Sunday, September 18th, 2016
G I V I N G B A C K :
E X P L O R I N G A L M A ' S C O M M U N I T Y P A R T N E R S H I P S
W I T H A S H R E Y N O L D S
To know Ash Reynolds is to know a truly compassionate soul - she’s warm, funny, a keen listener, and generously aware. After spending years as a server and supervisor at Restaurant Alma, Ash helped to open Brasa St. Paul, and then built the Brasa catering department from the ground up. Now she’s the Manager of Communications & Community Relations for the Alma Group, and Ash has dedicated herself to using the resources of three successful restaurants to give back to the community that surrounds us. The Alma Blog accompanied her on a trip to the headquarters of Youth Farm - one of the main organizations the Alma is partnered with. We took a walk around South Minneapolis, exploring the Youth Farm gardens and talking with staff, and learning about what it truly means to help enrich the community you’re in.
AB: Where did Alma’s community partnership program start?
AR: When we opened the doors in 1999, it felt innate to support the community we were working in. So from the very beginning we started supporting Marcy Open school, which is the closest elementary school to Alma, with any sort of donations they asked for. Then over the years that’s grown to where we are now the main caterer and provider for their Arts Gala, and that Gala feeds six hundred people a year.
AB: And now we work with a lot of schools, yes?
AR: Our involvement with Minneapolis public schools is substantial, and it gets to the root of our philosophy on nourishing people: they feed thirty-four thousand kids a day. We have an involvement with them on building relationships with local farmers, taste testing, and doing focus groups with kids to taste new recipes they’re working on. The Brasa curried chicken bowl is currently on the menu at Minneapolis public schools, and we know that by being involved with them we’re able to lend a different kind of credibility to the food and endorse what’s going on there, because everyone thinks about school lunches as being kind of...you know. Not very good. But they’re really changing that in Minneapolis. A lot of the same vendors they use, like River Bend Farms and Dragsmith and Open Hands, are vendors that we use too. We’re able to support getting that level of food quality to kids, which is significant. And really enjoyable.
AB: When did your role start to emerge, as someone who is dedicated to the giving side of Alma?
AR: My role started about seven years ago through Brasa’s catering program. As I was handling the donation requests that were coming in, we decided to formalize what our donation program would be going forward. We really wanted to focus our non-profit involvement locally - mainly with organizations that work to promote sustainable farming, farming education, land stewardship, hunger relief issues, and the wellbeing of children. In 2013 we began a relationship with Minneapolis public schools and their True Food Chef Council. The initial project was putting salad bars in what I think was eight elementary schools, and so we did fundraising in both Brasa locations for that. We also decided, during that fundraising project, to donate a dollar from every Alma tasting menu to the effort. What was amazing was that it invigorated the staff so much - to be able to give back in that way and have a tangible part in providing good food to kids, that we decided to roll it out into a monthly program. Once that happened, we decided we needed somebody dedicated to it, who is connecting the non-profits and promoting it socially, so that our customers can know about it.
AB: So that was where the “Giving Program” that we know today came from?
AR: Right. So in January 2014 it was officially launched, and since then we’ve worked with about twenty local non-profits. We also work from the ground with organizations like the Sustainable Farming Association and the Farmer’s Legal Action Group. The Farmer’s Legal Action Group provides legal assistance to mostly immigrant Farmers who are trying to work land and finding resistance from the communities they’re in. We work with them, we work with food groups trying to get fresh fruit and vegetables to the food shelves, we work with youth development organizations...as of August 31st of this year, we’ve been able to donate seventy-nine thousand dollars. Now that we’ve extended the program to Brasa (fifty cents of every cornbread at both locations of Brasa are now included), we’re hoping the effort will increase the donation amount to about five to six thousand dollars a month.
We learned that small non-profits, like Appetite for Change, which is based in North Minneapolis - are on a shoestring budget. The first year we worked with them, they were able to hire a bookkeeper to get their books in order for their kickstarter. We now understand that even relatively modest sized donations can really help.
AB: I know Alma has events with these non-profits several times a year - can you talk about those?
AR: Well, on Sunday is the third annual Taste of the Farm Dinner, which is Youth Farm’s largest fundraiser of the year. It’s held at the home site of Youth Farm. There will be tours to some of the farms by the students, since there are three farms within a three block radius of the headquarters. Brasa & Alma will be providing food, and we’ve also been working with wonderful local companies like Able Seedhouse Brewery, Tattersall Distillery, and Dogwood Coffee as event partners to bring all the necessary pieces together required to create a great dinner event. Other things we do are setting up field trips. So we can actually visit a Youth Farm site in the spring and help clean up the garden beds with the kids and team leads Or we go to one of the small communities that the Farmer’s Legal Action group may be working with to see the Hmong Farmer’s Association in action. These events are important because in addition to our support, we’re networking for these non-profits, helping introduce other restaurants and organizations to hugely important work and organizational missions. All these organizations inspire us, and we want the public to know about them, and to learn about them.
Youth Farm’s Markus Kar and Jesus Perez in one of their gardens.
AB: What is the vision behind the giving program itself?
AR: At the very core of our philosophy at the restaurants is that our purpose is to nourish well being. We nourish people at the restaurants with the food that we put on the table. Food that makes you feel good, food that will help people thrive. Our donation program is all about nourishing well being in the community - whether helping bring fresh, local produce to kids in a public school salad bar to supporting larger systems that will care for the soils that feed us all.
AB: What are some of the hopes for the program in the future?
AR: I think our real goal is to build the awareness of these small organizations that are working in the Twin Cities. We have a platform - both from Alma and Brasa - that gives people an opportunity to hear about these non-profits where they otherwise would not. And maybe three people who read about Urban Roots at Brasa tell three more people, and it snowballs from there. If we can continue to broaden the awareness of Appetite for Change, of Youth Farm, of Gardening Matters, of the True Food Chef Council, we know we can make an impact on the bottom lines of these groups.
L-R: Youth Farm Director Gunnar Liden, Associate Director Amanda Stoelb, Ash Reynolds, Brasa St. Paul General Manager Megan Gall.