NewsJune 14, 2019

Staff Spotlight: Erin Hannum

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Our team at Farm Commons is made up of wildly talented, passionate, food and farm loving leaders. This month, we’ll be featuring a staff member each week so you can learn more about the gals that make our farm law educational programming happen every day, in all the ways.

This week, meet our Associate Director, Erin Hannum!

Where’s your hometown?

I grew up in Whitter, California—about 20 miles east of L.A.— in the 70’s and 80’s when there were still pockets of nature and simplicity.

When did your interest in food and agriculture begin?  

When growing up, we had a veggie garden in our backyard and there was a forested wilderness park down the street. Avocados and citrus seemingly grew wild. My mom loved to cook and we had a rule that our dinner plate had to have at least one veggie and something green. My brother and I spent our childhood summers roaming free on our grandparents’ farm in Northern California. There and back we enjoyed extended road-trips with mom and dad camping at state parks along the way. My fondest childhood memories include wandering in the wood, harvesting food, and cooking and eating freshly picked veggies... and guacamole! These were the seeds of my passion for nature, wandering, and farming.

I never quite felt like Southern California was my “home” and longed for adventure. I headed to the Midwest for undergrad and studied Communication Studies and Environmental Sciences at Northwestern University. During the spring and summer months, I volunteered for various urban gardening projects in the south-side of Chicago. This further ignited the fire in my belly around environmental justice and sustainable food systems issues. Food was an issue that affected everyone and could unite us all in creating a better world.

After graduation, I completed a one year training program with Green Corps and then spent several years working as a grassroots environmental organizer throughout the Eastern seaboard. I loved the law and policy aspects of this work and decided to go to law school. While at Emory University Law School, I split my summers interning for the Center for Food Safety in Washington D.C. and helping a friend start a permaculture farm in Ecuador. Do I really want to be a lawyer, or a farmer?

I chose to continue pursuing my quest in environmental law, but got entangled in the realm of environmental litigation. It took several years to realize that this wasn’t my calling. While it’s necessary to stop and block, I wanted to be part of creating solutions and inspiring a shift in consciousness. I met my husband and I took a hiatus in my legal career to pursue yoga and mindfulness, which included travels to India and living in Western Australia for a few years where I organized wellness retreats and worked as a farmhand on a biodynamic farm. I eventually returned to the law, this time focusing on solutions—helping non-profits and sustainable businesses with formation, filings, and general legal needs. My husband and I also created a human being—Kaia—who is now almost three! We currently live in Zurich, Switzerland where my husband teaches at a Montessori School. Our adventures continue.

What’s your role at Farm Commons?

I came across Farm Commons four years ago while searching for flexible, project based work. It was a perfect match that mirrored my passions for law and farming—with a solutions-oriented approach. I reached out, started as a contract attorney, soon became a full-time research attorney, and am now the Associate Director. In my current role, I help Rachel and the team with strategic planning and project development. I love the big picture perspective and feel incredibly inspired by the direction Farm Commons is going—building a business law commons, co-created by and for sustainable farmers. I also still engage quite a bit in legal research and writing, which I love. It is a joy to help sustainable farmers navigate the tedious yet innovative nature of the law so they can more successfully build their dream farm venture. I am grateful to be working with a talented team and passionate farmers throughout the country who are committed to creating a healthier and more sustainable future.

Alright, most important question – what’s your favorite vegetable and way to prepare it?

While I love them all, my favorite vegetable is asparagus. To me it represents spring, sun and the budding of life. It grows wild and free and sprouts ever so proudly. I love it dressed simply—roasted or grilled with some lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper.

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