Q+A with Kim Lipetzky: 2017 Cass Clay Food Champion

Kim Lipetzky, Fargo Cass Public Health Nutritionist, was awarded the inaugural Cass Clay Food Champion award at Future of Food on Monday, Nov. 20 in Moorhead. This award recognizes individuals who work to achieve the mission of the Cass Clay Food Partners: to increase access to safe, nutritious, affordable, and culturally-based food for all. Kim has spent her entire career (34 years!) working to improve public health. We sat down with Kim to learn a little more about her background, work and what she hopes for the future of food in our community.

UFN: Kim, you’ve been working in the food and nutrition space for many years.  Can you tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today with Fargo Cass Public Health?

Kim: I graduated from the University of North Dakota with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology (PreMed) and decided to go on to grad school at Clemson University in South Carolina. I received my masters in nutrition science and also went through their dietetic internship program so became a registered dietitian during that process. I started my career with Palmetto Health District – first as a high risk WIC (Women, Infants and Children) dietitian, and then in management as a district director of nutrition. I had both of my daughters in South Carolina and we decided to move back to Fargo shortly after they were born to be closer to family. We moved back in August of 1994 and I took a job with Cass County WIC. After about a year, a job opened with Fargo Cass Public Health for a dietitian in the health promotion division. I applied, got the job and have been there ever since!  So I’ve worked in public health for 34 years – I can’t believe it’s been that long!

UFN: That is quite a career! You’ve certainly seen a lot of changes in both public health and our food community. Speaking of which, can you tell us about your work that led to you receiving the Cass Clay Food Champion award?

Kim: I’m one of the “founding” members of the Cass Clay Food Systems Initiative (now called the Cass Clay Food Partners). We founded the Initiative in 2010 and I’ve been on the steering committee since the inception. When we first formed, we had different task forces that carried out various projects or activities in the community. I was the co-chair of the Food Access Task Force and helped to organize and implement projects like One Vegetable One Community, the Mobile Garden, and 1 Million Square Foot Garden Challenge. Our task force also identified the indicators and gathered data for the Metropolitan Food System Plan (framework for how we can begin to evaluate our local food system). We worked closely with Metro COG to complete this plan and to carry out the first recommendation of the plan, which was to form a food policy council in our community. I worked to obtain grant funding so we could hire a coordinator and launched the Cass Clay Food Commission in 2014.  Our steering committee has directed that work since, and I was part of the team that helped to restructure and form the Cass Clay Food Partners in the summer of 2017. As you can see, the work has evolved over the years but our mission has remained steadfast – to increase access to safe, nutritious, affordable and culturally-based food for all people.

UFN: Wow, it’s awesome to hear about all the work that’s been accomplished to be where we’re at today. In our experience, people who do this work usually have a passion for it, beyond just a job. Why is this work important to you?

Kim: I believe it’s important to create a viable and sustainable food system so that all people have access to healthy and nutritious food, regardless of socioeconomic status. I think it is important to preserve our agricultural “roots,” especially since we live in one of the most fertile areas of the world. I also believe people should have the right to grow their own food if they desire, have access to locally grown food (which helps to support local farmers and boost our economy), and that we need to assure that we “set ourselves up” so that our future generations can be self-sustaining.

UFN: Amen! What do you enjoy most about this work?

Kim: I’d have to say meeting all of the passionate partners involved in this work! I also appreciate that there’s always something new to learn in food systems work. I have learned a TON and still have plenty more to learn!

UFN: What do you hope to see in the future as this work evolves?

Kim: I hope that the culture that supports local, sustainable and healthy food becomes really visible. That you SEE healthy food options everywhere; that we have healthy food options available at convenience stores, concession stands, schools, restaurants – and that these foods are easy, accessible and available to everyone.

I would also love to see an Agritopia type neighborhood development or urban farm in our community!  And in the spirit of healthy food access, I would love to see gardens everywhere - boulevard, rooftop, at apartment complexes, etc. I really believe that providing all people the opportunity to grow their own food is at the heart of this work.

UFN: We couldn’t agree more! Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Kim: I’d like to say thank you to the numerous partners who are working to make positive food system changes and happenings in our community! Over the last few years, I have been amazed at the “explosion” of all of the exciting interventions and activities that have been taking place to create a healthy and strong food system. It’s really motivating and a good sign for the future.