Coffee talk with Cristina Liberati
Cristina Liberati manages grant programs for Equal Exchange and began serving on the Rhode Island Food Policy Council in 2016. Take a moment to learn how she got involved with food systems in Rhode Island.
Tell us a little about what you do.
I am fortunate to have a really cool job. I manage grant programs for a Fair Trade food company called Equal Exchange. I split my time between the office and visiting our cocoa and coffee producer partners in Peru, Ecuador and Dominican Republic.
How did you get interested or involved in food systems / food policy matters?
I grew up in a large Rhode Island Italian family, and food has always been a central topic and centralizing force in our family. I had not intended to work in food systems when I pursued my studies in international relations; I stumbled into this field. After completing my MA, I moved to San Francisco in search of a job and happened to pass by a chocolate factory that was hiring tour guides. I learned that the company was doing development work with the cocoa farmers they purchased raw materials from. The president of the company asked why I would take a job I was overqualified for, and I told her I was interested in the development work but would be willing to take any opportunity they had available and learn from the bottom-up. I am so glad I did, because it allowed me to gain greater insight into the consumer perspective. I now work at the opposite end of the supply chain with farmers but having that 360 degree view is essential to better understand the system.
What skills/qualities/experience are you proud to bring to the Council, and what, in turn, do you hope you will gain from your time serving on the Council?
I am a passionate advocate for farmers and encourage folks to connect with the source and people behind their food — whether that source is 5 miles away at your local farmers market or 5,000 miles away in the tropics as is the case with coffee or cacao. I am also an enthusiastic supporter of the Rhode Island food movement. I have had the pleasure of volunteering with Farm Fresh RI for 3 years at the Winter Market at Hope Artiste Village. I am really looking forward to gaining a broader view of the RI food system while I serve on the Council. Did you know that 75% of RI farms sell less than $20,000 worth of goods per year? To me, this is unacceptable and I hope that during my time on the council I am able to contribute to positive change and empower our farmer neighbors in some way.
What’s your favorite food-related thing about Rhode Island?
It’s hard to choose but probably the quahogs! My 92 year old grandfather digs them every day in the summer time and I never get sick of his clam pizza, my dad’s stuffies and chowder, or just eating them on the half shell with red wine vinegar!