too. Whether it’s printing business cards or some other project, doing something is progress.

As a side note, I did find this list of 10 Features of a Memorable Business Card invaluable,  from Interview Angel, as I created my cards and thought through what I wanted to accomplish. Even though I didn’t implement all 10 ideas, I felt my card turned out better for having thought through these suggestions.

Finally, my last topic of the night is books. I checked out a book at the library today which a friend told me about recently (the book version of The Princess Bride), and as I noted yesterday, one of my goals this summer is to take time to read a lot more. Besides just the knowledge value of being well-read and staying up on ideas, old and new, in one’s industry (and others, for that matter), books are valuable as a business example here because of the way they are shared.

Someone will lend a book out from his or her personal lending library, someone else will check a book out at a library, and still another will read on his Kindle (I’ve been seeing a LOT of people’s comments about reading more on Kindles and Nooks than they had been reading from regular books, and it makes me curious about trying one). You can summarize or narrate a story for someone else, convert it into a movie plot line, it can make you laugh or cry…in other words, a book is versatile.

For me, the lesson of blueberries, business cards, and books is in creating things that are quality and in-demand, shareable, and versatile. Your thoughts?


Summer: The Fun of Business

May 17, 2011 | Comments Off on Summer: The Fun of Business | Social Media & Marketing

As a busy college student, by the end of the semester school can feel like the only thing I have time for. But I took my last final today, and that means that for me, summer has begun. The past two summers I’ve taken 3-5 credit hours, but this year I’m taking the summer completely off from any official school. It won’t, however, be devoid of learning. In fact, I have a number of skills and projects I intend to work on, from further developing my programming skills to improving my photography knowledge and experience.

One of the things I’m most excited about is expanding my freelance marketing and social media business, and generally getting back into a connected world of friends, acquaintances, and colleagues on blogs, Twitter, and beyond. I’ve opted not to take on a traditional summer job, and instead, focus on my freelance business as something that allows me to do what I love (with the added benefit of being on a semi-flexible schedule): helping people, networking, learning about technology, and getting the word out about useful resources and great products and services.

In the past few months, I’ve slowly but surely begun to make preparations and do research on a number of topics from taxes to P.O. boxes, started to build my brand by purchasing this domain name and business cards (and am having a lot of fun giving them out), and looked into advertising and hosting social media workshops. Already I have more than enough business to keep me well-occupied for a while, which is very nice. I was particularly excited to be asked to speak at a workshop next month on nonprofits and social media which is held annually, and which I went to just as a participant/attendee last year.

Just today, I received another book in the mail, which I won in the last week or two on Facebook. I’m looking forward to reading it and a number of other business books from my list for the year soon. Other projects planned include starting a Facebook Page for my business, creating my portfolio here on my website, and getting a post schedule in place for myself.

I know myself well enough to not put a public timeline on those items…life is already busy and will get busier, and in general, the needs of my clients (which they’ve graciously let me put on hold with school demands) must come first. But I’m still excited to be back, to have you reading, and to be sharing once again. I’d love to hear your plans for the summer and/or business; feel free to comment below!


Food & Culture

April 4, 2011 | Comments Off on Food & Culture | Important Causes

Culture and geographic location plays such a role in how we grow, distribute, and eat our food.

Last semester, I had the opportunity to take an international business intro course as a presession, and I found it beyond fascinating (good thing, since that’s one of my majors!). At the end of the course, student groups that had been assigned different major countries (India, China, Russia, etc…) shared presentations about things they’d learned about that country, and we were encouraged to be as creative as we wanted.

Because food is such an integral part of any culture, at least two groups (including mine) brought ethnic foods to share, if I remember correctly, and one brought peanut butter cookies – we were still pleased. Afterwards, several of us went out to Bossa Grill to enjoy some authentic Brazilian fare (another of the countries featured in our presentations).

Even growing up in the middle of KS, I’ve had the opportunity to sample flavors from quite a few different cuisines (and we do have some tasty food originating here too, from Louisburg Apple Cider to great local honey and, of course, wheat). I remember our family making the acquaintance of a couple of gals from Nigeria and inviting them over for dinner once. They brought some yams and another dish from their usual fare and shared with us about their lives back home, their families, food, and culture.

We occasionally shop at the local Asian market, and on a trip to Texas I was thrilled to discover a bakery featuring Argentinean treats. When I visited Seattle I had smoked salmon, Mediterranean fare, and sampled chocolate-covered Washington cherries. And I’ve had friends who’ve traveled abroad and brought back new and interesting (or strange) recipes.

Beyond the huge variety of flavors and food types available out there, another cultural phenomenon connected with food is what constitutes manners in a given locale. Whether or not it is polite to burp, whether one must wait for the host/hostess to begin eating, what portion size is considered normal, whether the men eat first and then women & children or they all eat together, even whether someone is willing to accept a gift of food…all these things are to some degree dictated by culture. And travelers who try to bridge cultures often learn the hard way what is or isn’t acceptable!

Even in the case of Numana, cultural preferences play a role in the types of food we package and send to hungry people. We switched to beans as part of our casserole blend for the Haitians instead of freeze-dried vegetables because that was already a staple there, an acceptable, traditional food for their palettes. And as might be expected, religion plays a role too in what is considered acceptable, so we might, for instance, be sure to avoid beef products and flavorings for Hindus in India, or look for a kosher or non-pork option for Jewish and Muslim people in Eastern Africa and the Middle East. We’re cognizant that tastes differ, and yet strive to maintain a nutritional product.

In many ways, how we eat reflects on our entire lifestyle and upbringing. Whether we learn how to properly eat with multiples of each type of silverware at an early age or our family grew up eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the go, we carry these perspectives and social customs into our adult lives, to our work environments and social engagements, and we pass them on to our children.

Knowing this, I want to think ahead now, and ponder a bit how I can instill gratefulness and caring in my children someday, how I can introduce them to a wide variety of cultures and cuisines, and how I can teach them to view food as a gift to be savored and shared.

Read the rest of the posts in this series:


The Politics of Hunger

April 3, 2011 | Comments Off on The Politics of Hunger | Important Causes

Don’t worry, I’m not planning on making this post some partisan ideological monologue – in fact that’s precisely what I’m writing to discourage.

When I first got involved in the hunger movement, I naively thought I’d picked a nice, safe arena to work in…not too political, not anything anyone would be against, an important issue that anyone could be supportive of, right? Wrong. I quickly learned that things weren’t so simple.

Unfortunately, there have been splits within hunger relief organizations, there are constant debates between whether we should feed people here or there, and food, it turns out, is an incredibly political subject. This is true whether you’re talking about the politics of who supports what measures or you’re talking about which governments allow food aid and how, or you’re getting down to the nitty-gritty of agricultural subsidies and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

It’s not that I don’t care about politics. I believe strongly in our right and responsibility to vote, the importance of researching issues and being activists for causes we believe in, and being aware on both a local and global scale of what is going on in the legislation and political aspects of hunger and the other issues that affect our lives. But lately I’ve been fed up (no pun intended, sorry – one day I’ll run out of handy food-related phrases) with all the political bashing I’ve seen around this topic. In my opinion it’s getting us nowhere fast.

If the issue is getting people fed, or in this case, not stopping current aid – let’s talk about that, educate about that, and stop the ad hominem attacks on individuals and political parties. I can’t believe that no Democrat wants to balance the budget or that no Republican wants to see poor people get fed. The specific means each group is likely to want to use to reach those goals is very different, yes, but I believe there can be cooperation to reach these shared goals.

I realize I could sound like one of those idealistic college students that just hasn’t lived in the real world long enough to know that people don’t do that, but that’s not quite true. I happen to know there was a day not too many decades back when Senators and Representatives actually ate lunch together and worked towards common goals. I happen to know that former Senators George McGovern and Bob Dole, who belong to the Democrat and Republican parties, respectively, wrote a book together called Ending Hunger Now. And I know that I personally have had the chance to rub shoulders with a number of people who like me, care about hunger, and may be at the complete opposite end of the political spectrum from me on most fronts. I’ve laughed with them, learned from them, and worked with them, and they with me.

To me, if our goal really is to end world hunger, this type of collaboration is key. You don’t win points with people by calling them immoral or stupid and getting others to do the same. There are a number of things we can agree on, I think. Foreign aid is good for foreign security. Foreign aid currently is less than 1% of the Federal Budget. We want to manage our national debt wisely and reduce it so that our children (that means people like me for some of you) don’t have an unbearable burden. We want to support initiatives that are sustainable and don’t hurt our own farmers, but also don’t undermine the ability of another country to provide for itself in the future. We care about hungry people. And we are willing to do what it takes to see the world become a better place, even when that means making tough decisions politically that we believe are right and best.

So call your Senators. Write letters to your Representatives. Fast for the plight of the hungry. But start out thinking the best of these people. Look for ways you can win them over to your point of view, or support them if they already share yours. Imagine for a moment that perhaps they care about the same things you do. Consider what they’re doing right. Tell yourself the cause is for everyone to participate in. Fight your battles with a smile on your face and gracious determination. And never give up.

Read the rest of the posts in this series:


The Rationale Behind Rules, Regulations, and Rations

April 1, 2011 | 1 Comments | Important Causes

Last night I had the opportunity to go check out a one-night showing of the documentary “To Catch a Dollar,” featuring Nobel Peace Laureate Muhammad Yunus and the micro-finance organization he helped to found, Grameen, which started in Bangladesh (his home country) and which has been brought to the States as Grameen America, largely focused in New York so far, and looking to expand into other interested communities. Following the main part of the documentary there was footage from a panel on Mar. 9, 2011 that featured Professor Yunus, Suze Orman (financial author), Premal Shah (Kiva), Vidar Jorgensen (Grameen America), and Maria Bartiromo as moderator.

While I found the quality of the video a little lacking in places (a bit jerky and the lighting could have been better), I felt it portrayed a realistic view of micro-lending’s pros and cons both from the perspective of those lending and those receiving the funds. The stories of the characters shone through, and I was moved with emotion as I watched these women struggle, but at the same time begin to rise above their circumstances with the help of microfinance. I was particularly glad to learn more about both Kiva and Grameen, and will certainly be more likely to participate with both organizations in the future. Your funds are repaid or can be reinvested – very cool.

One of the things that stood out to me as someone interested in owning my own brick-and-mortar business in the future, and as someone interested in causes such as these, was the comment made in the film that all the regulations surrounding getting a business off the ground are very inhibitory, in part because they are designed not so much to protect the general public as to help protect the competition. While of course there are various facets to the problem of regulation, I do think this is probably at play.

The question then becomes, how can we change that? What should we do about it? Obviously some regulations and rules are necessary for public safety, for collecting taxes, the whole bit. But how do we turn things around so that people aren’t penalized for trying to be good citizens, for trying to earn something instead of panhandling, for generating income – which is a good thing for society?

All these “R” words have to do with restrictions, and another one I’ve been thinking about today is rations. Like I wrote about yesterday, there’s certainly a case for moderation, but it’s sad when people don’t have enough food to count on for the upcoming week or other time period and have to ration it – and it becomes very easy to hoard.

In disaster relief situations today, the safe, fair distribution of food can also be a challenge. FedEx and UPS both helped deliver the Numana food we sent to be distributed by the Salvation Army for Haiti Earthquake Relief, and the Salvation Army utilized a barcode system that UPS came up with for keeping track of which families had received meals and how often.

I’ve only read stories about both World Wars and the food rationing that occurred, especially in Europe but also here in the States. I haven’t even experienced the same challenges or shortages that my grandparents remember going through. I’ve been thinking about Victory Gardens and the correlation with community gardens. And I’ve been thinking about portions and why we eat the amount that we do in the first place. I had to run some errands today, and I caught myself thinking of stopping at a fast-food restaurant or other food-related shop probably 6 or more times as I was out and about.

And I realized, yes, in one sense I was hungry (my one meal today will be with my family tonight)…but on the other hand, was food really all I had to dream about? Fill my time with? Look forward to? No way! And yet I purchase food almost without thought on a regular basis. I don’t think we have to wait till our stomach is growling and our tummy is aching to eat…but as I think about it, a lot of the time when I eat, I think I do it because I can. Because it tastes good. Because it’s there and I have the funds…maybe even because I’m bored (which seems shocking to me, as I almost always feel busy and happy to be busy).

Bear in mind, I’m not suddenly turning into an advocate for constantly measuring our portions, counting calories, any of that stuff. I think food was designed to be nourishing to our bodies (although unfortunately much of our current food supply is not), enjoyed, and actually not thought about too much, as I stated previously. But when you’re in good health and can and do “eat like a horse,” like me, I think maybe sometimes it’s good to take a second to think “am I really hungry? Do I really need that?” That’s another reason this fast has been good for me – it’s an exercise in self-discipline.

I haven’t been keeping a list of tally marks for each food that I would have gotten had I not been fasting, to stock up on later. In fact, while I went ON this fast cold-turkey, I plan to go off of it more slowly and gradually…and make sure I savor everything as it comes back in. Believe it or not, I may eat more than I did before when I go back (since I’d been skipping breakfast and eating at odd hours)…but I have a hunch I’m going to try to make it better food, find ways to bring food with me to campus, and maybe save the eating out for times with friends.

Whatever I do, it’s important to me that this fast is not just a low point on a food consumption graph this year, but that it actually helps me think, helps me change my habits, and helps me identify with the needy. Those plans get to wait to be implemented on a future date however…sometime after…oh…Monday. For now I get to enjoy the blessing of ONE meal per day…and enjoy it I will!

Read the rest of the posts in this series:


Food for Thought

April 1, 2011 | 2 Comments | Important Causes

I’ve made time to blog the past few days, and it’s a very good feeling to be keeping up the trend. And I know, I know…the title is rather cliché given the topic, but I think it’ll still be worth your while. Here are my latest thoughts:

This morning I had a couple pieces of bran bread on my way to campus, and they were good. I quickly felt like I had increased energy and a lighter step, which was great, since I had a test, which I think went well. That feeling lasted the rest of the day, when I didn’t have food, which was also nice. I will mention as a side note that I don’t remember the last time I’ve been offered so much food, and been invited to lunch, AND had all kinds of potential lunch/dinner events come up all at once in a week!

My dad sweetly brought home heart-shaped boxes of Russell Stover’s chocolate for each of us today, and I was immediately torn. This was something I hadn’t planned for when I set up my tentative parameters for my fast. Should I give it away? Save it for later? Enjoy it now? I settled on saving it in this case, but the other day I gave a fruit bar that would have otherwise been allotted to me to a sib, and this evening I decided to treat my sisters to Sonic. In undertaking a hunger fast, why not think a little less about what we’re missing out on and instead focus on how we can use food to the benefit of others?

At Sonic, however, I caught the smell of delicious onion rings. And earlier in the day, after picking me up from college, my family had stopped at McDonald’s for a quick bite, and there too their food smelled SO good. The feeling reminded me of the power of our sense of smell to tantatalize us and in some cases even satiate. I’ve always been amused at how if ever my mom is avoiding a particular food, she’ll ask to smell it, and be quite content with just that.

And this led me to yet another train of thought. Why, when we’re on a fast, do we sometimes feel guilty about being around food? Maybe this hasn’t happened for you, but I know working in the hunger arena, there’s a part of me that always feels a bit hypocritical if I go out to eat after a packaging event, like perhaps I’m “undoing” a bit of the good that was just done, or like maybe if I really cared about hunger, I wouldn’t be eating at a nice restaurant since others can’t.

But to take that thought a bit further, I want to suggest that we analyze our perceptions of hunger and starvation as a whole. For me at least, it’s often easy to think of starvation as happening “over there”…(waving vaguely towards some far-off country)…and to some degree hunger happening here…but not a close here. Not my sibling or my neighbor or my classmate. Some here as in…the United States…this big, nebulous, faceless, vague concept of…a problem. That’s precisely why some organizations show videos and pictures of starving children – to give us a face to the problem and motivate action. But often instead only compassion or pity or horror are aroused instead.

We have to remember the power of one…and not in vague hypotheticals, but in tangible, practical actions. I truly believe that most of us, presented with an honest need, would be willing to take a hungry or impoverished person to lunch with us, given the opportunity. But the problem of hunger usually seems so insolvable that we’re left feeling we’ve made a small dent (which we have) in a vast problem (which it is).

But our collective efforts are what make the difference, because as was reaffirmed over and over again at the Kansas Hunger Dialogue, the problem of hunger is solvable. Because those collective efforts are made up of individuals taking small actions that matter. Like packaging food. Volunteering at a food bank. Researching the problem, or even maybe not eating.

As they say, I think moderation is important in all things. Eating out after a long tiring day of managing volunteers and packaging food makes a lot of sense. And there are a number of other good reasons to enjoy good food without guilt, be it for a birthday celebration, a time of conversation and catching up with a friend, or even sometimes “just because.” Food service providers are just another business in one sense, something that helps drive the economy, and many have taken positive actions to address hunger in their own communities and abroad.

I think the challenge is in finding that balance where there’s no sense of incongruity, because you enjoy food and want others to be able to enjoy it with you and are working towards that end. The point is not to subject ourselves to gruel for the rest of our lives in a symbolic expression of identification with the hungry…it’s to take action so that after being given gruel or nourishing casserole that their bodies can handle, along with the resources and tools to rise above their current circumstances, they too can have the joy of tasting a chicken alfredo pasta dish or authentic Mexican or Chinese food or a Greek Salad.

Read the rest of the posts in this series:


The Hope of Sustenance

March 31, 2011 | 2 Comments | Important Causes

I would liked to have posted earlier today (and by today I mean Wed. – although it’s after midnight on Thu. morning, I consider it still…yesterday…until I’ve gone to bed), but I had a number of pressing school projects. The most urgent of these taken care of, I now have a little time to develop the notes I jotted for myself earlier in the day.

Today was my third day of a water-only fast (with the minor exception of two Tic-Tac breath mints yesterday and today, at the gentle suggestion of my mother <smile>). While I’ve heard that after a while you actually end up having a fresh burst of energy and feeling alive and full of vitality, today wasn’t that. :) In fact, I even considered taking the elevator in the library, where I always take the stairs…my legs felt tired and I just preferred to save my energy.

A part of me would like to press on through tomorrow, which I think I could do, but I have a test in the morning, and I think it would be wise to go back on some sort of rations for brain power. I still intend to keep it to one or two meals though, and skip the fast food and other treats on campus or at home through next Monday at least.

One of the things I was pondering today was the hope of sustenance and how food is a motivator in so many ways. A parent or teacher might give a cookie or a piece of candy for success in school or potty training or learning to read. Banks have jumped on the coffee bandwagon and started offering free java to their customers. Grocery stores hand out samples to serve as an incentive for trying a new product.

It’s not just here in the U.S. that that is the case, however. Even our government recognizes that giving food aid is actually a means of promoting foreign security. School feeding programs are in part an incentive for children to get an education (and for their parents to let them – it’s one less meal to find). And the lack of food can be a motivator too – something that causes food-related riots, makes someone work harder at his or her job, sadly, perhaps even sell himself or herself to get fed.

The demotivation connected with a lack of food was on my mind today too. It’s a little harder to study when you haven’t had food for a couple days – and that happens even for fellow college students here in the States that might have run out of funds by the end of the month and are considered “food insecure.” In my case, food has been fairly frequently on my mind recently (but I realize, as I noted yesterday, that I think about food a lot anyway). But even if you somehow put food out of your mind and your stomach isn’t constantly growling to remind you of your lack, the effects on concentration and productivity are still there – and far more so for those who’ve had less than enough food for months.

Because of this, getting people fed is crucial to them being able to take self-supporting steps to develop businesses and enhance the quality of life in their communities. We can’t expect people to work with passion and persistence and brilliance when they’re starving and have no strength, although I know many still do. All of these efforts have trickle-down effects…the mother who is sufficiently well-nourished is more likely to give birth to healthy babies, and in turn they can grow up and become leaders in their countries. The person who has enough to buy more than just mac’n’cheese and Ramen noodles is likely to live a longer and healthier life.

But those of us who have enough food need a different sort of empowerment, an awakening if you will. It’s in part because of that that I’ve undertaken this fast. I have to ask myself “what are my motivations for the things I do in life? What am I filling the emptiness of my new-found time with? “What are the other priorities I make as soon as I know I have food covered? “What would those be for others in third world countries?” I’ll be the first to say that I think it’s good and important for people to enjoy good-tasting food, without guilt, when it fits in their budget. But even just a few days of not going to fast food places drives home the point again that these costs add up – and do I really want to be consistently spending money on something so fleeting, above and beyond what I need to survive?

Some organizations encourage us to give up a Coke or a cup of coffee each day and donate the funds to sponsor a child or help fund some other important cause. And while I think that’s a great idea, it’s never really worked well for me…I tend to figure I’ll just give the money and still have my little luxuries. It’s very easy to spend $3 here on a coffee and $5 there on a sub, and not think about how in a month that ends up being worth quite a few dollars. I’ll certainly be saving money if I have less fast food…and I think it’s a good idea to have a plan for those pinched pennies, whether it’s saving them for a rainy day or sharing them with someone else in need. I think the key might be in specificity…choosing something in particular to be benefited by whatever you’re abstaining from.

I’m grateful I didn’t grow up in a home where my parents said “finish what’s on your plate – there are starving kids in Africa.” Because I don’t think that’s the proper correlation to make. Yes, there are starving kids…but eating more or less of what’s on one’s plate doesn’t change that. However, some of the motives behind that admonition, including a desire to not waste, are excellent. The amount of food thrown out by restaurants and grocery stores and others is appalling! And they say that there’s enough food in the world for everyone to have 4 lbs a day.

One thing I’ve thought of too, is how lack drives demand. It would be very easy for me to be tempted to gorge myself on every possible tasty thing I could get my hands on when I break this fast…whether to “make up” for my time off those things, or perhaps even the slightly more noble endeavor of savoring my food more than I did before. Or I could almost as easily forget the whole thing in just a few short days or weeks…comfortable once again with the status quo and my common routine. But I hope I don’t. I hope I remember hunger…the little piece of hunger I’ve tasted (no pun intended – these eating phrases are just everywhere)…and keep it near enough the front of my mind to encourage extra thinking and pondering and doing.

Finally, today’s fasting has made me even more curious and desirous of playing a role in my local community when it comes to hunger initiatives. While Numana does a great job of encouraging food drives for local food banks at our events, and we’re in the process of developing some other neat local initiatives like community gardens, again, I haven’t personally taken/had the opportunity to volunteer at the Kansas Food Bank or help dish out meals at the homeless shelter. I do have the privilege of working with several food-related businesses as a business consultant, and I’m particularly excited about the positive health and economic benefits of food raised by local growers. Even though the need is so great in other countries, I think we’ll find even more willing volunteers and supporters when they see us “taking care of our own.”

Thanks for reading – as always, your comments are welcomed. I’d love to hear your ideas for impacting hunger locally and internationally, and keeping these topics fresh on our minds without getting overwhelmed or putting guilt trips on ourselves. Cheers!

Read the rest of the posts in this series:


Water: A Delicious Drink

March 29, 2011 | 3 Comments | Important Causes

Today’s drink du jour was once again, water. I didn’t grow up drinking juice or pop much; water was what we always chose at restaurants (perhaps a kid’s cup of lemonade once in a while), and on rare occasions we’d pick up a liter or two of root beer to go with pizza. In the last couple years at college I’ve had pop on slightly more frequent occasions, but what I really love now, is coffee.

Coffee to me is symbolic of so much that is comfortable and delicious and friendly in life, and while I have it at most once a week on average (don’t want to get addicted, and don’t want to put all my funds in that direction!), if that, it’s a luxury I delight to afford myself with regularly when possible.

So it felt a bit odd when I walked into the coffee shop today for a social media meeting with a friend…and ordered just a water. Really, today has been much easier than yesterday, when I had a headache. Even though my stomach growled more than once in class, I really didn’t feel all that hungry (although the heightened sense of smell that comes with fasting definitely made every food I came near seem particularly attractive and delicious).

When I joined my young siblings later on after my meeting, they were insistent that I smelled like coffee and must have had some…to which I laughed and explained I actually hadn’t (very rare if I enter a coffee shop). I’ve realized again today that much of my time is spent thinking about or eating food. I usually grab a snack here, eat breakfast in front of my computer there… It actually opens up a rather large window of time for study and other projects to not be eating…although I’ll be glad of course to get back to savoring food of almost every kind.

Later, I joined my family for time together around the dinner table (a most tasty-looking salad and pizza were on the menu). I think on the one hand it makes sense sometimes to avoid temptation and stay away from food sources altogether when fasting…but once again, I was glad to have the reminders that this was a choice I was making for myself, a choice that others didn’t have. I know I’ve heard of many, many stories of people in third-world countries that still smile despite their circumstances, and aren’t focused on what they don’t have. In this case I had the stories and laughter of my family to share, and a nice tall glass of cool, clean, refreshing water.

Recently it was World Water Day (Mar. 8th), and I shared a picture over on Tumblr from a very cool campaign that Charity:Water was doing to help people think about what life would be like without water, called “Water Changes Everything.” I’ve been very impressed with this organization’s creative ways of getting the word out about this important need – they’re well-regarded in nonprofit circles as a positive example of using marketing efforts for a cause.

At my school, computer science is in the College of Engineering, and last semester I had the opportunity to participate in a group called Engineers Without Borders. One of the things that really stuck out to me was a statistic referenced (which I still need to research in greater depth) about how a large number of wells installed in Africa were non-functional within a few years, due to a variety of reasons from a lack of maintenance to villagers not trusting something installed by an outside organization, etc… EWB tries to make sure it works in coordination with the local community to develop projects that locals are personally invested in and can maintain.

To me, this is so important. I want to support and promote organizations that are taking sustainable actions toward long-term change. I recognize that sometimes stop-gap or temporary measures are needed, but my heart is to see communities become self-sustaining. That’s why Numana not only participates in disaster relief, but also focuses on school feeding programs that promote education and empower a rising generation of leaders that can help to change the course of countries like Haiti for the better.

But even more than food, water is a critical, foundational resource. And for me today, it was delicious.

Read the rest of the posts in this series:


Grateful to be Hungry

March 28, 2011 | 6 Comments | Important Causes

You may or may not know that I happen to be one-half of the social media team for a nonprofit hunger relief organization called Numana, Inc., based in El Dorado, KS. The story of how I got involved with Numana* (through social media in fact!) well before the first major packaging event on Dec. 29 & 30, 2009 is an interesting tale, but I’ll leave that for another day.

Since that first event we’ve held 62 volunteer-driven food packaging events from coast to coast in 12 states and 38 cities, packaging nearly 22 million meals consisting of chicken-flavored soy protein, rice, beans, and vitamins for disaster relief in Haiti, the Pacific, and beyond, as well as for school feeding programs.

A couple weeks ago Numana and Universities Fighting World Hunger hosted the first-ever Kansas Hunger Dialogue, with student, administrative, and faculty representatives from 20 of Kansas’ 42 colleges and universities in attendance. I found it very encouraging to hear from students and others in the hunger activism arena, particularly about specific ways to address the issues and raise awareness.

While the numbers are daunting, there was a definite can-do attitude and I think and hope that people left inspired and empowered to take action and care even a little bit more. I also appreciated that the various speakers emphasized how everyone can play a role in fighting hunger, even if it’s not their primary passion, from the business student helping with marketing efforts for events to the athletic participants in a walk or race to raise awareness.

Our final keynote speaker was Ambassador Tony Hall, who helped to found the Congressional Hunger Center and is the current Executive Director of the Alliance to End Hunger. He spoke about some of his work to fight hunger and about other important issues (if you want to hear the 30-minute speech, click here), and then invited those in attendance to join him in a Hunger Fast beginning on March 28th.

He explained that he went on a similar water-only 22-day fast back in 1993, in response to Congress eliminating the House Select Committee on Hunger, and that this time it would be in solidarity with those suffering from hunger around the world who would be negatively affected by likely national budget cuts to foreign aid, which is less than 1% of the Federal Budget. This gained the attention of the media nearly 20 years ago when many individuals and organizations joined him in fasting and prayer and awareness efforts then, and the same is happening today, with already over 4,000 signed up to participate in some way.

Despite my social media efforts for the cause of fighting hunger, I have to say, I still feel somewhat inoculated and protected from the pain and suffering so many experience in the world today. I’d bet that I’ve read more statistics and articles on hunger, watched more video clips and participated in more packaging events than the average person. I’ve cried lots of tears, tried to put my money where my mouth is, and donated volunteer time to the cause.

But unlike Numana’s founder, Rick McNary, I haven’t had the opportunity to personally hold a starving child and have my life forever changed by that reality. It is a reality for me, but a distant one…one that too easily fades with the much clearer realities I face on a day-to-day basis – taking challenging computer science classes, helping to watch little brothers, fitting in an IM chat or a Facebook game or two here and there.

So this morning, almost on a whim, I decided to do it. To participate in the fast. No, I haven’t signed any petitions, joined the Circle of Protection, nor even decided how long I plan to do this. To be honest, this isn’t even political for me. Fasts can be undertaken for spiritual reasons, for health reasons, sometimes to help one focus or maybe remind oneself of others’ needs…and perhaps in one sense I’m doing this for all those reasons.

Normally I think it’s a good idea to have the whys and wherefores planned out, reasoned out, but today I decided regardless of whether it would actually make a difference in the life of someone else (and I hope it and this post does), and regardless of who else was doing it and why, 25,000 people dying today from hunger-related causes…is enough of a reason.

I’ve fasted before, sometimes intentionally, usually not so. In case you’re wondering, I happen to love food. I thought my sister made an astute observation recently when she noted that perhaps I’ve been so involved in the hunger movement in part precisely because I love food so much (and want others to have a similar opportunity to enjoy food not just as a means of survival, but for its own sake).

But when I got out of my morning class, I deliberately walked past the college cafeteria, bypassing the fast food restaurants that I often frequent on long days like today. I sipped water from the drinking fountains once in a while, and found myself noticing anything food-related even more than usual…the person walking with a fast food bag and drink across campus, the vending machines, the signs on the way home.

I had the occasion to remind myself over and over again that this was nothing compared to what so many go through…those that don’t even have clean water to drink, let alone warm, nutritious food to eat. And I found myself grateful…grateful for the opportunity to give myself the slightest taste of others’ pain, and have it become that much more real for me…grateful to be hungry and know I could get fed…grateful for life and hope and the opportunity to help others and make a difference. Grateful…for hunger.

For this week, I want to be hungry, because there are so many that don’t have a choice. Join me?

Read the rest of the posts in this series:

*I think it probably goes without saying, but in this and all other posts on this site, the views expressed here are my own and not necessarily held by Numana as an organization or its staff.


Pursuit of the Picturesque – A Misty Valley

March 24, 2011 | Comments Off on Pursuit of the Picturesque – A Misty Valley | Pursuit of the Picturesque

This photo I can’t take credit for; but that is precisely why I’m posting about it. When I first saw this photograph of a misty valley on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, I was immediately taken with it. I later asked my friend Carl Gray, the photographer, if I could use it as my avatar on Twitter just after joining the site (a little over a year ago). He graciously said yes, and since then it has been a consistent part of my online “brand” not only on Twitter, but on other sites and tools like LinkedIn and Disqus as well. I’ve received compliments and questions about it several times.

I had the immense privilege of visiting Seattle & Tacoma, WA last year for about a week, and I have to say, it was one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been…everywhere one turned, there were landscape photo opportunities, and I loved my stay there for that as well as countless other reasons, from the coffee to the culture. I can’t wait to go back, but in the meantime, Carl makes an excellent Washington tourism promoter with his many wonderful photos of the beautiful state in which he resides. Thank you, Carl, for capturing and sharing the beauty of nature with me and others through your photography!